Yoji Shinkawa was the lead artist for the Metal Gear Solid series. In the 17 years after he took over as a lead, he designed much of the iconic look and style of the series. Textbook answer, right? I’ve always admired his work. A little too much ink in a lot of it, but somehow it worked for the games. I’ve also become a big fan of game art books. They made some nice ones for Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2. Since it’s April 30th and yesterday I promised something special, I’ll share a recent acquisition. The Art of Metal Gear Solid 2. I’ll also discuss some other artistic influences on the game. In particular, the books and a game that Kojima said inspired him during his design.
The book has five sections: “official illustrations” “concept illustrations,” and a “Talk Collaboration.” This is a kind of free roaming interview between Yoji Shinkawa and fellow artist Takato Yamamoto. The first concept illustrations section has “Characters,” “Mechanics,” “Mechanics: Rough Sketches,” and “Artwork.” This is all rough sketches of what ended up in the game, and some unused stuff. As for Official Illustrations: you’ve seen it if you’ve ever played the game or seen its artwork. By the way, most of the book is in English, but if you know Japanese, you can read Shinkawa’s sketch notes. Like many art books, the font is a little too small for my tastes (microscopic in this one). But the point is to look at and admire the images. Absorbing all the details and what went into the imagery of the game.
I recall an interview with Kojima in which he stated that he and Shinkawa would meet several times to discuss the artwork. Usually whatever Shinkawa came in with first was what Kojima would select. But he “had fun” making Shinkawa work hard on his revisions. Looking through the concept work this seems to be the case. The early stuff is what’s most familiar to me in the finalized form.
If you’ve been to any Metal Gear fan sites, then you’ve come across the unused character art. You could see a lot of this in the Document of Metal Gear Solid 2, as well. Two boss characters didn’t make the final cut. A few support characters also got canned in the early going. I’ll get to them in a moment. In “mechanics: rough sketches” there’s a “metal blade” sketch that looks interesting:
Shades of D-Walker? From behind it looks like one of the deep sea suits that you can see in the Moonpool section of the game. I’m curious what these guys were supposed to be.
Old Boy and Chinaman
One of these characters get a cameo in the game. This occurs during the scene where Snake tells you about Dead Cell. We don’t know which character for sure. But in the early designs they were prominent figures in the story.
Old Boy was a former Wehrmacht officer who was the mentor of Big Boss. In MGS2 he is the group strategist of Dead Cell. Somehow a former WW2 german officer is still alive and kicking (nanomachines…?) in 2009 to take part in the Big Shell takeover. We don’t know how Raiden would confront him in a boss fight. So I’m guessing Kojima didn’t get too far with this guy in scenario planning. But the rough background for Old Boy formed the basis for The End; the well known boss in Snake Eater.
Chinaman (with all due respect to the Big Lebowski) did get more details. From what we know of him, we can infer that his concept was alive until late in the design process. His background story was that he was a boy sold into slavery and brought back to America by a wealthy business man. He learned to hate his adopted country. So, like people who hate their country, he joined its armed forces. Chinaman became one of the most elite Seal Team members because of his great swimming skills. He joined in Dead Cell’s Plant takeover due to his hatred for America and New York City.
You were supposed to fight him in the filtration room. He would swim around and lure you underwater. There sharks (under his command) would attack you. Also his chest dragon tattoo would come alive and attack. Yeah, I know. There’s a good reason why Chinaman didn’t make the final cut.
In the final product, Vamp ended up absorbing Chinaman’s abilities. Got his boss fight too.
Max and Doc
Concept art for these radio support characters appears in the Book. I have no idea who Max was. But judging from the illustrations, she looks like she was going to be a perky Mei Ling type character. A brief Metal Gear wiki dive shows this to be the case. So the rumor goes, she was going to quote Shakespeare to you when you called in. It’s implied that she got into an accident right before the mission began. So Rose took her place as “the mission analyst.” Much to our joy.
“Doc” would have been your science officer. If you called him he would tell you about sea life and other information. Like Master Miller in the first game. As with Old Boy, this rough character background got folded into a character in a later game. In this case, Revengence, where the Doctor (Doktor) fills that role.
Both of these characters would have been AIs, like Colonel and Rose in the big reveal at the end of the official game.
Other Artistic Influences
Kojima got some bizarre imagery from Kangaroo Notebook. Vamp’s “vampire” gimmick is the most obvious allusion to that work. I’ve read most of that book, and I can say nothing else in particular stands out for MGS2. Though, thinking about it, the relationship between the nurse and the narrator resembles Rose and Jack. The nurse is far more antagonistic than Rose is, and that’s saying something. And the narrator is not as whiny as Jack.
The book does give a hint of the feel of Metal Gear Solid 2. Everything you encounter is vaguely familiar but alien at the same time. You have to rely on total strangers to give you vital information on where to go next. You feel like you’re going down the rabbit hole in both the book and the game, and it’s all confusing. If that doesn’t describe Raiden’s mission in the Plant Chapter, I don’t know what does.
City of Glass is on my to-read list, so I can’t say for certain how it influenced Kojima. It’s well known that the AI characters were all going to be named after characters in the book. Besides the setting (New York City), the only clear reference to the work is Peter Stillman. You know, Peg Legged Peter; the bomb disposal expert we know and love. As far as I can tell he was the only character with a City of Glass namesake to make the final cut.
Now, when you played the game, did you find the dog tag minigame to be sort of, out of place? I mean, it worked. It gave us a nice optional gameplay objective to it all. Though we were blackmailed into it since collecting tags unlocked the special items. I read somewhere that during development Kojima became quite the Pokemon addict. He would play the game nonstop for hours on end. And that’s where we got collection game from.
Games as Art
I don’t want to get into the larger debate here. That’s been handled quite well by others over the last few decades. But I do want to point out that 16 years later it’s still possible to appreciate the artistry that went into the game. It’s got a distinctive style across the board. And it’s still a unique experience.
I’ve said that Sons of Liberty represented Kojima’s high mark as a creator. In this game he took the boldest steps and had a great vision. He was the most confident in this project. It shows in how willing he was to infuriate the player. Now, I’m not saying this was a wise choice on his part. But it was a bold one.
I hope he’s managed to recapture that spirit for the upcoming Death Stranding. For his part though, Yoji Shinkawa has been producing quality work in his unique style for quite a while now. I’m interested to see what he comes up with for Death Stranding.
If you’re interested in buying the Art of Metal Gear Solid 2, you can do so here. I have to say it’s gotten quite expensive in the last year or so. Metal Gear Informer has a ton of high-resolution scans so you can get the gist of it. Kangaroo Notebook and City of Glass may also be worth looking at. That is, if you’re dedicated to understanding pieces of Kojima’s vision for the game.