The Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer was the biggest story out of the Tokyo Game Show this year. Those that saw it were beyond blown away. But the trailer left a lot of questions in the minds of the fans. Is that really Snake? What’s with the new Metal Gears? We decided to head straight to the source. Below is the full transcription from our interview with Mr. Hideo Kojima himself.
Game Informer: The Metal Gear Solid series seems to have grown up with the PlayStation franchise. I wanted to ask you about the franchise's evolution and how it has coincided with the evolution of the PlayStation franchise.
Hideo Kojima: We did release the game in 1998, and the PlayStation 1 was released in 1994. It was a coincidence that it was released at the end of the PlayStation 1 lifecycle because it took time to create. We started the project much earlier than the actual street date.
First of all, when I joined the company, Metal Gear was the first project that I worked on. It was for the MSX, and that was in 1987. Also, I was in a division that was concentrating only on PC game software, so I was working on things for the PC Engine, PC, and 3DO. At the time of 3DO, there were some rumors that the PlayStation would come out, and that was quite shocking to me. It was the first time that a consumer machine would be able to create a 3D polygon. I thought about this and thought that I would like to recreate Metal Gear in 3D for that platform.
Metal Gear itself is basically a hide and seek game. So when you hide under a desk or hide in a locker, your vision should be from under the desk or in the locker. But on the MSX, that wasn't possible due to the machine's spec. So the camera was from the top. So, if it was not for the birth of the PlayStation hardware, Metal Gear Solid would not have been born. It would have just ended as a 2D game.
The name Metal Gear Solid came from the creation of the PlayStation 1. The "Solid" means 3D. That's why we named it Metal Gear Solid, because it was the first time 3D could be used.
Before PlayStation 1, I was making games for the PC only in Japan, and for the first time I had a chance to release a game outside of Japan because the PS1 was sold worldwide. After that, my life changed. Since I was working on a PC-base, the Metal Gear theme or world was targeted to a higher age. So I still had questions. What if I created this game for a Nintendo system? I still think that it might not have been as successful as it was on PlayStation 1. That means that the PlayStation 1 hardware itself, the people that followed the hardware, that means that I felt that Sony and Metal Gear were a good match.
With the rumors of PlayStation 2 and that it will use the emotion engine, I was thinking about what to make use of for Metal Gear Solid 2. Since Metal Gear Solid 2 was a smash hit worldwide - much more of a smash hit than Metal Gear Solid 1 - for Metal Gear Solid 3 it was a very natural choice to stay with the PlayStation platform.
The top priority for me to make Metal Gear Solid is for the fans who love Metal Gear Solid. If the users support the PlayStation over the years, and we thought that this was the case, I created Metal Gear for those users. So that was the top priority.
It is safe to say that I don't dislike other platforms. The reason why I always select the PlayStation format is because at the same time that I was unknown, the PlayStation was unknown. They were a good match, and they evolved to what Metal Gear and PlayStation are today, meaning that with Metal Gear Solid, I strongly believe that I will follow with the Sony PlayStation onward because many users support that hardware as well.
GI: Your devotion to the Sony hardware is very understandable given that history. But do you think that there could have been a chance that the series could have gone multiplatform if the Xbox or GameCube versions of the games had been bigger hits?
Kojima: It's a difficult question to answer, because multi-format is not what I like to do in terms of game development. I believe that all hardware has good points and bad points. With the rivals of this hardware battle, that grows, meaning that the game industry grows. If game hardware is integrated to one, and games are integrated to one, then we die, same as nature. So what I thought was that I wanted to create a game for the PlayStation, specifically using the PlayStation and what the PlayStation could do. Same for the Xbox. I would like to create games for the Xbox, to take advantage of what the Xbox is the most capable of doing.
For instance, Metal Gear Solid 2 was specifically created for PlayStation 2, because the PlayStation 2 was capable of creating transparent polygons. Alpha - meaning combinations of transparent polygons was what gave them the idea to express rain and wind using the PS2. So it was suitable for users to play using the PlayStation format. When it was converted to Xbox, that's a little different, because there is a change there of the expression. It's not as complete, because it was designed specifically for the PlayStation 2.
I should not say anything bad about our competition, but look at Splinter Cell 2, the Xbox version looks really great, but the PS2 looks a little odd, with choppy graphics. I think that is not loyal to the loyal game fans. I don't want to do that kind of thing.
So for Metal Gear Soild 4, we have already started the project for the PlayStation 3 platform. We would like to concentrate specifically on what we could do just for the PlayStation 3. For example, if I was to create Metal Gear Solid 5 or another title for the Xbox 360, I would create solely for the 360, taking advantage of the hardware, and would not convert to PlayStation 3, because that will not be a very good conversion. Another example is the Revolution. I will try to create a title specifically taking advantage of the Revolution hardware.
So it wasn't the hardware's fault for the conversion edition of the Xbox game, or the GameCube version of the Twin Snakes. It didn't do as well as people thought because it was a conversion. It wasn't created for that machine. If Metal Gear Solid was created specifically for GameCube or Xbox, the result would have been a lot different.
GI: Clearly you're interested in other games and other hardware, but you're back for Metal Gear Solid 4. You've said that you were done with the series before, so what made you come back for a final Metal Gear Solid game?
Kojima: It's similar to Hayao Miyazaki. It's a difficult question. For Metal Gear Solid 3, I started doing the story design, the plot, the gameplay systems. With finishing with Metal Gear Solid, I thought I would leave Metal Gear Solid 4 for the staff, who did 1, 2, and 3 together, and I would become the producer, so I could create time for other genres, and just manage or produce the title and not do direction, like I did for the past series.
For Metal Gear Solid 4 I thought of just working on the story, the world, or maybe the plot, and leaving other things to the younger staff. Back in March, during the European tour, I announced that I would not be working as intensively on Metal Gear Solid 4. I wasn't trying to say I was just going to be a producer, just looking after money like other producers sometimes do. I was going to look to the content like a movie producer. But ever since I announced that, there was a lot of misunderstanding, and I got a lot of mail. I got many calls and fan letters saying that they will kill me if I don't do Metal Gear. And of course the staff heard about this and got very nervous. We talk today as if it was a joke, but at the time, it was not a joke at all. It was serious. And the staff came to me and said "Mr. Kojima, you have to direct this, just like you've always been doing." So I decided to do Metal Gear Solid 4. And since I am doing Metal Gear Solid 4, I really had to sit down and do it, meaning that the original plan for other games that I had will be pushed a little bit off into the future.
Metal Gear Solid itself is a game that is created only for the users and no one else. Although I have another role of running the company and producing titles and corporate things, I still think that I will not create Metal Gear Solid if the users don't want that. That's why I decided to come back and direct and do all the things I said I would do for Metal Gear Solid 4.
The funny thing is that Japanese users sometimes say that I shouldn't come back and do Metal Gear Solid, as opposed to European gamers, who threaten me.
GI: Why do Japanese gamers say that you shouldn't do Metal Gear Solid?
Kojima: Maybe perhaps it's that the Japanese users don't like the same kind of storytelling or the message that scolds the players in a way and maybe Japanese players don't like that anymore.
GI: The series has historically been more popular in the US than Japan, correct?
Kojima: In terms of popularity, it would be US, Europe, and then Japan.
GI: Now I would like to ask you about some of the ideas and philosophies behind Metal Gear 4. On your website, you mention that you're interested in exploring the "inner qualities" of a game. Can you discuss that concept?
I always thought that even as the hardware evolves to become hi-spec, the game has not evolved or revolutionized for the last couple of years. I always express an example of a movie set. It's a battle of making the movie set prettier, or bigger. This is how the game has been doing for the past couple of years now. So from Famicom to PlayStation, this was revolutionary, because 2D became 3D, and everyone could walk around in a 3D environment.
There was nothing that was much of a drastic change from the PlayStation to the PlayStation 2. Of course, the graphics look prettier and the sound is better, and there is a touch of online, but 3D remained 3D. So PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 – of course there is an online element as well, but there's not a big change. 3D is not going to 4D. So going back to the movie set, it will only be a battle of making this movie set much prettier or bigger.
If the hardware will not take us to the next level in games, we thought that we had to set ourselves to the higher level on the game side. Of course, Revolution is an exception because it's totally different hardware. That's why we had the idea of concentrating on what you cannot see.
The battle of creating movie sets will probably go on forever if the hardware will rise with their spec as well, and this will probably continue. But I think that a set will probably just remain a set because a set is hollow behind. There is nothing other than the places that you can see. Behind that set is nothing. I don't want to do this. That is why I want to concentrate on what you cannot see.
Like, for instance, look at a jungle. In the past, if we made a jungle, it was just a set. The trees were plastic. We could make the trees prettier, or make more plastic trees to look like real jungles. Or make the details more intense. But plastic will remain plastic, and this is what I don't want to do. There should be life in that tree. If we water the tree it will grow, if we burn the tree it will die. So I wanted to create this kind of simulation world. And this is what we want to do, and I don't know how much we can actually do it, but this is the direction of what we want to do.
What actually worries me is that if we actually try to do this, it might take up a lot of CPU power, meaning the visual side might not be the up to the standard of what the users expect. So, we will always think about the balance of what we can see and what we can't see.
However, it's a next-gen platform. The users will expect upgraded graphics and sound, so that was another answer to the TGS trailer. It was expressing that we will go up to this kind of level standard. Of course, that was not the completed version, so we will go even higher. However, that is the level that Kojima productions will produce in Metal Gear Solid 4. After that, we will concentrate on the things you cannot see.
GI: Your comments on the living world coupled with what was shown in the trailer are very interesting. The trailer clearly shows a battlefield, and if you have a living world on a battlefield, there would obviously be innocent bystanders. Does this mean that in Metal Gear Solid 4 the player will encounter for the first time, people he doesn't want to fight.
Kojima: First of all, we really wanted to put this out, but we couldn't do it because of the limits of the hardware. Of course, as you said, innocent people will appear in Metal Gear Solid 4, however the troops will not be 100% enemies like we have always been treated in Metal Gear Solid series. For instance, there is a battle between A and B, and Snake belongs to Country C. He is not directly involved with A and B countries.
If, for example, Snake's mission's goal was in the battlefield of A vs. B, Snake has the option to interfere in the battle or not. To complete a mission, the simplest way will be to sneak into the battlefield without getting noticed by either A or B. However, if he is attacked by Country A, and kills a Country A trooper, that means he becomes an enemy of Country A. So if he continues to fight Country A, that makes him an ally of Country B, and that makes him a hero from a Country B side point of view. And of course it's up to the player, he could kill somebody from Country B, and that will make him Country B's enemy as well. So he will have 2 enemies, A and B.
The situation will change in real time, whether you want to interfere in the war or not. So, going back to the story of just one troop, this does not make enemies Snake's enemy or ally, meaning it will be the things we can't see as well. It will be more of a psychological thinking towards Snake, and we will like to concentrate on this part as well when we say the things we cannot see.
GI: Very interesting. Especially considering that you've always rewarded players for not killing. And now placing Snake in a place where killing has such extreme consequences seems to be taking that moral lesson even further.
Kojima: Basically, I would like to create Metal Gear Solid 4 so that it remains a basic stealth mission. It would be better not to get spotted by either side, whether it is country A or B, because the consequences of the next stage would be if he allied with Country A and destroyed country B in one stage, in the next stage there should have been A vs. B battlefield, but you will end up with just Country A – meaning that what you do will definitely affect the game. We would like to make something so that the users will think about what the consequences will be in the game. This time, like Metal Gear Solid 3, the theme was the West and the East, the Cold War, and we would like to take this a step further. We still want to have a theme in Metal Gear Solid 4 of the things on the battlefield which are not 100% correct. There are a lot of things on a battlefield that are not, from A's point of view, correct. But from B's point of view...contradictions.
GI: So are you perhaps touching on a theme of war crimes?
Kojima: Well, not war crimes, but to take it a little step further, I would like to put a theme in Metal Gear Solid 4 of a near future substitution of nations on the battlefield. Not just nations battling against nations, but a substitution. Of course there are many wars of today as well, and I would like to express further the concept of the substitution of war. For instance, if there is a country A and B against each other, even today, maybe some countries don't have troops or military. Maybe they hire bounty hunters or troops to represent them to fight a war. So it could be a fact that on a battlefield, both sides are actually Americans. Another example is that it should be a battle of nation vs. nation, but sometimes robots or non-human weapons are battling against each other, meaning that they are substituting the actual humans. You saw the little Metal Gear appearing as well, but that's a robot. That's not a man battling another man. It should be a battle of nations, but what's happening is substitution of war. The actual battle is only happening between professional troops and bounty hunters.
GI: Some people would say that wars are already about business. When you look at the war in Iraq, some people believe that we are there for their oil rights. You've always made political statements in your games; how much are you looking at the real wars of today?
Kojima: Actually, the message is about what you have partially said about the wars of today. We're not going to use that exact war of today as an example. We're going to go into a little bit more of a near-future world, but that's one of the things we would like to say as well.
GI: We've talked a lot about this war that will be happening in Metal Gear Solid 4, and that Snake will be in the middle of it. And you've also said that it's best not to get involved in many situations. But you've also said that the theme of the game is that there's no place to hide. Can you talk about how you have that theme and still keep it a stealth game?
Kojima: The theme "no place to hide's" answer was actually the battlefield, because in the past we've set scenes in Alaska, or New York. In Metal Gear Solid 3, it was a jungle, it was nature. When creating Metal Gear Solid games, the scene decides most of Metal Gear, actually. When we said no place to hide, the battlefield is not one place. It's not one area, or one building. The situation is always changing. How you evolve always changes. So that's the answer. That's "no place to hide."
It's not a matter of you can physically hide like you have been doing in the past series on the battlefield. Of course you can hide in a shelter, or behind tanks. What we want to express with no place to hide is that you hide according to the situation. If Country A is winning, then maybe you can wear their uniform. Then you will be able to hide amongst them. If the situation for Country A becomes worse and Country B is winning, you might want to change to the uniform of Country B. The whole environment and situation evolves, and that's why you have to adapt to the changes in order to hide.
GI: So blending in as one of the troopers is a different kind of hiding than what we've seen before. I mean, you've touched on it a little bit, but I still find it very exciting. Now that we've talked about the theme and the setting a bit, I'd like to talk about the characters. First of all, I have a thematic question about the characters. Snake is synonymous with the Metal Gear Solid series, but he's truly only starred in one of the three games so far. What do you think it is about Snake that so fascinates people?
Kojima: Yes, you're right. Solid Snake is the main character of Metal Gear Solid 1. Even for Metal Gear Solid 2, although the main character was Raiden – Raiden came in to highlight Snake's main character status. In Metal Gear Solid 2, Snake's reputation rose because of Raiden, but that was because there was a direct comparison between Raiden and Solid Snake.
GI: The character in the trailer definitely appears to be Solid Snake, but I know that you like to surprise your players, so I'm sure you won't reveal his true identity. But there are some interesting choices with the new look for the character. Why did you choose to go in this direction and give us an elderly Snake?
Kojima: We actually wanted to make you feel that way in the trailer. But the answer is that it is definitely Snake. It's not Raiden wearing a Snake mask. The reason why he looks much older is because of course he is a clone of Big Boss, and the technology during the seventies was not as mature as it is today.
Also, I want to express the feeling that Solid Snake has, because his mission all the time is to destroy Metal Gear and end the war, but this never happens no matter how much he does. It's a never-ending war. We want to express that in the character.
Also, ever since the first Metal Gear, it has been 18 years, and probably the fans and the users have changed as well. They've gotten married, or have children, or are living in hard times. I wanted to give those users a pat on the shoulder, saying "Snake's this old, but he keeps on going."
Also, from the technology point of view, when creating models for a next-gen platform, we can go into much more detail. So there is an option to create a young girl with beautiful skin, but that will not represent what the machine can do. A wrinkled old man with a moustache is a better way to say that we're using the best technology possible, so that was another reason.
In the trailer, we showed the old fogy Snake, and if we get feedback saying that the fans don't want this old Snake, maybe we'll make Snake a little younger looking.
GI: Personally, I like the idea of an older Snake. I liked playing as Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2, because I liked the idea of playing as someone who isn't perfect. I like playing as someone heroic like Snake too, but I like the idea of playing as someone with flaws and weaknesses, which is why I like the idea of making Snake past his prime. Based on the trailer, it certainly doesn't look like Metal Gear Solid has passed its peak, because it's a beautiful trailer. I wanted to ask you about a few details in the trailer. He has an interesting symbol on his chest.
Kojima: There's an interesting story there. I didn't think to use the name Solid Eye for the eye patch. We created the name Solid Eye for the Metal Gear Acid 2 peripheral. Then I got this idea right before TGS of calling it Solid Eye as well, and link it, without telling Metal Gear Acid's director Shinto Najiri. He (Najiri) realized this only after he saw the trailer. Shinta came to me after seeing the trailer and said "Mr. Kojima, I am surprised. Why did you call that Solid Eye?" That was a funny story at that time.
GI: A moment ago, you mentioned that the Solid Eye was designed to fool people into thinking that Snake was Big Boss. It appears in the promo art that Big Boss is in it.
Kojima: I cannot say. That wasn't my idea. The artist just drew it. So I have no comment on that.
GI: In that same piece of artwork, Raiden appears to be holding a baby.
Kojima: No comment.
GI: Is it safe to assume that we will see some returning characters, without naming names?
Kojima: Yes. As much as possible, we would like to have the characters from 1 and 2 appear in Metal Gear Solid 4. Because Metal Gear Solid 1 was seven years ago, the users have aged seven years. So have the characters of the Metal Gear Solid world. We wanted to do this, because seven years would make the characters change. You'll get this united feeling, that this character has changed this way; this character has led this kind of life.
GI: When I initially saw the trailer, I thought that more time had passed between two and four, but since you revealed that Snake is aging rapidly, it seems like less time has passed than some people might expect.
Kojima: Yes. It won't be like 30 years in the future, it will be more like 10 years. We can't say specifically, because we're still working on the plot and the scenario so it will make sense.
GI: What would you like to reveal to our readers about how the way you play the game itself has changed?
Kojima: This time, the world will be set on a battlefield. It's not just one, and not just battlefields. It will evolve according to situations. It's still a stealth game. You'll still get a tense feeling or atmosphere, combined with the situation. Also, even though it's in the battlefield, we'll try to make it so you'll have a psychological advantage, because the troops won't be AI troops. They'll be acting and reacting like human beings. If you do something in a psychological way, we'll try to make the game give you an advantage. There are some hints in the trailer. In the trailer, there is a new Metal Gear. When this comes closer, it makes the noises of a cicada. To most Japanese, this sound makes you think about your childhood days. It takes you back to those times, because you were going outside into nature and getting the cicada. And the actual sound of it walking is a horse clopping. And that cry is a sound of a cow. So combined, these three aspects, the sounds of the cicada, the horse, and the cow, this makes the person who hears the sound a little bit peaceful, because it makes you go back into your childhood memories. You're supposed to feel tense in a battlefield, but when you hear this, the cicada and the horse and the cow, that really cuts the tense feeling. And when that happens, that Metal Gear attacks you. It's nasty, and it's a psychological plot that's in this Metal Gear.
Apocalypse Now is the different approach, when the helicopter comes in. That is, distract the troops. Metal Gear uses those sounds to relax the troops, and relax you as well. Of course, you as the player can use that as well. This is another psychological aspect.
GI: Will the more lifelike graphics change the way you approach cutscenes in the game?
Kojima: Yes, there will be a change to the demo scenes as well. We will still have the same cutscenes that we traditionally had. We call it the Hollywood type. It's very good to express feelings to the users. But we will also try a new cutscene as well, like a seamless camera from your point of view to the demo sequence. Something you normally see today in Halo 2 or Half-Life. Something that you can change and move and control. Of course, we will make it better and not a complete copy of those games. We will add some flavor and special touches as well.
GI: Finally, are the online features of Subsistence a hint of what we can expect in MGS4?
Kojima: Yes, it will be. Subsistence is restricted to the PlayStation 2 format, meaning the PlayStation 2 online. It's within that world. In Metal Gear Solid 4 we will make that wider and much deeper. In Metal Gear Solid 4, we will not be restricted to eight players. So you can probably look forward to having wider and deeper online in Metal Gear Solid 4.
GI: Great. Thank you so much for your time.