Metal Gear Solid - 1997 Developer Interview
This pre-release Metal Gear Solid interview with director Hideo Kojima originally appeared in Famitsu Weekly magazine in early 1997. Kojima is his usual talkative self and shares his thoughts about the game design, working in 3D, and his now-familiar cinematic aspirations. There's even a fun little note about Mario Kart 64 at the end, too...
Hideo Kojima - Director
—In our earlier interviews we've asked you some broad questions about what kind of game Metal Gear Solid is... today, I'd like to go a little deeper.
Kojima: Sure, ask me whatever you'd like. I'll tell you as much as I can.
—The first Metal Gear was released on the MSX 10 years ago. From there you went on to create Snatcher and Policenauts... why the return to Metal Gear now? I had thought you might try and further refine the Policenauts adventure-style game.
Kojima: I personally like Metal Gear a lot. But most of what I wanted to do in Metal Gear wasn't possible on the MSX hardware. Because of those limitations I had to cut more and more from the original planning document I'd written. Each time I met with the programmers it was "we can't do this, we can't do that". And so, when it came time to work on a new game, I heard rumors about Sony's new PlayStation. The polygon rendering speed on this thing is amazing, they said. I heard more rumors about its actual hardware specs too. After hearing all that, I wondered if this might be the system where I could realize my original, full vision of Metal Gear… and the game that has emerged from that is Metal Gear Solid.
—Does this mean it's a remake of sorts?
Kojima: No, it's not a remake. It's more of a "complete version", a Metal Gear that takes advantage of today's hardware. The story is a sequel, but popular items and weapons from the previous game—things that give you the distinct feeling of Metal Gear—we made sure to retain those and build off them. Since there's so many new things we can express and depict with this modern hardware, which were impossible before, I think it's more appropriate to consider it a new game.
—A "perfect edition" Metal Gear that only today's high-tech could deliver.
Kojima: Yeah. But when you actually play it, I think it will give you a very different impresison from the original Metal Gear. It builds off the same essential foundation though. We've prepared a number of things that will appeal to fans of the original Metal Gear, and I want people to be excited about that. This isn't some cheap sequel that's trying to cash-in on the appeal of polygon graphics… just know that. (laughs) Right now I can say with confidence, the gameplay takes full advantage of the possibilities of 3D and I'm glad we went in that direction.
—If I can be perfectly honest, when I first cast eyes on Metal Gear, it reminded me a certain smash hit horror game on the Playstation... (laughs)
Kojima: Yeah, I understand that. There may be some visual resemblance there. As a game though, Metal Gear Solid is an entirely different type of terror. Resident Evil is splatter-horror, and the fear is created by the zombies rushing at you. In Metal Gear, you have the tension of having to perform all these maneuvers, and the fear of being discovered by the enemy… the essence of that fear may be closer to Clock Tower 2 than Resident Evil, I think.
After vision, the second-most important kind of tension I wanted to create was audio. Actually, when I've played survival games in the past, it's been the sound that's imparted the greatest sense of tension. When you hear the sound, for example, of dead leaves being crunched underfoot, but you don't know where it's coming from. Nothing else inspires such dread. (laughs) All you can do is hide. I want to depict that kind of fear and suspense in MGS.
—It sounds like the fear one experiences in war.
Kojima: Yeah, you could say I want to show, in a realistic way, the fear and dread of war. It would suck the fun out of the game if I pushed that to the forefront, though. You've got to have an entertaining side, like a Hollywood action movie. It's got to be fun as a game, and the intrigue of the world should gradually pull you in more and more, and by the ending credits you should be left with something to think about.
Kojima: However, I don't want MGS to be a game where you just go from one mission to the next, knocking over objectives. I want players to feel an identification with the protagonist. If players come away understanding why Solid Snake is fighting, how he feels about it, and what he is thinking, that would be the highest achievement in my mind.
—Geez, if you manage to fit all this in, won't you end up running out memory? (laughs)
Kojima: Man, you know… it's amazing how we still have that problem. (laughs) Even with the massive advancement in hardware from the MSX to the PlayStation.
—For those of us excitedly awaiting its completion, would something like "Metal Gear is back and now in 3D!" be an accurate statement?
Kojima: Yeah. The basic control style is the same in both games. And the basic screen layout has the same overhead view. In MGS, however, you can switch to first-person perspective with the press of a button. You can look in any direction there.
—Was this an idea you had back in the MSX days?
Kojima: I did, but… obviously it was completely impossible. (laughs)
—Now it can be realized on the PlayStation. When I think about it that way, this move to 3D seems like a very natural transition.
Kojima: Yeah, I think so. Making it, on the other hand, has been no walk in the park. (laughs)
—Can I ask about some of those struggles?
Kojima: I had been thinking of polygons in a very simplistic way. (laughs) The screen is not, actually, made entirely of polygons… a game that does go all-polygon is Mario 64, but everyone was telling me it would be impossible here. At the time, you know, I had no conception of how difficult making a 3D game would be. (laughs) Once we got into, I found that all the things that would have been obvious and simple in a 2D game, didn't work that way at all in 3D.
Kojima: Right now, the maps are what's giving me the most trouble. I want it to look realistic, so little details, like the desks needing four proper legs, or columns in a room being a certain width, those things are starting to bug me.
—Wow, yeah, that's very detailed. Can't you sketch everything out on graph paper though, to get a clearer picture?
Kojima: Yeah. Actually, right now we're trying to use toy blocks to model the buildings and bases.
—That's how a kid would play.
Kojima: I know, right? (laughs) The reason why we're going to the trouble of actually modeling them this way, is that the 3D model reveals things to you that are hard to see in 2D. I mentioned the first-person perspective mode a moment ago, and you can access that anytime to see exactly what Snake is seeing. When I was playing around with it, I noticed irregularities, like you should be able to see a door here, but it's obscured by a column. In order to better identify those things, we're building the structures with blocks and then using a CCD (a tiny camera) to peer inside them.
—There's that much difference between the 2D and 3D models?
Kojima: There is. I didn't believe it myself at first. All these maps that I'd personally drawn in 2D on graphing paper, almost all of them turned out to be useless. (laughs)
—Wow, I had no idea. 3D really is something else.
Kojima: Really though, as a developer it's a major headache. (laughs)
—What else has proven to be challenging in making MGS?
Kojima: Hmm, well, I'm worried about the cinematic presentation. In order to make the direction effective, I feel like I may have to add unskippable cutscenes. The story for Metal Gear is very complicated, so I think cutscenes will be necessary. The one thing I want to avoid, though, are those tedious scenes where characters are just blabbering at each other for 4 or 5 minutes.
—That's not good for the tempo of an action game, yeah.
Kojima: In Policenauts, the movies served two functions: to help build up the characters, but also to add backstory and setting detail on the same level of a film or novel.
—There's no question the setting for Policenauts had a level of detail that one rarely sees in video games. You could practically make a standalone "database" disc out of it.
Kojima: For Metal Gear, too, I'm trying to get as close to film as possible. What I mean by that is an expansive, well-written setting, making the polygon characters "act", and lighting effects.
—I see. Hearing all that, it sounds unmistakeably like a Kojima project. (laughs) How about the story? Both Snatcher and Policenauts left me with a lot to think about after the ending credits scrolled. Will Metal Gear build on that?
Kojima: When you've finished Metal Gear, I want you to feel like "ah… I understand now." That's my goal. In that sense, too, it's a cinematic or literary experience.
—I feel that many of your games feature protagonists who are jostled about by fate, but nonetheless manage to persevere to the end...
Kojima: I would include myself in this, but human beings, we all carry the burden of our humanity on our shoulders as we go through this life. Game characters haven't really had that much depth though, have they? They're always perfect angels, heroic types. Drama built around such characters rings a bit false to me.
—Then you've got RPGs and their conveniently amnesiac protagonists. (laughs)
Kojima: Yeah. In my case, I want to give these game characters a real chance to "act", and to do that, I need to show and include the details of their lives up to that point, their friends, their environment and upbringing.
—It's like a detailed setting, but for a character's life.
Kojima: That's right. Though right now, to be honest, I think I may have gone too far and written way too much about their backgrounds. (laughs)
—I'd expect nothing less. (laughs)
Kojima: I've got backstories for these characters that cover their whole lives, from the moment they were born to their current situation, but probably only 1/3 of that will make it into the game. (laughs) Maybe that approach sounds careless or sloppy, but it works for me. (laughs)
—Anything else you'd like to add today?
Kojima: Even though we're behind schedule, everyone at KCE Japan has been obsessed with Mario Kart 64. On break everyone rushes over to snatch up a controller, and the people waiting grab a Sega Saturn 3D control pad and do "image training", mimicking the movements while they watch and wait their turn.
If you've enjoyed reading this interview and would like to be able to vote each month on what I translate, please consider supporting me on Patreon! I can't do it without your help!