Thursday, 19 March 2009

Icons #2 Hideo Kojima

Who?

Who you ask?

Kojima.  Game God.

For those of you that care little for games, Hideo Kojima will never touch your world.  Not directly.  But go talk to anyone who owned a PS1, PS2 or has a PS3.  They'll know who he is.

Kojima's name is synonymous with the Metal Gear series of games.  I never even played the third one, and still Kojima gets on my list.  Number 2 in the series was arguably, 'not that great'.  But One and Four are just too good.  Seriously.  

I'd probably owned a Playstation about a year when the first game came out in '97.  Dated though it now looks, gameplay wise there had been nothing like it.  You played Snake, yep Solid Snake (Kojima has sense of humour) as he stealthily infiltrates a top secret military base in Alaska.  I won't go into the plot details, that would require another blog, but basically it's about finding a big mech (giant robot suit thing) and taking it out whilst sneaking about as much as possible.  It's full of tension and fantastically paced for a game.  

The over long cut scenes that blight Kojima's later games are limited by the tech available at the time.  The PS1 used Cd's so there just wasn't the space and the game is tighter for it.  I can remember playing this so vividly and that's true for only a handful of other games.  

Stand out moments include the boss fight against Psycho Mantis (yes really) where your memory card got read and he took the piss if you hadn't got far on Tomb Raider.  In the same battle you were instructed to put your controller on the floor and observe Psycho Mantis move it with his mind.  Ok it was just the dual shock controller vibrating but no one did that in games.  This was game design on a different level.

So number 2 was a let down: you didn't play as Snake.  And by the time 3 came out I'd ditched the PS2 in a failed attempt at growing up. (Don't do it kids.)

Which leads me to number 4.  Too say this is overblown and ridiculous in the extreme is a major understatement.  The cut scenes had grown to crazy proportions, unbelievably the last one racks ups 90 minutes.  And yet when I finished playing I declared it the best game I'd ever played.  Why?  It made me emote.  Not the, 'I can't finish this bit, where's the cheat code,' frustration of some games, but the genuine kind of emote.  I can think of only one other game that's ever achieved that for me.  And no it wasn't Tomb Raider...  

Yes the cut scenes are way too long and the exposition is long winded in the extreme.  Kojima attempts to tie up all his plot lines to draw the game series to a close in a mess of story telling but... but... the gameplay is perfect Kojima.  You play as Snake.  Yay!!  He's ageing and grumpy, smokes like a trooper and is a bit of a perv.  But he is such a cool character to step into the shoes of.  If anything it's Snake that gets Kojima on the list.

The classic moment in Metal Gear Solid 4 plays out like this.  Snake is asleep and you play his dream.  And his dream is infiltrating that base from the first game.  And you play it for maybe 5 minutes exactly as it was back then on the PS1.  Suddenly you're swept back to '97, which for me meant sat on the floor of a flat in East London, nose pressed up to a portable TV, and you're forced to recognise how far this medium has come. 

I can't wait to see what Kojima does next.  I really hope he goes off and comes up with something new and innovative again.

Is Metal Gear Solid 4 really my favourite game ever?  No.  That's for another time.  But Kojima pushed the genre further than any other individual that comes to mind.  His games aren't perfect, but they try to scale heights other developers wouldn't attempt.  Sometimes you crash and burn on a steep climb, but watching someone try, and not always succeed can still be inspirational.