Yoji Shinkawa, born Christmas Day of ’71, joined Konami at the age of 23.
It was 1994, and young Shinkawa was given the honorable task of debugging Policenauts, as well as doing the graphics for the pilot disc, and the 3D graphics for the PlayStation version. It was a humble start for the man who would four years later be the Illustration Director and character designer for one of the best games to ever be released. The question is: would it have been one the best games ever if it hadn’t been for Shinkawa?
If you’re like me, it was the character of Solid Snake that truly made MGS1 endearing, allowing me to connect with it emotionally. He was a lean, mean, smoking machine who always got the job done and didn’t let his feelings get in the way. Essentially, he became everything I wanted to be in my juvenile fantasies for years. And yet when we look at this interview from an old player’s guide, Kojima explains that the original incarnation of Snake was “totally different”:
Solid Snake is like a cat but still has strong presence.
Now this doesn’t mean Snake’s personality would have been completely different, but apparently it’s thanks to Shinkawa that we got a younger, more agile operative who isn’t “dandy”. This simple revelation should tell you just how much we owe to Shinkawa. But there’s more!
Wait did he just say that he wanted Solid Snake’s face to look like Christopher Walken?
Oh my. I always wondered why Snake’s forehead was so huge and his eyes were so dark and vacant. And why his nose was so thin and his jawline so thin. Well at least we know who should play Snake in the movie for sure now. Van Damme can do the stunts and Christopher Walken can do the close ups!
And then there’s the second most iconic image of the entire series: Metal Gear REX. Shinkawa is responsible for that too, and even made an excellent 3D model of it so that nothing would be lost in translation. Who knows what it would have looked like if there had been a different mech designer! So, thank you again Shinkawa!
Of course I love all of Shinkawa’s designs, but there was more to it than simply design: there was truly awesome artwork. Metal Gear Solid was the first game that I ever craved the artwork for, thanks to the endless amount of top-notch illustrations that Shinkawa churned out while the game was being developed. According to Millenium’s Official Mission Handbook interview with him, there were “at least several hundred pictures or more” drawn for the game, and the characters “felt more like characters from a movie or a novel” than a videogame. No wonder the art is so engaging and unique.
Also, do you like the Cyborg Ninja?
If you do, you have Yoji Shinkawa to thank entirely. In the same Official Mission Handbook, Kojima reveals that “the ninja was not in the original concept, but Shinkawa had created the character by himself because he said it would be nice to have a ninja. Plus it looked really cool, so I had to go into the scenario and try to incorporate it.” You’re damn right it would be nice to have a ninja!
Just think about all the things that Cyborg Ninja accomplishes as a character for a moment:
- Adds a mystery rival to the game, challenging and questioning Snake in unique ways
- Chops off Revolver Ocelot’s hand, opening the door to a massive chain of events later on
- Is so kick ass that he single handedly destroys any complaints about the game
- Acts as “Deepthroat” to give cryptic advice in key areas
- Creates an important emotional link between Solid Snake and Naomi Hunter
- Creates a vivid “bridge” between Shadow Moses and Snake’s previous missions
- Serves as the perfect symbol of the dangers of genetic manipulation and identity
- Shoots lasers out of his arm like Mega Man at one point
- Delivers the unforgettable “We’re not tools of the government, or anyone else!” speech
- Saves the day during the Metal Gear REX fight and dies in the most awesome way ever
And of course, there’s much more we could say, but you get the point: Thank you, Shinkawa! It’s Kojima himself who took the character and implemented it, but this only goes to show how important it is for Kojima to be fed good ideas by his team! Shinkawa’s willingness to be a rebellious and outspoken designer not only became a critical part of MGS1 itself, but created an amazing ripple effect throughout the series. Metal Gear Solid 2 brought back the Cyborg Ninja to f**k with people’s minds, and in Metal Gear Solid 4 that’s what Raiden pretends to be!
We know that Kojima takes inspiration from many places, and has been desperate for his team to step up to the plate, but it seems that only Shinkawa was really willing to do so. Kojima even forced his team to write down suggestions in journals during MGS2’s development, because apparently he loves to have help with such ideas, but nowadays it seems like everyone around him is afraid to be that bold and creative. What this means is that we really shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Shinkawa’s contributions, or take it for granted.
What else did Shinkawa change? “After giving the characters to Shinkawa, he is a bit rebellious — he designed a totally different one! Especially the Otacon character. I wanted him to be heavier, wearing a cap, and programming while eating a chocolate bar! But he came out as a slender, smart character instead. It turned out to be good though.” So, if you’re a big Otacon fan from any of the three games he became a main character in, you better thank Shinkawa, because Kojima was going to make him a fat, stupid nerd wearing a baseball cap and eating a chocolate bar.
Dead Cell, the Cobra Unit, and the amazing in-game illustrations that appear during so many conversations are thanks to Shinkawa’s prowess. Who knows what we would have ended up with if he hadn’t been there! Peace Walker features a ton of top-notch art from him, and it’s clear that he only got better over time. So thank you for all you’ve done, sir, and we look forward to everything you do!