Interview: An audience with Hideo Kojima
22nd Feb 2013 | 19:00
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance made its debut in Europe today. Developed by the third-person action game maestros Platinum Game, it sees divisive hero Raiden break away from the core Metal Gear series for his own action-packed spin-off.
Although not directly involved with its development, series creator Hideo Kojima is still very much tied to the title, touring around the world to promote the game and championing it in the absence of Platinum Games.
Today, Konami hosted a roundtable discussion with the mind behind Metal Gear. Over the course of an hour Kojima recounted the failures of his internal studios to realise the original vision for Rising, the decision to seek out the help from Platinum Games, as well as the studios various successes and potential inadequacies.
The legendary dev also offered his insight into how the games industry has matured, teased his bold new direction for
It's no secret that Kojima Productions looks to your vision of where to go next in Metal Gear. With that in mind, how well does Platinum Games' completed Metal Gear Rising capture your original vision and would you change anything?
As far as hitting our original marks, this is a game with Raiden featuring as the main character, our goal from the get go was to have a very speedy, fast action game. In that sense the final product very much reflects what we had in mind.
As far as the free cutting mechanic is concerned, our internal team originally developed this and wrote the code for it. But they had a very hard time getting the balance right and incorporating the mechanic into the action. When we handed it off to Platinum Games they did an excellent job of incorporating it into the action, cutting out needless other features and focusing on what makes it feel good.
The end result is that we have a very satisfying experience where players can play through and feel good.
That said, this isn't a game by me, it's a game by Platinum, there are certain things about the story that maybe I would have done differently, but the end result is a game that neither studio could have made on its own. It's a synergy of the best parts of each studio.
One thing from the beginning I was a little nervous about is Platinum is very good at making games, but they're not very good at honouring schedules. They tend to take their time with games, so I was a little worried at the start but I made it clear that in order to succeed on a worldwide scale you not only have to make a good product but also honour the schedule.
This time they came through and delivered the product. So, I think they learned something. Especially Kamiya, he was surprised they actually did it.
How did it feel to hand over your most valued IP to an external studio? Were there times when you felt protective?
Because this is a spin-off, not a numbered game in the series that features Snake as a character, I wanted the team to be able to relax, I didn't want to become to overbearing. I told Platinum to go ahead and make what you want to make and have fun with it.
In the beginning upper-management was more worried about this than I was. They were very protective of the IP and asking 'why are you taking our valuable IP and offloading it to Platinum' but I said not to worry about it, even if Platinum messes up, I'm working on Ground Zeroes so we'll have a great Metal Gear.
Of course, I always believed that it would go well, but I had to say that to convince management.
Metal Gear Rising moved outside of Kojima Productions to Platinum, and you had a role on Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow - would you like to continue collaborating with other studios like this in the future?
It really depends on the project; it has to be something that matches. You have to match the studio to the project. In the past we did Twin Snakes with Silicon Knights and it didn't do that well, I think part of the reason was that we were trying to control it too much. Really I think if you're going to use an outside studio it has to be in order to take advantage of their abilities. If they have a specialty and you're working on a project that has features that they're best at, then that's fine. But I don't want to have to force myself to put something to an outside studio just because I want to offload something.
What compromises did you and Platinum Games have to make while working with each other on Metal Gear Rising?
My role as a producer on the project was really just to support it and make sure it took advantage of the best of Platinum's skills as possible. That said some of the ideas they proposed, I was originally opposed to them, for example there's a scene where Raiden throws Metal Gear Ray up into the air and I thought 'there's no way, this is ridiculous'.
But when they put it in the game and I had a chance to play it, it actually felt very good within that context. My job became not necessarily fighting with them, occasionally we did have disagreements, but I just had to move that line a little bit and make sure we took advantage of Platinum in the best way possible and work on something together that takes advantage of both studios.
Peace Walker broke away from many of Metal Gear's stealth conventions - how far is Rising moving further away from that template set in the early Metal Gear games?
I think we're talking about two different things here. The Metal Gear Solid series is one thing, the Solid series has been evolving towards my vision of what I think the stealth genre should be and Ground Zeroes is the next step in that evolution.
Rising is a different beast. In the Solid series you're controlling Solid Snake and it's very much a slow paced, very tense experience. The player feels a little bit of stress when playing through the game, in a good way.
The problem with Rising is that you're playing as Raiden, a cyborg, he's superhuman, so the direction had to change. I didn't want to focus on the stealth experience, instead I wanted to focus on the power fulfilment fantasy where you're this powerful cyborg ninja and can do amazing things. It's sort of a stress relief as a player.
The Blade mode in Rising is absolutely wonderful. Precisely cutting objects in bullet time never gets old. Where did you get the inspiration for that from?
The concept came from the fact that Raiden is the main character; he uses a Katana, even in MGS2. My concept was if we had him limited to only using a sword, he could still do many things depending on how you use the Katana. The player could do a limitless number of things if you give them enough control. One sword could be used in hundred of different ways, the equivalent of two or three hundred weapons. That was my concept when we were developing in house, even though eventually some other weapons got introduced.
When we were developing in house, we have great programmers and team, but they're very scientifically minded. When they approach this mechanic of having to cut things freely they did it in an extremely detailed way, almost like an industrial simulation. It was slow, methodical and very precise.
Back when we were developing it in house you could cut almost anything. You could cut enemies, pieces of the stage, and all those pieces would fall down realistically like a physics simulation. They'd remain in the stage, you could bump into them, kick them around and use them as part of the gameplay. It was very accurate but also extremely intense and demanding on the system, not to mention that gameplay wise it was very hard to balance.
When we handed it off to Platinum Games, they did away with some of that precision but focused on making the cutting feel satisfying. Really the final version of Blade Time is thanks to Platinum and their sensibilities of bringing that balance to the equation.
Metal Gear Rising is a bold new direction for the Metal Gear franchise; how will spin off titles influence the direction of future instalments - what part do they play in the larger legacy?
I think Rising is a special case, making a spin-off game just for him. In the future I may make other games featuring The Boss, that's what I want to do, but as far as a series of spin-off maybe there might be another Rising in the future but it's not something I want to make a habit of.
If Rising is a commercial success, will it have convinced you that the Metal Gear franchise can continue to expand to new genres?
One thing I want to make clear is that Metal Gear Solid, to me, will always be a stealth series. The core gameplay is feeling the excitement and tension you feel as you sneak through an environment and achieve your mission. As far as the numbered titles are concerned they will always feature that type of gameplay.
Rising features Raiden as a cyborg ninja. Rather than sneaking through a stage and trying not to be found the gameplay lends itself to having a situation where even if you are found, you can take out all the people that found you. That's the fun part of the game, it's a different focus.
At what point in Rising's development were you convinced that Platinum Games were the ones to help out with its completion? Also, did you have any other development studios in mind?
We actually worked on it very hard for two years in house. When we ran into problems, usually what would happen at that point is I would have to jump in to take over and start over. But I was already busy with Ground Zeroes, so I was actually trying to cancel the game at that point.
The problem was that we had already shown Metal Gear Solid: Rising at E3 and there were a lot of players really looking forward to the game. So I tried to think of a way to keep the project alive and Platinum Games was really the only studio that I could think of that could take over and do it properly.
In essence, if Platinum had said 'no', Rising wouldn't exist. In the end Platinum took over and did a great job. We have a great product as a result.
I have to say I'm really impressed with what Platinum did; they were really gutsy to take over a project that had fallen apart in the middle of production. They took it on to themselves to take this insanely difficult thing to deal with - the Free Cutting mechanic - not only that but up until that point they'd only developed original titles, so they were taking a Metal Gear title. It was their first time working on such a big project and it had a lot of baggage with it, with hugely, insanely critical fans.
If they did anything wrong it would have reflected badly on them, it took a lot of guts take that challenge on and they pulled through. They're really great, I love those guys.
What were the challenges in maintaining 60 frames per second gameplay in Rising? Were any compromises made?
Back when I was creating Metal Gear Solid 2 I was doing experiment tests with Showscan that showed even though humans can perceive only around 24 frames they can still feel the effect of having the higher frame rate of 40 frames per second. So I immediately wanted to up-res to 60 frames per second.
Now with The Hobbit it is being experimented with and it's moving at 48 frames per second. I think that really is the future of movies, the next step after 3D is higher frame rates.
Metal Gear Solid 3 takes place in a jungle with complicated environments; at that point we couldn't achieve 60 frames per second because we had to put too much detail in the environment. The same thing happened with Metal Gear Solid 4, you have to trade-off between high frame rate and detailed environments.
When I spoke with Platinum Games about my feelings on frame rate they agreed and felt 60 frames was very important for an action game with fast movements. The artist on the team attempted to resist this as it would mean they'd have to scale back on their art for the backgrounds.
If you look at Rising, yes, maybe the backgrounds aren't as pretty as some of the other games out there, but we are very proud to say we maintain 60 frames per second and the experience is much better as an end result. I think that really is a credit to the designers that they could look beyond the pretty backgrounds and know that this was best for the gameplay.
Grey Fox was originally meant to be the star of Rising. If that had happened, would the finished game be significantly different: not just in terms of story, but combat?
I want to clarify the confusion on how this concept came about. The reason Rising came about was because the younger staff at Kojima Productions were going to make the next Metal Gear title. But tackling a numbered title in the main series was too much pressure for them, so they proposed a spin-off featuring Raiden as the main character.
Personally, I thought that if they were going to a title based on Raiden, they should just do Frank Jaeger, I prefer him. But the team preferred Raiden so I allowed them to proceed with that.
Honestly, I think that if we're going to make a sequel to Rising it should feature Frank Jaeger as the main character, versus zombies. (Laughs) Nanomachine-powered zombies. That's what I'm proposing to the producer at Platinum but I think they're ignoring me.
I said I'll even write the story for it, but the story writer said it's ok.
The inclusion of Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2 now looks very smart - how eager had you been to bring him back in his own game?
Raiden was in Metal Gear Solid 2 is because at the end of Metal Gear Solid Snake had become this legendary hero, it didn't make sense to have this legendary hero start from scratch in the game, and players playing for the first time having these codec calls telling the legendary hero having these codec calls coming in telling him how to do basic actions. It didn't sit well with me.
So I decided it would make more sense to have a new guy come in, a newbie in the form of Raiden. He could grow with the player and look at Snake from the third-person point of view as this great hero.
That was the concept for Metal Gear Solid 2. That was his role. Perhaps we didn't do a good enough job in conveying that to the user and people reacted negatively as a result, but that was his purpose. In MGS4 we brought him back as a cool character, partially in response to fan reaction but also as a role reversal. In MGS4 Snake is an old man, he's barely able to survive the game and Raiden is here to help him, you're seeing Raiden from the third-person point of view as a kick ass, cool character.
At that point users then wanted to play as Raiden, so it came full circle. This time Rising has him as the main character. That's the true meaning of the title 'Revengeance', it's Raiden's vengeance one more time, he's coming back to take revenge on his unpopularity.
We've heard that the original Metal Gear Rising bosses were scrapped. Korekado-san has since said that they were on-par with other bosses in the series. Can you shed some light on what they were like?
I will say that those characters that were created remain as characters, but they're very different from the final version of the bosses you see in Rising. They were very much similar to the bosses you see in the Metal Gear Solid series. They're more realistic, not quite as flamboyant as Monsoon or Sundowner where they come out with these really strong personalities.
Honestly, they probably wouldn't have fit in Metal Gear Rising.
Raiden has come on quite a journey since his divisive introduction in MGS2 - now he's the star of the show. Is there any intention to explore his story - or perhaps even his back-story - any further?
I will say that the original Rising product was intended to tell the story in between Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4, I think there are a lot of possibilities there and cool stories can be told there. I've given the staff a lot of suggestions on cool things that can be done, but I personally will not be making it. Perhaps that's a possibility for the future.
The only problem with that is that I think it would be difficult for Platinum to develop the game if they were to set it between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4. That story exists only in my head, at each step of the way Platinum would probably have to come and consult with me at each step of the way. It would be difficult for them to proceed with the game.
That's why we changed Rising to after Metal Gear Solid 4, that gave Platinum more freedom and they could move forward with Raiden's future without having to worry about how it fits into the middle of the series.
Honestly, I can't say whether that a game set between MGS2 and MGS4 will ever happen, but that's the background on it.
How do you feel about Raiden's judgement and ethics throughout the game? Would you consider him a positive role model protagonist?
There's a fundamental difference between Snake and Raiden. Snake is a trained military specialist; he does his mission and focuses on his job. Raiden's story is one of tragedy, he was born into warfare, he's a child soldier, and then he's turned into a cyborg killing machine. Even though he wants to be happy, it doesn't really work out for him. He tries to live a normal life, he marries Rose, but he always gets dragged back to the battlefield. He's a little twisted inside because of his history so he goes back with his sword and starts wreaking havoc.
He's not a hero in the traditional sense, he's someone who wants to find peace but can't. In that sense he's similar to Rambo in First Blood. He's someone who is just so war-torn that he can't live a normal life.
We often question the place of video games in the media; the industry still wrestles with the correct way to approach modern themes and issues. Within your forthcoming work, what themes and issues do you feel are important to explore and discuss?
Video games as a medium really hasn't matured very much in the past 25 years, it's always about killing aliens and zombies - not that I don't like those games, they're fun - but I think games have a long way to go before they can mature.
Over the past 25 years I've tried to work with the Metal Gear series to introduce mature themes, but really it hasn't got there yet compared to movies or books. It still has a long way to go and that's precisely what I want to try and tackle with my next project, Ground Zeroes.
Honestly, I'm going to be targeting a lot of taboos, a lot mature themes that really are risky. Honestly, I'm not even sure if I'll be able to release the game, and even if I did release the game maybe it wouldn't sell because it's just too much.
But as a creator I want to take that risk. As a producer it's my job to sell that game, but I'm approaching this project from the point of view of a creator. I'm prioritising creativity over sales.
It's very possible that some day in the future, after Ground Zeroes is out, I may be called up by management, who say 'Kojima, what are you doing? Ground Zeroes isn't selling, what have you done?'. At that point I'll be able to say 'don't worry, Rising is selling well'.
If Rising does well will it mark the start of a new franchise? If so, would you like Platinum to carry on development duties?
Platinum's team is great at creating action games better than anyone else. I love them personally as individuals, and now they're able to do things on schedule as well. That's very important.
The one thing that I think they could still improve on is their technological level. Their technology isn't quite up to par. For the next project, if we did something with them, maybe we'd have them use FOX Engine. Or maybe use their next-generation engine. I'm not sure, but that's the point that I'd improve.
If they did manage to get their technology up to par they'd really be a world class studio.
As far as Rising 2 is concerned, I really do have that in my mind. I want to make it, and if we do make it, it would definitely be Platinum. No one else could do it.
Of course, my ulterior motive is if Rising 2 came out, guaranteed it would sell. Which means I wouldn't have to worry about that with Ground Zeroes, I could just do whatever I want.
You're seen in the industry as someone who pushes the boundaries of gaming by thinking outside the box - with next-gen consoles on the way do you think you'll get the opportunity to keep doing that? If yes, what about the next-gen consoles gets you particularly excited?
The simple answer is 'yes'. I still think it's possible. A funny fact is that the Psycho Mantis battle is very famous now and respected for doing something outside of the box. Back in the day, when it was originally released, people thought it was a bug. People complained like hell about it and I got a lot of flack for that. It's not until about ten years later when people like you played the game that it came to an age when people could vocalise their respect for it, and it became respected.
The next-generation will have opportunity to do new things, but it will be met by resistance in the beginning.