An Audience with Hideo Kojima and Harry Gregson-Williams
The men behind the design and music of Metal Gear Solid 2...
On a crisp February morning (Wednesday the 27th), your intrepid reporter along with his Ferrago comrades found himself wandering around central London, in something of a dazed state (it was early), looking for the Institute of Contemporary Arts. It was 9.50am and things were getting desperate; where was the bloody place? It certainly wasn’t on the Strand as the hideously inaccurate map suggested… it was actually on The Mall: the leafy and expansive drive that ultimately leads to Buckingham Palace. But my intentions here this morning were far from the decorum of Royalty; I wanted to play the most eagerly anticipated PS2 release of the year: Metal Gear Solid 2. What’s more I wanted my free breakfast. Having forced down several cold Bacon rolls on my arrival at the ICA, we were lead with a crowd of other similarly weary looking Journos, from the Cafeteria, and into a Theatre – where we sat through a lengthy ‘Making of’ documentary on the game – which is included on DVD with the Special Edition version of MGS2. After this revealing insight, which I won’t spoil for you – the audience was introduced to Hideo Kojima (the Japanese Gaming design guru behind the MGS games), and Hollywood musical composer, Harry Gregson-Williams. What follows is a (rough) transcript of the Question and Answer session. Panel-based Q&A section with Hideo Kojima and Harry Gregson-Williams How do you perceive the differences between the US, EU and Japanese markets, and what changes do you make with regards to this? HK: I feel that the Japanese market is quite unique, it is unlike both the US and European markets. In Japan, a gamer will want his fun to be delivered straight to him, however, the US and EU gamers will actively seek out their own fun; that’s why Metal Gear has been so much more popular in those markets. As for the changes that we make for different markets, the EU creates the biggest opportunity, as the games arrive months later giving us the time to brush them up and add bonuses if at all possible. We do apologise for the distinct gap in the releases, but it does give us this vital time to make any last minute changes. We want the gaming experience to be as good as possible. Why do all the characters have such strange names, or are these names normal in Japan? HK: Firstly, the names are ‘strange’ in Japan as well! Secondly, I’m aiming to create a multicultural feel with MGS2, these names reflect who and what has influenced me in the process. Are you planning to make a film any time soon, seeing how cinematic the entire MGS experience is? HK: I would love to make a feature at some point, but only when I have finished with computer games, which are still my greatest passion. It is something for me to do when I’m older perhaps. The new main character, Raiden, has received plenty of criticism, do you consider just using Snake from now on? Plus, has this had anything to do with the rumoured Metal Gear X? HK: Raiden may of received criticism, but if anything this has helped us to achieve our goal. Compared to Raiden, Snake looks even better, which is one of the points of the game, we want to see Snake from another perspective and Raiden was the platform for this. (Hideo doesn’t mention Metal Gear X). Does Metal Gear Solid draw upon your skills as a novelist? HK: What I have written, drawn and directed have all lent something to my overall expression within Metal Gear Solid, they all helped in some way. How do you express yourself and add cinematic effects into a game such as MGS2? HK: I feel that it is easy to introduce cinematic effects into graphical cutscenes within the game, however, it becomes much more difficult within the game itself as I would never allow effects to interfere with the actual playing of the game. That doesn’t mean that I can’t express myself though, it just means that I have to resort to less intrusive mediums, such as light and colour; these will not interfere with the actual gameplay. How much did MGS2 cost to produce? HK: Metal Gear Solid 2 cost the same to produce as a certain Godzilla film, although I’m not telling you which one (Ferrago guesses that he is referring to the Hollywood production, the others had tiny budgets!)! Making MGS2 one of the most expensive video games yet. Did it cost as much as Shenmue? HK: Shenmue? Oh goodness no! That was a very expensive video game! MGS2 is being hailed as the game which will save the PS2 form the might of the Xbox. Would you consider producing MGS for any other console? HK: Right from the very beginning, MGS has been a project for the Playstation. However, if the public want it on another console badly enough, I may consider it. MGS2 is all about the passing on of knowledge. Would you ever consider passing on your knowledge through teaching seminars or apprenticeships? HK: Although I have no specific plans for apprenticeships or seminars, I would like to produce a book, a text or guide to making your very own sequel to Metal Gear Solid. If someone then made another better Metal Gear Solid, I could always find something else to do! How much passive gameplay can we expect to find in MGS2? HK: Passive gameplay is very important with regard to which type of game you are trying to portray. The story element of MGS1 was incredibly popular, so we decided to stick with the story fuelled plot. So yes, there is quite a bit of passive gameplay. Lots of the plot is via the Codec. Why use text instead of the usual cinematic effects? HK: The codec is not there to tell the story, it’s there as a tool, a guide to help the story progress. Most of the plot is actually explained in poly-graphic cut scenes, within the game. Which aspect of development did you enjoy the most? HK: The most fun is right at the start, when I’m creating the plot, script and characters. At this time I can be alone with my crazy ideas, it’s certainly my favourite part of the development process! You have been named No. 73 in Newsweek’s Most Influential People of the year. How do you feel about this and just what are you going to lend to the medium, to attain what is expected? HK: I was very surprised when I was selected. I know that it’s not for what I have done but rather for what I will do. Now that the digital age is here and music, film and video and games are all blurring into one, I hope that I can become a medium to portray all of them, I hope to be the medium of digital expressions. (?) Do you think that MGS2 is too violent in places and was it difficult having the spotlight on you due to this? HK: Violence is violence. If you mean to portray it, do it correctly. If I punch someone in a beat ‘em up, they will flash red, that’s incorrect, that gives a false message. If I shoot someone in MGS2, they will bleed and they will die, giving across the real message; I shoot them, they will die. This way people will learn the truth of violence. Did September 11th have any effects on you and have you been misinterpreted because of it? HK: Yes, when it happened we where all very nervous, we didn’t know what we should do. However we decided to go ahead and release the game in it’s original form, as it was intended. However from all of the mail we received, none referred to the September 11th attacks, or the way MGS2 handled it, in fact, most of the mail was about Raiden and how he sucks! How would you like to be remembered? Do you use your games to portray a message to the younger generations, to your son in particular? HK: My Son is still too young to understand what I do for a living and still too young to play my games. I hope that when he grows up he will play the games and understand what I was trying to say and that he can see my messages within MGS, this would be all that I could wish for... Do you feel that the medium of computer games is a difficult one (musically) due to repetition and so forth? HGW: Yes, in game music can be a scary prospect due to the amount of repetition involved. In fact that’s really scared me! I never thought about it like that, more and more people will hear my work through this game and they will hear it more than if they where watching a film. I could imagine that the music in video games could get quite annoying if it was of a poor quality (smiles). What is your favourite scene from the game, with regards to musical tension and such? HGW: Considering that the last game I played was Pong, I couldn’t of played the game myself! So instead, I got someone to play it in front of me, we went through the entire game this way! As for what piece I favoured, I liked the more melodic stuff! But then I would, because I’m biased… When I’m at the movies I always like the title sequences, there’s nothing to get in the way of the music, there’s less interference! Was MGS2 one of your more difficult projects? HGW: Metal Gear was difficult as I never had a finished project to compose to. When I’m doing a film soundtrack such as Armageddon, I have the film to work along with, all I had here was Hideo’s instructions and guidance! But I suppose I was lucky in a way as this gave me an amount of freedom that your rarely get with films, although Hideo always kept me on track. Do you feel that Video games are a valid medium when compared to film? HGW: Yes, very much so! Hideo has as much talent as any director or producer you care to mention, I was stunned and amazed at the computer games industry’s progression over the past few years…. Games are just as important to art as any other medium. Finally, a word from the great man himself, Solid Snake: “Building the future and keeping the past alive are one and the same thing.” Well said, and we’ll have more on this game very soon.