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The Secret History of Metal Gear
Once upon a time in the 80’s , there lived a young 23-year-old man by the name of Hideo Kojima. An avid movie buff and economics student, Kojima had witnessed the video game industry in its humble beginnings and decided to jump in and test his mettle in it.
Kojima started off at a small Japanese game company called Konami, and soon realized he was in an awkward position at the developer. In those days, most game makers were jack-of-all-trades types, people who not only handled story and design, but coding, marketing, and all other aspects of development ranging from A-Z.
Kojima had little to no experience with coding, instead favoring himself as an idea man. As such, he had little to offer the company, and often found himself being placed on small projects while his game ideas were repeatedly shut down.
His job in jeopardy, Kojima was given one last chance to prove himself useful to the company when they gave him his most difficult assignment to date: create a military game for the Japanese console MSX.
It was during this time that shooters such as Contra reigned supreme, boasting multiple enemies to shoot and a whole host of options for gunplay and collectibles.
So why was a military shooter such a challenge? Thanks to the limited technology of the MSX, the console didn’t have near the graphical prowess as others in the market, and only allowed for up to four characters to appear in game at one time.
Kojima tackled the problem headfirst, turning to movies for the solution. Drawing inspiration from stealth action films, Kojima decided that a new angle would be needed to create this game, and that the answer was found in putting stealth at the core of the gameplay experience.
So, he pitched a game that saw your character sneaking into a military base while trying to avoid guards and picking up new weapons and items along the way.
But since he was so heavily interested in stories and storytelling, Kojima decided to craft a deep, intricate storyline that offered an explanation as to why you were sneaking around this military base and avoiding detection. Characters were created, dialogue was penned, and the adventure saw Solid Snake (named after Snake Plissken from Escape From New York ) tracking down a weapon called a Metal Gear.
Konami Execs weren’t exactly swayed by the idea of the game, and it took Kojima several tries before they finally gave him the approval to start development. And after months and months of work, the result was a revolutionary game that pioneered the stealth genre in gaming.
Metal Gear was a fascinating new development for a number of reasons. For one, it had a much slower-paced style of gameplay heavy on tension and light on actual combat. This was a big departure from the classic run-and-gun platformers of the 80’s, and was a completely new experience players quickly embraced. Instead of clearing out a room with guns-a-blazing, you had to plan out your movements carefully and execute them based on good timing, giving the game a more puzzle-like vibe than an action game.
A port of the game reached the NES, helping the game skyrocket in popularity and selling enough to make executives call for a sequel. But there was one problem; Kojima had never planned to make a sequel. In fact, he had figured his run with Metal Gear was over and wanted to move on to different things.
Regardless, a sequel was put in production, but was done without Kojima at the helm. The result was Snake’s Revenge, a game meant to appeal to Western audiences that ended up satisfying no one. It focused more on action and shooting than stealth, disregarding all the conventions that had made the first game so successful. Because of this, the game wasn’t (and still isn’t) considered a “true” Metal Gear game and flopped with fans.
It wasn’t too long afterward that the creator of Snake’s Revenge crossed paths with Kojima and convinced him to consider making another installment in the Metal Gear series. What followed was the official Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, a game that disregarded the existence of Snake’s Revenge and picked up after the events of the original Metal Gear.
With a new inventory system, return to intricate story, fantastic gameplay, and impressive visuals, Metal Gear 2 is considered by many to be one of the best games of the 8-bit era. There was one major problem with it, however; the game was only released on the MSX 2 console to Japanese audiences, meaning that its player base was extremely small. Furthermore, the game came out too late for its own good, releasing as an 8-bit game during the 16-bit era.
Kojima retired from making the Metal Gear games once again, changing his focus to work on other projects.
Fast forward to the release of the PlayStation in the mid 90’s. The console changed the face of gaming, as it presented a more “mature” experience for players than its competitors, all while featuring some impressive technical power and 3D graphics.
Konami wanted to bring something big to the platform, and Kojima saw it as an opportunity to re-introduce his Metal Gear franchise in a more well-realized way.
And so, he began work on Metal Gear Solid, a game named after three things; the game’s protagonist, Solid Snake; the shift from flat, 2D graphics; and served as a jab at Konami’s competitor Square Soft.
The release of Metal Gear Solid pioneered many conventions we take for granted in video games today; it featured cinematic cutscenes rendered in-game, pushed the stealth action genre by returning to the same gameplay of old Metal Gear games in a top-down and more well-realized fashion, and introduced amazing new boss fight mechanics never seen before its release.
Since then, the Metal Gear franchise has erupted into a phenomenon, claiming fans all over the globe and even producing HD remakes and spin-offs. But despite the near-blockbuster status the game has received, one fact cannot be overlooked; all of it came from the mind of one man who, above all, managed to stay true to his artistic vision and convictions. And as they say, the rest is history.