Obscured By The Clouds (pt. 2)

For your enjoyment, this article was updated as of May 1, 2011

The Puzzle Element

Taking Metal Gear Solid off of its grand pedestal and playing it from an analytical, critical point of view again, we can see past the coolness of the experience and see the real nuts and bolts: the design.

To me, the puzzle element is easily the most underestimated part of the old Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation. It’s something that has been lost over the course of the series thanks to the rabid, pigeonholed nature of the conversation surrounding it. And what I mean by “puzzle element” is the way that you had to think in order to complete an area of the game smoothly. Remember the first level of the VR training? This is the most simple, pure representation of what Metal Gear gameplay is all about. A single guard patrols back and forth with precise timing, and the goal is just on the other side. If he sees you, it’s Game Over; if you reach the goal, you win.

Already, the puzzle is underway.

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Obscured By The Clouds: A Metal Gear Solid Article

For your enjoyment, this article has been updated on April 4, 2011

The year was 1998.

While President Bill Clinton was busy dealing with the Lewinsky scandal, the videogame industry was releasing some of the greatest games ever made. It could very well be single greatest year for videogames, before or after.  Games such as:

Resident Evil 2
Final Fantasy Tactics
Tekken 3
Parasite Eve
StarCraft
Unreal
Fallout 2
WCW/NWO Revenge
Grim Fandango
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
StarCraft: Brood War
Thief: The Dark Project

Oh, and a little thing called Metal Gear Solid.

That’s what I call a good year.

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5 Reasons Why Brink Will Suck But Few Will Admit It

Brink Sucks Banner

So you’ve seen Brink‘s official website, maybe some trailers, and now you’re thinking, “Hey this looks pretty cool!”

But what you don’t realize is that it’s going to suck. Follow me as I explain why you should stop being hyped for Brink right now.

5. The Art Style

“Idiot!” you shout.  “Brink has some of the best visual direction of any first person shooter! It looks great!”

You instantly dismiss this article and hover your mouse over the “Back” button, but wait: I AGREE.  So here’s my question: why did the idiots over at Splash Damage fight the idea?

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MGS4: Sold Out (Part 1)

This article has been updated on June 7, 2011 for your enjoyment.

MGS4: Sold Out banner

In the previous articles, The Long, Dark Path to Metal Gear Solid 4, and Kojima VS MGS4, we looked at how Kojima’s relationship with the Metal Gear series became dysfunctional leading up to the development of Guns of the Patriots by things such as stubborn fan expectations, lack of appreciation, and outright hostility. We also studied the pre-release indicators that Kojima did not like MGS4. In this article we will look for in-game evidence that Hideo Kojima not only decided to undermine the series with the game, but communicate his own plight in its subtext.

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Peace Walker’s Allegory

Even if it fails to live up to the “MGS5” hype, Peace Walker is an important instalment in the Metal Gear series, redeeming its handheld games after the blasphemous Portable Ops, and finally bridging the long gap between Snake Eater and the original Metal Gear in a satisfying way. It also accomplishes another important goal, which is to continue the fascinating allegory of Kojima’s personal experience.

I don’t have to explain why I think breaking down the illusion of Metal Gear games in order to interpret its hidden meanings is okay anymore, do I? Good, then let’s go.

I believe that a hidden yet very deliberate allegory is contained within Peace Walker. As with previous games, I believe it tells the story of Kojima’s experience with creating the Metal Gear series. It’s the tale of Big Boss as he creates and expands his army of followers — Militaire Sans Frontiere — for the sake of fulfilling a simple promise to help a little girl’s defenseless country, only to become a nuclear superpower in the process. This consciously parallels the way Kojima feels about the creation of the Metal Gear franchise. Put aside the challenge of simply following along with the details of the story for the moment, and remember that whether the allegory is technically accurate or not, Kojima wanted fans to experience what it’s like to create something simple and small with good intentions, only to have it steadily grow into something controversial and dangerous along the way.

The game’s concept is structured in a way that your impression of the packshot will change after completing the game. The impeding danger that looms behind Snake… The Mechs & armed force. They are menacing to MSF, but while playing the game, they can be made part of your unit. You are fighting for peace… but by the time you notice, you are knee deep in militarization. That is the Theme. (Kojima, via Twitter)

We know from Metal Gear Solid 4 that both Big Boss and Zero were guilty of misinterpreting the will of The Boss, and that Big Boss regretted it in his finals moments. Peace Walker shows us how he walked down the path he would later regret. As I explain in the Sold Out article and elsewhere, Kojima uses Big Boss to voice his opinion on how the Metal Gear series has become misunderstood and gone astray. The game reinforces the message of MGS4 by showing us how nicely it all started; how well-intentioned, if not quaint. In a sense, if MGS4 was his attempt to finally kill the series and atone for the “sins” of creating loose ends and not answering fan questions [see here], then Peace Walker is a celebration of the true intentions, as well as powerful explanation for how it got out of hand. In this sense, the two games go hand in hand.

One of the major themes of Peace Walker is one of gradual militarization, as Kojima has said before. Recruiting members, expanding Mother Base, and upgrading technology through R&D all fit perfectly into this allegory, as Kojima would have done similar things by hiring new team members, expanding his work space, and creating new software engines with the advent of new videogame hardware. Perhaps the creation of the “MSF” brand is supposed to be reminiscent of the “Kojima Productions” brand. Both Kojima and Big Boss are highly praised by their subordinates, and both are responsible for organizing teams of them to work on certain projects. “Outer Ops” for Big Boss, and “Portable Ops” for Kojima’s team! Hiring, directing and orderding men to do work for you is something Kojima has been doing for a long time.

This allegory, when interpreted thematically, places the ultimate responsibility on Kojima’s shoulders, since everybody looks to him for guidance and orders, just as MSF looks to Big Boss. Much like in MGS4, he feels responsible for everything, and an obligation to remain committed to the needs of the “times”. He’s in charge, yet he isn’t truly free to do what he wants. There is always some new threat that must be dealt with, and, more often than not, dealing with that “threat” requires a compromise of his idealism.

This is where Master Miller comes in. Big Boss is the eternal soldier, struggling to remain loyal to his mentor, The Boss, despite the fact that “the times” pitted them against each other. Big Boss became jaded, and was given a prestigous title he never asked for (and in fact resented,) but which he eventually needed to accept. Miller, on the other hand, is the eternal business man, occupied only with the immediate practicalities of success. The humorous relationship between Miller and Big Boss obviously intersects where idealism meets pragmatism. Big Boss possesses neither the ego nor the appetite to exploit his misguided fame, and leaves the business aspect to Miller, who is simultaneously a loyal comrade and an opportunist. He has a heart, of course, and I’m certainly glad that he isn’t portrayed as a heel, because doing so would have been too simple, and contradicted his positive role later in the chronology. It would have meant that Big Boss (Kojima) was being exploited, and therefore not complicit in the development of MSF, Metal Gear ZEKE, or Outer Heaven. This wouldn’t true to Kojima’s life. In order for the allegory to hold true, Big Boss needs to accept the propositions given to him by Miller and others. We get the sense that Kaz’s brand of business mentality is almost a neutral fact of life – the game isn’t condemning the military industrial complex, it’s simply revealing the way of the world, just as Kojima has learned it.

Of course, on the other hand, we have Strangelove and her obsession with The Boss.

I believe Strangelove is a metaphor for the fanboys of the series who worship everything about it, and yet completely miss the point behind it all. Think about the analogy. Strangelove has collected every piece of information available on The Boss, and yet does not know her motives, which are what matters most. As I explained at length in the “From Nothing” article, this is exactly how Kojima feels about the stupid questions which have haunted him for so long. Big Boss, who represents Kojima, is actually tortured by Strangelove for answers! I have no doubt that this is a direct metaphor for the inquisition faced by Kojima over the course of years, including real life death threats that were taken seriously. Funny then how, just as Kojima didn’t have satisfactory answers for the fans, Big Boss has nothing to say to Strangelove either. The mystery of The Boss’ will is only understood after MGS4, in the moments before Big Boss dies, and the details of her choices that Strangelove seeks are hardly relevant in the big picture. To get caught up in details is to once again miss the point.

What else is part of this allegory? How deep does the it really go? If you picked apart the details of the game and truly connected everything in its proper context, you may end up with an even more satisfying metaphor, or you might ruin it by scrutinizing it too closely. I believe Peace Walker, like previous games, has enough layers to be appreciated on several levels at the same time, without needing one to override the others. The clever story of how Big Boss and Kojima inevitably become misunderstood anti-heroes was already hinted at in Snake Eater, and is brought to full fruition here. Kojima, through the combined themes of MGS4 and Peace Walker, is showing us how foolish and shameful it is to overlook the true message of the series in favour of obsessive fact collection and ignorant devotion. The pervasive, meaningless “System” which threatens the world with endless conflict is the final manifestation of the simple cat and mouse game of war being fostered by the player over the course of the game. It is a brilliant play by Kojima to put the choices in the hands of the player, to not only give us a sense of how conflict begets conflict, or how Big Boss could simultaneously be a hero and a villain, but how Kojima’s work on the series is no different.

SCARAB: The Hated Mascot

The Scarab is among the most poorly designed units in videogame history. It may not be as terrible as these things from Smash Bros. Brawl, or the Ongogg or whatever from the Halo series, but it’s sheer ugliness is an unsettling reminder of what can happen when designers run out of ideas and just don’t care anymore. In almost every action game since the early days of the arcade there have been basic enemy units who serve as little more than cannon fodder, and usually look stupid so that your murder instinct is activated automatically. If that was the purpose of the Scarab’s design it was a great success, but it still doesn’t make it any less crappy.

 

Komeko, the new mascot

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