Kotaku EastEast is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.
Back in December 2015, Hideo Kojima announced that he was setting up his own studio, Kojima Productions. He had struck a deal with Sony. It all seemed so easy, but was it? No. But it didn’t hurt that he was Hideo Kojima.
Toward the end of a Famitsu interview, Kojima talked about the difficulties he experienced setting up his own studio.
“It was three years and nine months ago that I struck out on my own,” Kojima told Famitsu. “At that time, I was 53 years old. That’s an age in which you’d retire, right? My family members were also against the idea [of me setting up a new studio]. I was a 53-year-old middle-aged guy, I didn’t have any money or much of anything else, and it was just me saying I was going to make this open-world game.” Granted, Kojima might have had money, but probably not enough to finance the type of projects he was used to making.
According to Kojima, there were doubters that anyone thought the game would be good. “The reason for that is that there hasn’t been a single world-famous game designer who has had success after striking out on their own.”
There have been examples of developers setting up their own studios and being successful; however, there are many examples of devs setting up new studios and going bust.
This also sounds like he’s rewriting history a little bit. When Kojima left Konami, I remember the general consensus seemed to be that people where happy he could go make a new style of game and, considering how he was reportedly treated, there was a desire to see him succeed.
That doesn’t mean setting up his own studio was a cakewalk, especially in Japan, which can often make seemingly easy things complicated.
“Even when I went to the bank, I couldn’t borrow money,” he continued. “They said, ‘We know you’re renowned, but you don’t have any actual results.’ This is the kind of country Japan is.”
It can be quite difficult to get a loan in Japan, especially if you are not working for a large company. Kojima was on his own at this point, so financing his studio so he could get an office lease and hire staff might have been harder than you would think. Plus, making Metal Gear games was expensive and took lots of time. Those games always seem to have done better outside of Japan. All of this might explain the reluctance on the part of this financial institution.
“But then, there was a banker at the biggest bank [in Japan] who was a huge fan of mine, and I got the financing.”
Even though it was hard for him to get loan, he’s still Hideo Kojima, which helps!
To give confidence to the families of the staff he was hiring, Kojima wanted to set up the studio in a nice building. That way, he said, it would look like the company was going to be successful, and husbands and wives of his employees would be less inclined to worry. But usually, whenever he’d find a good building, he’d eventually be asked, “What is Kojima Productions?”
In Japan, Kojima isn’t as famous as someone like Hayao Miyazaki, so it seems like many landlords were unfamiliar with the studio’s previous iteration and his work. But out of those desirable locations, he once again lucked out in finding a fan and was able to move into the studio’s current location.
Corporate Japan insulates employees. So challenges like getting a loan or a lease, which most people in Japan experience when trying to set up their own company, certainly were not what Kojima was accustomed to. But when faced with these challenges, he didn’t give up. He recognized he had opportunities because of his Konami career.
“The reason why I’m who I am now is because of the 30 years I had at Konami,” Kojima told Famitsu. “I am grateful to Konami, and I cannot deny that connection.”
This isn’t the first time Kojima has thanked Konami. It appears that he not only has come to terms with his former employer but also feels that the experience made him who he is.
Kotaku EastEast is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.
Hideo Kojima’s upcoming release Death Stranding isn’t playable at the Tokyo Game Show. But you can demo Death Stranding: The Umbrella.
Full disclosure: Even though it’s overcast here today at the Tokyo Game Show, I was not able to test this demo umbrella outside in the rain.
While Death Stranding: The Video Game is a PlayStation 4 exclusive, Death Stranding: The Umbrella is not. Designed for wet weather, it can also be used as on sunny days to help block out the sun’s rays or during snowy weather to fend off the cold. This Death Stranding is multiplatform.
While in its sheath, the title Death Stranding is clearly legible. The all-black cover builds up to some anticipation. Is there a black umbrella inside? Or will Kojima throw us a curveball?
Since I’d had seen the demo version on the Tokyo Game Show floor, so I was not surprised to find that the umbrella itself was black.
One of the weakest parts of Death Stranding: The Umbrella is that when closed, it is not possible to read Death Stranding. I am sure this won’t be a problem when opened.
The handle is made from soft-touch plastic. Considerable development must have gone into this.
Let’s press the button and see how this story unfolds.
Wow! While this was one of Hideo Kojima’s easier to follow endeavors, it proves that he is a master of raingear surprises.
At its core, Death Stranding: The Umbrella is just that, an umbrella. In many ways, we’ve seen this before. You open it. You close it. The umbrella keeps you dry. He’s not departing from the tried and true formula, but this umbrella is well-made with a nice twist when opened.
But, isn’t it bad luck to open umbrellas indoors?
Damn you, Kojima.
Death Stranding The Umbrella is priced at 4,500 yen ($41.61). You can demo it for yourself at this year’s Tokyo Game.
He’s finally done it. After years of talking about Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima finally showed off a full mission’s worth of gameplay during a live stage presentation at Tokyo Game Show this week. It’s as offbeat, meticulously detailed, and intriguing as you’d expect from Kojima, if not more so.
To be released November 8 for PlayStation 4, Death Stranding follows Sam Bridges (Norman Reedus) as he makes a coast-to-coast trek across the ruined United Cities of America, creating new “strands” that link divided human beings back together. With him is BB, or “Bridge Baby,” a little fetus in an artificial womb that, among other things, allows him to see BTs, or “Beached Things,” supernatural monsters from other dimensions that are rampaging in the UCA.
The full video of the gameplay demonstration at Tokyo Game Show.
There’s a lot more to it than that, much of it likely involving Geoff Keighley, but that’s the backstory you need to know to get the most out of the presentation, which was over 45 minutes of live gameplay. Sam is given a simple mission: deliver four aid packages from Knot City to Port Knot City. The aid packages contain four supplies that are considered crucial in this world: food, medicine, anti-BT weapons, and “sperm and eggs.”
Before heading out on any mission, you’ll pick out your loadout. This will include all the required aid packages that you’re delivering, plus anything else you want to bring with you on the journey: extra shoes, ropes, weapons, etc. The difference between Sam Bridges and most video game heroes is that while everybody else just disappears all of their possessions into a magical pocket, Sam is visibly loaded up with his burdens. Everything he carries is visibly attached to his character, affecting his weight and mobility.
You can actually choose where on Sam’s body to put all this stuff. You can load it all up onto his back like a pack mule, but you can also put items in pouches hanging off the backpack, strap them to his arms and legs, or have him hand-carry certain pieces. This will affect his speed, yes, but also his balance. Sam’s center of gravity will be shown in a yellow circle underneath him as you shift things around. As you run through the world, if you make hard left or right turns, he’ll go off-kilter if he’s overburdened, and you’ll need to press the L2 and R2 buttons to shift his weight back so he stays upright.
You’re not stuck awkwardly carrying all this stuff at every moment, though. If you’re about to, say, head into a battle, you can put your belongings down temporarily. You might also be able to acquire a Floating Carrier, a cross between an airport luggage cart and a hoverboard that will follow behind you with your big ol’ pile of crap. (If needs be, you can even hop on and ride it yourself.)
All this futuristic technology all around us but the only way that they can transport a small container of food two miles down the road is to have Norman Reedus hand-carry it there. Onward to Port Knot City! First, Sam charts his journey: The game will calculate the direct route to his destination and show him all the topography, and the player can then plot a custom route from waypoint to waypoint to try to avoid the major hazards.
The first obstacle Sam reaches in the video presentation is a river. Again, the HUD is here to give important information, showing the strength of the current in different spots. Blue is easily crossable, yellow is walkable with effort, and red will sweep you off your feet and send you down the river. Kojima walks into it for demonstration purposes, and shows how Sam is blown off course but also loses a package or two, which he has to pick up again.
Leaving the river, Sam pauses to catch his breath (with the Circle button), and also checks in on his Bridge Baby to make sure he’s still doing okay (and soothing him if not). He then pounds a canteen of Monster™ brand energy drink, and hits the old dusty trail again.
It’s not long before Sam comes across another package to add to his burden, a lost piece of musical equipment belonging to a character called the Musician. Fortunately for us, the Musician’s house is just down a cliff and across a small ravine. Sam sticks a climbing anchor into the ground, then rappels down the cliff. He crosses the ravine with his helpful extendable ladder.
Later in the demo, Kojima points out that thanks to the game’s asynchronous multiplayer aspects, you might not even have to use your own ladder for this, since other players can leave their equipment in the world for others to use. He shows how there’s now a climbing rope and a ladder left by other players. You can “Like” these items. Social-media “Likes” seem to be the currency of this world, just as they are in ours.
Sometimes other players will also drop helpful items that you can find in the world and pick up. By pressing the “communication button” while in the game, Sam will shout out something like “Is anybody there?” If items dropped by other players are in the vicinity, they’ll flash to alert you to them. But apparently you can’t just go around picking up every single thing dropped by others. The containers will be damaged when you find them, and you have to use a consumable called “container repair spray” to fix them before you can harvest their resources.
There will also be lots of lockers scattered about the world, some left by other players, some controlled by enemies. These might have extra goodies for you, and you can also use them to stash your own stuff privately if needs be.
As a reward for bringing back the Musician’s hi-fi equipment, you’ll add a new “strand” to the network and further link the world together. More importantly, he gives you a harmonica, which you can play to soothe the BB whilst you sit in the grass on a break. Death Stranding definitely wants you to take that downtime. There are even natural hot springs in the world where you and the Bottled Babbo can recharge your batteries. (Literally—it’s called a “battery hot springs.”)
It’s not all just about slowly walking while holding a bunch of FedEx boxes full of sperm and singing to a baby. When Sam encounters a group of enemies, things become very Metal Gear Solid all of a sudden. Briefly abandoning his precious cargo, Sam goes into stealth mode, sneaking around an enemy camp. He can use an item, which is also called a Strand, to “bind human enemies from behind and parry attacks at close quarters.” This, the description says, is a “non-lethal anti-personnel weapon.” In fact, all the weapons we see in the demo are specifically called out as being non-lethal.
Sam sneaks up on and incapacitates one enemy before Kojima allows him to be caught, thus turning the enemy camp into a full-on battle scene. Now he switches to the Bola Gun, which shoots out a Strand tied to two balls to tie up enemies from a distance. The sight shows you the horizontal line that the bola will follow, so you can aim with precision. Charging the gun up will extend the length of the strand and the range of the shot. You can also punch and kick enemies, or even throw your luggage at them.
After hacking into an enemy locker and finding an exoskeleton suit that lets Sam move faster and jump higher, he ditches the battle, using the suit to jump over a ravine that he would ordinarily have had to cross using a ladder as before.
As Sam nears Port Knot City, the sky goes dark and it begins to rain. Yep, it’s a BT, a big scary gross monster. Now we’re in a boss battle. Sam can fire the Bola Gun at the BT, but Kojima quickly opts for the Hematic Grenade. If you know your Latin, you’re probably imagining what’s in this grenade, and you’re right—it’s blood. If you don’t have a “blood bag” in your arsenal, it’ll use Sam’s blood.
Why does human blood kill the BTs? Who knows, although Death Stranding will surely explain all of this in a 23-minute cutscene two months from now. If you run out of equipment during the battle, you can call for help from other online players, who can respond by giving you more weaponry. Winning the battle causes Sam to receive 100 “Likes” from the BB. Of course.
Well, we finally have an idea of how Death Stranding plays. It looks good! Almost like a Breath of the Wild style reworking of Kojima’s signature concepts. I’m sure it’ll make us all ashamed of our words and deeds this November.
Kotaku EastEast is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.
Out of all American superheroes, there is one that many in Japan seem to like best: Spider-Man. But why? In a recent interview, Hideo Kojima explains how Spider-Man is like Japanese heroes, which might explain the character’s appeal to local audiences.
How better to explain this than a man whose Twitter profile says his body is made of 70 percent movies?
Kojima told Famitsu how the first X-Men movie was a stylish motion picture that appealed to adults. “As for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, the age bracket dropped slightly and it was a youth fantasy film,” Kojima said. “I’m not saying that derisively, as I really like Raimi’s Spider-Man.” In particular, he was moved by Spider-Man 2.
Famitsu asked Kojima which American comic book character was his favorite, and he replied that he perhaps liked Spider-Man the most. “He’s a hero with worries, and that’s similar to Japanese heroes,” explained Kojima, who added that he basically like masked Japanese heroes like Kamen Rider and Tiger Mask.
Rich superheroes or superheroes without flaws are less appealing to him, Kojima says. Besides Spider-Man, he is also a fan of the Flash, adding that he liked the character’s recent TV series.
“Don’t you think how Spider-Man was originally a normal person who, because of an accident, became a masked superhero has similarities to Kamen Rider?” asked Kojima. Kamen Rider is a regular person who was kidnapped by an evil terrorist organization and turned into a grasshopper mutant who then escapes, dons a mask and battles evil.
Obviously, he doesn’t mean that the Spider-Man and Kamen Rider are the same (they are very, very different), nor does it necessarily matter which was first, because there are enough thematic similarities that make the American character appealing to those who grew up with masked Japanese heroes, like the iconic characters Kamen Rider (literally “Masked Rider”) or “Tiger Mask” (a do-gooder wrestler in a tiger mask).
I’d also add that the character’s costume and physique would appeal to Japanese who grow up on Super Sentai (Power Rangers outside Japan) type shows.
Out of all the American superheroes, it is easy to see why Spider-Man would be easiest for Japan to embrace and why Kojima likes the character so. Spider-Man is not a leap. There is a familiarity. It couldn’t happen to a better character.
After Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, the titular character went into retirement—both in the series’ fiction and real life. It would be another eight years before fans would play a Metal Gear game. That game was Metal Gear Solid, and it helped codify the stealth genre forever. Solid Snake’s story is full of betrayal, blood, and isolation. Being a hero sucks, and yet, players couldn’t get enough.
Metal Gear has always been a series about impeding player progress. Its traps and enemies exist to ward off players. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake brought back returning characters and offered a new fortress, explicitly rejecting the notion that players could truly save the world. Metal Gear Solid leverages this impulse and turns it towards Snake himself. Whenever he succeeds, events conspire to immediately undercut that success. His (and the player’s) skills mean little in the face of scheming villains and politicians whose background machinations have rigged the game before the start.
Metal Gear Retrospective
This story is part of an ongoing series analyzing the Metal Gear games.
Released in 1998 for the PlayStation, Metal Gear Solid is one of the most fondly remembered video games in the medium’s canon. Its tense stealth-action gave rise to countless imitations from WinBack to Spy Fiction. After Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had tested the waters, Metal Gear Solid made a splash whose ripples are felt to this day. The game’s self-commentary on its action movie pastiche proved intoxicating. Memories of the thrills linger, but its message drifts into the ether.
In Metal Gear Solid, Solid Snake is wrested from retirement against his will and tossed into One More Mission™. Terrorists have seized a remote nuclear warhead testing facility on Shadow Moses Island in Alaska and it is up to Snake to infiltrate the base, rescue the hostages, and defeat the terrorists.
This well-trodden set up—this is the third time Snake has been asked to perform this very task, and it won’t be the last time the player does—is the crucible through which Snake will assert himself as an individual. Metal Gear Solid is a game about Snake becoming more than a player-controlled character, more than a weapon of the state.
Metal Gear Solid lives between two extremes. The first is the gameplay itself, where players are able to outsmart guards and tackle deadly bosses. These are supposedly the best trained soldiers, and the most elite specialists. Snake and the player will best all of them in an intoxicating power fantasy wherein one lone commando can take on waves of soldiers, go toe-to-toe with a cybernetic ninja, and destroy a state-of the-art battle mech. The narrative justifications behind Metal Gear Solid’s challenges escalate from somewhat believable future-war sneaking to full blown anime extravaganza. Overcoming these odds, usually through creative thinking, makes for highly rewarding gameplay. It feels good to make it through an area undetected. It feels good to outwit the world’s best sniper at her own game.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is everything surrounding Snake’s mission. When it comes to the big picture, the seemingly cool and composed Snake turns out to be totally in the dark. Metal Gear Solid weaves an intricate web of conspirators, terrorists, and rogue agents with conflicting agendas. Snake is at the mercy of all of them. He follows the orders of his commanding officer who is clearly withholding information from him. He defeats terrorists who are secretly allowing him to succeed. He strikes up friendships with radio support members who are plotting his death. The player controls Snake, but Snake is never in control of what’s happening on Shadow Moses Island. Every success is complicated by a fresh revelation that it somehow fits into another character’s scheme.
Like in Metal Gear, where Snake entered Outer Heaven through an aqueduct, Snake sneaks into Shadow Moses Island through the water. Fired first from the torpedo tube of a submarine, he exits his underwater submersible and swims up to a lonely dock. Up until this point, the player has watched Snake and has not yet been allowed to control him. Then, after Snake sends a message to his commanding officer Colonel Roy Campbell, Snake is placed in the hands of the player.
The goal is simple: reach an elevator at the end of the dock. Guards patrol through stacks of crates, barring passage. It is a test. You remember how to sneak around, right? And yet, there is a difference. As the player starts to navigate the dock, credits play over the action. Programmers, CG artists, animators, the sole localizer.
Metal Gear Solid marks the start of creator Hideo Kojima’s emulation of film language. Rather than hide the credits in an opening sequence before the title, they are integrated into the game itself. Metal Gear Solid begs to be parsed through the lens of film, in order to better encourage players to observe its action-film mélange.
The dock, in combination with the heliport that follows it, is also a chance to introduce and reacquaint players with Metal Gear Solid’s environmental textures. The docks contain puddles that create noise, which attracts guards; walking through puddles results in lingering footprints, which guards can follow. Ascension up the elevator to Shadow Moses’ exterior heliport reveals a playground of new textures and complications, including snow (which also leaves footprints), searchlights, and surveillance cameras.
In previous games, elements like noise could still impact Snake’s success in sneaking, but Metal Gear Solid goes to great lengths to populate each location with a greater amount of textural elements. The result is that each area contains remixes of complicating factors that the designers can rearrange and adjust to modulate tension and difficulty. The first two areas of the game are not necessarily difficult so much as a stealth playground full of details to play with. The docks and heliport are tutorial areas. It is impossible to avoid engaging with at least one of these complicating elements while progressing through them, be it crossing a puddle on the docks, trampling snow up above, or edging close to a surveillance camera.
Snake faces these new complicating elements with the help of Metal Gear Solid’s greatest overhaul: the Soliton Radar system. Radars are nothing new to the franchise, being introduced in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, but the Soliton Radar is the fulcrum upon which Metal Gear Solid pivots. Metal Gear 2’s radar was a three by three grid showing dots that corresponded to enemy locations. Stealth was still a binary: step into an enemy’s line of sight and an alert would trigger. It was not possible to see where enemies were facing while looking at the radar. The Soliton Radar changes this; each guard has an observable cone of vision.
The result is an increase in player information that eliminates the costly mistakes that made Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 feel unfair. Each location is a single contiguous space, and seeing where guards are looking and how far they can perceive means players can’t, for instance, walk onto a new screen and instantly get spotted. (A newfound ability to look at the environment through a first-person perspective also helps in this regard.) The Soliton Radar is the key to what makes Metal Gear Solid satisfying. In being able to truly track enemy patrol patterns, players are better able to achieve the sort of geometric stealth the series has revolved around. Players know when to move, where to hide. The puzzle is in deciding when to risk movement.
The Soliton Radar is also a problem as much as it is a solution. In granting players detailed information about enemies, the game gives them a greater sense of security and confidence. This makes it easier to embody the dream of being a super-capable commando. It means that Metal Gear Solid is an easier game than its predecessors. It also contributes to the games inherent tension: it’s easy for the player to feel in control even as Snake is anything but.
To compensate for the addition of the Soliton Radar, Solid Snake’s health pool starts small, making direct combat foolish. However, this changes as the game progresses. Snake’s health pool increases after each boss fight and his arsenal continually expands. The player will eventually always have the tools to tackle new threats, and the Soliton Radar will continue to provide them with ample information. As a result, portions of the game can be played without care for environmental surroundings, with the player’s eyes glued to the radar instead. If Snake is meant to feel outgunned, the Soliton Radar undermines that. It is a problem so pronounced that later games abandon this type of radar mechanic entirely.
Snake (and the player) aren’t simply given more information thanks to the radar. Metal Gear Solid also places new emphasis on Snake’s radio support team in a way that previous games did not. While advisors were able to be contacted in previous games, they rarely made their presence known. Here, conversations with the support team are essential, and these advisors form a substantial portion of Metal Gear Solid’s cast. These include Colonel Roy Campbell, genetics expert Naomi Hunter, data analyst Mei Ling, and survival expert McDonnell Miller.
Although Snake is alone behind enemy lines, he is never more than a simple call away from one of numerous experts that can provide hints and further information. Their explanations use gameplay language, urge the player to do such things as press the start button to pause the game or tap the D-pad slightly to move slower and make less noise walking on grates. The line between their role as fictional characters and player companions is thin, emphasizing the overlap between Snake and the player. Players feel secure because they talk directly to them; Snake feels backed up because they offer advice. This cast of characters is more firmly integrated than previous radio support teams, and their presence helps players feel more confident.
The initial segments of the game—the docks, the heliport, the tank hangar floor 1, and B1— involve a relatively straightforward progression from one area to the next, allowing players to adjust to the environment and establish a connection with Snake. While textural elements add complications, each new area is relatively open. Enemy patrols are limited and, in areas like the tank hangar’s first floor, side rooms are unlocked that will later be sealed. It is possible to collect a variety of tools by exploring. A truck on the heliport hides the SOCOM pistol; a room on the far side of the tank hangar contains thermal goggles. Metal Gear Solid’s Shadow Moses facility, like its predecessors Outer Heaven and Zanzibar Land, functions similarly to a Zelda dungeon. The main difference is that Shadow Moses often allows players to access key tools early. The opening segment of the game rewards exploration with items that will prove useful later on.
The first scene at B1’s prison is when Metal Gear Solid starts to establish its particular brand of cinematic narrative. This is also where the game begins to set up a slowly mounting series of failures on Solid Snake’s part. These failures continue for most of the game. Solid Snake is highly skilled, but he rarely succeeds during his time on Shadow Moses. Each time he reaches an objective, there is a twist or change that ultimately undermines the fantasy of being a skilled commando.
This cascade of failures starts with the death of the DARPA chief Donald Anderson. Snake infiltrates the cell where Anderson is being held hostage and learns that Shadow Moses houses a new Metal Gear—a bipedal, nuclear-equipped giant robot. Then, Snake can only watch in horror as the DARPA chief spasms and dies of an apparent heart attack.
Later in the game, Snake learns that Anderson’s death was his fault, in a way. FOXDIE, a specially engineered virus injected into Snake, has been programmed to target certain individuals present at Shadow Moses and kill them. Regardless of this knowledge, Snake’s first attempt to complete a mission objective fails. Players can sneak here without detection like a true professional, but no matter what, Snake cannot save the chief. He’s been set up to fail.
The events on B1 also mark the start of a series of formal repetitions of scenarios from previous games. Familiar elements from Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 will be reused throughout the game. Metal Gear Solid’s dark secret is that it is, in part, a remake or re-imagining of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. It hits similar beats, repeating combat encounters and environmental puzzles. All of this has happened before and will happen again, over and over, for the majority of the series.
This starts with the player’s introduction to Meryl Silverburgh, Colonel Campbell’s niece (who is later revealed to actually be his daughter). She was present at Shadow Moses when the terrorists took over. Meryl fulfills the role that Metal Gear’s Jennifer and Metal Gear 2’s Holly White occupied: a tough female soldier turned romantic interest for Snake. This also means that, unfortunately, her plot line runs into similar snags.
Meryl is a character caught between two conflicting roles. She is a tough, no-nonsense soldier, but she will eventually fill the same female victim trope as many of the series’ prominent women. Later in the game, players will face a choice for Snake to attempt to survive torture or submit. Snake choosing to submit will lead to an ending in which Meryl dies, after which point Snake sinks into a spiral of self-doubt predicated entirely over his inability to fulfill the Hollywood cliche of saving the girl. Meryl’s survival is the barometer by which Snake measures his own worth as a hero.
In Metal Gear Solid, being a Hollywood-worthy hero invariably leads to the people around you suffering. Meryl’s role as both well-rounded individual and trophy plays into this dynamic. She fights along Snake in these initial scenes, but the camera still makes sure to look at her butt as she runs away. (Paying attention to her wiggling hips actually matters later, since it’s an honest-to-God solution to a puzzle.)
Proceeding further leads to the B2 armory, the closest thing Metal Gear Solid has to a central hub. Shadow Moses’ spatial design turns out to be very direct. There’s only a total of three buildings in the whole game: the tank hangar, the warhead storage facility, and the blast furnace building housing Metal Gear REX. This relative small scale is even more apparent when the setting gets revisited in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Metal Gear Solid compensates for its small size by forcing the player to backtrack and revisit certain areas multiple times.
The B2 armory is where many of the various keys for Metal Gear Solid’s locks are found. Sometimes the “key” is an explosive, as in this initial moment. Snake must collect C4 explosives to blow a path to find the captured Armstech company president Kenneth Baker. The B2 armory is also a place where players must backtrack in order to grab a PSG-1 rifle for the first Sniper Wolf battle. Metal Gear Solid’s design pushes and pulls the player to and from the B2 armory, where essential progress tools and optional weapons can be picked up any time they find a new security keycard.
The backtracking moments can seem like an artificial extension of playtime, but they offer the benefit of making the player intimately familiar with Shadow Moses. Eventually, players learn the fastest routes and best tools to use in each room in order to expedite their travels. Their growing familiarity, in turn, helps Shadow Moses feel much more real and extant than the relatively cartoonish and excessive locations in Outer Heaven and Zanzibar Land.
Blasting through the outer walls leads to a confrontation with Revolver Ocelot, whose cowboy aesthetics and Machiavellian trickery lean into Metal Gear Solid’s exaggerated action-movie pastiche. Ocelot will go on to become a key character within the series, a master manipulator and rogue agent who facilitates much of the series’ conflicts. In Metal Gear Solid, he’s the embodiment of Cold War-era anxieties that continued to color ’80s and early ’90s action movies. Ocelot’s stated goal is the revival of Soviet Russia, a reversal that would bring the world back to a remarkably tense state of affairs. Those political ambitions come paired with an action-movie affect; he twirls his guns as much as his mustache.
Snake’s initial encounter with Ocelot interrupts Metal Gear Solid’s methodical pace with a harried gunfight. The muddled mechanics of the fight largely rely on taking away freedoms that players previously enjoyed. The Soliton Radar is unavailable, and moving into the center of the room instantly triggers trip-wire explosives that kill the hostage, Baker. The battle plays out as something of a chase, but this time, Snake is the one doing the chasing—an inversion of the dynamics usually present in the gunfights that may have arisen from player detection in previous areas.
This sensation of the chase is owed to Metal Gear Solid’s fixed camera, which tends to hover directly above Snake and present a limited perspective of any given room. Ocelot hovers near the outer edges, and while it is possible to shoot him from across the room, players risk hitting Baker in the process. The setup encourages movement, dodging Ocelot’s shots until he reloads and players can retaliate.
Later versions of Metal Gear Solid, including the upgraded Integral version and the GameCube remake The Twin Snakes, grant players the ability to aim and shoot in first person. The result is that Ocelot’s boss fight is largely trivialized, as there is no longer a need to move around the room. In the original game, the mechanics suited the spaces they were in. The “solid” in Metal Gear Solid was a reference to the series’ move to proper 3D, and the Ocelot boss fight serves as a mini crash course in how the game itself functioned as a transitory moment in gaming’s collective understanding of 3D space. One change, one modernization—and it falls apart.
The fallout of Ocelot’s defeat neatly encapsulates the two extremes on which Metal Gear, as a series, functions: action movie excess and real world politics. At this point, players are introduced to the Cyborg Ninja, who is adorned in a color scheme worthy of any X-Men uniform and spouting anime rival-esque witticisms. He is a violent ghost, operating on the exaggerated and excessive end of the Metal Gear spectrum. Yet his flashy arrival comes paired with a lengthy series of cutscenes in which president Baker outlines society’s carelessness in handling nuclear waste and the potential for rogue states to gather materials to create nuclear bombs. The spectres of Hiroshima and Nagasaki loom heavily in Metal Gear’s consciousness, and Metal Gear Solid marks the moment where the action movie flair is counterbalanced by earnest proselytizing about real world violence. There’s a tension here—Metal Gear Solid is anti-war in message, even as it also heavily fetishizes military technology—and the series will simmer with that contradiction for its entirety.
In the aftermath of Baker’s rescue, up to and including his death at the hands of FOXDIE, Metal Gear Solid starts experimenting with narrative tone but also form. Metal Gear Solid 2 is often credited as one of gaming’s first postmodern texts, but Metal Gear Solid had already stepped in that direction in significant ways. Specifically, Metal Gear Solid plays with the post-modernist idea of deconstruction, which concerns the supposed barrier between what is “inside” and “outside” of a text. Metal Gear Solid calls attention to its own form and the supposed barriers of that form, then forces the player to transcend those barriers in order to progress. In order to exit the tank hanger building, players need to call Meryl on their codec radio. Baker’s only hint about her radio frequency—before he is killed by FOXDIE— is that it is “on the back of the CD case.” Players are meant to look on the jewel case that their game came in, view a screenshot of Snake talking to Meryl, and use that information to contact her. Like the tap code in Metal Gear 2, players are required to move outside of the game to find what they need. (Tough shit if you rented the game!)
The combination of Baker’s allusions to real world political events and the need to literally scour the real world for Meryl’s codec signal an increase in Metal Gear Solid’s scope. This is a game that interacts with the world into which it was released, calling attention to its form and politics in a way that was unusual for the time. As this narrative scope increases, the player’s comfort decreases. Intrusion into the real world makes the player feel less secure. The player’s options after Baker’s death are limited: players move upstairs, call Meryl, and navigate a laser-filled hallway using either the thermal goggles or cigarettes. The game’s opening emphasis on stealth navigation fades as larger themes take hold, the narrative quickly propelling players into a confrontation with Vulcan Raven, who is captaining a tank.
The tank battle is mostly a repeat of a scenario from Metal Gear. In that game, a tank blocked Snake’s path from Building 1 to Building 2, and it was most advantageous to stay to the side and use grenades or remote control missiles to damage the tank. The Vulcan Raven tank fight works similarly; the tank can be dispatched with two well-tossed grenades provided they land in the open hatch. The tank’s presence, along with the later battle against the Hind-D helicopter on the Communications Tower, is less of a gameplay challenge as it is a thematic necessity. In providing fights against increasingly modernized and high-tech weapons, the eventual confrontation against Metal Gear REX is put into a sharper context. REX vastly surpasses and reigns supreme over all over mechanized weapons. This tank battle is a small initial impediment that serves to highlight how terrifying REX is.
Metal Gear Solid alternates large triumphs with moments of disempowerment. Fighting the tank feels easy for Snake and for the player, but once again, it’s followed by a cutscene that shows that Snake isn’t the one in control. In the aftermath of the tank battle, the player hears the terrorists discussing the prospect of letting Snake win and allowing him to collect a card key to the next building. They are simply toying with Snake, putting on a sort of theater to convince him that his progress is not too easily won. Narratively, this undermines the achievement of destroying a goddamn tank.
Metal Gear Solid follows this with further disempowerment. Once players enter the Nuclear Warhead Storage Facility, the game disables their ability to use weapons on the first floor. Whereas Metal Gear often modulated difficulty by increasing the number of guards or removing hiding spots, Metal Gear Solid often opts to take away tools. The tank hangar basement and later areas jam the Soliton Radar, while the Storage Facility prevents players from simply pulling out their SOCOM and shooting a path.
As players approach an eventual confrontation with the Cyborg Ninja, the game continues to remove the tools they had once relied on, emphasizing Snake’s lack of control in the face of the Ninja, who is a rogue factor in Shadow Moses. In a repetition of scenes from Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2, players must disable a movement-impeding electrified floor using remote control missiles. They are not freely able to explore the storage facility basement due to poison gas. Instead, they are funneled towards their confrontation with the Ninja.
The hallway before the boss fight is littered with corpses and viewed with the camera pulled back to deemphasize Snake. Short, unskippable cutscenes stop Snake in place and remove control from the player. From the adjacent rooms, guns fire. The Ninja is slaughtering the terrorists. Why are we being interrupted? Who is being focused on? The answer is the Cyborg Ninja. Snake (and the player) are the lesser entities in this power dynamic. They lose control and focus, because narratively, all power rests with the Ninja.
The fight continues the trend of disempowerment that started on floor one. Weapons are not taken away, but the Cyborg Ninja can’t be defeated with guns. He deflects all bullets and dodges grenades.
Many Metal Gear boss fights have corresponding items that make things easier, a bit like Mega Man. For instance, Psycho Mantis’ fight is made easier with thermal goggles to track him, and a later encounter with Sniper Wolf can be cheesed using remote control missiles to attack her without ever leaving cover. Chaff grenades can stun the Cyborg Ninja, but the true “key item” for this fight is no item at all. It is a rejection of the past boss fight paradigm that, for example, made grenades the simple “solution” to the tank battle.
Because the Cyborg Ninja is also Grey Fox, who players last fought hand to hand in Metal Gear 2, this fight is a formal repetition given weight within the narrative. Grey Fox wants another hand-to-hand soldier’s duel, and we are forced by the game’s design to give him the battle he craves.
Defeating Grey Fox give players a formal introduction to Hal Emmerich, a.k.a. “Otacon.” He’s a weapons engineer who designed Metal Gear REX without understanding the ultimate goal was to use the mech’s propellant-free railgun to stealthily fire nukes. Otacon becomes one of the primary characters in the Metal Gear series; his inclusion helps communicate how the cyclical nature of violence doesn’t just affect soldiers but those around them. In his first scene, he cites his grandfather’s experience on the Manhattan Project as proof that his family must be genetically cursed to be involved with nuclear weapons.
This theme of biological determinism has been lurking under the surface of Metal Gear Solid from the start, observable in its repeated set-pieces. The continued reappearance of this theme implies that there is something ineffable about humanity’s conflicts. Otacon brings that subtext to the front, spelling out the idea of a genetic curse on his family. (Similarly deterministic curses seem to plague Meryl and Snake. The former wants to be a soldier like her father was; Snake is thrust into endless intrigue as a result of being Big Boss’ son.) Otacon also fulfills the action-movie trope of hacker buddy and radio contact. He is the Al Powell to our John McClane, his dialogue often lampshading the action-movie excess for the absurdity it is.
The next portion of the game is about Meryl. Her depiction in this game is decidedly mixed. At times, she seems like a human being, sharing stories about her life and opening up about her flaws. At other times, the game objectifies her and undermines her agency.
Snake’s rendezvous with Meryl is a sort of puzzle that requires players to locate her in the storage building where she is hiding in disguise among the guards. The solution refers back to her noted wiggling hips. Identifying which guard walks with her swagger tips Snake off to which guard he needs to allow to spot him. After that, Meryl runs to the restroom, a moment that echoes Metal Gear 2 and Snake’s meeting with Gustava Heffner.
Players who chase her into the restroom fast enough can then see her walk around in her underwear. Earlier in the game, there’s a similar option available to players who repeatedly enter and exit the vent above her prison cell; do it enough times and Meryl will strip down. Meryl is a character we’re meant to trust, a likeable and strong companion, but she’s never so valued that we can’t stop to appreciate her ass or, if we play our cards right, see her panties.
Metal Gear Solid’s scriptis of two minds about Meryl. She is a competent soldier and brave ally. Yet she is also an out-of-depth rookie who hesitates to pull the trigger, and eventually, a damsel to be saved. Metal Gear Solid never completely discounts Meryl’s competency or humanity, however. When she talks to Snake about her desire to follow in her father’s footsteps as a soldier, a comment which ties back into the theme of parents and genetics, Snake listens carefully. Players are meant to take Meryl’s goals seriously as well. She is open about the difficulties that she has in navigating her own femininity, talking about her disdain for makeup and her aim to prove her worth on the battlefield. These comments are not treated as throwaway chatter, but the genuine pains of an individual navigating their sense of self. Yet Meryl’s ultimate fate in the series is to get married in Gun of the Patriots. Her story in the franchise concludes with a marriage to Johnny Sasaki, a gag character best known for his chronic diarrhea.
A notable interaction happens near the midpoint of this scene, when Snake asks if Meryl wants to swap guns with him so that he is using her .50 cal Desert Eagle while she takes his .45 pistol. Until this point, players might assume a degree of possessiveness over Meryl, either out of a desire to protect a valued ally or (presuming a somewhat stereotypical male player) protect the chick. Snake falls into this trap, expressing that concern while also implicitly calling Meryl’s judgement into question. Maybe the tough commando should have the big caliber gun, right? Meryl refuses, and it is unclear whether we should admire or roll our eyes at Meryl’s insistence that she keep the higher caliber weapon.
Meryl’s control over her own fate is not to last. The unraveling of this control starts during the boss fight with Psycho Mantis. It’s only a handful of steps down the hallway before Meryl is striped of agency. The Psycho Mantis fight is one of the most well-known boss fights in video game history, for good reason. But it’s telling that one of Metal Gear’s most famous moments is also the moment when Meryl is compromised, her sexuality weaponized against Snake. She is hostage and temptress while under Mantis’ control, and the player must start the fight by knocking her unconscious. Otherwise, so the game’s reasoning goes, she’d just be a liability.
The Psycho Mantis fight is one of the most active mixtures of tactical-action and real-world puzzle solving in the entire series. The wall between the game world and the player is made thin. Mantis reads Snake’s mind, although it’s more like the player’s mind, since he is actually reading the player’s memory card saves and offering comments if they have other Konami games’ save data. If they have the DualShock controller, he uses his telekinesis to move it, achieving that effect by revving the controller’s haptics. Most famously, he can predict the player’s movement. To avoid this, players must remove their controller from port one and move it to port two. Psycho Mantis’ fight is an exciting mixture of video game and extra-text. Like finding Meryl’s codec frequency, it calls attention to the game’s form as artifice and encourages reflection on its action-movie tropes.
Metal Gear Solid is a game. The player knows it is a game. The game knows it is a game. Once that premise is accepted, once the barriers between game and player start to crumble, it is possible to encourage creative puzzle solving that moves outside the scope of simply using the right item or having enough ammo. It elevates the Psycho Mantis fight into something unique, even shocking, within the context of its release.
Mantis’ defeat marks the first death of any FOXHOUND member (to the player’s current knowledge) . In previous games, bosses were little more than disposable minions with higher health pools. One of the keys to Metal Gear Solid’s success comes from how it breaks from that trend. Instead of an unceremonious death, Mantis is given time to monologue about his troubled relationship with his father and the terror he felt reading minds and seeing how most people yearned to procreate. He marvels at Snake’s loneliness, and in the end, he even helps Snake and Meryl by using his powers to open a nearby passage. Mantis is pitiable, but Snake never shows contempt. When Mantis asks to have his mask put on, so that he might be alone with his thoughts before death, Snake obliges. For all of Metal Gear’s stumbles as a series, its games are always intimately concerned with why its characters do what they do. Later games will run wild with this, venturing into the area of trauma-porn, but for now, Metal Gear Solid manages empathy and is a better game for it.
Through Mantis and Meryl’s questioning, the player realizes that Snake is a lonely, isolated individual. He’s a cool bad-ass who blows up tanks and beats super-soldiers, but he’s also the man who failed to save two hostages, is being unknowingly manipulated by the terrorists, and cannot reciprocate Meryl’s affection. Metal Gear Solid allows players to fulfill the superficial duties of an action hero, but it continually undercuts the idea that being a hero is actually fulfilling.
After passing through a wolf-filled cave, Meryl and Snake are ambushed by a sniper. Meryl is shot, her mere proximity to Snake turning her into a target. The sniper leaves Meryl’s wounded body in the open as bait to draw him out. Sniper Wolf, FOXHOUND’s ace sharp-shooter, has struck.
Players can’t even engage with Sniper Wolf initially. None of Snake’s weapons can reach that far. Instead, Snake needs to turn and run, backtracking to the armory to pick up a sniper rifle. It’s the first mandatory run back to the tank hangar facility, and it’s oddly placed, given the narrative urgency. It hurts to leave Meryl behind, and the resulting stealth sections mean renegotiating old space in a new form and context.
As Metal Gear Solid has progressed, stealth segments have fallen by the wayside in favor of boss battles. These stealth sections were the moments when players had the most control and agency; they could lie in wait, choosing when to engage. This moment of backtracking has the benefit of challenging the player to rethink their approach, while also urging them to act quickly. It is a break in the movement forward. Losing your ally means experiencing a literal setback. But this is also what it means to be a hero. You will suffer, and you watch those around you suffer. It sucks to be John McClane.
The Sniper Wolf fight is not on par with the sniper battles later to come in the series, but it does help lay the groundwork that later games would build on. Ultimately, the boss arena’s limited space holds back the full promise of a sniper duel. The long corridor makes it very easy to get targeted, and Metal Gear Solid’s sluggish sniping means that players will often get shot, have their aim knocked off-course, and not have enough time to avoid Wolf’s follow up shot.
The battle succeeds more as a chance to explore further textural elements. Much of Metal Gear Solid’s stealth action is contingent upon how the player interacts with the environment. Do you run on a grate and make noise? Do you trample in the snow to leave footprints? These interactive flourishes help the world feel real, despite its action film trappings. In the Sniper Wolf fight, she also interacts with the space around her; most prominently, her breath shows in the cold air and allows players to see her hiding spots. Having an enemy interact with the game world helps players buy into the fiction.
Undercutting Snake and the player’s accomplishments is key to the game’s case against action hero mythologizing, and Metal Gear Solid lands its biggest punch after the Sniper Wolf battle. Snake is captured and brought face to face with the terrorist leader Liquid Snake. All player control is arrested as Snake finally meets the chief antagonist. Snake gets strapped to a torture table by Revolver Ocelet, and Liquid is free stand over him and gloat. Metal Gear Solid alternates between periods of stillness and bursts of forward progression. Snake’s capture halts everything and emphasizes the player’s failure with the “punishment” of cutting them off from the exciting stealth gameplay and power fantasy that they crave.
As Snake is repeatedly tortured by Revolver Ocelot, the player is forced to strenuously mash buttons or else die without the option to continue. Metal Gear Solid’s tendency towards restricting the player doesn’t end at limiting their use of weapons or removing radar access. The assault on the player also involves tearing out essential pieces of the game itself. Ocelot can detect when players are using a turbo controller to press buttons too rapidly. Players had been encouraged through the Mantis boss fight to think outside of the game, but now, Metal Gear Solid is punishing attempts to work around the torture sequence. You either suffer and strain physically, or submit and fail to live out the action hero fantasy.
Metal Gear is a franchise with a complicated attitude towards the male body. Metal Gear’s approach towards female bodies is often reductive, opting for lingering camera moves (particularly in later games.) The camera doesn’t quite obsess over male bodies in the same way, but the games’ stealth aesthetic does invite a focus on the idealized male form. Chiseled bodies are enveloped in tight sneaking suits, warriors toss away their weapons, metaphorically (or sometimes literally) stripping to grapple with each other, and heroes are bound and placed on display. The appearance of stealth in Metal GearSolid is sleek, smooth, and intensely sexual. Yet the Metal Gear series never settles on how to navigate the sexual trappings inherent in the presentation of its main characters.
This torture sequence expresses a series-long trend when it comes to homo-erotic language and the use of male bodies. The scene depicts Snake shirtless, tied up, at the mercy of his captors. It’s both a sexual image and a romantic one. Snake is vulnerable, exposed. His body is on display, inviting examination. (In a similar scene in Snake Eater, Volgin makes comments on Big Boss’ body, depending on how much the player has been injured.) Once the torture begins, Ocelot makes it clear that he derives sadistic pleasure with the pain he causes. Snake’s suffering serves the subtext of devaluing the action hero myth, but there is also a nobility to it, a way in which his body is framed as a beautiful thing. Damaging it is a particular kind of crime. For Ocelot, that transgression brings a very clear sexual release.
This torture segment, as well as Naked Snake’s beating at the hands of Colonel Volgin in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Raiden’s violent confrontation against Vamp in Gun of the Patriots use the visual language of sadism to codify the depravity of the series’ villains. This is often deployed hand in hand with implications of homosexual apetite. We learn that Volgin is bisexual because he grabs Big Boss’ croch. Vamp blatantly enjoys licking Raiden’s white-colored blood off his knives. The series never quite resolves the fundamental tension between its more nuanced portrayal of intimate male relationships and the way it also deploys queer sexual imagery as a shorthand for villainous intent.
Escaping the prison with help from either Otacon or a rogue-acting Cyborg Ninja kicks off the final third of the game, triggering a significant increase in pace for the rest of it. Stealth segments are increasingly abandoned in favor of action setpieces, boss battles, and cutscenes replete with political intrigue. It takes little time for Snake to return to where he was captured and proceed to the communications tower. Here, a triggered alarm leads to an extended chase sequence up the tower. This is a repetition of a sequence in Metal Gear 2, and after a brief encounter with Otacon, the player gets tossed into a fight with Liquid Snake, who is piloting a Hind-D helicopter.
The Hind fight serves multiple purposes. The first is practical: this fight is meant to train players on how to use the Stinger missile launcher before the climactic fight against Metal Gear REX. The arena offers ample protection against Liquid’s strafing runs, giving players time to find cover and then pop out to fire missiles. These protections are later removed during the REX fight, forcing players to fall back on their understanding of the Stinger’s mechanics in order to succeed. That the Hind fight is significantly easier serves to call attention to REX’s superiority within the fiction.
Destroying the Hind and seemingly killing Liquid provides a moment of triumph, but it’s soon undercut by Snake himself. This should be a huge accomplishment: one man faced down a dastardly terrorist and destroyed their helicopter in a dramatic one-on-one battle. Indeed, this is Otacon’s reaction. He’s amazed by Snake’s combat prowess. But Snake can’t agree with the assessment that he’s a hero, instead dwelling on his inability to save Meryl from Sniper Wolf. If the action hero always saves the girl, then he has failed to fulfill the trope. In some ways, this further serves to relegate Meryl to a prize-like status, but it’s also a continued commentary on the plight of action protagonists. There’s an existential tension and lingering doubt that isn’t washed away, no matter how many villains you kill, one-liners you say, or cool explosions you walk away from.
Almost immediately after taking an elevator down the tower, Snake gets drawn into another battle with Sniper Wolf. This second fight succeeds far more than the first when it comes to delivering a proper sniper’s duel. The open snowfield where the fight takes place ensures that Wolf takes more time to move to each of her sniping locations, making it possible for players to track her movements. When played using only the sniper rifle, the battle is an exercise in aim and reaction time. The series will later iterate upon these open designs, adding a sniper duel in each game and larger areas.
Players who opt to use a wider arsenal will be able to use some alternate strategies. In general, Metal Gear Solid rarely encourages this sort of thing, but Wolf’s fight and the upcoming battle with Vulcan Raven do offer some degree of tactical choice. For example, it’s possible to track Sniper Wolf’s position and strike her in cover using Stinger missiles, and a small nook on the east side of the battlefield provides cover from which players can launch remote control missiles and attack without ever exposing themselves to Wolf’s attacks. These are less obvious than alternate strategies that are presented in later games—for instance, either using thermal goggles to track Metal Gear Solid 3’s the Fear or tossing rotten food to poison him—but they’re significant indicators of where the series will go as it progresses. Lock-and-key boss fights will slowly be abandoned in favor of battles that reward a variety of tactics.
Wolf’s death sequence and monologue incorporate many series hallmarks, including broader connections to the real world. While later villains’ origins veer into the outlandish, Sniper Wolf’s is straightforward. She was a Kurd who faced persecution and later found a place for herself on the battlefield. Part of Metal Gear Solid’s focus on genetic destiny and violence means having characters who offer alternate explanations for their circumstances. Naomi and Liquid Snake’s obsession with genetics as the primary determinant factor in human behavior clashes with stories like Sniper Wolf’s. In her case, it is not some ineffable evolutionary instinct or ingrained destiny that placed her on the battlefield. It was social circumstance and oppressive systems. Metal Gear Solid and the series as a whole eventually brushes aside ideas of genetic determinism for a broader understanding of history and culture as the cause of human suffering. Wolf and Snake fight because external societal forces drove them into conflict.
The intervening area between the Sniper Wolf fight and the Vulcan Raven fight is the last real stealth sequence in the entire game. The Blast Furnace has a handful of patrolling guards and security cameras that bring back spatial stealth. Pacing-wise, this allows players to decompress from the Sniper Wolf fight, grab spare supplies, and then proceed to the next boss encounter.
The back half of Metal Gear Solid increases boss confrontations as a means of increasing tension, allowing Snake a series of bloody victories that are nevertheless undercut when Metal Gear REX is activated. There is always more killing to be done, always another warrior to face. To be a hero, especially in a video game, is to face a gauntlet of unavoidable slaughter.
Vulcan Raven’s boss fight is an inverse of Sniper Wolf’s. Where the prior fight’s main strategy was to face the enemy and beat them at their own game, Vulcan Raven encourages an indirect approach. The areas before the boss arena are littered with claymore mines that the player can collect. In the boss arena, Raven patrols down tight pathways between stacked boxes; these are ideal places to leave mines. Trying to rush at Raven is not really possible; his gatling gun can hit from further away than any of Snake’s guns. Instead, players can either guide Raven into mines or use tools like the remote control missiles to attack him behind.
The escalating pace of character deaths from Sniper Wolf to Vulcan Raven comes with a corresponding increase in plot twists and shifting loyalties. Everything that came before is now being called into question, whether that is Master Miller casting doubt on Naomi, or Vulcan Raven revealing that the DARPA chief encountered at the start of the game was actually master-of-disguise Decoy Octopus. Colonel Campbell has clearly been withholding information from Snake, characters are revealed to have entirely different identities and allegiances, and support structures like the code radio can no longer be treated as reliable. This shift mirrors the confusion in the latter half of the first Metal Gear, when Big Boss starts to feed to player false information, and serves to further highlight how undesirable the role of hardcore commando actually is.
Snake’s final task is little more than busywork that plays into the terrorist’s hands. In order to deactivate REX, Snake must bring a keycard to various locations in Shadow Moses. The metal changes shape depending on the temperature—this is a callback to Gustava’s shapeshifting brooch in Metal Gear 2—and ferrying the card to multiple locations delays the final confrontation with another sequence of backtracking. The player and Snake are literally running errands before the final fight. As they grow aware of mounting manipulations and agendas, players can do nothing but continue the mission.
The keycard sequence, which was meant to shutdown Metal Gear REX, actually turns the machine on. The depth of Liquid Snake’s manipulation is revealed. Snake was always meant to get this far; Liquid is not dead at all, having masqueraded as Master Miller for the entire mission. Around the same time, Snake (and the player) learn that he has been carrying the FOXDIE virus that has been specifically killing all witnesses to Metal Gear REX’s development. The virus itself has been altered by Naomi, who reveals herself as Grey Fox’s adoptive sister, eager to enact revenge on Snake for nearly killing her brother in Metal Gear 2. Everything goes wrong, everyone is using you. Good luck fighting the giant death machine, hero.
The fight against Metal Gear REX removes many of the tools that players had taken for granted. Metal Gear Solid’s stealth emphasized the use of geometry to hide out from enemies and duck into cover from bosses, but the REX area is open and exposed. Barring the use of chaff grenades, there’s no way to stem the tide of REX’s attacks. Instead, players need to react quickly, learn the pattern and range of each attack, then fire a missile in between each.
The Metal Gear series always uses its mechs as embodiments of each respective game’s themes. Metal Gear REX, as a thematic device, represents the growing irrelevance of flesh-and-blood soldiers in the face of evolving tech. The audience is meant to fear it because it is both capable of mass destruction and highly impersonal. The battle between Snake and REX is a clash between man and machine, one in which blood needs to win over steel.
For Snake’s victory to mean anything, for his progress in the face of countless manipulations to mean anything, this victory needs to be more than just destroying a robot. Throughout the game, Snake has been toyed with by his allies and enemies. He’s also been, to an extent, a puppet dancing at the end of the player’s string. At last, in this scene, he gets a moment to assert himself.
After Grey Fox arrives to help damage REX, he gets pinned to the wall by the mech. There is an interact-able cutscene during which players can aim their Stinger missile at the mech’s cockpit. However, because the resulting explosion would kill Grey Fox, Snake refuses to fire the missile, even if the player hits the trigger. It’s a small but important moment. Metal Gear Solid 2 will establish a complete break between the player and Solid Snake, but this is the moment when the cracks form. This is the moment when Snake is in control.
That small moment leads to a second round against REX that ends with the robot destroyed and a one-on-one confrontation against Liquid Snake. Liquid has been a champion of determinism throughout the game. He reveals that he is Snake’s twin, supposedly made using “inferior” genes compared to Snake’s “superior” stock. He says he fights because it is in the fiber of his being, and he continues the legacy of his father Big Boss by enacting an imperfect version of his plot: capture a base, have a big robot, create a world for soldiers.
At first, Snake reacts to this with cynicism, but eventually, he takes up Grey Fox’s call to fight for what he believes in. He will not fight as some government tool, he will fight because he believes it is correct. The final boss fight against Liquid is a fist fight, similar to Snake’s battle with Grey Fox in Metal Gear 2. Two ideological rivals clashing, Snake’s triumph making a refutation of Liquid (and, to an extent, the game’s) insistence that we are born into certain destinies. Liquid’s defeat is the moment when Snake takes hold of his own life.
Depending on whether the player endured Ocelot’s torture or submitted, the final escape sequence from Shadow Moses happens with either Meryl or Otacon. In the former case, it’s a reclamation of Snake’s worth, the achievement of an action hero trope that is, in theory, more earned now that Snake is acting of his own volition. The game apparently cannot avoid turning Meryl into a reward for Snake’s self-actualization, but it also doesn’t disrespect her completely. Reunited, the two act as equals in their escape. This is very much the case in Otacon’s ending as well, where he gets to act out his own self-actualization by removing his stealth camouflage and helping Snake in earnest.
Liquid Snake still has one more miraculous final hurrah, which manifests in an extended car chase sequence down a tunnel. But Snake has already won. This is a formality, a final chance to leave the spectre of the past behind. Snake’s car flips over, and he and his companion are stuck; Liquid steps forward to claim victory. Instead, FOXDIE kills him. The virus coded for Snake kills his twin instead. Nothing is certain. Naomi’s revenge becomes Snake’s salvation.
Naomi delivers her final words to Snake, in voiceover over footage of nature. She tells him that life is a choice. We are indeed more than what we are born into, or the parents from whom we were birthed. Snake has been abused, tortured, manipulated, and pulled into conflict again and again, but that is not all he needs to ever be. And even if fighting is in his future, it can be his choice. The ending music kicks in. The song’s title says all there is to know about a self-determined future, away from the action hero mold: “The Best Is Yet To Come.”
Yet this message that it is better to live your own life than fit into the action hero fantasy will go ignored. Snake was supposed to be free to make his own fate, but fan and critical acclaim consigned Kojima and his colleagues to a sequel. The next game in the series, Sons of Liberty, is fed up with these misunderstandings. It has no patience for players looking to infiltrate bases, who care more about being bad-ass than being authentic. It is the height of the series’ themes, oft misunderstood or derided, but ultimately necessary.
For now, Snake and his companion ride off into the sun. Free from manipulators, free from needy players, and free from the notion that the future is anything other than what he makes.
We now know when the highly anticipated Death Stranding comes out and what it’s about (kind of), which ends some of the mystery around this absurd and fascinating-looking game. But not all of the mystery has been unraveled yet, so we can all still make jokes about it.
After Kojima left Konami in 2015, people wondered what he’d do next. The answer, we all soon learned, was Death Stranding. Until now, most of the trailers left us with more questions than answers. Now we know: it comes out on November 8th of this year, somehow, and it’s about a nation divided by… something, that main character Samuel Bridges (played by Norman Reedus) is trying to bridge. Also, the enemies are called Homo Demons (representation is so important). Yesterday’s trailer shows off more gameplay and way more details about the plot, although the whole thing remains enigmatic and kinda bonkers.
The internet never saw anything enigmatic and kinda bonkers that couldn’t be joked about. The jokes started immediately, and I hope they do not stop before November.
I’m along for the ride on Death Stranding. It will probably make me groan as much as it truly amazes me, but I can’t help but respect a project that is so openly horny for Mads Mikkelsen, and which also has a character named “Die-Hardman.” It’s like Kojima reached into my brain and made the game I was dreaming of.
This week on Kotaku Splitscreen, how could we not dive into the delicious insanity of yesterday’s nine-minute Death Stranding trailer?
First we talk about some video games we’re playing, from Dark Souls 3 to Observation, then dive into news of the week (29:00) including Death Stranding’s ridiculous new trailer (and 2019 release date!), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and EA Play. We hear from a listener who does game analytics for a major video game company, then we get into off-topic talk on Veep, Educated, Fleabag, 24, 24, and 24 (1:04:54).
Here’s the trailer, in case you missed it:
And here’s an excerpt from the pod:
Jason: …What did you guys think of that batshit nine-minute trailer, in which a guy takes off a mask to reveal another mask?
Maddy: It ruled. It ruled.
Kirk: It was a very good video game trailer.
Maddy: I think this is the first trailer where I started to be like, OK, I think I can understand some of the threads of this wacky sci-fi universe that this game is going to entail. There’s some sort of traveling between dimensions, babies are involved, and there’s a grid laid across a huge area that is also involved in traveling between dimensions. More of those plot points, if we can call them plot points, are introduced here, and also the idea of Homo Demons as antagonists, whatever the fuck that is. It’s also probably the closest to an actual story trailer for this game that we’ve gotten so far—it’s not just a series of bizarre images. But don’t worry, it’s also still simultaneously a series of bizarre images… And there’s some actual gameplay footage. We’ve seen a little bit of that, characters running around, in the sense that they’ll be able to climb, and have a backpack and stuff like that.
Jason: They’ll have a backpack!
Maddy: Now we know they can hit each other with briefcases. That’s part of it too. And also people can climb through a swamp and be a skeleton. I dunno. It’s exciting. It’s great. The game looks good and weird.
Kirk: I thought this trailer was a reminder of how unimaginative a lot of video game trailers are, or just a little of video games are. It’s something Kojima does well—I think he serves a useful function in the creative space of the industry, because I know there are a lot of creative people out there, people have a lot of wild ideas, but there’s no one else showing ideas like that. You can watch any three seconds of that trailer and walk around thinking, ‘What the fuck was that? That was the weirdest thing I’ve seen in a long time.’ And that’s really cool, to just be in the imagination space of this total weirdo, whose whole goal is almost to come up with the most bizarre things. And then there’s the question of will this tie together into something that makes sense?
Maddy: Probably not!
Jason: There’s a maybe 0.1% chance that this game makes sense. I think it could be cool and fun and good, but the chances of it making it sense—
Maddy: I’ve been known to like games that don’t make sense, so that’s fine by me.
Kirk: I guess when I say ‘make sense,’ I don’t even mean you walk away with a complete sense of what happened. I just mean it ties together in a story that moves from point A to point D and ends. I think it’ll do that; most of his games do that. And it doesn’t have the baggage of the Metal Gear universe, so it’s a whole universe, which is nice, to play the first game in a universe that maybe— I’m assuming this won’t be a standalone. It’d be kinda nice if it were, and if it just began and ended and he went and made something else instead of establishing a thousand narrative threads that are then going to go on for the next two decades over all these games. I sort of would like it if it ended. I did get from the trailer a sense of it as a video game—there were stealth elements, there was shooting, there was sneaking around in the tall grass.
Maddy: There was building. This is going to be the next Fortnite.
Jason: Don’t you play as a postman who’s carrying things around, babies and boxes or something?
Jason: So that’s what it’ll be. It’ll be a delivery simulator.
Kirk: I like that there’s a character named Die-Hardman.
For much more, listen to the entire episode. As always, you can subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts and Google Play to get every episode as it happens. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at [email protected] with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.
Death Stranding, the bizarre next game from Metal Gear Solid director Hideo Kojima, will hit PlayStation 4 on November 8, 2019, publisher Sony said today.
In a strange new trailer that ostensibly contains gameplay but makes very little sense—as you might expect based on previous looks at Death Stranding—Sony revealed the news that Kojima’s next game will be out sooner than many people might have expected. You can watch the nine-minute bonanza right here:
What does this mean for Sony’s other remaining announced PlayStation 4 games? Well, The Last of Us 2 was planned for a 2019 release but I recently heard from a person familiar with goings-on at Sony that it’s been delayed to early 2020, likely February. And Ghost of Tsushima will follow in the next few months, with the PlayStation 5 likely launching next fall.
We all know that Cory Barlog didn’t single-handedly make the latest God of War, and Hideo Kojima didn’t go it alone on making Metal Gear. Yet as human beings, we can’t help but latch onto figureheads and their personal successes and failures. On this week’s Kotaku Splitscreen, Kirk and Jason and I discuss video game cults of personality, in response to a piece of listener mail asking us about striking the balance between acknowledging gaming’s big shots as well as the rest of the teams of people who make games.
The full episode includes our answers to tons of other great emails about Bloodborne (16:07), gaming fans’ obsession with studios’ financial results (29:55), and our dream Assassin’s Creed settings (52:03). We end with another riveting installment of Jason’s recaps of the NFL play-offs, which has a happy ending for a certain team that my parents love and unhappy endings for almost everyone else.
Kirk: This question comes from Daniel, who writes, “Hey, Kirk, Jason and Maddy! Happy New Year. My question for this mailbag episode is about Triple-A game directors and the sort of cult of personality that seems to develop around them. There’s a TL;DR of my question at the bottom of the email.” Oh, okay, I won’t read that. I’ll read the actual question.
“When God of War released last year, director Cory Barlog instantly claimed the spotlight after he released a video of himself reacting to reviews of the game. His emotional reaction was really striking, and stuck with viewers because it reminded them of the human cost of making their entertainment. It was this cool moment where we were forced to think of the collective team that made the game we enjoyed.
“Yet since then, I feel like Cory has kind of become the face of God of War. It was him who got a trophy at the Game Awards, he who primarily featured in NoClip’s documentary, he who appeared on your show and many others representing the game.” We did have Cory on. That was a cool conversation if you want to go back and listen.
“It makes sense that he would, as he was the director overseeing the project. Yet I feel the coverage he and other large-personality directors get (people like Randy Pitchford, Hideki Kamiya, Hideo Kojima, and others) kind of diminishes the role of the massive teams that develop these games in earnest. Sure, Cory oversaw the game, but hundreds also tirelessly worked on it. I feel this type of coverage is more appropriate for indie devs like Jonathan Blow, Lucas Pope, or Eric Barone, who often are one-man-shows and make these games on their own.”
All right, what do you two think of that?
Jason: So the big question that Daniel asks is, how we feel about that and does it diminish the sacrifices that the team has made and how should reporters handle this? I have so many thoughts on this, because I wrote a book about game development and as I was writing a book, I found that the way—I mean, part of storytelling 101 I’ve spent my whole life studying stories and the way stories are told and how to tell good stories. Storytelling 101 is, you have to have a character. The definition of a story is a character changing in some way, or a character having a goal and setting out to either accomplish that goal and eventually either accomplishing it or not accomplishing it, and all the obstacles that the character runs into along the way.
Humans love stories. Stories are the way that we communicate with one another, the way that we just are enthralled by stories has happened since the dawn of mankind. So it’s very difficult to have a good story that’s like, “And then these two hundred people did this thing,” because there’s nothing to grab onto. You can’t root for — I mean, you could root for a team, but you could not really humanize a team of people in the same way that you humanize a single person. And so that’s why we as people tend to latch onto these directors and these faces, because that’s what’s interesting to us. There’s nothing interesting about a brand, about saying “And then Sony Santa Monica did this, then Sony Santa Monica failed to do this, but they successfully did that.”
I think something that all of us could be better at, and something that I’m trying very hard to do for my second book, is putting the spotlight on—finding characters who are not those top developers and directors. People who don’t get as much time in the spotlight. But even then, you still have to spend the time to focus on those people and just get to know those people, and that can come at the cost of all the other people, right? So I can’t write a book that’s like, “Here’s about one hundred different people, and each page is gonna be about a new person.” It’s really tough. It’s really easy to accidentally diminish all the work of all the hundreds of people because you only want to focus, just by definition, just by our human nature, we want to focus on the characters and find characters and grip onto them. So, really, really difficult challenge for reporters and for gamers in general. You can totally understand why these colorful personalities and directors wind up getting all the headlines and the spotlight. But yeah, it’s challenging. Maddy, any thoughts on this?
Maddy: I have a lot of thoughts on it, too. Mostly what sticks out to me here is just the idea that it’s somehow okay to do it with indie devs, because my first thought there is, it’s also really not because a lot of times indie devs have other people who are helping them that we don’t even think about. Like, Jonathan Blow definitely does, and I mean, there are few examples—
Jason: Except for Eric Barone.
Maddy: Right. Or Toby Fox, or people where you’re like, “Oh, this one person really did all of this by themselves!” But even in that case, usually if you actually talk to the person, they’ll be like, “Well, my partner supported me through these things,” or “My family did.”
Jason: That’s the Eric Barone story.
Kirk: Yeah, if you read the story, that chapter, the Stardew Valley chapter.
Maddy: It’s a common situation where there’s some other invisible labor or even visible labor that just people don’t realize. Like, “oh, I hired a contractor to help me with the fighting mechanics for this one part,” and that person is in the credits, but no one cares or even realizes that that happened. I don’t know. I always think that’s kind of interesting. And also, I’m just thinking about how sometimes the people who end up being the face of a game—it’s unintentional, or it’s not even something that they want. A lot of times that can be really uncomfortable for those people, and that’s always hard to watch for me. It happens to women a lot. Jade Raymond got a lot of really weird scrutiny ten years ago. Or Amy Hennig, or—
Kirk: I remember Rhianna Pratchett.
Maddy: Rhianna Pratchett, yeah. A lot of times when women are the face of these teams, the way that people talk about them is really different and really awful. So, I feel like there’s often a dark side to the way that people end up getting elevated into these sort of “cult of personality” roles, and sometimes it’s a PR team doing it, and that’s because they’re manufacturing a story that they want to be told. But sometimes it’s just that people have gotten obsessed with this person for some other weird reason, and they just want to know everything about their personal life. I don’t know where I’m going with this thought, it’s just what this question made me think about, how sometimes the human nature of wanting to come up with these stories—which I think is a normal thing, as you say, Jason—can have a sort of insidious side, where sometimes we start writing real person fan-fiction about what we imagine these characters are like. And then when they don’t do what we want, we’re betrayed by them in some way, and that kind of thinking leads to the worst gamer rage that, you know, we’re all susceptible to. I’ve been—I’ve fallen into those narratives. It’s hard not to, sometimes.
Kirk: I always think about the—I don’t remember the particulars, but the story of Tim Schafer on, I think it was Full Throttle or Monkey Island. It was like, “A Game By Tim Schafer,” and the first time that he did that, and how that was sort of what made his career. So, it can be obviously very helpful for people to do that, even while it can also not be good.
I have a couple thoughts. One is that it is interesting to try to illuminate both the impossibility of talking about all the people that made something in this era of mass, massive creative endeavors. This is true of movies, too. This is something I got at in my Red Dead Redemption 2 review, which was, I was highlighting individual people and being like, maybe that person on the sound design did that amazing sound. Maybe that person in the QA team caught some bug. But even in doing that, the point I was making was, it is impossible to even fathom the number of people that worked on this thing. And I think that’s true even beyond video games. And that actually there’s an inverse of what you were saying, Jason, which is that as much as you say it’s not interesting to not talk about a brand doing something, we do that constantly. People do that constantly. It’s always like, “Oh, Bungie did this. Activision did that.”
Jason: Right, ‘cause we have to.
Kirk: Right, it’s a necessary shorthand.
Maddy: But you forget that humans did it, too, sometimes.
Kirk: Of course, of course. I’m not saying we’re wrong for doing it or anything. I’m just observing that we do it. Because of course we do. We need something to grab onto. And in the absence of, “Oh, Ken Levine created BioShock single-handedly, and all of its failings are his responsibility, too,” you wind up in this additionally weird place where a lot of times—we’ve talked about this many, many times on this show—people will be saying, “Oh, you know, this studio makes great games.” It’s like, oh, well, this studio made a great game fifteen years ago. Everyone who made that game is gone now. That, I think, also is a weird place where we just lack almost the conceptual ability to talk about things that large. Similar to a lot of the societal problems we face, the systemic problems, the systemic issues and how hard it is to talk about things that are huge and have interlocking parts. Video games are no different.
For much more, listen to the entire episode. As always, you can subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts and Google Play to get every episode as it happens. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at [email protected] with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.