Hideo Kojima Interview

After three and a half years of hard work, "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" is finally complete. Director Hideo Kojima talks about the passion that went into the project, and the techniques he used to turn his vision into a reality.

●Research

Q: Before creating each game in the MGS series, you spent a lot of time doing research.
Kojima:
Starting with MGS1, yeah. It's the same basic idea as with movies or novels. You go on location, you do solid research, and then you start creating. The graphics capabilities in games have gotten better and better ever since the PlayStation came out, and I figured I had to start doing it that way.
Back then, if you said you were doing research for a game, people would look at you and say "Doing WHAT?" But the CEO at the time was pretty sharp, and he agreed that that was the way it had to be done.
So I enlisted the help of Motosada Mori and gathered up material on U.S. military bases, SWAT training, weapons, and things like that. That was the first one, and for later games we went to wherever the game was set - New York for "2", and the jungles of Yakushima for "3". And I got actual military training from Mori-san, too.


Q: What kind of research did you do for "4"?
Kojima:
"4" isn't set in any specific country, but we went around to countries that were close to what we were imagining. We also did the full package of military training, and then took the training one step further.
Q: What do you mean by "the full package"?
Kojima:
People like Shin-chan who've been with MGS all along already knew how to handle a gun and stuff, but there were lots of new staff this time around who didn't know the first thing. So we started with the basics, and by the end we were getting a taste of the most advanced training in the world, and we put what we got out of that into the game.
Q: What kind of training was it?
Kojima:
Scout training, things like that. I'm not allowed to say much because of nondisclosure agreements, but it was mostly stuff on psychological warfare, seeing how people operate under psychological stress, and some Eastern stuff that was supposed to sharpen our senses. We did things like see if you could get out of a room with your eyes closed.
We started out with classroom-type lectures that everybody had to attend, including those who didn't know anything. Then we had an overnight training camp on psychological warfare. After that we had another overnight camp for general stuff like weapons training and searching. Almost all of us did that one, too. The final training session was quite advanced, or rather dangerous, so only the main staff members attended. This one was in the mountains over two days. It was scout training, so we painted our faces with mud and camouflaged all our gear by hand.


Q: Why did you decide to include these kind of psychological and Eastern elements?
Kojima:
In every MGS up until now, you're in a place where everybody's the enemy. Because you're sneaking into enemy territory.
For "4" we took it further. We started with the concept that you're sneaking into a war zone where you're surrounded by PMCs and militias who are fighting battles that have nothing to do with Snake. But he can use their psychological state to his advantage and get through parts easier. We thought, in order to incorporate that idea into the game we needed to study this kind of psychological aspect ourselves. In the end we didn't make it that complicated so it'd be easy to understand. But we still included some of those elements. Each solider has his or her own "emotion factor". Like if a weak-kneed soldier sees his comrades getting killed, he might get scared and run away.
Q: Before everybody used to react the same way, but now you're able to render each individual soldier's emotions and personality.
Kojima:
But the PMCsare controlled by nanomachines. They can get emotionally worked up, but only to a certain extent. Only the ones who don't have nanomachines can go all the way to the limit. They start screaming and fainting, foaming at the mouth, showing us how terrifying the battlefield really is.
There's also the BB Corps, these monsters created based on four different emotions, and they're another reason why we wanted to get close to the psychological aspects of the battlefield.
Real militaries are starting to put a lot of importance on it, too. In developed countries it's getting to be standard procedure to have counselors in your units just like you have medics.
Rose from "2" is back this time as a psychological counselor in a combat stress platoon.


Q: Is that kind of counseling effective out on real battlefields?
Kojima:
Absolutely. In "4" there's a Psyche Gauge below the LIFE Gauge. It's kind of like the Stamina Gauge in "3", but different things can make your Psyche go down - for instance, standing around too long in a hot or cold place, or being chased by the enemy in Alert Phase, or killing too many people. These things increase your stress and lower your Psyche, which has a variety of effects.
And Rose, as your counselor, can tell you what to do in those situations if you ask her, like eat something hot when you're in a cold place, or drink something cold when it's hot, or listen to music. Little things, but they're worked into the game design.
And as you play and you have to worry about these things, you start to get a sense of what mental health care means on the battlefield.
Q: Your stress rises when you kill people?
Kojima:
Soldiers are human, too. Even Snake will get sick and throw up if he kills too much. There's also what's called a "combat high" where you get a prolonged adrenalin rush, but when it's over, watch out.
Q: The new Threat Ring emphasizes those mental aspects as well.
Kojima:
I think today's cutting-edge technology's already there. In essence, the ultimate soldier is something close to a ninja. Like The End in "3" - one with the forest. Snake and the PMCs might have high-tech gear, but the mental part of combat, the SENSE, is still essential.
* Threat Ring


Q: I hear you went to three different countries.
Kojima:
This is the PS3, and people expect the backgrounds to be extremely detailed and realistic. So we went to three locations: Morocco, Peru, and Prague.
We had about 6 or 7 people go to each spot, usually me, the backgrounders, and the scripters.
And we also went to a bunch of other places - a foundry, drainage tunnels, military shows.
Q: What kinds of material did you collect from these places?
Kojima:
Video, of course, and photos in the tens of thousands. We recorded sounds, too, and used all of these for 3D modeling and stuff. Photos alone don't give you a real sense of being there. So we walked around town from dawn until dusk, went to all kinds of places, getting a feel for the smell, the atmosphere, local products, local food. We collected all these things and then thought about what to put into the game. You don't really know what you need to get that sense of being there until you've actually been there. Of course nowadays we can go to the library or the Internet if we want photos. But that's not going to tell you how a place smells, or how hot it is.
In Peru, the crew got altitude sickness so bad most of us couldn't even move (laughs). But it's essential that we have that kind of experience ourselves before we put it in the game. Normally when you go to a country, the people there only show you the good parts. But we weren't interested in seeing those parts. We wanted to see the garbage-strewn back alleys, scenes like that. And we were determined to see them no matter what. No actual battlefields, of course, but past battlefields and such.


Q: Why did you spend so much time on research?
Kojima:
Well, there's a big difference between recreating something when you've seen it in person and when you haven't, that's all. Say you're trying to create a Middle Eastern scene. You could use your imagination, or look at a photo somebody else took, but you're going to end up with something pretty shallow. I know, you're probably thinking, "You were there, what, a week? What do you know?" (laughs) But still, having seen it in person makes a huge difference. Seeing the actual place, talking to the people who actually live there, experiencing it for yourself; these things really are crucial when you're creating something, I think. They're an essential part of the process of making entertainment.
And it's something that's really lacking in Japanese entertainment, even in novels and stuff.
Q: There aren't many games in the industry that have this much research put into them.
Kojima:
Probably because of the time and money involved. And yet in other countries it's a given.
Like if the main character in a novel is a doctor, the author follows doctors around and learns about everything they do, and then writes based on that experience.
If things continue like this, there's no way Japanese content can compete with that. Although to be fair, over there they can do it because they only have to write one book a year. In the Japanese light novel industry, you might get stuck writing one every two months. At that rate, all you can write is boring high-school dramas and pure fantasies.
Interviewer: Etsu Tamari