I'm back, baby!
In a limited capacity, at any rate. I moved last month, which was Hell. I tried to unpack the first week, only for my plumbing to promptly explode and vomit horror all over the place, requiring more time off of work and years my hair won't be completely gray off. I've gotten a promotion to a department I'm far less familiar with, which means I've got an entirely new set of stuff to deal with. Family members have been going through a shitty time. Things have been absurd, is what I'm saying. As it stands half of my electronics are packed away and not connected to anything, and I'm still trying to figure out how to Tetris all of my belongings into a place that's roughly one bedroom smaller than I'm used to.
To help put things into perspective, I have a copy of Grindhouse Releasing's The Beyond sitting on my desk. It came in Wednesday, and I was excited to poke around at it. I was able to unwrap it Today. And I haven't even had a chance to put the discs in to look at their contents. I still want to dissect these things - and goddamn, does it sounds like The Beyond will be an "interesting" one to dissect, at that - but until everything around me stops being on fire, and I retreat into a small cocoon of video games and various semi-soft cheeses to make the panic go away, you're just gonna have to wait a while for ol' Kentai to get back up to speed.
So here's a long, frustrated opinion piece to blow off some steam. If you don't care about Metal Gear Solid, or at least the implications of an "auteur" creator in an industry as convoluted and segmented as multi-million dollar game development, you can probably skip it.
This is basically the tl;dr version.
While the details are still emerging as I write this, it's become clear that Hideo KOJIMA/小島 秀夫, the maverick auteur of one of gaming's most iconic franchises, is being retroactively Alan Smithee'd from the franchise that's helped to keep Konami successful and beloved for nearly 30 years now, even while he slaves away on its latest iteration. The implications of this are less damning than they easily could have been, but are terrifying in a few others that I've given more than a little thought to.
THE PHANTOM NAME
At this point details are still sparse and more will likely emerge over time, but this is what we do know:
On March 3th, Konami released an official Restructuring Notice that included a list of all of the executives at the company. Conspicuously absent is Hideo Kojima, who's been Konami Digital Entertainment's Vice President since 2011. It also mentioned the creation of a "Headquarters Controlled System", which is a curious distinction as Konami is (at this point) a publisher that hires outside developers, rather than a unified publisher/developer. What that means is that rather than crediting individual teams who work on a game as their main developers - Kojima Productions, Platinum Games or whatever - they're going to promote everything as a Konami product, as if that were in any way a direct implication of its quality... which, is stupid. But whatever, fine, corporate shenanigans at their best, nothing to worry about.
March 4th was the day that the release date of the long-awaited METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN was announced. The fact that it was announced during the world-famous Game Design Conference (GDC) was not unusual; the fact that the presentation was a brief, pre-recorded video with Hideo Kojima given exclusively to IGN (and leaked a day early by NeoGAF) rather than a live presentation, however, was a bit out of character. The excitement and hype surrounding this bit of information - something fans had been eagerly waiting over a year for since they got their taste of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes - managed to completely push the fact that Kojima was no longer a part of Konami under the radar.
March 19th was the day that all social media and official websites relating to Metal Gear - which had previously been handled exclusively by staff members of Kojima Productions - were switched to Konami run accounts, and all websites for information on the franchise were relinked to the official Konami Metal Gear site, which makes no mention of either Hideo Kojima or Kojima Productions, despite these labels having been a part of the franchise going back to Metal Gear Solid 2 nearly 15 years ago. Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that Kojima Productions LA had, overnight, been re-dubbed Konami Los Angeles Studio.
Notice that all art assets have been modified; up until last week, all of the packaging and marketing proudly held the banner "A Hideo Kojima Game", and in the case of all MGSV material, also bore the iconic Kojima Productions "FOX" logo. Well, they've so far forgotten to change any of that for MGO3, but otherwise it's pretty cut and dry; Konami wants us to think of Metal Gear as "A Konami Product" rather than."A Hideo Kojima Game". Spin that however you want, but that's just... cold.
But is it still A Hideo Kojima Game?
The 19th also begat a Gamespot exclusive interview with an as-of-yet-unnamed informant, who confirmed that while the Phantom Pain staff (including Kojima and other higher-up team members) were no longer members of the Konami company. They had been ousted after a failed power play, and were now on contract until the end of the year to deliver The Phantom Pain as promised, before being shown the door. He(/She?) also mentioned that Kojima and staff were only being given very limited opportunities to appear in public. In the week since, it's also been confirmed that Kojima Station - the not QUITE regular livestream in which Kojima fucks around with friends, dropping bits of new info alongside conversations about how excited he is for Christmas - has been cancelled until further notice.
March 20th marked the day that Konami more or less confirmed every rumor swirling around was true: While Kojima was allowed a brief assurance that he and his staff would be completing The Phantom Pain as planned, Konami made it clear that they were looking for a new staff to create a "New Metal Gear Series", making no mention of Kojima's involvement. The obvious implication here is that he is in no way involved, and as Konami - not Platinum Games - is reaching out to developers, it's clear that what we're getting isn't Metal Gear Rising 2... well, not yet, anyway.
And here we are, adrift in a world where the fate of The Phantom Pain - though perhaps not the future of Metal Gear itself - is as unsure as it's ever been.
KOJIMA, CAN YOU HEAR ME?
Could it really be true? Has Hideo Kojima lived so long as Konami's hero that they now see him as the villain? It'd be an almost fitting behind-the-scenes drama for a franchise in which the series eventually shifted focus away from the heroic Solid Snake to his own dark father, Big Boss - and you'll find a handful of people out there who seem to support the idea that Kojima, ever the magician in misdirection and twist endings, is still just manipulating public perception to create controversy and conspiracy theories among the already fractured and on-edge "Gamer" culture, a group of dedicated and unpredictable consumers that - especially in this case - remain the thriving core audience for massive, time-consuming and punishing games like the Metal Gear series.
It certainly doesn't make bank the same way Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto or even Candy Crush Saga might, but at over 40 million copies sold world wide and counting, Metal Gear remains a force to be reckoned with in its own right. With the hype for this having been officially started two long years ago, is this all just a desperate move for attention? Could Konami - and by extension, Kojima himself - merely be stoking the fires of controversy on purpose?
Daily Reminder: Hideo Kojima was born in 1964.
Seriously, how the fuck is he over 50.
Seriously, how the fuck is he over 50.
This wasn't the first time Kojima's pulled some crazy covert shit, either: It's rumored that McFarlane Toys also lost the rights to make Metal Gear Solid merchandise specifically because their packaging and press-release spoiled the fact that Raiden - rather than Snake - was the main playable character in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. There was also zero hints in the advertising build-up that Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater would be a prequel - much less that it would star a "different" soldier code named 'Snake', who only through the events of the game would be given the title Big Boss, meaning you were uncovering the tragic backstory of the original game's lead villain the whole time. Hideo Kojima himself has long established that he's a world class captain of the SS Ruse Cruise, and it's not unthinkable that the callous, somewhat disrespectful stripping of his title from both The Phantom Pain and even his previous work is all a small part of a larger con.
Think about it, the parables to Ground Zeroes - that is, the incredibly nuanced but way too expensive prologue to The Phantom Pain released exactly one year ago - are simply too ironic to ignore: Skullface erases the "XOF" insignia from his own choppers during the introductory cinematic. Big Boss' "Army Without Borders" is destroyed from within by those he trusted most, leaving his second in command to cry a line that feels like it was pulled from one of the best moments George Romero's Dawn of the Dead has to offer; "Give it back! It was ours! We built it, damn it!" Particularly for players who have spent the 30+ hours needed to finish Peace Walker and outfit Mother Base with a working, walking nuclear tank and a staff of 300 standing officers, this moment rings more true than it should.
Big Boss himself was so injured he wound up in a coma, where he was left dreaming for 9 long years, the world assuming him long dead... let's face it, if you assume Hideo Kojima himself is Big Boss,
Unfortunately, I don't believe that this is anything but a genuine instance of Konami killing their golden goose over an unexpected internal power-struggle. This is the same Konami that ten years ago fired Team Silent and continued riding the bloated, maggot-riddled corpse of Silent Hill into increasingly poor sequels and spinoffs that eventually bombed so hard, Konami gave the franchise to Kojima last year as a means to revive it. This is also the same Konami that took their unique and iconic Castlevania franchise and decided to make a second-tier God of War clone out of what little good will its remaining fanbase could muster. Basically, they're risking the trust of an audience that only cares about this being "A Hideo Kojima Game", and suggesting that the final product could have been compromised only after most of those dedicated fans have put in their $100 Limited Edition pre-orders in seems... well, in bad taste, if nothing else. I was willing to drop the $100 on top of a $60 PC purchase just to have all the nifty tat they were tossing in (most notably a Blu-ray documentary), but if they're going to clip Kojima's wings in the 11th hour? Fuck that noise. I'm not going to not buy it... but I'm not going to reward Konami for dicking the process around after 4 fruitful years, either.
To put this into perspective, some Konami employees have already changed their Linked In profiles to reflect being on contract. If this really is some kind of over the top con, we're talking Moon Landing Conspiracy levels of devotion to it.
A MECH BY ANY OTHER NAME
At this point, all we really know is that - by choice or not - Konami is finally ready to create a Metal Gear game without Kojima's involvement. True, Kojima acted merely as producer - rather than writer/director - on both Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, with a questionable position of "co-director" on the oft-forgotten Metal Gear Solid: Ghost Babel - but none of these have set a particularly comforting precedent for the franchise being remotely the same without him acting as the mastermind behind it all. And look, I love me some Revengeance, but I admit it's the same sort of love I feel for something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 or Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, a grotesque and glorious parody of what it's based on.
What will Metal Gear become without Kojima to watch over it, even as a producer? Will the franchise spin out into an endless cycle of empty, regular expansions? I don't think most people would label never-ending franchises with annual updates like Dynasty Warriors, Battlefield or Assassins Creed particularly bad, just that they're... not especially good, either. They're simply average. Disposable. Safe. They settle into a comfortable rut of re-using the same engines and same basic assets for a generation or so, polishing up some new effects and gimmicks to keep the coat of paint fresh, even if the hardware pumping under it is fundamentally the same thing it's been for a decade. It looks like even the Dark Souls franchise will slowly be joining this list, though ironically it seems everyone out there adores Bloodbourne, which appears to be DaS3 in literally everything but name. I won't spoil their fun, but I do wonder if it really is that good, or if they're just excited to have something that isn't garbage on the PS4?
With the supposed ease the Fox Engine beings to game design, and the massive catalog of assets and mechanics both Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain have already used, it wouldn't be that difficult to churn out a new Metal Gear on a two-year schedule. Odds are, those games wouldn't be "bad", either. Just... predictable. Lacking nuance. Dull, in other words. The one thing no sane person could ever call Metal Gear, even at its worst.
It may be stupid, but it sure isn't dull!
Making the need to take control and silence the creator even more shocking - at a glance, anyway - is the fact that Konami really has no other cards to play in the mainstream video game market. That said, Japan has been embracing mobile time-wasters and expensive, subscription-server arcade games for years that are typically never even a blip on the Western market, and it's my understanding that Konami has diversified into buying out spas in Japan, to the point where the company brass probably doesn't even need to release big-budget console games to earn their salary. This explains why they've let Silent Hill and Castlevania, two massive titles with decades of history, slump as badly as they have. Konami doesn't need them to operate, but it'd be financially irresponsible of them not to try before they've killed the goodwill of the franchise as a whole.
With that in mind, I can hazard a guess at what happened. With The Phantom Pain nearing its end and Kojima shifting focus towards Silent Hills, it's likely that Konami approached him to handle the inevitable Metal Gear VI, making full use of their very expensive and time consuming development of the Fox Engine to make some real damn money on a regular basis. Either he refused - he has, after all, been saying "This will be my last Metal Gear" for over a decade now - or he offered to do so in exchange for a deal Konami was simply not interested in.
A reminder that this is what an MGS marketing campaign looks like.
Either way, it seems likely enough that "A Hideo Kojima Game" being removed from all marketing materials forward is some sort of punishment, a show that Konami is serious about continuing the story of Snake with or without him; there's simply no advantage to removing that marketing line from the package proper, especially when Hideo Kojima is one of the very few rock stars left in game development. There's certainly a handful of names that sell projects on their own - Peter Molyneux and David Cage, Suda "51" Goichi and Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro, Ken Levine and Cliff Bleszinsky, the list goes on - but even then, I don't think any of these people who have earned the rights to call themselves trend-setters and conceptual risk takers get their name featured nearly as prominently as Hideo Kojima. About the only other guys out there you'll find this sort of name-brand recognition is
It's possible that Hideo Kojima could attempt the same. Heck, maybe he'd even get a good game made if he did. But I don't think he's fallen so hard that he has to pan-handle his own nostalgic fanbase to get a new franchise off the ground.
NO FUTURE FOR HIDEO?
But let's not pretend that being "The Metal Gear Guy" isn't about the biggest fucking gold star you could put on your resume as a game designer. Even his misfires are spectacular and gorgeous to watch fall on their overblown asses, and when he gets it right - by which I mean Snake Eater, above all else - there's just nothing else like it. The return to Big Boss without the limitations of the PSP mean that The Phantom Pain has the possibility to be the revolutionary epic Kojima's been spending 28 long years building towards, and I can only hope that the results were worth waiting for.. especially since I'm basically going to take a week off work when the game comes out to try and finish the main campaign before I stumble across spoilers. I swear to God, I'll stab a bitch if they tell me who Venom Snake "really" is. It ain't Big Boss - at least, not the Big Boss we've seen in Snake Eater and Peace Walker. Of that, I'm more or less certain... but we're getting off track.
My point is that Hideo Kojima will be just fine, with or without Konami. If Sony's smart, they'll offer him complete creative control for a PS4 exclusive so they'll finally have a top selling game, instead of a system that's shifted 20 million consoles to be used, primarily, as a Netflix hub for some goddamn reason. I'm also sure the notable team members at Kojima Productions - concept artists like Yoji Shinkawa, level designers like Jordan Amaro, and so on - will either be folded back into Konami to make Silent Hills using the engine they're already experienced with, or they'll probably find decent work making damn near anything else.
To be honest, this might be a blessing in disguise. Kojima's been saying he wanted to walk away from Metal Gear since MGS2 over a decade ago, and he only keeps getting drawn back in because the staff he's chosen to succeed him always inevitably fail when they try to carry on his unique style. (Case in point, Peace Walker is basically just the "Kojima Approved" remake of Portable Ops.) Kojima may be The Metal Gear Guy, but he's also the guy who made Snatcher, Policenauts, and convinced Konami to let his pals make Zone Of [The] Enders - he's got a hell of a talent, and while I'm glad he's wasted a ton of it making Metal Gear incredible, he's clearly ready for a change of scenery. I was curious to see what he'd do when handed the keys to Silent Hill, but I'm no less excited to see whatever idea he's been pushing off for the last decade and change, just to make sure Snake's legacy remains as Solid as... I'm, sorry. I wasn't even trying for the pun at first.
Hideo Kojima will be just fine without Metal Gear... but is Metal Gear fine without Hideo Kojima? My feeling is that depends solely on how they decide to handle the franchise going forward without him. It makes me cringe typing this, but if Konami is smart, they'll do something drastic... they'll reboot Metal Gear entirely. Don't make "Metal Gear Solid Origins: The Boss" or "Metal Gear Rising: How Did Raiden Become A Cyborg Anyway?" I say don't even try to spin Kojima's confusing tapestry of fetishism and madness; even he can't keep track of what's what, and he's been using and abusing dramatic retcon's for the last 20 years so often, it'd make even DC Comics blush. Metal Gear Solid is an incredible series, but it's so volatile and insane that there's nothing left to explore. The only thing that hasn't been given proper closure was that whole "Oh yeah, Raiden became a break-dancing Cyborg and stole a super-baby being raised by The Patriots" thing that happened between MGS2 and MGS4, and that was going to get covered in detail... until it somehow became Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance instead. Proving that even when Kojima hands his staff the only interesting idea left unexplored in his own mythology, they shrug and decide to turn it into a brilliantly fun, but incredibly weird parody of the franchise.
No. It makes me wince to say this, but there's only one answer. "MgS: Metal Gear Solid". Strip everything down to most basic elements. Re-cast everyone from the ground up. Re-write continuity until it almost makes sense, and leave wiggle-room for adding new characters and scenarios. Create an entirely new franchise on the core idea of a single man infiltrating an enemy base to take down their walking nuclear tank - hell, if you want to avoid the inevitable comparisons to Solid Snake, make a game that doesn't star a guy named "Snake" at all. The people who are upset that Kojima are gone are going to abandon the franchise, because they know no matter who took his place, the core insanity that makes a Hideo Kojima Game what it is will be sorely lacking. So try to cultivate a new audience. Find someone who'd be up for a wacky Japanese version of Splinter Cell, but doesn't have to know the difference between Solid Snake and Solidus Snake to get into it. Yes, you'll make enemies. Yes, it's entirely possible that the fan reaction will be just as violently negative as it was for DmC: Devil May Cry... and that's why I hesitate to suggest this is the only net gain available in the first place. If there's one thing the Devil May Cry reboot proved, it's that you really CAN fuck up a franchise to amazingly badly that you'll just convince the fans you once had to re-buy special editions of the original games instead.
Seriously, It's not the black hair that pissed us off.
I mean no, that didn't help, but that's not the issue.
But what other realistic choice do you have? Metal Gear is such a gloriously convoluted mess that there's not much left to be re-arranged and expanded. There's been talk for a year now about how Phantom Pain will finally "close the loop", and if the game doesn't continue through the end credits featuring Solid Snake's infiltration of Outer Heaven - perhaps re-worked a little to include the highlights from Zanzibarland, boiling MG and MG2:SS into a single story? - just as a safe-guard to prevent anyone else from "finishing" Kojima's legacy once and for all, I'll be a little shocked. Seems like a bit of a no-brainer to me, and if that's the big twist from a gameplay perspective, it'd make sense why David Hayter has been so coy about speaking about it other than saying "I'm not in it, seriously, go talk to Konami!" Why anyone would have wanted him back as the lead after the cringe worthy forced-gravel bullshit we got in Peace Walker is beyond me, anyway.
STANDING... ON THE EDGE...
So where do we stand in all of this? I can tell you where it's left me, personally: Before Konami started pulling shit like removing the creator's name from his own work, I was willing to buy two copies of the game; one on PC to actually play, and one on PS4 with the 1:2 scale Venom Snake arm, making-of documentary I'm sure I can steal a copy of 24 hours after the game is released, and a bunch of DLC I can't actually use since I refuse to buy a PS4 until it has five or more exclusives worth playing. (But I digress.) I'd have considered the $300 Japanese Limited Edition with the 1:1 arm, but they Konami's dicking around lost them $100 from me, though they haven't quite lost the $30 I was going to give Kaiyodo for the Soviet Soldier Mini-Recoltech figure Venom Snake can CQC the crap out of. Yeah, it's far more disappointing that the only other character they're willing to reveal at this point via not-horribly-overpriced merchandise is just so much canon fodder, but c'mon, this is a glorified accessory pack, who doesn't want Big Boss carting around a LAW in toy form?
Pictured: Kentai's bookshelves at any given time.
Will The Phantom Pain be exactly what Hideo Kojima wanted it to be? Honestly, I have no idea. Konami forcing one of the industry's most candid developers this side of Hideki KAMIYA to shut his spoiler-hole is a warning I can't take lightly, and the fact that they're already preparing to set up the sequel without him being involved so much as a producer leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But at the same time, Kojima is still calling the shots, and while Ground Zeroes was - if only by its very nature - not as satisfying as one would hope, it certainly suggests that much bigger and better things are just on the horizon. I refuse to believe that Phantom Pain won't fill a very specific hole in my heart, if for no other reason that the premise behind it - watching Snake become Big Boss, from a disillusioned man of honor to a war hungry madman willing to sacrifice anything to satisfy his nihilistic ideals - is simply too strong and pull to not work, even if it's been compromised.
In short, I'm still buying the fucking thing and I'd recommend anyone who's willing to put the time and effort into it to do the same. Not for Konami. Not to support Metal Gear. But because it's "A Hideo Kojima Game", and I want anyone within earshot to know that I'll try whatever that glorious, trendy, burger loving madman does. I hope that The Phantom Pain really does "close the circle" of Metal Gear and tell a single, continuous story that starts in 1964 with The Virtuous Mission and ends in 2014 with Naked Sin. I hope that Kojima - and Konami - go the distance to draw those lines deep in the sand and tell the story of a fallen hero living long enough to succumb to madness, desperation and destruction as his only resolve. I hope the game is, in a word, pretty good. But I hope more than anything that good continues out from it, that whatever transpired wasn't so draining and terrible that we never see another Hideo Kojima Game, and that Konami has the foresight to see that Metal Gear is a strong enough brand that they can maintain it - and not neglect or abuse it, as so many corporate entities are quick to do.
There's always room for Hideo, is what I'm saying.