Over a MuckRock, there’s an amusing post about some startling similarities between Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid opus and the CIA’s Cold War archives. From the piece:
At MuckRock, we run into a lot of weirdness poking around in the Central Intelligence Agency archives. So much weirdness, in fact, that we’ve coined what’s known as Best’s Law (named after its strongest proponent, Emma Best) that states “With sufficient research, history becomes indistinguishable from a Hideo Kojima game.”
The post goes on to list five instances that should be familiar to fans of the series: everything from super soldiers to super weapons and shadow networks. And maybe even AI…
It’s worth a read if you’re into the real world inspirations behind some of the more fantastic aspects of Metal Gear’s lore.
The other day Dark Horse announced that it will be publishing The Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV. The 800 page volume of Yoji Shinkawa’s iconic artwork will be available on May 8, 2018. You can pre-order the volume on Amazon here. From Dualshockers:
This definitive collection of Yoji Shinkawa’s work contains 800 pages of concept and key art for characters, weapons, and vehicles from Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of the Patriots, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
Although Dark Horse Comics’ version of The Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV has been translated into English, it’s important to note that the Japanese handwriting on the images included have been left intact.
I have the original books for Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Metal Gear Solid V. There beautiful, but I note that many write ups claim that the books are not in English; this is not true. As you can see from my post about the Art of Metal Gear Solid 2, you can still get these promotional books for a rather steep price and read most of them, too.
The list price for the Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV is $79.99, but at the time of this writing it’s currently 40% off.
Metal Gear came out on that obscure MSX platform some 30 years ago today, according to Konami’s various social media feeds. As I originally started this blog as a tribute site of sort to the earlier entries in the series, I thought it would be fitting to make note of it today.
Of course, the franchise is moribund today. I saw Yong Yea posted impressions from E3 about the upcoming Metal Gear Alive (or whatever it’s called) but I have no intention of supporting future Kojima-less titles. Especially zombie-themed co-op shooters. Anymore so than I have any intention of going to Japan to play the MGS3 panchinko game. The only thing that might possibly revive my interest is a MGS remaster-remake, and I have a feeling that would be botched. If Nintendo-Silicon Knights (in its heyday) could barely get it right, what makes you think Konami in its current form could?
My conspiracy theory before MGSV came out (and Kojima’s ouster) was that Phantom Pain was going to feature a retelling of the original Metal Gear as its denouement. Considering the direction the game went, and with it only half finished upon release, it’s plausible. But probably not realistic. What could have been, if Kojima had been permitted to finish his masterpiece?
Still, not to be too petulant about it all; here’s to you, Metal Gear. I spent many hours of my life enjoying the games that spawned from this humble action title; the stealth convention built out of necessity and the silly story that served as window dressing for a premise that eventually got ambitious.
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 theDocument 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.
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.
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.
Two years ago I started blogging on this site, and my first post was about Metal Gear Solid 2, since it was April 29. Get it? In honor of both, here’s a walkthrough of the entire game via Tactical Dinner Roll. (Includes all cutscenes and codec conversations)
Tactical Dinner Roll was kind enough to split the gameplay up into 23 parts in a playlist. Most of the clips are less than 20 minutes long, so it’s all digestible. Better than the hours long let’s plays, filled with commentary and editorializing. Nice touch too to have all the boss battles labeled.
A good thing about these walkthroughs is that you can see how others play old and familiar games. You would think that especially in such a small game (compared to today’s games) there’s only so many ways to play it,. And you know them all. A reasonable assumption. But I’m always surprised by somebody’s innovation or little trick I didn’t catch before.
Metal Gear Solid 2 Posts
This wasn’t intended to be a Metal Gear fan blog, but since it is one of my favorite series I ended up posting a lot about it. For those interested here’s a list of the posts I wrote that are specific about MGS2:
For the record, I have yet to get the Virtually Impossible achievement on the PS3 port. I also have not reviewed Kangaroo Notebook. But there are a few more anniversaries for the game coming up, so I can manage them. Certainly by the 20th anniversary.
Thanks for everyone who has read my blog and given me feedback in the last two years. Here’s to many more.
I have something special planned for tomorrow (you do know what day it is tomorrow, right?)
A few days ago one of the Konami accounts tweeted out an older article that appeared on Games Radar, and called it “an interesting take.” In the essay, the staff writer says that the island of Shadow Moses played a big role in setting the tone for the game:
For all its frozen desolation, the uninhabitable rock which props up this dark tale of military scheming is the perfect companion for Solid Snake. Without its hiding places he could not survive. Often game locations assume the role of a character in games, pressing their personalities on to the story, funnelling the mechanics designers have created to fill them in ways that amplify their effectiveness. But rarely does a location become a true companion to the action, without whom our avatars would simply perish.
The level design is atmospheric to be sure. And one of the mechanics is to use the environment to your advantage (hiding, cover, etc). All fairly novel back in 1998. But until I read this article it never occurred to me to think of Shadow Moses as its own character, and it’s an interesting rabbit hole to explore. I was reading The House of the Seven Gables around the time I was playing the original game and that was my first exposure to gothic fiction. It seems to be a specialty of New Englanders. But in any case the main point drilled into my mind was that the setting, in this case the haunted house, was its own character chock full of meaning.
Now, Konami knows a thing or two about horror, even gothic horror, but I don’t believe it’s controversial to assert that Metal Gear Solid was strictly the publisher’s action series. That said, when Kojima was at the helm the series did have a strong post modern bent and horror elements crept in here and there. The idea of looking at the setting through the character lens is an interesting exercise:
Metal Gear: Outer Heaven, the military fortress that becomes a major plot point
Metal Gear 2: Zanzibar Land/Outer Heaven, same as above
Metal Gear Solid: Shadow Moses Island, as discussed in the article. Can be a nemesis and ally at times.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Tanker/Plant/Arsenal Gear/NY, a lot to unpack there. You go literally from being on a vessel transporting Metal Gear, to the camouflaged development center of a massive Metal Gear, to being inside that massive machine.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Jungles of Soviet Union. It’s well documented that you need to become one with the environment to survive.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Various locales, including Shadow Moses Island, 9 years later. Like in MGS3, you have to adapt to the environment to survive.
Peace Walker: not as clear cut
Phantom Pain: same as Peace Walker.
So you can make a compelling case for the earlier Metal Gear Solid games, but I find the comparison starts to weaken after you get away from the original Solid Snake saga.
This is the first year anniversary of Usualjay Plays Games. If you look over the archives you’ll probably note a dearth of updates over the last seven months or so. Lots of drafts and post stubs but nothing that ended up worthy of being added to the ether of the internet. C’est la vie. But I had the one year birthday of this blog planned out in advance. So in honor of the Metal Gear Solid 2 meta that caused me to start this in the first place, I started reading the book that purportedly served as one of the inspirations for the game: Kangaroo Notebook, the last novel by surrealist Japanese author Kobo Abe.
I knew from what I had read about the game’s development that only some imagery from the 1993 book made it into the final game; particularly the vampire stuff. In fact there’s another work – City of Glass by Paul Auster – which had even more direct impact on the fluff of the game (setting, character names, etc). But I’ve been curious to see what’s in the novel that may have gotten Hideo Kojima’s creative gears turning for Meta Gear Solid 2. Sons of Liberty did end up as one of the most ambitiously bizarre games made in the last 15 years. It’s kind of a mystery, really. One would think, given the runaway success of the first game in 1998, that MGS2 should have been a fairly straight forward example of cash-in mega sequel. In terms of hype, sales, and money it certainly was. But, that story. Controversial back then and something of a punchline today (Trolljima), it gave us the infamous character swap, featured a dense and at times incoherent narrative, and nearly all of its connecting arc points with the first game were either cursory or unsatisfying, to say the least. It was compounded by the fact that the gameplay itself was superb, and it was a technical achievement for its time, just it’s all wrapped up and weaved into a profoundly weird story. You couldn’t have one without the other. It all leaves you with a slightly uncomfortable feeling of “what the hell..” which, ironically, is the last line of dialogue in the game. Any hints to what shaped the creative process behind the story would be nice.
Hence, a Kangaroo Notebook reading.
I’m not that familiar with Japanese literature, I think I’ve read only two or three Japanese books before and they certainly were not in Mr. Abe’s wheelhouse. So this is something of a new critical literacy exercise for me. That said, I’m only about 30 pages into it so far and it does give one a similar feeling to that breathless, down-the-rabbit-hole sensation that permeates Metal Gear Solid 2. The antagonist wakes up one day to radishes growing on his shins, and when he seeks help from a dermatologist, he ends up on a gurney rolling down the street, his destination subtlety marked down as “hell.” It’s a breezy read thus far and I hope to finish it this weekend, at which point I’ll share some thoughts.
With regard to the actual game, my PS3 has been in mothballs for some months now, but it may be time to get it hooked up to a TV again and give Sons of Liberty another playthrough. With a respectful nod to confirmation bias, I’ll be looking for any narrative similarities between the book and the game.
I was sucked into The Phantom Pain at roughly 2 minutes past midnight on September 1, and I don’t see it letting go of me until the campaign is over. With the new version of MGO coming out on October 6, it may be a while before I get back to 100%’ing Sons of Liberty. I’m about 9 hours into the game at this point and have unlocked 3% (!). A small snag in my plan from yesterday: Streaming and sharing content was blocked in the early going, so I wasn’t able to get anything out on the net until sometime after 3:30 am, after the first two missions were complete.
I overachieved on the preorders, and have some extras to spare. More details on this soon as I figure out what to do with them.
We’re less than 8 hours away from the launch of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I have my digital Day One edition downloaded and ready to go on the PS4, and I’ll be streaming the gameplay for a few hours after midnight (I hope). I’ll post the stream link on my Twitter, but my new Twitch channel is here:
I’m lagging very far behind on setting it up with a bio and profile, and while I have a mic I won’t be providing any color commentary or play-by-play this time My rough estimate is that there will probably 50,000 people doing MGS V streams, so if you’re playing the game yourself you should have a pretty good choice.
Of course, I have no doubt that there will be future Metal Gear games; we know that Konami has been attempting to hire a new team to take over the franchise now that Hideo Kojima is leaving in a few months. He’s certain to take most of his existing staff with him, or at least those essential persons he would need to form the nucleus of a new studio. If that’s his desire at this point in his career. I have to imagine that those remaining in the studio formerly known as Kojima Productions will not want to stick around giving their shabby treatment from home base. Whatever Konami decides to do with series post Kojima, they will have to do much to recapture their existing fan base’s trust. What has been done with Silent Hill thus far has not been encouraging. In short, adieu Metal Gear Solid. It’s been a great ride for 25 years.
But before we get there, there remains the final opus of Kojima’s tenure: The Phantom Pain. If you’re like me at all I’ve been doing my best to avoid the internet since many of the major news outlets were given advance copies for review. Spoilers abound, I’m sure. But there is one spoiler that I’d like to share with you: all of the major gaming media outlets have been giving the Phantom Pain nearly perfect scores.
Not to tout the reviews of the gaming sites, since it’s been a long time since I took any of them seriously. But it’s a nice swan song for Kojima to go out to. It’s an understatement to say that I’m excited for new week’s release but it’s still a little bittersweet, knowing that it’s the last Metal Gear game that Kojima will ever make.