Hideo Kojima: Game Guru, Movie Maniac
by Steven Kent for Gamers Today
It's not often that sequels propel game designers to stardom, but that's precisely what happened in Hideo Kojima's case.
None of Kojima's first efforts, all of which were written for a Japanese home computer system, were published. His first published game was Metal Gear, which did reasonably well as a computer game and extremely well as a console game.
The next Metal Gear game, Snake's Revenge, did good business, too, but practically went unnoticed when compared to the success of another Ultra game for the NES-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Metal Gear had largely faded into the memories of older gamers when Konami announced a new installment for PlayStation at the 1997 Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Metal Gear Solid basically existed as a storyline and pictures when Konami first announced it. In 1998, however, Konami first introduced the game to thousands of players by sending out demo discs, then released the game in the fall. Metal Gear Solid was a major international hit. Having just finished work on Metal Gear Solid Integral, which was released in Japan last Spring, Kojima has become Konami's best-known designer-ever. (Yoshiki Okamoto is better known than Kojima, but no one knew him before he left Konami and made a name for himself at Capcom.) . We recently sat down with Mr. Kojima -- here's what he told us...
Gamers Today: When you started out, your first games were for the MSX computer?
Hideo Kojima: Yes. When I joined Konami in 1986, I started with the MSX division.
GT: Was Metal Gear your first game?
HK: Metal Gear was the first game that was released. There was this other game that I developed that never made it to the market--Lost World. The title was world but with war like a cross between war and world. It was a Mario-esque action game with a story.
GT: Was there much difference between Metal Gear for MSX and Metal Gear for Famicom?
HK: When my MSX Metal Gear came out, it was very well received. Then it was ported to the Famicom, but I had nothing to do with the actual porting.
GT: Were they pretty much the same game, though?
HK: I really don't like saying this, but it really wasn't up to my standards. The care that I put in the original wasn't there. It [the Famicom version] was a more difficult game. In the very beginning, when you go from the entrance into the fortress, for example, there are dogs there. In the Famicom version, the dogs just come after you and you get killed. It was too difficult to get into the fortress. The fun stealth element was not there, and the actual Metal Gear, the robot, doesn't appear in the game.
GT: I never made it to the end of Metal Gear. Where did you get the idea for the game?
HK: A lot of factors have sort of resulted in Metal Gear. One big influence was the movie The Great Escape.
I wanted to create a game [that played] like the movie, with the character running away? escaping without a fight and trying to avoid being seen by the enemy. I wanted to do that, but I couldn't get approval on that concept alone. I had to add more features.
After my first game, Lost Warld, was given a "no" by the company, I was told to create another war game. Creating a war game for MSX was a little difficult because of the limitation on the sprites. When you get four enemies or even four bullets on the screen at once, the screen starts blinking and it just doesn't work.
I tackled that problem by taking a different approach--hiding from enemies and not fighting them. That way I could limit the number of enemies and bullets showing on the screen at once.
GT: Were you satisfied with the MSX version of the game?
HK: It was my first game that made it to release, so I have a lot of memories. It's my cute boy in that sense. (A Japanese way of saying "my first child.") At the same time, I wasn't 100% satisfied with what I was able to create. I was only a rookie in the industry back then, and the programmers and sound designer were more experienced than I was. I'm not sure that I was able to utilize them to the fullest extent.
GT: If you could make any changes to the game, what changes would you have made to that original one back then?
HK: There were so many things I wanted to do to create in that first game. There were so many things I wanted to throw in, and I had no idea how long each process would take. You just couldn't fit it all in one game. I guess what I couldn't do back then. I did in my Playstation Metal Gear.
GT: Amazing what four times more processing power and a thousand times more storage can buy you.
GT: Was Snake's Revenge your next game?
HK: I had nothing to do with that game.
GT: Not with MSX or Famicom?
HK: I made Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, an MSX game.
GT: And the Famicom game, Snake's Revenge?
HK: No, that's completely different. When I was in this MSX division, this one guy in the Famicom division developed Snake's Revenge without talking to me or anybody else. One day this guy and I hopped on a train (the Tokyo transit system) together. We were talking to each other, and he says, "By the way, I'm developing this game called Snake's Revenge, but I know it's not the authentic Snake, so please create a new Snake game of your own." That was when I decided to create Metal Gear 2, Solid Snake.
GT: Interesting. What did you think of Snake's Revenge?
HK: I thought it was very faithful to the Metal Gear concept. I enjoyed it.
GT: You came up with some pretty unique names for your characters in Metal Gear such as your hero, Solid Snake. Where'd you get these names?
HK: From Escape From New York.
GT: Oh, Snake Plisskin, the Kurt Russell character.
HK: That is how I got the snake part. I guess the slithering of the snake is definitely not a solid motion. It's smoother, more liquid. I also wanted to create a paradoxical name.
GT: How about some of the other names, like Ocelot?
HK: Ocelot was originally Links like the mountain cat. I decided that I didn't like the sound of it, so I changed it to Ocelot.
And the word Solid in Metal Gear Solid has three meanings. First of all, Solid Snake is a character name. Then Solid also suggests three dimensions--you know, a 3D game. The third meaning, deals with Square, you know, the company that does Final Fantasy.
A square is a two- dimension thing. And I guess the president of Konami wanted this game to surpass Square. They wanted to make it a cube, you know, like solid 3D. So it's got that meaning. too.
GT: So it's poking a little fun at Square.
GT: Do the folks at Square know about this joke?
HK: No, they don't know about it.
And then you have liquid Snake, his brother and his nemesis in the game. I liked the idea of liquid versus solid, you know, the two states at the same time. I mean water can be a liquid and water can be ice. You see that with the characters of the game.
When you look at a game, you want it to be fun. A lot of players, for example, say I want this kind of boss who attacks in this fashion. Then you create that character, maybe a guy with a huge machine gun, then you also have to work on the storyline. You want that character to talk about some specific things. So you can have characters who add to the gameplay and who add to the story as well.
I needed a character who could talk about Russia, so I made Ocelot.
GT: Why didn't you give him a Russian name like Ivan or Borsch Snake?
HK: If you look at all the characters in Metal Gear, there's a Chinese-American, a native American, and a Russian- American. Liquid Snake is British, but I didn't want him to be too British, and I didn't want the other characters to be too Chinese or too Russian. They're all hyphenated Americans.
GT: As the producer and creator of Metal Gear Solid, what did you do in the creation of the game?
HK: Obviously, I did the planning. I selected all the members of the team.
GT: How big of a team was it?
HK: Thirty-five people at the very end. I wrote the game plan, the specifications, the scenario, and the script. I gave my ideas to the designers and then, once the designers came back with designs, I made adjustments. I would have the sound guy do the sounds, then I would listen to them and have him make changes. I also worked on the polygon demos. I also controlled the financial aspect of creating the game and editing the movies.
GT: You can only work on one project at a time with that level of involvement?
HK: Yes, when I'm doing one thing I can't work on another project. I'd rather be a David Lynch than a Spielberg.
GT: It sounds like you're quite a movie fan.
HK: The human body is supposed to be 70 percent water. I consider myself 70 percent film.
GT: Interesting. The scene with Sniper Wolf shooting Merril--was that borrowed from Full Metal Jacket?
GT: Do you get asked that question a lot?
HK: Actually, this is the first time.
GT: Are there other scenes that are borrowed from movies?
HK: Many little things like when the computer guy hides in the locker when the Ninja comes. That's borrowed from Halloween. There is no locker, maybe, but Jamie Lee Curtis hides in something and sees the boogie man.
GT: How about Psycho Mantis throwing objects? Was that borrowed from Luke Skywalker's fight with Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back?
HK: The Fury. I told the motion designer to see that movie, to see the part when this young man flies.
GT: Who came up with the idea of having the player switch his controller to cloud Psycho Mantis's telepathy?
HK: Many old Japanese animations have advisers or masters that tell their students to clear their minds if they don't want their enemies to read their thoughts. The only way I could think of clearing your mind while playing a game was to unplug the controller and plug it in the other slot. That was my idea, and the young people on my team didn't really like it.