Sunday, May 17, 2009

An E3 Aside: Metal Gears A-churnin'


There are few videogame designers as well-known and -loved as Kojima Hideo, the director, writer, producer, and all-around daddy of the Metal Gear series. And when he teases the reveal of the next project he’s working on, the entire industry the globe over sits up and takes notice.

This is particularly true given the current state of his career. With the Metal Gear Solid sub-series now complete (much like the Star Wars saga, the MG games are broken up into two distinct, but still continuous, components: two Metal Gear titles and four Metal Gear Solids [which are, similarly, divided into two sub-pieces – the first three forming a trilogy, each featuring a different protagonist set against an overlapping and expanding thematic structure, and the fourth constituting an epilogue, returning control to the main character of Solid Snake and tying up all loose ends and thematic motifs]), Kojima is, for the first time in eleven years, free to go wherever his heart may take him. Whether he remains in the franchise that has brought him so much acclaim, sets his sights on an old love long lost (many older gamers have long clamored for a return to any one of the series that Kojima has helmed at one point or another over the past twenty years, whether it be the Sega CD’s cult-classic Snatcher or, more recently, the PlayStation 2’s Zone of the Enders duology), or ventures out to truly new ground – he has said, during MGS4’s long development cycle, that he would be delighted to do something with Nintendo’s innovative Wii system – is entirely unknown and, of course, furnishes most of the interest that his newly erected teaser website arouses.

It turns out that all of the mystique may just end up being an overplayed (and just slightly superfluous) bit of marketing on Konami’s part. At the recent Game Developers’ Conference, held in March, Kojima gave a keynote speech touching upon his long career. At the end, he not-so-subtly announced that a new Metal Gear Solid title was, indeed, in the works by showing a slide of the infamous character Raiden, the protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2 who was initially (and quite unjustifiably) subjected to much fanboy ridicule and chagrin. (After a substantial cameo in the last game – which featured a major overhaul for the character, progressing him from a flustered, emotionally confused novice to a Neo-esque, emotionally ravaged badass – many in the oft-referenced fan community have more than warmed up to the cyborg ninja.) The final nail in the coffin comes in the form of an unintentional secret message: IGN opened up the new teaser site’s source code and found many a reference to “next” and “Metal Gear” – all of which, of course, doesn’t mention the giant number five that periodically flashes in the background of the webpage.

How exactly the MG saga can persist after the last game in the franchise has been released is an easy explanation: Metal Gear Solid 4 was only the final yarn for both Solid Snake and Kojima himself, who has fully, after ten years of half-hearted attempts and muddled press releases, given up the directorial reigns (indeed, the previous entry was only co-directed by the star designer; it’s widely presumed that his partner, Murata Shuyo, will head the next). Knowing that his game series revolving around a walking, nuclear-equipped battle tank has been such a consistent cash cow for Konami over the years, however, Kojima was careful to point out from the earliest days of MGS4’s development that it was a certainty that his brainchild would continue without him, in some form or another.

And this is where, despite Konami’s best efforts at manufactured intrigue, the true drama surrounding Kojima’s announcement resides – just what form MGS5 will take. The most intriguing possibility lies within a simple question: of the three scenarios delineated above – Kojima sticking with Metal Gear, Kojima revisiting a past (non-MGS) property, Kojima developing for the Wii – what if he followed two instead of just one of them? More to the point, what if Metal Gear Solid 5 was a Wii-exclusive, utilizing Nintendo’s new Wii Motion Plus peripheral to allow gamers one-to-one control over Raiden’s deadly katana? The move is a highly unlikely one, especially considering both Sony’s ten-year monopoly of all new MGS titles and the series’ overriding emphasis on ever-more-fully-realized environments and character animations (the Wii, sadly, offers nothing of this kind). Furthermore, Nintendo’s newest console isn’t known for its traditional, hardcore games – despite Nintendo’s supposed efforts to combat this perception at next month’s E3 – making such an announcement more bewildering than exciting to many diehard enthusiasts.

Still, it would justify Konami’s heavy-handed marketing attempts, and it would give Kojima a new mission statement as he takes the backseat of videogame development in the form of producer (and, just possibly – and hopefully – as writer). It would also make this E3 truly one to remember, something which the three console manufacturers seem to have taken as a holy enterprise.

We only have a few more hours to find out.

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