Monday, June 20, 2011

Kojima's soiled reputation revisited.

It's very often that we receive information in so few pieces that we tend to misconstrue what it being relayed. In the case of game journalism we tend to find ourselves taking the scraps we're given and running with it full tilt, Sometimes making our own conclusions without even considering the possibility of delving any further into what's being said to fully comprehend the reality of it. Let's look at this excerpt from Hideo Kojima about the NES version of Metal Gear.

But the most noteworthy conversation is one that many might not aware of. In each issue of Nintendo Power, they interview a noted game personality, usually about an upcoming title for some Nintendo platform that the person is involved with. Questions about the past are also often posed, and for whatever reasons, the responses in return are often surprisingly candid. Again, Kojima does not disappoint; when asked about the NES version of Metal Gear, which he not only had zero involvement in, but is apparently quite unhappy with... 
"Furthermore, being Metal Gear, it goes without saying that Metal Gear should make an appearance at the end. However, from what I've heard, due to the technically difficulties in displaying the sprite on the screen, they swapped Metal Gear out for a gigantic monitor. That made me see that whoever created the game had no sliver of appreciation for the players. However, even thought it was an abomination, it was during the bubble economy and it sold millions overseas. That title has only soiled my reputation."
Nintendo Power goes on to ask about his opinions about Snake's Revenge. Any guess as to how that goes? To read the rest, simply check out the June 2011 issue, on newsstands now. 
"I had absolutely no participation in the development of the NES version. The NES version was a pitiful title developed cheaply and simply by a small team in Tokyo. That was during the bubble economy where anything and everything that was released would sell. I came across the game in a bargain bin and tried play it, but the game design is pretty bad. There is some gameplay that includes infiltrating a base that didn't exist in the original. However, even I, the developer of the original game, was unable to infiltrate the base even once."
Pretty harsh words. And it seems that in retaliation, popular blogger, Sean Malstrom had some words of his own about this, but I'm going to offer things in a slightly different perspective. I don't think this has anything to do with developer worship at all. In fact in order to hit the heart of the matter we have to travel back in time.

Sherman, set the wayback machine to 1987..

In the early 80s the MSX was designed by Kazuhiko Nishi; who at the time was a Vice-President at Microsoft of Japan,and Director at ASCII corporation. Wikipedia says that the MSX was Microsoft's way to create a unified standard of home computers. Despite the push for a standard, the computers were more popular in countries like Japan, Brazil, Europe and the Middle East. Konami, Hudson, and other companies have created games for the MSX which still have eventually released on the Famicom and NES to greater popularity. Below is a list of those games provided by the MSX wiki.

Others got various installments on the MSX, including some titles unique to the system or largely reworked versions of games on other formats:

In 1987 Konami debuted Metal Gear, A action game that introduced the concept of sneaking past enemies in order to get further within the game. Kojima's storyline was based on the Cold War relations between USSR and the United States, and the hysteria surrounding constant threat of Nuclear War looming on the horizon. As with many games that were released between differing types of tech, Metal Gear was split into two different versions; The MSX version being the complete game, and the NES being heavily modified (due to the limitations of 8bit graphics at the time) into it's own version. Let's look at the MSX version, first.

And now let's take a look at the NES version.

The similarities are there, but you can easily see that the introductions are quite different and later on some of the core themes that were being presented could be misconstrued due to translation issues and other things. Also, as i've stated before in the Bare Knuckle/ Streets of Rage 3 post, developers also raise and lower the difficulty while localizing games for whatever reason. The major difference between the two versions is that Metal Gear never really makes an appearance in the final game. This is the reason for the Supercomputer fight before the confrontation with Big Boss.

To further clairfy, let's look at an interview between Kojima and Gamer's Today presented by the internet archive wayback machine.

Gamers Today: When you started out, your first games were for the MSX computer?

Hideo Kojima: Yes. When I joined Konami in 1986, I started with the MSX division.

GT: Was Metal Gear your first game?

HK: Metal Gear was the first game that was released. There was this other game that I developed that never made it to the market--Lost World. The title was world but with war like a cross between war and world. It was a Mario-esque action game with a story.

GT: Was there much difference between Metal Gear for MSX and Metal Gear for Famicom?

HK: When my MSX Metal Gear came out, it was very well received. Then it was ported to the Famicom, but I had nothing to do with the actual porting.

GT: Were they pretty much the same game, though?

HK: I really don't like saying this, but it really wasn't up to my standards. The care that I put in the original wasn't there. It [the Famicom version] was a more difficult game. In the very beginning, when you go from the entrance into the fortress, for example, there are dogs there. In the Famicom version, the dogs just come after you and you get killed. It was too difficult to get into the fortress. The fun stealth element was not there, and the actual Metal Gear, the robot, doesn't appear in the game.

GT: I never made it to the end of Metal Gear. Where did you get the idea for the game?

HK: A lot of factors have sort of resulted in Metal Gear. One big influence was the movie The Great Escape.

I wanted to create a game [that played] like the movie, with the character running away· escaping without a fight and trying to avoid being seen by the enemy. I wanted to do that, but I couldn't get approval on that concept alone. I had to add more features.

After my first game, Lost Warld, was given a "no" by the company, I was told to create another war game. Creating a war game for MSX was a little difficult because of the limitation on the sprites. When you get four enemies or even four bullets on the screen at once, the screen starts blinking and it just doesn't work.

I tackled that problem by taking a different approach--hiding from enemies and not fighting them. That way I could limit the number of enemies and bullets showing on the screen at once.

GT: Were you satisfied with the MSX version of the game?

HK: It was my first game that made it to release, so I have a lot of memories. It's my cute boy in that sense. (A Japanese way of saying "my first child.") At the same time, I wasn't 100% satisfied with what I was able to create. I was only a rookie in the industry back then, and the programmers and sound designer were more experienced than I was. I'm not sure that I was able to utilize them to the fullest extent.

GT: If you could make any changes to the game, what changes would you have made to that original one back then?

HK: There were so many things I wanted to do to create in that first game. There were so many things I wanted to throw in, and I had no idea how long each process would take. You just couldn't fit it all in one game. I guess what I couldn't do back then. I did in my Playstation Metal Gear.
 This statement leads us to believe that the issue is Hideo wanted the elements retained in order to make the experience more complete for Famicom/NES gamers. Of course that didn't happen, and despite the success of the game it still haunts him that he couldn't have had the game released as it was intended until way later. Somehow, that doesn't sound like "Game God" mentality, to me.

Let's jump ahead about four years..

On Snake's Revenge and Metal Gear II 

Of course Metal Gear was a big seller for Konami, and talks of a sequel were inevitable. Konami proceeded working on the sequel, "Snake's Revenge" which would be again released through their subsidiary company, Ultra (Ultra Games was a means of Konami getting around Nintendo's licensing policy which only allowed for five games to be produced per year). Kojima had no say in the release of Snake's Revenge, just like he had no say in the release of the NES version of Metal Gear. Here's the second part of that interview discussing that.

GT: Was Snake's Revenge your next game?

HK: I had nothing to do with that game.

GT: Not with MSX or Famicom?

HK: I made Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, an MSX game.

GT: And the Famicom game, Snake's Revenge?

HK: No, that's completely different. When I was in this MSX division, this one guy in the Famicom division developed Snake's Revenge without talking to me or anybody else. One day this guy and I hopped on a train (the Tokyo transit system) together. We were talking to each other, and he says, "By the way, I'm developing this game called Snake's Revenge, but I know it's not the authentic Snake, so please create a new Snake game of your own." That was when I decided to create Metal Gear 2, Solid Snake.

GT: Interesting. What did you think of Snake's Revenge?

HK: I thought it was very faithful to the Metal Gear concept. I enjoyed it.

Though it was treated as non-canonical, Snakes revenge did retain the core elements of Metal Gear, with a few more additions in order to make the game more engaging for American audiences, and a desire for a continuation of the game lead to the development of Metal Gear II: Solid Snake, which was only released on the MSX format, but was later ported to Japanese Virtual Console, Phone and featured as bonus content in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.

I could go on about Solid Snake innovated in the stealth action game, but I'll just let Wikipedia do the talking for me about that. What I can say is that the features that were created in MG:2 were retained and utilized in Metal Gear Solid, which was obviously a phenomenal success. Again, with the interview quotes and the inspiration from the fellow developer to create something to surpass the first game, I don't see any inkling of "Game God" mentality here either. Only a desire to create a better product, and craft an engaging experience for the audience.

On The Bubble economy

In the most recent article, Kojima states that the reason for the NES game's success is due to the bubble economy in the mid 80s, but I think the success has more to do with being a game that wasn't only relevant to it's time, but it introduced a hero that rivaled the current action hero archetypes that were all over the silver screen. Snake could easily be seen as the Japanese answer to Stallone's John Rambo or Schwarzenegger's Dutch (Predator) or Colonel John Matrix (Commando). When you played Metal Gear you had the feeling that you were a one-man-army and you were on a mission to save not only your country, but the entire world. 

Now the bubble could be part of the reason; because, yes when the NES and Famicom were released it was an exciting and new time, we were being bombarded with new types of games and new ideas, and kids and adults alike were eating it up like candy. This is a similar feeling to the Wii launch where people were eager to jump in and play games in a new way. That isn't the sole reason for the popularity boom and high level of sales, in fact I equate this to being a smaller element in a series of factors to create a perfect storm.

Personally, I feel that the comment was more as a means of explaining that Kojima believes that if the game managed to remain intact it would of been even more popular. Whether that be the case or not, The past is the past, and we can only go on with the intention of finding ways of presenting those ideas while working within the limitations of what we have. Of course now that's not a problem.

All the Rage....

So did this come off as "wrath of god" type stuff? not really. It's a person basically discussing the things he wanted out of something but didn't get a chance to accomplish due to whatever. People do this all the time. You hear stories about this with movies, with political agendas, what-have-you. Ridley Scott has gone in depth about what he expected out of Blade Runner and Legend before they were cut down due to budgetary and time constraints, or for the sake of the studio. That didn't make the movies any less interesting. Granted, though the directors cuts of  both films are just as good (Legend's director's cut is a different film entirely, while Blade Runner's enhances the plot with more exposition and lets you solve the clues with Deckard), but they will always be remembered for the theatrical releases. In the case of Metal Gear, the older gamers remember and enjoyed both the MSX and NES games respectively, and their sequels, while newer gamers enjoy Metal Gear Solid and it's sequels for what they bring to the table.

  I don't look at Kojima as a "Game god", and I'm not kneeling to him. However, I do respect him on the level of someone who wants to entertain and keep players actively participating in exciting experiences, while making them think. That's not something i pray for from a Game God. that's something I require from a Good Game.

Game On!

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