All Your History: Metal Gear Part 2 – Solid Gold
By the mid-Nineties, Hideo Kojima had proven himself to be a valuable member of Konami’s game-making team. Despite his lack of programming expertise, Kojima’s knack for gripping, cinematic gameplay and deep storytelling helped create an instant classic in the original Metal Gear for the MSX2 system and Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. Unfortunately, the game’s follow-up, Snake’s Revenge, was made without Kojima’s involvement, and failed to live up to Metal Gear’s success. And when Kojima did make a sequel, 1990’s critically acclaimed Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, it went unnoticed by audiences who’d already moved on to the next generation of consoles. But in 1994, Sony’s powerful new PlayStation console took the industry by storm, and suddenly Kojima saw the opportunity he needed to bring the Metal Gear franchise into the next dimension, and to play with the very notion of playing a game…
Production on what was to become Metal Gear Solid began in 1995. The name had three meanings, with the first relating to the franchise’s hero, Solid Snake, and the second inspired by the leap from two-dimensional to three-dimensional visuals. The third reason, though, pointed to a rivalry between Konami and Final Fantasy publisher, Squaresoft. Konami’s president wanted the new game to blow the competition out of the water, and Kojima figured that if a square couldn’t be three dimensional—or “solid”—then his new game would be.
In terms of visuals, Metal Gear Solid stayed true to its eight bit roots, keeping the same classic, top-down perspective and two-dimensional gameplay the series’ previous games had employed—but with the added oomph of three-dimensional depth and polygonal graphics. And despite the new game’s story picking up where Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had left off, Metal Gear Solid featured some near-identical sequences, while Snake’s moveset and inventory were more or less the same as well. In those ways, Metal Gear Solid seemed to make up for the fact that most gamers had missed out on Metal Gear 2 when it was released.
But that’s not to say that Metal Gear Solid didn’t embrace the third dimension. There were plenty of next-gen, 3D flourishes peppered throughout the game. Pressing Snake against a wall changed the camera’s perspective, allowing players to peer around corners. And certain weapons, such as the rocket launcher, could only be aimed with the help of full 3D gameplay and first-person perspective. Most importantly, though, were the game’s pioneering 3D cut-scenes, which were rendered in real-time, allowing for seamless transitions between story and gameplay that kept gamers immersed in the action, and on the edge of their seats..
Once again, it was Kojima’s love for cinematic action and excitement that made his game truly unique. The script and voice acting were of a higher caliber than anyone had seen in a video game before, setting yet another standard for the industry to follow. And the casting of David Hayter as the voice of Solid Snake proved to be an inspired choice. In fact, Hayter stayed on to voice Snake throughout the franchise’s life, and his voice is now synonymous with the Metal Gear brand. In addition, the cutscenes and dialogue added up to an epic amount of material. All told, there was enough to make a feature-length movie—an unsurprising fact given the game’s filmic inspirations.
Kojima was finally making the movie he’d always dreamed of, all while taking advantage of the interactive video game medium in ways that movies never could. The innovations started small. Early in the game, players found that they could only get in touch with Snake’s ally, Meryl, by entering the codec frequency located somewhere on the back of the game box. But as the game went on, it seemed almost as though the characters could somehow sense the players themselves, breaking the fourth wall in surprising ways. Then later, one of the game’s villains, played head games with gamers, taunting them by mentioning other games they’d played, and how many saves they’d made in Metal Gear Solid. In reality, the game was simply reading the other games on the card. But the effect—the feeling that one of the game’s characters was speaking not just to Snake, but to the kid holding the controller—that blew people’s minds.
In fact, the secret to defeating this boss was similarly mind-blowing. The villain’s powers let him predict Snake’s every move…but if he could break the fourth wall to get into players’ heads, maybe the players could break it right back. The trick was to unplug the controller from the first player port and plug it in to the player two slot. The move kept him from anticipating Snake’s attacks, giving the player the edge. This was unprecedented at the time: most games stopped at the screen, whereas Kojima’s game reached out to the players themselves and got them involved in groundbreaking ways like never before.
Of course, it’s not as though every aspect of Metal Gear Solid was without flaws. The game became famous for its extended conversations between characters that amounted to little more than barely animated faces exchanging long-winded dialogue. The game’s finale also suffered from an over-abundance of banter, featuring a climactic battle between Solid Snake and the game’s mastermind, an on-rails escape, and protracted codec scenes.
But Kojima wasn’t interested in what fans wanted, and he didn’t care that his bosses and even his own staff thought he was crazy: he was crafting his own game, his own way. In a recent interview with the Official PlayStation Magazine, Kojima reflected on the process of creating Metal Gear Solid, saying, “It was a very pure experience. I was just making the game I wanted to make. Looking back, there’s not anything in particular I want to go back and fix.”
And that attitude certainly paid off: by not caring if the game would be a commercial success, Kojima pulled off the biggest commercial success of his career. Coming out exclusively for the PlayStation console in 1998, Metal Gear Solid sold a whopping six million copies, becoming a generation-defining title and one of the true legends of video game history.
Metal Gear Solid pioneered the in-game cutscenes, and set the bar for cinematic gameplay and storytelling in video games. In fact, stealth-based games became a genre all its own because of Metal Gear Solid’s influence, while the game justified the idea that developers could use their games to express their artistic visions. Many of today’s modern classics owe their success to Metal Gear Solid’s trailblazing innovations and its untouchable legacy.
The game was such a hit that a year later Konami tried to sate gamers’ hunger for more. They released Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions in North America, a repackaged bonus disc from a Japanese special edition of the game. The game offered over 300 non-narrative missions for players.
After Metal Gear Solid had wrapped up, Kojima thought he was finished with the series, just as he’d thought after finishing Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2. But the game was so successful, and there were still so many mysteries left unanswered, there was no way Konami would let Kojima off the hook without making a sequel.
Tune in next time to see Metal Gear go mental…