What Kind of Week Has It Been? Part One: Meet the New Boss, Same As the Old Boss…

June 5, 2009

Well, another E3 has come and gone, with news, rumors and announcements aplenty. Whenever this time of year rolls around I always find myself a little melancholy, a little left out– while we starving artist folk might wax eloquent about the high minded ideals of indie-gaming, witnessing all the buzz and attention garnered by the Triple A people always makes one feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Granted, it’s not like there isn’t an insanely hypocritical degree of hierarchies within the indie-gaming community, as well, but at least most of the attention there is somewhat insular. But when the mainstream press and television coverage on G4 is brought into the mix, all the discrepancies come floating to the surface, and it’s no longer possible to dismiss the vague subtleties of your useless, unwitnessed efforts. If a tree falls down in a forest and there’s nobody around to hear it, we question of it produces sound. What sorts of questions should we ask of artists, then, whose work go unnoticed? Does a game unplayed count as a game?

Ah, fuck it. I could keep on with this depressive soliliquizing and whatnot, but you all know why I’m really here, pleasant dreamers– Just as I predicted back when I wrote on a blog that people gave a damn about (for whatever reason), it turns out that Hideo Kojima is, in fact, writing, designing and directing a new Metal Gear Solid game: MGS Peace Walker. However, the details of this new title are noteworthy enough beyond my usual Kojima fanboyishness, and alongside some other announcements of the past week, it merits another of my rare returns to this Bob-forsaken blog…

This really couldn’t have surprised anybody, could it have? Kojima’s miraculous returns to the MGS series are practically a seasonal occurance, like the yearly flight of the sparrows to Capistrano. After every MGS game, Kojima swears up and down that it’s his last, that he’ll hand off the reigns to a younger crop of developers on the next one. Then when it comes time to actually announcing the next game, without fail, he always steps onto the stage and proclaims that he’s changed his mind about directing, after all. Even though the story of Solid Snake ostensibly ended with last year’s MGS4: Guns of the Patriots, very few people seriously considered that Kojima was actually done with the Metal Gear franchise, and despite whispers, rumors and the usually hostile fanboy delusions that he might actually be returning to an old, obscure series like Snatcher or developing a brand, spanking new IP, there was little doubt that whatever Konami’s latest games would be on the E3 showfront, a certain bandanna-wearing soldier of fortune would likely stand out among the flagship titles.

And then came that stupid countdown site with the thundering rain and lightning flashes of numbers, letters and familiar faces– First, there was Big Boss, looking an awful lot like Che Guevara, sans-one eye. Then, there was cyber-Raiden, also missing an eye (seemingly covered up with an eerily-familiar blue bandanna). While a lot of the passive-aggressive folk over at JunkerHQ kept the hope alive that Kojima might’ve been pursuing the long-fabled Snatcher revamp Project S or a totally new game entirely, once we started seeing the ghosts of Metal Gears past, we all knew what we were in for. Finally, after a heavily redacted issue of Famitsu was released with Kojima’s news of his secure position on one project, we knew he’d be auteuring his way through an unspecified MGS game. The only question was– which one would it be?

And what happened, in the end? A rather fair mixture of the expected and unexpected, actually. A new console Metal Gear was announced, of course–MGS: Rising, surprisingly a multi-platform release, unsurprisingly a side-story about the newly-popular cyborg-ninja Raiden. A new portable Metal Gear prequel was announced without any real surprises whatsoever– Kojima has dipped into the past with MGS3 and MPO before, and something tells me this won’t be the last time he does the Transylvanian time-warp again. And speaking of Transylvania (though not the type sweet transvestites) it was revealed that Kojima Productions (if not exactly Kojima himself) would be involved in a new Castlevania game– the God of War-ish looking Lords of Shadow. All things considered, I suppose that last one should be the surprise of the show, but instead, what I’m still thinking about has to do with the next two MGS games, or rather, their authorship.

See, Kojima is only masterminding one of these new titles– oddly enough, the other he’s giving to a younger crop of designers, just like he always said he would. But what’s odd is the way they’re being distributed– MGS: Rising, the game being developed by Konami’s next-generation talent, is being released on the PS3, XBox360 and the PC, while MGS: Peace Walker, the game Kojima has repeatedly reminded everybody that he’s writing, designing and directing himself, is coming out on the PSP.

So, why is Kojima, a seasoned veteran who’s only ever personally worked on high-end next-gen consoles, suddenly stepping down to produce the next canonical entry of his celebrated series on a handheld device? Remember, Kojima was highly involved in Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, but he wasn’t directly in charge of it, himself. Instead, he produced it at the same time as MGS4, only involving himself with the game’s story and conceptual design work. Granted, that’s a lot more than most creators do in portable installments of their games– Miyamoto, for example, largely delegated Game Boy titles like the Super Mario Land games or The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening to fellows like Satoru Okado, Takashi Tezuka and Gunpei Yokoi, creator of the portable system itself– which is why it’s so odd that Kojima is diving headfirst into the PSP.

I might be mistaken, but MGS: Peace Walker might be one of the first times a series-creator has fully-authored a portable installment of a console-based series. Considering Kojima’s level of involvement, one might expect this game to be called Metal Gear Solid 5. Therefore, why isn’t he producing this for the consoles, where it would get more attention? Why is he ceding that tentpole position to the team of MGS: Rising? Hell, why are we getting an official Snake-game on the lowly PSP, and a mere Raiden-gaiden on the goddamn PS3?

These are all interesting questions, and the possible answers only make things more interesting. Perhaps Kojima wants to correct the awkwardness of MPO— a game I loved, but recognized the compromises of. After several years worth of time to study the architecture and technological capabilities of the PSP, perhaps now his team can develop a true MGS experience on the portable device, and not force themselves to cut corners as they did before. Perhaps Kojima really does want to give the younger workers a shot at being recognized themselves, but doesn’t want to give up the integrity of his series. That’s fine with me– seeing as this will be a PSN download and UMD release, maybe we’ll eventually see Kojima personally develop fresh MGS games as episodic-content while these new whippersnappers handle the console-titles.

But here’s what I’m hoping, most of all– perhaps with a graphical step-down, Kojima will focus more on the gameplay again, and less on the bloated cut-scenes that MGS4 suffered from. And now with another team producing the action-oriented MGS: Rising, finally delivering the cyborg-ninja game that excitable fanboys have been clamoring for since the original Metal Gear Solid, Kojima will feel free from his obligations enough to pursue real ludological wonders again.

That’s all for now, people. I’ll return throughout the next few days to offer up my opinions on a few other E3 announcements, like Ueda’s upcoming The Last Guardian, the new frontiers of multi-platform motion gameplay, and the rather attrocious-looking trailers to Star Wars: The Old Republic and Dante’s Inferno. Until next time, pleasant dreamers, remember it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye (especially if that somebody is a world-renowned mercenary soldier)…

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