Know the man behind the series
“Honestly, there’s nothing I’m proud of yet. I’m not at that point in my career…”
Hideo Kojima, 2014
(Here’s hoping he’s proud of Metal Gear Solid V)
The french word ‘Auteur’ first took on its film-slanted meaning in the english speaking world during the mid 20th century. Critics began to realize that, despite the immensely collaborative effort that is filmmaking, a single person’s personality, if distinctive enough, could still shine through. Video-games are no different. Enter Hideo Kojima, the man who has designed, written, and directed every main installment of the Metal Gear series since it’s inception in the late 80’s. (He’s actually acted as Producer on most of them too) Kojima has directly steered the course of this property for its entire lifetime—a role which has dominated almost his entire career.
A proper understanding of the series recognizes that every Metal Gear game is partly a portrait of Kojima, his personality—quirks, faults and all. Metal Gear conveys distinction that can only be achieved through singular vision.
“The MGS team is a big family. Of course, specialized divisions focus on developing specific aspects of the games, such as the script, the visual designs, the programming, and the audio. As director, I unify the various parts by giving orders that guide everyone along my vision. Leaders and supervisors manage each group from within, but the success of our work ultimately hinges upon my relationships with each staff member.”
-Hideo Kojima, (Hideoblog)
“I try to do as much as possible myself. I develop the design and construction of the environments and I set the theme and topic [for] the game and work to ensure that it fits with the game systems. That all has to come from me as the vision holder.”
But creative vision itself isn’t too hard to come by—it’s generously-funded creative vision that’s special. Very few big-budget directors in today’s entertainment industry enjoy the amount of creative-control that Kojima possesses—especially within the video-game space. Thus, Metal Gear manages to combine some semblance of independent, low-stakes creative spirit with the scope of a massive blockbuster. Kojima has brought about these circumstances through years of determination and struggle—and the ability to consistently release a hit product—He’s kept Metal Gear a culturally notable and relevant property for nearly three decades. How many popular entertainment brands have been guided by one creator’s vision for that length of time?—not many.
Of course, Kojima has depended on colleagues in a significant way. Co-writer Tomokazu Fukushima had a sizable role in the research behind and writing of several Metal Gear titles. And Yoji Shinkawa, the series’ long-time art director, has guided the visual presentation of the entire Solid era. The importance of his contribution to to this truly excellent element of Metal Gear can’t be overstated. Kojima Productions has actually seen a number of core employees stick around for nearly twenty years. You can be sure, these artists have certainly made their mark alongside their director.
But the fact remains that Kojima’s mind serves as the point of origin and filter through which this entire series has been brought to life. Kojima and Metal Gear are inextricably connected. That’s why it makes sense for his name to be on the box.
—IMAGE OF A HIDEO KOJIMA GAME
But it’s not the only reason why his name should be brought to the fore. Names are important—people are important. I think the silly and misguided debate over whether video-games can or should be considered ‘art’ partly exists due to a lack of specific personalities attached to video-game creation. You see, companies make products, but ‘art’ is made by a person. If more directors would follow Kojima’s lead, like the Houser brothers at Rockstar (Grand Theft Auto), Todd Howard at Bethesda (Elder Scrolls Series), Hidetaka Miyazaki at FromSoftware (Dark Souls) to just name a few, I think video-games would experience a forward shift in cultural perception. It’s not all about who should be getting ‘credit’—it’s about responsibility.
“Game creation is my life’s work. I regard myself as responsible for passing on the torch to the next generation. I must give them the contracts forged by my predecessors.”
-Hideo Kojima, (Hideoblog)