Exposed: The secrets of Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes
30th Aug 2012 | 18:08
Only hours after Hideo Kojima unveiled MGS: Ground Zeroes (an open-world Metal Gear stealth/action game, as long rumoured by CVG) the internet is already rife with rumours and speculation.
When is it set? Who's the hero? What platform is it on? How does it fit with the MGS storyline? How will the open world setting change the gameplay? In typical Kojima fashion, much of the information is laced with ambiguity, but by cross-referencing data we have so far to the established MGS timeline, plus Hideo Kojima's deliberately cryptic Tweets, a clearer picture emerges.
1) It is Big Boss. However...
The official image on the Japanese MGS 25th anniversary website looks like 'classic' Solid Snake from MGS2, with his swarthy black beard and hair - but it's far more likely to be Big Boss, star of MGS3 and Peace Walker. The outfit, with its distinctive yellow thigh bands, resembles Big Boss's Sneaking Suit from Peace Walker (see screenshots). The night vision goggles hide Big Boss' distinctive eye-patch, but only slightly - you can still see the band across his hair. It's even clearer on the second front-facing 'Snake' image taken from posters displayed at the event, and runs over the injured right eye.
The key giveaway is the Militaires Sans Frontières (soldiers without borders) yellow / black logo on his shoulder, the organisation led by Big Boss in PSP's MGS Peace Walker (set in 1974).
Big Boss's gun looks like a variant of the FN FNC (Fabrique Nationale Carabine, a 5.56mm assault rifle) first commissioned in 1976 - again, hinting at a '70s setting, following the events of Peace Walker.
Big Boss is born in 1935, so this timing would make the Big Boss in the image in his early 40s. Arguably, the dark beard makes this character look younger, especially than some of the Peace Walker art (set in 1974), where his beard is lighter and greying. It's an inconsistency, but could be explained away with artistic license / lighting. The lines on his face do appear more consistent of a man in his early 40s, however.
This is where it gets interesting. The front-facing image of 'Snake' for the MGS 25th party appears to show a different logo on his shoulder - the FOXHOUND logo, another military unit started by Big Boss in 1970. Big Boss left FOXHOUND in 1972 to form MSF, but later resumed command of FOXHOUND in the early '90s.
It's quite possible that *both* logos appear on the suit, one of each shoulder, since the official image on the MGS 25th website is 'flipped'. Even the words 'Click Here' are flipped on the MGS 25th homepage, that reveal the flipped image - which can't be accidental. Neither image shows *both* shoulders, so this can't be ruled out.
However, this being MGS, it's possible there's two 'Snakes', one working for FOXHOUND, the other MSF. Is one an image of Big Boss, the other Solid Snake - perhaps taken from different time frames? They're clones after all. For that matter, it could be one of the other Snake clones, Liquid, or Solidus. Look, no one ever said Kojima makes this easy, but if pushed, we'd say it's Big Boss. After all, Big Boss was on the GDC recruitment ads for Kojima Productions, and all our previous speculation suggests the same.
UPDATE: The logo is more likely to be the FOX logo, representing the CIA-affiliated Cold War unit led by Major Zero in the 1960s, whose key operative was Big Boss. The FOX unit act as your superiors in PS2's MGS3, but command is assumed by Gene (Viper) in 1970 and the group goes rogue, leading to the events of PSP's MGS Portable Ops. Although FOX was officially disbanded in the early 70s, the MSF continue to sports its logo on their outfit with the FOX logo on the right shoulder, in addition to the MSF logo on the left shoulder. Konami are releasing a special MGS HD PAX bundle with a Snake figure from Peace Walker which corroborates this.
2) 'Ground Zeroes' has several meanings
Purely defined, 'ground zero' describes the point on the Earth's surface closest to a detonation, often associated with nuclear explosions and other large bombs. However, it's also used in relation to earthquakes, epidemics and other disasters to mark the point of the most severe damage or destruction.
In this context, we think it means 'ground zero' as in the point it all began; the result of a seismic event, just not literally explosive.
The obvious link is to Major Zero, co-founder of The Patriots, and Big Boss's key enemy as revealed in the end of MGS4. Big Boss and Zero interpret The Boss (female double /triple agent hero from MGS3) - look, no one said this made sense - in different ways, leading to a philosophical dispute and shaping a 'hidden' conflict that defines the world from 1974 to 2014 (when MGS4 concludes). We explain it in more depth here.
The 'seismic event' that causes the philosophical rift could well be Les Enfants Terrible (1972), when Zero creates three clones of 'perfect soldier' Big Boss as an insurance policy for the world: Solid Snake, Liquid Snake and Solidus.
The 'es' part of 'Zeroes' is interesting, implying the plural. One reading is that there's multiple seismic events, which could, in MGS lore, be the events of Outer Heaven (1995) and Zanzibar Land (1999). The Outer Heaven uprising is a rookie soldier Solid Snake's first mission as a member of FOXHOUND, where he's unwittingly asked to take down Big Boss, who leads both FOXHOUND and Outer Heaven. How very obvious. It's the story told in MSX Metal Gear, so it's not impossible MGS: Ground Zeroes will act as a form of remake, spanning a large time period.
Other readings are that 'Zeroes' imply multiple clones of Major Zero, though there's little in the MGS canon to support it, and it seems needlessly complex, even for Kojima. The 'other' Zero might be 'Null', the perfect solider aka Frank Jaeger who goes on to become Gray Fox, and his story comes alive during the 1970s.
Given our previous research, we're inclined to believe the plot tells the story of the philosophical split between Zero and Big Boss, plus Les Enfants Terrible, leading to the Patriots 'invisible' war against Big Boss.
The official artwork contains the tagline 'From FOX, two phantoms were born', which correlates with the Big Boss / Zero split, and the shadowy way they manipulated world affairs. It could also refer to the clone twins Solid and Liquid, but it would ignore Solidus, and makes less sense. FOX, in this context, might be the original FOX unit (which later became FOXHOUND), led by Major Zero in the 1960s whose key soldier was Naked Snake (aka Big Boss). See MGS3 for more details.
3) The events of the 'Ground Zeroes' demo - and stunned reactions
Images of the in-game 'Ground Zeros' demo may be embargoed, but early reactions are amazingly positive. It's the first showing of Kojima's ambitious Fox Engine technology, and left the crowd stunned, as these twitter reactions suggest:
I have to say, MG: Ground Zeroes looked AMAZING. Super happy to see something impressive coming out of Japan, and especially from Kojipro.
— John Ricciardi (@johntv) August 30, 2012
Snake crawled @ avoiding searchlights, killed guard, rode jeep, called in heli for evac. Sounds like MG, but the scale & atmosphere... Wow.
— Mark MacDonald (@markmacd) August 30, 2012
Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes demo was truly amazing, running on a PC at current-gen specs. Wow.
— Brad Douglas (@kazamatsuri) August 30, 2012
Demo of "Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes", started w cutscene (all realtime), went into gameplay, open world, night, raining, base. AMAZING
— Mark MacDonald (@markmacd) August 30, 2012
The demo starts with a real-time cut-scene, shifting seamlessly into the action, all technically very impressive. The camera trails a shadowy figure in a business suit and hat trailed by a number of heavily armed soldiers and dogs.
The mystery figure speaks to a little boy in a cage, and after some dialogue, throws him a portable music player, which the boy uses. The rest of the scene plays out to 'Here's to You' from the film Sacco e Vanzetti (also in MGS4). The man in a coat moves to an airfield and takes off in a helicopter to an unknown location.
The man removes a 'XOF' emblem off the helicopter, takes off his hat and speaks about what happened in very vague language. The man's face and head appear burned and scarred with no hair, although his identity isn't referred to. The man throws away a stash of mini 'XOF' emblems as he flies away.
'XOF', speculating sensibly, is 'FOX' spelt backwards, which must somehow tie with the deliberately flipped image of 'Snake' and the 'click here' on the website. The game might be exploring dualities: Zero vs Big Boss, Patriots vs MSF, control vs freedom etc
A spy appears climbing a cliffside near the base, and the subtitle 'From FOX, two phantoms were born' appears. He flips up his visor, revealing the trademark eyepatch and facial hair. The game refers to him as 'Snake' but, as discussed, it's likely Big Boss.
'Snake' proceeds to perform several familiar stealth techniques: lying prone and sneaking around (there's no Octocamo or camouflage), and third person aiming to take out a guard etc.
It feels very open world, and the military base is very large scale. Snake can drive around (a first for the series) and order a helicopter transport. Kojima hails it as a 'game without game over' so getting seen doesn't result in a halt of play, but a transition to a 'escape' form of play, with more combat. It's said you can leave the 'front line' of battle and play in a different way.
What everyone raved about was how it looked, with incredible cloth fluttering and textures, fizzling flares, spotlights rippling on the wet floor and rain effects. It all takes place at night, and the light is said to reflect across character's faces in an astonishingly realistic way. We'll know more when first footage or screens are released, but by all accounts it looks stunning.
UPDATE: A podcast by 8-4 Play has described the gameplay in more detail, with wider implications for the plot and setting. The military base is called 'Camp Omega' and the walls are covered in Spanish writing. The man with the trench coat is wearing a cowboy hat, that almost looks military. As he approaches the boy in the cage, men are being hogtied and having bags forced over their heads. The boy in the cage is about ten years old, has blonde hair and is wearing torn orange clothes that could be medical scrubs, or military clothes. They boy has a vacant look and is wearing headphones, attached via a jack socket surgically implanted in his chest.
The man tells the boy, 'The girl told us everything. We gave her a good ending'. He gives the boy a treat, as promised - which turns out to be a Walkman-style cassette player. 'Now you're a real soldier' says the mystery man, adding 'Say hello to the boss'. As he boards the helicopter, the scarred man uses a black light to swipe the 'XOF' logo and remove it from the side of the chopper and tears XOF patches off his guards' uniforms.
The core gameplay is as already described, more or less, but 'Snake' uses a prototype device on his arm, like a Dead Space hologram HUD, which projects a map and highlights Snake as a red triangle, also showing guards.
4) The scarred man and boy in the cage are...
It's pure speculation, but last year Kojima tweeted some images of a 'killed character' he was bringing back to life. In our previous speculation, we suspected it might be Frank Jaeger (Gray Fox), due to the facial scarring and time period, but it's worth noting that Major Zero (as he appears at the end of MGS4 as an old man) is also bald and scarred. Rewind back a few years, and he might look like the character Kojima tweeted. Major Zero has a distinguishing facial scar, but on the opposite side to the character in Koj's tweets - again, we'd not rule out a flipped image, but we'll see.
The boy in the cage could be anyone of a number of people, depending on the time period, but if the game is set in the mid '70s, it could be one of the 'Snake' clones: Solid, Liquid or Solidus. They're born in 1972, and would be 4 or 5 in our suspected time period, possibly older. If the game is set later, the child could be Jack aka Raiden (born 1980 ish) who was a famed child soldier. If the game was set earlier, it could be Gray Fox (born 1950s), but this seems less likely.
Kojima being Kojima, the entire demo could be a VR training mission, and then time period discussion become moot...
UPDATE: The Walkman cassette player launched in 1979, and there are few 'famous' candidates who might be the small caged boy in this time period. Fast forward ten years, however, to 1989, and Raiden / Jack would be nine or ten years old (he's born in the early 80s), where he was trained by Solidus Snake to fight as a child soldier in the Small Boy Unit in the Liberian Civil War (1989). Solidus is the third 'Snake' clone from Les Enfants Terrible, born after Liquid and Solid, believed to be the 'perfect' clone. However, he suffers accelerated ageing, so while he'd only be 17 in 1989 (he was born just after 1972), he'd look older. We doubt the scarred man is Solidus, mind you (more likely Zero), but the 'Boss' he refers to could be Solidus.
Child soldiers could be the 'taboo' topic Kojima explained he'd have to tackle in the making of his next game.
The curveball, is that Big Boss would be 54 years old in 1989, and the 'Snake' in the screenshot looks much younger. It's worth noting that Solid Snake would be 17 in 1989, but then the problem's reversed - he'd be too young to be the 'Snake' in the image (unless Snake, also, ages prematurely, just not at the rate of Solidus; quite possible given his appearance in MGS4). 1989 is the year Big Boss resumes control of FOXHOUND, and it's around about this time that Snake joins his unit (although Snake is supposed to take part in the Gulf War of 1991). Big Boss sets up Outer Heaven in the late 80s so, again, this is a fertile time period to set the game.
Liberia is near Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, but the only major Spanish speaking region in Africa is Equatorial Guinea. There's *possibly* a US flag in the military base in the middle left of the 'Snake' image, which would fit with Major Zero / Solidus (who later goes on to become the US president George Sears). However, the *Liberian* flag looks a lot like the US flag, with red and white stripes, and one big white star...
The already viscous plot, thickens.
5) Fox Engine is flexible, and built for the future
The demo was said to be running on a PC, but capped to the specification of current Xbox/PS3 consoles. Kojima has long talked about Fox Engine's flexibility for cross-console development, allowing easy porting of code from PS3 to Xbox to PC and so forth. At E3, Kojima told us Fox Engine was more of a development philosophy than pure technology, allowing manipulation of game elements in real time, making production easier.
The technical elements are very complex, but as a rough analogy, it sounds like Team Kojima developers can play, change and test things on-the-fly, rather than compiling the code to play it. On Twitter, Kojima was talking about how Fox Engine allows mo-cap sessions to be rendered in real time for preview purposes, rather than processed for later.
What's more interesting is that Konami is said to be positioning Fox Engine 'for both cloud gaming and next gen consoles'. Sony recently acquired cloud gaming firm Gaikai, and this could play a major role in the future. One advantage of the cloud is that it allows very high specification games to run on remote servers, suiting a scalable engine like Fox Engine. It's possible Ground Zeroes will exist as a cross-format game, with standard PS3 / 360, plus deluxe PC and next-gen versions.
6) The time period and setting
All of our previous research suggests a 1970s setting, possibly extending to the early 90s with Solid Snake's first mission. It'd allow Kojima to flesh out the Philosophical dispute, plus tell the story about 'love and family' he hinted at when we spoke at E3, with Big Boss estranged from his 'family' of Solid Snake, Liquid Snake and Solidus.
The in-game demo apparently contains references to 'soldiers who cannot return home', 'Paz' and 'mother base', all references to Peace Walker (1974). One of the voices is said to be Tomokazu Sugita, the Japanese Master Miller voice actor, also from Peace Walker.
However, the technology seen in the demo is said to feel more modern, but we wouldn't rule out a game that jumps between time periods, perhaps as a device to highlight the similarities / differences between Big Boss and his family, most significantly Solid Snake. If the character in the demo was Solid Snake, it could be the MG remake everyone's wanted (set in 1995).
7) It's coming out in...
Well, no one knows, but attendees were told the time scale was 'not so much to keep you waiting'. Fox Engine might allow need cross development between Xbox / PS3 and next-gen consoles, making it likely a late 2013, early 2014 release. It certainly won't be before MG Rising, which hits in Feb 2013, since Konami wouldn't risk cannibalising sales.