Warning: Metal Gear spoilers ahead!
In the opening of 1998’s Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima’s seminal introduction to what was then a still-burgeoning contemporary stealth genre, colonel Roy Campbell runs legendary mercenary Solid Snake through the rogue’s gallery of special operations terrorists that have taken over a nuclear weapons disposal facility at Alaska’s Shadow Moses Island. Metal Gear wasn’t a brand new series for Konami – it initially introduced back in 1988 for the Japanese PC-Engine (and enjoyed an at-times questionable American presence on the NES), though few players playing MGS on the PS One at the time had much idea of the series’ history.
Kojima was a wild card in the US too. Campbell’s terse descriptions for each FOXHOUND member are likely a combination of goofy expository localization, strange Japanese writing sensibilities and possible mistranslation. Upon first hearing the animal-themed names of these extremists it was hard not to be a little befuddled by whatever it was that was unfolding – Campbell describes the elusive Decoy Octopus as a “master of disguise,” a testament to the fact that you never actually see him in the game.
With this week’s release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, it’s a good time to reflect back on Metal Gear’s creator himself – and how much he arguably has in common with Octopus. Kojima may not spend too much time hiding in the shadows (or a cardboard box), but if his interactions with the fans over the past 15-plus years are anything to go by, he loves practicing the art of misdirection on his fans.
MGSV’s multi-part unspooling, a weird series of staged events and feints that Kojima has said it took over two years to plan, is hardly an anomaly; the enigmatic director’s relationship with trickery and off-kilter fourth-wall breaking antics go all the way back to the original Metal Gear, where it was revealed that Snake’s own father, the legendary soldier Big Boss, was actually the game’s villain.
Maybe not such a huge twist in the grand of scheme of things, but when Big Boss began talking to Snake as though he were the player – telling him to take a break and turn off the game console – the writing was pretty much already on the wall.
It would be a laundry list to note all the instances where Kojima has misled Metal Gear’s fanbase. Too many to name. (For one, MGS2, 3, 4 and Peace Walker were all announced at one time or another as Kojima’s last foray with the series.) Nevertheless, on top of Metal Gear’s ridiculously convoluted plot, quirky writing and some of the coolest mech designs ever, it’s maybe the trickery that keeps MGS fans on their toes and coming back for more.
Probably the most prominent example in the series is Metal Gear Solid 2’s pre-release in 2000. Taking advantage of the newfound power of the PS2, Kojima sent fans into a frenzy by releasing a 13-minute trailer showing off the sequel’s at-the-time jaw-dropping new engine, complete with a new look for Snake. As the release date for the game drew closer, Konami went out of their way to show Snake fighting off new enemies in an environment seemingly outside the tanker shown in the initial reveal, deliberately altering footage at industry events.
When the game finally hit in late 2001 – and keep in mind this was a time before the internet really turned into what it is today – players were blindsided when upon conclusion of the tanker chapter Snake was replaced by Raiden, a comparatively scrawny blonde-haired solider.
As might be expected, diehard fans were furious. In the current culture of instant pre-release leaks and general information passing, the whole cover-up is such a bizarre event in the industry’s history it’s almost unbelievable that it happened. But it did.
Earlier pranks were a bit more quaint. Metal Gear Solid’s boss battle against FOXHOUND’s Psycho Mantis had the psychic reading from players’ memory cards and showcasing his telekinetic abilities by shaking their dualshocks, stationary on the floor. Of course Mantis was also essentially invincible – he claimed to know Snake’s movements before he performed them – unless you plugged your controller into the PlayStation’s second port.
Metal Gear Solid 3 also had a number of weird moments, but maybe the best was cut from the game’s HD re-release. After getting captured and thrown into a jail cell, players that saved the game and quit while imprisoned had a very strange thing happen when they decided to play the game again: rather than starting the game off again in a cell, instead you were forced to play through a few surreal minutes of a sepia-toned action game starring a vampire.
At a certain point the game cuts off and Snake wakes up. In other words, Kojima’s pulled the wool over your eyes with a dream sequence. It’s not entirely clear why this jarring trick was taken out of the HD Collection edition but it’s a real shame – it was polished enough to make you completely second guess whether or not you put the right disc in the system.
The trick is somewhat repeated late in MGS4, when suddenly running through a pixelly, 32-bit Shadow Moses is actually a dream Old Snake is having en route to his next destination. In general, MGS4 is perhaps the biggest overall deception, given that each chapter plays with a theme design in a somewhat new and different way (like a nearly combat-free tail mission tracking an information through the deserted streets of Prague). Not to mention all the narrative spoilers.
MGSV's tale has been a beast all its own. When MGSV’s Phantom Pain was initially teased at Spike’s VGA awards in December 2012, Kojima didn’t even announce it was from KojiPro. Instead the game debuted with a surreal, cryptic teaser trailer feature a very emaciated-looking character partially wrapped in bandages head attempting to survive the apparent horrors of an overrun hospital; the-then stand-alone Phantom Pain looked like a horror game from a completely unknown publisher, the Swedish outfit Moby Dick Games (the teaser featured a giant flame-whale).
Furthermore, the name of Moby Dick’s CEO, the unknown Joakim Mogren, was an anagram of Hideo Kojima (not to mention the main character looking a lot like Snake). It got even weirder. The absent Mogren soon agreed to do an exclusive video interview with Game Trailers’ Geoff Keighley, and when he did so appeared with his head wrapped in bandages. There was something else immediately off about the interview: Mogren’s body language felt somehow stiff and unnatural, with various head movements seemingly telegraphed as copies of themselves over and over as the designer talked to Keighley.
It didn’t take fans too long to figure out – or at least heavily speculate – that this was still part of a long-con on Kojima’s part. After carefully analyzing the video footage, someone figured it out. Far from being a real person, it appeared that Mogren was in fact a CG talking head rendered by KojiPro’s incredibly sophisticated new next-gen Fox Engine. (Sure enough, Kojima showed up at GDC 2013 wearing a bandaged Mogren mask, as if to further confuse fans, which Mogren was somehow "spotted" at industry parties through Vines posted by KojiPro.)
There’s still a lot we don’t know about MGSV. Ground Zeroes has been revealed as a prologue level to Phantom Pain’s gargantuan main event, probably still well over a year out from release; Kojima has publicly announced that Keifer Sutherland has replaced David Hayter as the voice of Snake (though debate still rages over whether or not Hayter could be involved in some way with Phantom Pain, perhaps playing a teenaged Snake to his Sutherland’s Big Boss; Kojima recently sent out a spate of tweets where he was location scouting at Normandy’s Omaha Beach, which could implicitly be interpreted as a return to a long-dormant idea.
Very few outside of KojiPro really know for sure. But whatever might be in store for Metal Gear, it seems pretty clear that will be Kojima, not his fans, that will get the last laugh. We can’t wait to see what comes next.