|When the gaming software giant Konami released developer Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid in 1998, it was immediately dubbed the "greatest game ever" by press and players alike. A groundbreaking blend of stealth, action, and cinematic storyline, it sold over 6 million copies worldwide for the Play Station alone. To this day, it's considered a masterpiece - a game that set new standards for an entire industry. The fact that Konami can actually sell a PC version 2 years after the game's initial release is a testament to the level of quality of Kojima's creation.
Unsurprisingly, previews of Metal Gear Solid 2 at E3 this year were overflowing with enthusiasts, and gamers around the globe have been panting for its release ever since the first stunningly detailed screenshots hit the Net. With a staff of forty people, the personable Kojima and his MGS 2 team have been working since late '98 to push the envelope on Play Station 2's vaunted Emotion Engine. Its launch was originally planned for spring 2001, but has now been pushed back to late 2001. This is bad news in more ways than one. Apart from the well-publicized and disastrous manufacturing shortfall for the US PS2 roll-out, sales of the console in Japan haven't lived up to expectations, a fact many have blamed on a lack of quality games; on the software side, low sales have been blamed on both a lack of compelling titles and, ironically, people using the console as a cheap DVD player rather game player. So obviously, Kojima's next installment of the Solid Snake saga is anxiously awaited by suits and gamers alike as the killer app Sony's console needs. "I don't mean this as an excuse, but working with Play Station 2 is really tough!" exclaims Hideo Kojima, MGS's award-winning software director and producer (an oft-heard complaint about the apparently nightmarishly difficult PS2 development software).
Kojima is something of a modern multimedia renaissance man: an erstwhile movie critic, he simultaneously develops MGS software for other platforms (like Nintendo's Gameboy), produces other games for various age groups (recently, the robot game Zoe, targeting the teen market), and serves as Konami vice president. But he still likes to get his hands into the nuts and bolts of game design.
Feed caught up with Kojima at Konami's offices in Shibuya, Tokyo to talk about what we can expect from Metal Gear's next incarnation; some of the difficulties and advantages of working with the PS2; and the future of Smell-O-Rama in gaming.
Feed: Where did the inspiration come from for the non-lethal weapons that can be used in MGS 2?
Kojima: I think adults should be able to play the way they want to, and I thought that there are probably people who don't like blood or violence, but who would like to see what it's like to play as a spy. Shooting with darts is a kind of violence, but I wanted people to be able to feel what it's like to be a spy without the killing.
Metal Gear is not about commando warfare. Most games are based on this idea of meeting up with an enemy and the two sides shooting at each other. You meet an enemy, you shoot at each other, you get hit and fall down - this is the basic model.
MGS is different. It's about entering the other side's territory; you make progress by not being detected. If you're discovered, then there's an attack. But basically, you can play this game without any battle at all. But with stealth alone, the stress builds up! There are, of course, people who want to try a little fighting - there are guys out there who are kind of like Hemingway or something, right? So for these people, they can try a bit of fighting. But MGS is much more about stealth. When I grew up, I watched movies about agent 007 - he didn't kill much, he was much more about tricking the enemy to get what he needed.
Feed: Even with the fighting, MGS has a strong anti-war theme. Where does this come from?
Kojima: My parents were born in the 1930s. My dad was in Tokyo, and my mother was in Osaka when the two cities were firebombed. So I heard all about this when I was a little kid, and they had me read books on things like Auschwitz. And I was raised with this feeling that people have the responsibility to pass on the fact that these things happened. So I don't like this notion of a game just being something where you shoot and kill other people.
In MGS, the anti-nuclear war message is particularly strong. Since I'm Japanese, and Japan experienced the nuclear bomb, I feel a need to address this. So there's news footage from the actual nuclear bombing in the game, showing what happened, and what's happening with the anti-nuclear weapons movement today is worked in, too. That way people can learn about these issues - even if just a little - while they are playing the game. You might get some macho guys starting to play MGS so they can be in a good fight, but once they're in there, they'll realize there's more to it than that.
Feed: I've read that creating a game for Play Station 2 takes two or three times as much work as it would to make a similar game for Play Station .
Kojima: Yeah, three times as much. Or four, or five.
Feed: Five times as much work?
Kojima: Well, it's hard to say that outright, but the amount of things you have to do have really increased.
Feed: Is that because it's become much more realistic?
Kojima: Yeah. With Play Station, a character's fingers all moved together as one (holds up his hand, like a mitten). Now we can move all the fingers, which is great, but now we have to do all the work of having each finger move realistically. Like when a character twists a doorknob to open a door. So it becomes more real, but it doesn't really have that much effect on the game playability. Recently Disney put out that Dinosaur movie. You could probably get that kind of quality on Play Station 2. But that was about a 90- minute movie, and for us to make a game with that quality and that volume, we would have to spend probably ten times as much time. Because for a game, you have to do all the work you see, then all the work you don't see.
Feed: So with all the extra work, will the price of your games go up?
Kojima: We could raise the price ... but then no one would buy them! So we can't. The thing about a game is that, if you don't try playing it, you don't know how good it is. If it were Play Station 1, we could produce the kind of medium-scale game consumers were demanding with one or two hundred million yen [US$900,000-$1.8 mill.]. A larger game, a big piece of work might take up five hundred million [$4.5 mill], or a billion yen [$9 mill+]. But with Play Station 2, it doesn't matter what kind of game you're making, you use up two or three hundred million yen [$1.8-3.6 mill] right away.
Feed: Wow. You must have a big budget.
Kojima: Yes, our budget is really huge. It's about the same as a movie budget -- a Japanese movie, anyway.
Feed: So what is it you're really excited about with Metal Gear 2?
Kojima: It's a much better game. There are a lot more ways to conceal yourself in MGS 2, for example, you can hide yourself in a locker. Or contrarily, you can be discovered by the shadow you throw. Anyway, you can hide in a lot more different ways, and so the tension is higher; it's scarier. Players can perform more actions, and we are able to express a lot of things in a better way, like shadows. And we've added more things we can do with Play Station 2 that we couldn't do on Play Station 1. We're able to make the enemy more intelligent. Plus, like I was saying, our graphics have gotten better, so we can express sensual things.
It's much scarier than before. It's really fun, I'm telling you!
Feed: I've heard that you'd really like to utilize the sense of smell in your computer games.
Kojima: Even though we humans have the senses of taste, sight, smell hearing and touch, currently, with computer games we can only use two of these senses: sight and hearing. If we could smell also, it would be a lot more fun, don't you think? The movie industry is the same - only seeing and hearing are utilized, but everyone in that industry is really working to try to enable us to smell a movie as well. We're working on that in the game industry too.
Feed: So that we can smell a computer game?
Kojima: There's no actual smell, but we're trying to use graphics and sound to convey the effect or sense of smell, as though you were near the sea. If we could use the sense of smell, we could put in the smell of the sea or something. I think that we will be able to do this is 10 or 20 years.
Metal Gear Solid 2 also uses a variety of graphics and sounds to make the user be able to sense different things, for example, the cold or the heat. It would be great if we could work it so that the player actually felt chillyold - but then they might catch a cold! A movie uses effects to make the audience feels cold: characters' breathing gets heavier, or the lens gets fogged up or something. In MGS 2 we do this too.
Feed: How else has Play Station 2 changed Metal Gear Solid? [Mark – should we changed this question? It is not really related to his answer. How about something like “Was it exciting to start work on MGS 2 with all of PS 2’s improved capabilities?”]
Kojima: We finished Metal Gear 1 at the end of '98, then started right away on MGS 2. But we didn't have the hardware - Play Station 2 wasn't out yet, we didn't know what it would be able to do. We guessed, and started work on MGS 2 anyway. We thought we'd be able to have 20,000 enemy soldiers in MGS 2!
Feed: How many do you have now?
Kojima: About 15 or 16 (laughs). Well, with MGS 1, we only had four! The number of polygons that you need to make a character have increased. That's why the characters look so lifelike. So 15 or 16 enemy soldiers is quite a lot. If we were using the number of polygons that it took to make a character with Play Station 1, we would probably have between 50 and 100 enemy soldiers. But their appearance wouldn't be improved over before.
Actually, if we just took the character models from Play Station 1 and inserted them into Play Station 2, we could probably have about 300 max, in real time. But with Play Station 2 we want to make it more realistic, like a movie, and that takes 20 to 30 times as many polygons. So you don't get so many soldiers. It's like that with the background too.
We have to decide what we want in the game, and how much space this is going to take. So, we have to figure out, if we have this much room, it will be this realistic. You have to experiment with that a number of times, decide on what you want, then make the game. It took us a while to work this out.
Feed: What do you think are the best features of Play Station 2?
Kojima: Well, compared to PS1, it 's way more interesting, you can do a lot more things, the expression capabilities are much better. It's not out yet, but Nintendo's Game Cube is also supposed to be really good, I think it will have the same capacity for expression. What everyone is really excited about with Play Station 2 is that it uses DVDs, so you can watch movies as well as play games. So kids that couldn't really watch movies before, can now, and as a result they're demanding better quality games, not just ones where you blow up some alien ships.
But there are still lots of things we can't do with Play Station 2 - like smell! In some ways, it's not what we hoped for.
Feed: How do you mean?
Kojima: Before Play Station, there was Super FamiCon [editor: Super Family Computer], which took CD-ROMs. Then, for the first time, you could play games and music on the same machine, and the sound you could use with games was much better. You didn't have those games with the funny "ping ping pong ping" noises anymore. This was a big step for game software, it was really great. Next the image quality got a lot better, more like movies. That was a big step too. Then there was Play Station, introducing polygons, and the capacity for image expression improved tremendously. That was another really big step for the industry.
So with Play Station 2, we expected another great step. And the music sounds better, the movie images look better, the polygons are better. But that's it. It hasn't changed things in a big way. We were hoping that we'd be able to play games via the Internet with it.
Feed: Won't we be able to do that soon?
Kojima: Well, that's what we're hoping, we're looking forward to that. But since that hardware hasn't come out yet, we have to work with what we've actually got. It will probably come out sometime in the near future, but we can't work with something we don't have yet.
Feed: With the Japanese version of MGS2 due out by the end of 2001, when can we expect the English version?
Kojima: We'll be releasing them at the same time. The US and Europe have really given us a kind of "love call." They love Metal Gear Solid, more than the Japanese.
Feed: Why's that?
Kojima: I guess it must be because those cultures just like action games a whole lot more than the Japanese. Out of about 6six million copies of Metal Gear Solid sold worldwide, 5five million went to the US and Europe, and the rest were sold in Japan.
Feed: Do you ever get tired of MGS?
Kojima: Sure, sometimes. But it's fun. Computer games used to be just for little kids, but I think I will probably be playing games till I die.