Kojima: “I think about ways that I can use the game systems to reinforce my story”

This morning The Guardian has posted an interview with Kojima, in which he discusses the themes of MGSV in some new ways.  Some of it is cool, and some of it makes me disappointed.

I develop the design and construction of the environments and I set the theme and topic from the game and work to ensure that it fits with the game systems. That all has to come from me as the vision holder.” 

I didn’t realize Kojima was designing levels still.  Actually, I thought he specifically said that they allowed the artists to create things according to realistic photographs and maps, and then adjusted it and designed things accordingly.

“I love movies but if I was to create a film I’d use different methods,” he says. “I make games. That’s what I do. So I think about ways that I can use the game systems to reinforce my story, or do things that simply aren’t possible in other media.”

So the story isn’t designed to serve the game systems, but the other way around.  This is important if you want to analyze the gameplay or the story, because they should reinforce each other, right?  (Ahem…)

“The player is able to flesh out the detail and background of the game by discovering and listening to cassette tapes,” he says. “It’s a different way to develop story but one that is arguably, more impactful: the player puts it all together in their mind.”

Damn it.  I don’t like collecting cassette tapes, Kojima.  It’s one of the worst aspects of Ground Zeroes, even though I love what Peace Walker did with its Briefing tapes.  You shouldn’t have to collect the story in bits and pieces.  Let me guess, you’ll find a snippet of a private conversation between Dr. Emmerich and Dr. Strangelove before the Ground Zeroes mission sitting in a pile of horse shit in a back alley in Afghanistan?  And the other tape will be miles away during a different mission, in the back pocket of a POW.  What’s the point?  Is this how we’re going to end up with 400+ hours of “gameplay” and a massive online hunt for data?

Honestly, it’s clever of Kojima to force us to discover the story, since games like Dark Souls have proven that people actually try to understand things when you don’t spoon feed it to them (and thus become “preachy”).  But cassette tapes still feels like an uncreative and sloppy way of handling it.

I suggest you read the full interview.

Microsoft lays off 18,000 people, including Xbox Entertainment Studios

Is 18,000 a lot of people?  It sounds like a lot.  It kind of sounds like the population of a city.  Here’s the report.

With a new CEO and pressure to create a new vision for the company, it’s not surprising that things are getting majorly restructured.  It’s also not surprising that they shut down the idiotic Xbox Entertainment Studios, headed by Phil Spencer.  Nobody cared about the Halo TV series, or anything else they promised.  Satya Nadella wants to focus on mobile and cloud, which means Xbox has become a red-headed stepchild of a past era.  We already know it loses billions of dollars a year for the company, and the vision of “taking over the living room” from Sony is pretty much dead.  Of course they say they will focus more on games, but Microsoft hates gamers and specifically wanted the Xbox One to shift focus away from them so they could get TV viewers and sports idiots interested (so they could collect information about them and sell ads, of course).  It’s all going down the drain.

On the horizon

Some exciting things are on the horizon right now, which I will be proud to share with readers of the site.  Although I can’t talk about them out of respect to the people who are still creating them, I will say that they are fueled by passion and conviction, and offer views highly compatible with my own.

One is a video, and one is a mega-sized article.  I’m involved with proof-reading and giving feedback on both, and you can trust that they are worth anticipating.

As for myself, I haven’t been writing that much.  I need to get around to finishing the commentary on Ground Zeroes, of course, but I’ve got other hobbies that are inspiring me more right now.  It’s a good thing this site has intellectual, creative followers who are willing to work hard and share their creations freely, in the hopes of edifying more people.

Read about “Anti-design” philosophy

This is the kind of thing I always mean to write, but don’t because it would consume all my time.  Thankfully it’s consuming somebody else’s time, and we can just read it.  It’s the first part of a series on “Anti-design” philosophies in the game development community, which I think basically means “Reasons to avoid emphasizing the design aspect of games”.

Part one discusses the popular “Quantity Design” philosophy.  He sums it up like this:

“Make as many games as you can! Spend a week or two on a game, and then move on! You’ll get really good at making games by doing this! Don’t get hung up on working on the same game for a long time, that’s a trap that will make you learn more slowly!”

I suggest you read the article yourself.  The game development community is in a very interesting time, where indies have the spotlight and everyone is waiting for them to show the industry how it’s done with their creativity and thirst for new ideas, but this sloppy “quantity design” approach ensures that the already narrow distribution channels (Steam Greenlight, Kickstarter, etc.) will get filled up with forgettable, half-finished products that disappoint customers.

I think the root of this philosophy is actually still a failure to understand that game design is a discipline. Indeed, starting and finishing projects every few months is probably pretty good, if you want to learn to be a better programmer, or if you want to learn to be a better general “game developer”.

As the title of the series suggests, he wants there to be an emphasis on actual “DESIGN”, not simply “creating” or “producing” games.  Real design has always been a rare thing, from the old 1980′s industry Atari crash to the modern bullshit AAA sequel-fest.  In fact, most of the “Anti-Design” philosophies I’ve seen in the game development community are born out of underestimating it, and denying that it’s even really a thing.  The tabletop game design scene is extremely aware of its importance, and it’s one reason why I love to follow its resurgence; perhaps people hungry for real game design are finding it there?

Forget the Prologue. It’s all about the trailers!

I’ve been thinking more about the celebrity praise page for the E3 2014 MGSV trailer, and it’s becoming funnier and funnier to me.

I just finished writing about how disappointing and fumbled the storytelling of Ground Zeroes itself was.  It’s strange how none of these great celebrities are discussing how good of a job he did with that, considering it’s THE ACTUAL PROLOGUE OF THE GAME.

Why would Konami seek out reactions of celebrities on a mere trailer, when the prologue is already available for the world?  Did they even ask them about Ground Zeroes, or do they already know that no intelligent person would praise it as a masterpiece or a work of art?  Call me crazy, but I think the prologue should be considered a better test of Kojima’s storytelling ability than a carefully edited trailer with a licensed song.  I mean, isn’t that what a prologue is for?

The trailer praise page serves as a reminder of how lame Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is.  It already injected cash into Kojima Productions and served as a beta test for the Fox Engine, so now nobody needs to be reminded of its supposedly crucial role and its groundbreaking mature themes, artistic depth, or genius creative vision.  That honor belongs to a damn trailer.

E3 2014 trailer on par with Crime & Punishment? Why not.

Was not expecting this.

Look at the special page on the Konami website featuring famous people kissing Kojima’s ass because somebody showed them the first serious story videogame trailer they’ve ever seen, and asked them what they’d like to publicly state about it.

Among the quotes is the director of the movie Drive, who thinks the Kojima is possessed by a 19th Century Russian writer, a 16th Century Italian painter, and American filmmaker Stanley Kubrick rolled into one.  Yes, truly, this one trailer is proof enough that Kojima is on par with revolutionary creators whose grand creations have stood the test of decades and centuries.  He goes on to call the trailer “A daring and bold move from one of the founders of the future of technology,”  which I’m assuming refers to… videogames?  I guess he doesn’t realize violence is the opposite of daring when you’re talking about game trailers, but oh well.

One of my favorite filmmakers, Park Chan-wook, has a more reasonable and intellectually honest comment, stating that Kojima “…has actually been making films in his own way already.  Metal Gear Solid games are already films, the films of the future.”  Which is a really nice compliment, I think.

Then again, this is literally just a trailer they’re talking about.  Isn’t this crazy?  Captain Ahab really wants to hunt down that white whale.

Kojima TIME interview: Motive and motivation

 

Hideo KojimaIn a new interview with TIME, Kojima answers questions about the psychology of his game design, what motivates him to continue making Metal Gear, and how to make players empathize with the moral questions his characters are in.

For example, when asked about technology allowing increasing realism of violence on screen, Kojima shifts the focus away from the visuals, and back to the meaning behind the violence:

There are so many games where you fight aliens or zombies, and they have very high-fidelity graphics, but they don’t ask the question of why the events are happening. In Metal Gear, I’m trying to get at why all these violent things happened in the first place. My intention is to get the player to question why these things are happening.

He’s been answering this next question in many interviews recently, but once again we see the real motivation for continuing the Metal Gear series includes the fact that he gets a huge budget to work with:

Originally I wanted to hand the series off to younger staff and let them carry on with it. And so we did, and that resulted in the game Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.  But after Rising, we found that for my younger staff, the numbered games were just too heavy for them. So that’s why I decided to come back and work on them myself. Ideally I’d want them to handle this, and for myself to be focused on creating a different IP. That said, Metal Gear is a huge title, it usually has a massive budget, and that wouldn’t happen for any game.

However, that doesn’t stop him from promising that this is truly the last Metal Gear game that he’ll be working on:

And this time — I’ll say it again — this is the last one. Not the last Metal Gear, but the last one I’ll work on. This is my focus when I go into working on a game. Every game I make, I create thinking it’s really, really going to be the last game I create. So I put as much as I can in and make sure I have no regrets.

Perhaps one of the most pointed answers Kojima gives is on the things that “haven’t changed” since the old days of gaming:

And the content of the game, what is really the essence of the game, hasn’t moved much beyond Space Invaders. It’s the same old thing, that the bad guy comes and without further ado the player has to defeat him. The content hasn’t changed — it’s kind of a void.

It’s interesting how Kojima doesn’t recognize the moral depth of big hits like The Last of Us, or even the latest Grand Theft Auto, when giving this answer.  Either he hasn’t been playing a lot of new games, or he isn’t satisfied with how far they go in dealing with the themes and moral situations presented to players.