Hideo Kojima foregoes stealth to tell all in PAX panel

On Saturday afternoon at the Paramount Theater during PAX Prime 2012, Hideo Kojima walked onstage to a standing ovation and spoke about Metal Gear's past and future.

On Saturday afternoon at the Paramount Theater, a few blocks away from the Washington State Convention Center where PAX Prime 2012 was taking place, Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear series, walked onstage in a sparkling Fox Hound shirt to a standing ovation.

"Hello, PAX," he said through a translator, and the ovation grew taller and louder.

This was Kojima's first PAX, and he used to occasion to talk about the 25th anniversary of the Metal Gear franchise and, he promised, to bring something new for the fans.

In an hourlong discussion hosted by Geoff Keighley, explained that the genesis of Metal Gear — and, by extension, the stealth gameplay genre — was born of a combination of two things: the limited technology available at the time and his desire to stand out by doing something different. Then as now, games were about protagonists attacking enemies. In his game, he wanted to try sneaking and attacking stealthily.

Kojima spoke of creating his main character, Solid Snake, by starting with his history — where he was born, his past, his life — and then building on that. Once done, he brings that constellation of characteristics to art director Yoji Shinkawa. Iteration follows, with Shinkawa adding his own ideas to Kojima's, and the character's look and feel grows from there.

Kojima pointed out that Snake, in his first incarnation on the MSX, wasn't particularly deep, but that changed during the PlayStation era when the technology afforded the opportunity to build deep characters.

As important as that history is, it's all in service to the player.

"That's the codename. But really, Snake is you…"

"Snake is the character in the game," Kojima said. "That's the codename. But really, Snake is you, and that's another thing that plays into the design as well."

Many of the series' iconic characters have a root in archetypes that Kojima enjoys. Though he's not actually based on Kurt Russell's character, the "snake" in Solid Snake is an homage to Snake Pliskin, from Escape to New York. The gun-toting Revolver Ocelot is a callback to the spaghetti western genre films that Kojima enjoyed growing up.

As for Raiden, a controversial character who made his surprise debut supplanting Snake in much of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and will star in a spinoff, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, early next year, Kojima said that Raiden's narrative justification came from a theme that has always pervaded the Metal Gear theme: exceeding your predecessor.

Although as Snake is a "legendary hero," his story is that of exceeding Big Boss, and Raiden was designed to exceed Snake. He hoped that players would look at Raiden in that hero archetype, but he admitted that he'd underestimated players' attachment to Snake. He hoped that Raiden would get credit in Revengeance, which puts distance between him and Snake.

In fact, Kojima said that the word "revengeance" is a direct reference to the failure of both Raiden's and the game's first iteration. It's "revengeance" against both, and though he's not generally a fan of spinoffs, he likes the idea of doing the opposite in Regengeanceof what Metal Gear games have traditionally done. The stealth genre is about holding back. Revengeanceis about going crazy and hacking everything in your path.

He said that it's been a lot of fun working with developer Platinum Games to develop Regengeance and, just as with his collaborations with Shinkawa, to incorporate others' ideas into the game.

Kojima also spoke of the future of the Metal Gear franchise. Despite Revengeance's upcoming release, the series hasn't seen a numbered sequel since 2008's Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. In the interim, Kojima Productions has been creating the Fox Engine, an in-house rendering engine the company will use to power its upcoming games.

He took pains to say that, although there are many great engines out there, his desire to create the Fox Engine was to allow his team the freedom and flexibility to tweak it themselves. Having their own engine would allow them to incorporate features like "using the cloud" and make creating games easier and more efficient as Kojima Productions updates and tweaks the engine based on their needs.

He also touted the engine's versatility, pointing out that it need not be limited to Kojima Productions' stealth games.

"Once we get the Fox Engine moving as it is now, we can use it to make an FPS, a game like Uncharted, an on-rails type of game, and any kind of game if we really wanted," he said. "What I really wanted to do — the biggest challenge for me would be making an open-world game, so that's what I'm trying to do with it right now."

Kojima said that the engine, though unfinished, is already at a level that his company can start making a game with it. He teased the possibility of another Konami property, Silent Hill, taking advantage of the engine, but until Saturday, the content of Kojima's game was unknown.

Kojima ended his talk with a 15-minute demo of the game Kojima Productions is working on, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, which Polygon wrote about here. Developed in the Fox Engine, Ground Zeroes showcases the technology that underlies the future of the studio and the series.

"I want to make clear that Ground Zeroes is something that I'm creating personally myself, and I'm putting all my effort into that."

As the panel ended among another standing ovation, Kojima left the audience with a reminder. Fans of the series will know that, though he'd been trying to distance himself from an endless Metal Gear development cycle. Despite his best efforts to pass off the duties of creating Metal Gear games to others inside Kojima Production, the gravitational force of development woes inevitably demanded his constant presence.

Not so for Ground Zero, he intimated. The project is an attempt to recreate the Metal Gear Solid experience on the Fox Engine, and he is clearly excited about that. He said he wants to expose more people to the world he's spent 25 years creating, and the game, just like in-development Sony movie, are attempts to do so.

"I want to make clear that Ground Zeroes is something that I'm creating personally myself, and I'm putting all my effort into that."

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