The birth of Kojima Studios
With Hideo Kojima and his studio Kojima Productions set to release their debut title ‘Death Stranding’ on November 8th 2019, it’s time to look back at the man who brought us one of the most well known and innovative games series ever made in the form of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. We will briefly look at what has brought him to this monumental achievement of starting his own games studio whilst simultaneously producing and creating a completely new IP for the industry. We will also look over Metal Gear Solid and dissect what made it so special.
So if you have never played the Metal Gear Solid series and are curious about this brand new game from Kojima, or if you’re a massive Metal Gear Solid fan and aren’t sure what to make of Death Stranding then let me try to convey why everyone should be very very excited for Kojima’s new game.
But first – a little history.
Kojima vs Konami
It’s 2013, World War Z and Man of Steel are out at the cinema and The Last Of US and Grand Theft Auto V have been released to universal praise. Hideo Kojima is in attendance at the 2013 Games Developer Conference as a keynote speaker. It is here that he announces that his 5th Metal Gear Solid title (not including the spin off titles) will be his final entry in the series. This is met with groans online of ‘We’ve heard this all before’ and in fairness to the fans of Kojima, they aren’t wrong. Over the years Kojima had stated multiple times that the next Metal Gear Solid title would be his last. Each time he has returned to the IP which made him a household name in the business and each time he has delivered a truly special game. It is to this end that the fans of Metal Gear Solid / Hideo Kojima can be forgiven for not believing him, or maybe they just didn’t want to?
March 2015; it’s 6 months before the much anticipated ‘Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’ is due to be released and reports begin to emerge online that Hideo Kojima will be parting ways with Konami Studios after the release of the upcoming Metal Gear title. A short time later Konami came under heavy criticism for removing Hideo Kojima’s name from promotional images and art of the upcoming release.
October 2015; The Phantom Pain has been out for over a month and has received critical praise. There are reports online that Kojima has indeed left Konami to which Konami respond, stating he is just “Just taking a break”.
December 2015; The Game Awards take place and Metal Gear Solid V receives 2 awards for ‘Best Action Game’ and ‘Best Score/Soundtrack’. Kojima is nowhere to be seen and it is reported that he has been banned from attending the awards by Konami, Kiefer Sutherland receives the award on Kojima’s behalf instead.
Nobody except Konami and Kojima will know the real story as to why Kojima decided to leave the company, but Konami’s reputation for how it treats its creators and staff leaves a lot to be desired and so perhaps what happened next was inevitable.
December 16th the same year; Kojima announces that he is starting his own independent games studio named Kojima Productions which would be partnered with Sony Computer Entertainment.
He’s Our Japanese Boy
Anyone who has played the Metal Gear Solid games will be well aware that Hideo Kojima enjoys a cut scene or two. I mean really enjoys them. This flare for exposition and story beats played out in long cut scenes harkens all the way back to when Kojima was a young man. Whilst studying economics Kojima would enter writing contests for magazines, however he failed to be published because his stories were around 400 pages long when the publishers only wanted them to be around 100 pages. It seems even at an early stage of his creative pursuits Hideo Kojima had so many stories to tell!
In 1985 whilst studying, Kojima found himself playing video games in his free time on his very own Nintendo Famicom System, namely Super Mario Bros. It was at stage in his life he decided to abandon his studies and pursue a career in video games. Everyone discouraged him from doing this due to the fact that the games industry was new and not financially secure. Kojima’s dear old mother was supportive of his decision and that was enough for him – off he went to get a job in the games industry.
In 1986 Kojima was hoping to get a job working on the Nintendo games division of Konami however ended up landed a job working on their MSX home computer system. Kojima felt the system was too restrictive and was constantly proposing new ideas for games, hoping to work his way into the Nintendo department. Kojima’s early years at Konami were full of failed projects which led to Kojima being snubbed by his superiors. He was ready to leave the company but decided to stay.
Kojima worked on a couple of MSX games and even developed one by himself named ‘Lost Warld’ (Not ‘World’) which was a platform game and this ended up being rejected. But things were about to change.
The Metal Gear Years
Still in his early years at Konami and having had a rocky start to his career, Kojima needed a win. He was approached by a senior associate of the company and asked to take over a little project named ‘Metal Gear’ for the MSX computer system (this would also be ported to the NES later on).
Kojima took control of the project and due to hardware limitations realised very early on that the game could not be based on combat and action, instead he decided to do something which in hindsight created a whole genre of video game which we still love and play to this day, he decided to make it about stealth.
Basing gameplay on learning enemy routines and avoiding them, not engaging in combat but instead sneaking your way to freedom. This was the first game to feature the now legendary characters Solid Snake and Big Boss. It released to critical praise and earned Konami a heap of cash. Kojima had made a name for himself in the company.
Konami decided to use their newly successful IP to make a sequel to Metal Gear named ’Snake’s Revenge’ and due to Kojima being busy working on other projects, he was not involved. It was after this that Kojima decided to make a ‘true’ sequel to Metal Gear named ‘Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. This game expanded on the game mechanics available to the player and was highly praised again.
This all set the stage for Kojima to embark on creating his first 3D disk based game for the new Sony Playstation system. The game was ‘Metal Gear Solid’ and after it was released to the world in 1998 Kojima wasn’t only a successful creator within Konami, he was a world wide celebrity in the games industry.
His Metal Gear Solid Legacy
To the majority of people in the west, Kojima’s next game was their first introduction to the world of Metal Gear. Instead of naming it Metal Gear 3 or anything similar, Kojima simply merged the two main components of the story into a name. The world was introduced to Metal Gear Solid.
This was the first entry to the series to feature 3D graphics and voice acting, meaning Kojima could fully indulge his film director aspirations and make a very ‘Hollywood’ feeling game.
The Storyline is straight forward in some ways and very convoluted in others. You play Solid Snake, a legendary soldier who has been dragged out of retirement to help foil a terrorist plot involving the launching of nuclear weapons. So far, so Escape From New York.
However, throw in a walking bipedal nuclear machine straight from a Japanese anime, an Antagonist named Liquid Snake who happens to be the genetic clone and ‘brother’ of the our hero Solid Snake and a rogues gallery of unique boss battles that still put most modern games to shame, and then you start to see where this particular game set itself apart from its peers. It’s story was complicated and full of world building canon. Players loved it.
The game is set on an island in Alaska, where the terrorists have seized control of an old military base. From the very first cut scene which introduces a scuba diving Solid Snake arriving on the island , players were instantly engrossed in the universe of Metal Gear Solid. The War Industry, nuclear weapons and military bases were going to be your home for the next few years.
Yes, the game has aged badly, like all PS1 games have. The character models’ faces show no expressions and certain assets are blurry messes upon any close inspection. But this was 1998 and if you are reading this and are either too young to remember that year, or you got into gaming at a later date, you need to believe me when I say this blew everyone away.
Characters were in 3D and so were the environments, you could interact with walls and other objects, you could see the characters breath when it was cold and you would leave footprints when walking through snow (seriously who else was thinking like Kojima and his team in 1998!). Think about how the Internet went crazy over Rockstar’s snow interaction graphics when Red Dead Redemption 2 was released and you have something close to how the industry viewed Metal Gear Solid at the time.
This brings us to the reason that people should be excited Hideo Kojima has created a brand new IP for his latest game.
I know it sounds like a cliche when someone states that something was ‘Groundbreaking’ so I don’t say this lightly when I state that Metal Gear Solid’s gameplay was absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt – Groundbreaking.
The early 2D MSX Metal Gear games may have introduced the genre of ‘stealth gameplay’ within the games industry however Metal Gear Solid then went on to define it.
You’re dropped into a military base with no weapons and no equipment except a set of binoculars and some cigarettes. You have no choice but to avoid contact with the enemy at all costs. Early in the game you will find some ammo and a pistol, however if you use this without a silencer then any nearby enemies will be alerted to your presence and go into ‘alert mode’ where you will be hunted down and most likely killed. You must avoid the enemies field of vision, as well as other hazards at the enemies disposal such spotlights and security cameras. You can disable these by shooting out the spotlights or using a special type of grenade which interferes with the security camera feed for a short time. You can also equip the now legendary cardboard box and use to hide in plain sight.
This is all within the first ten minutes of your play through.
Throughout the rest of your time in Metal Gear Solid you will discover more weapons and equipment, such as the infra red goggles which help you locate enemies, claymore mines and also the invisible ninja who tries to kill you at one point. Found some C4 explosive? Try planting it on the back of an enemy and then blowing him and his comrades up later on.
Which brings me neatly onto the boss battles. The boss battles are all different, in every way. You literally need to learn how to defeat each boss individually, its not just a case of point and shoot until they drop.
For example you could be fighting Sniper Wolf, which requires you to attain both a sniper rifle and the drug diazepam which will stop Snake from shaking and make his shot a match for the legendary sniper in a long distance shoot out, whilst Snake’s love interest and ally Meryl lays dying in the middle of the battleground and only has a certain amount of time left.
Or maybe it will be Psycho Mantis, the creepy psychic in a gas mask who can literally read your memory card on your Playstation 1 and requires you to switch your controller into port 2 so he can’t read what buttons you’re pressing and counter every attack you throw at him. Yes, the boss battles were and still are some of the most innovative and impressively designed in gaming history.
Metal Gear Solid was here and it gave birth to a franchise which spawned 10 other entries to the series which includes spin off’s. There were 4 other main title entries to the series which continued to expand on the rich and complicated history of the Metal Gear Solid universe which concluded with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain in 2015. It spawned comics, documentaries, and even radio plays in Japan. A movie based on the franchise has been rumoured for years and is likely to be made when the time is right. It created and defined a genre in a way which modern games today are still emulating.
It sold 6 million copies and was the most rented game ever at the time.
Looking Ahead To Death Stranding
The reason I bring up Kojima’s landmark game ‘Metal Gear Solid’ is because, as we all know, he is set to release his newest game Death Stranding. As I mentioned earlier, whatever shackles Konami had on Kojima in the past have been broken when he decided to leave the company and form his own games studio.
As discussed, Metal Gear Solid (and its sequels) created a whole genre of games, gameplay mechanics and story telling tools which we all take for granted today. It’s my belief that he’s about to do it all over again.
Early reviews on Death Stranding have been mostly positive with the general consensus being that it’s ‘pure Hideo Kojima’ and ‘May not be for everyone’. Which doesn’t really leave you knowing how to feel about it.
From what has been revealed about the game so far it’s clear that as a player you will be exploring a massive open world, but this won’t be like trying to get from A to B in a game like Skyrim. You can’t just button smash your way up the side of a mountain to get to your destination. Or sprint along pre designed paths that the game creators want you to follow. Instead you’ll need to think about what load out you pick before each journey very carefully. What equipment you take and how you implement it. You can play the game online and leave equipment, vehicles and tips for other players in an effort to help them traverse this post apocalyptic version of America. In the early gameplay footage shown, they show a little of this however according to reviews it only scratches the surface. Early reviewers state some of the structures you can create are astounding.
What’s clear is that this isn’t Metal Gear Solid, there is combat but it’s not the focus of the gameplay loop. There is stealth but it’s compared more to a horror game where every step you take matters when sneaking as apposed to being a super soldier like Solid Snake and taking out entire bases effortlessly.
It’s a game about the journey and not the destination. Some people will state it’s a walking simulator or an ‘amazon delivery’ sim. They aren’t exactly wrong, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from following Hideo Kojima over the years is that there will be so much depth to the gameplay loop that I can’t wait to get stuck in. I just won’t be expecting Metal Gear Solid. This is his new vision, and I for one, cannot wait to see what a twisted and unbelievable world he has created.
I have tried to read as little about the storyline of the game as I can, so I can approach it fresh when I get my hands on it. However I think you’ll agree that the trailers so far have promised more of Kojima style bosses, world building and Hollywood movie style cut scenes.
Hideo Kojima created a genre once before, many years ago. I think that against all odds, in this world of looter shooters and Battle Royale games, he’s going to do it again. What will it be exactly? Your guess is as good as mine.
Check out this completely spoiler free review of Death Stranding from Skill Up, who has played the game in it’s entirety already.
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