Godfather of gaming: Hideo Kojima's incredible legacy and his latest 'Death Stranding'
Through 'Metal Gear Solid' and 'Death Stranding', this Japanese video game director — who is now a Guinness World Record-holder — has proven to be a marker of the evolution of entertainment tech
As we have been pulling apart the massive onion that is Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima has been having quite the week. His game has opened to critical acclaim, and just last week, on November 10, he was awarded two Guinness World Records for the ‘most followed video game director on Twitter (36,26,300 across two accounts) and Instagram (9,71,000)’ underpinning his impact on gaming and pop culture. Kojima, over the years, has garnered legions of international fans.
Hideo Kojima with his Guinness World Records
Born in the Setagaya area of Tokyo, Japan, Kojima nurtured a love for cinema and literature through his teenage years, but faced a lot of pressure to pursue a more lucrative career. He wound up studying economics at university, during which time, he discovered video games on a Nintendo Famicom. This fuelled a switch to video game design in the fourth year of his degree.
His first big break as a designer came in 1986 with Japanese entertainment conglomerate Konami’s MSX home computer division. MSX is a standardised home architecture system favoured by early game developers, including Konami. This would later frustrate him due to the restrictions of technology then. Eventually, his bold visions would motivate him to innovate and create the technology that would support them.
A foray into the intense
Kojima’s début title Penguin Adventure (1986) was one of the first instances of multiple endings in a game. It also opened a door for him to take on the reins of the Metal Gear franchise — which not only introduced Solid Snake to us, but was also one of the first true stealth games. His other success then came in the form of the Blade Runner-esque game called Snatcher (1988), where he first experimented with camera tilts and mature content. Kojima kept evolving this cult favourite with recorded dialogue as it transitioned to CD-ROM formats in 1992.
Metal Gear Solid was unveiled at the 1996 Tokyo Game Show in Chiba, and — much like Death Stranding now — no one had experienced anything quite like it, for its complex storyline and movie quality cut-scenes.
A snapshot from Metal Gear Solid
Never wanting to be in one vertical, he also worked on other projects, including space-mecha-combat game Zone of the Enders, courting mild successes in rebooting vampire-based game Castlevania with Lords of Shadow. Yet, his fate was always entwined with that of the Metal Gear universe, until a radically different project.
Released as a free demo in 2014, P.T. (or Playable Teaser) is a first-person psychological horror video game set in a looping hallway of jump scares. While the game did not have cut-scenes, the entire hallway sequence was structured like a playable hand-held horror movie. “Kojima is a true auteur of storytelling in gaming, due to his expressive ideology of human connection, his detail of game-play mechanics and underlying truth that as a species we hold responsibility to the world. Kojima is an important voice in a world of storytelling, far beyond cinema,” says Amit Tida, documentary producer and shamanic gamer.
A snapshot from P.T. (Playable Teaser)
To many gamers’ delight, it was co-directed by Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, and this experience would eventually lead to a reboot of the well-known Silent Hill franchise. Sadly, things soured between Kojima and Konami, and as a result, P.T. was pulled out. Till today, those surviving P.T. demos have remained undeleted on PlayStations and players are actively experiencing new phenomenon.
Prior to leaving Konami to re-form his studio, Kojima made Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Kojima Productions is entirely independent, and they with Sony unleash his full potential with Death Stranding, of which the trailer was unveiled at the E3 conference in 2016.
A snapshot from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
He explained his philosophy in a recent interview with Game Informer, “Previously, in design, you had to create the rule because you couldn’t do the realism. In our everyday lives, there are so many mechanisms we have to work through, and we have to take the balance of what we do, how we maintain ourselves, and how we live. I wanted to free the game design concept that we had to live by because we didn’t have the technology to do so in the past.”
Kojima is known to flagrate global anticipation prior to his creations’ releases. For example, the feverish viral confusion that followed the trailer of the recent Death Stranding. Now, gamers are working hard at piecing together that one big puzzle he created. Meanwhile, Kojima has already got future plans, to get back to what got him started down this path in the first place: making films.
But what about the futurist in Kojima? He is a proponent of technology, openly adapting the tech to be a conduit for his stories. If the stories in his head require Virtual Reality, he will do so. For Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, he created the Fox game engine from the ground up. With up-to-date performance capture tech, Kojima also pushes actors to the next level in the game, a trait vocally commended by Norman Reedus (who portrays Death Stranding’s protagonist).
Norman Reedus and Hideo Kojima, who worked on Death Stranding together
The 56-year-old is one of the first game directors to explore cinema-style cut-scenes at an early stage to support his zest for film-making. This prompted Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller to praise his “creative courage”, a trait he sees in all great film-makers. Plus, Kojima has star power on quick-dial, as seen by the all-star cast in Death Stranding, and the full support of Sony. The stage is set for the next phase of Hideo Kojima’s journey and everyone has front row seats.