GDC 2009: Liveblogging the Hideo Kojima Keynote


Design legend Hideo Kojima is this morning’s keynote at GDC. Let’s liveblog!

10:30 — The topic of the keynote is Solid Game Design: Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible. Think there will be cutscenes?

10:33 — It’s Kojima’s first time speaking at GDC. In years past, GDC was so close to E3, he couldn’t make it. But E3 has “lost its punch,” and besides, the GDC folks said if he came this year, they’d give him an award. Which they did – the lifetime achievement award at last night’s award show.

10:34 — Kojima won’t be giving out any games like Iwata did (boooooo), but he hopes to make this entertaining, anyway. He heard that if the keynote is boring, people tend to leave, but he’s telling us we’re stuck here, no matter what. He seems genuinely worried that we’re going to find him boring. Oh, Hideo, as if!

10:36 — Let’s talk about what’s impossible first. A path shows up on screen, and Snake comes trudging along. The path might be your everyday life, a project, whatever. But sometimes an obstacle comes along — in this case, it’s block on the path. Snake comes along and jumps on over it. The obstacle gets taller, and now Snake is sad, because he can’t jump it. Mario comes along and boings right over it, and now Snake is really dejected, because Mario can do it, and he can’t. It’s…impossible.

10:40 — Making the impossible possible demands discarding preconceived notions. Snake can’t jump like Mario, so he gets it stuck in his head that going over the wall is an impossibility. But perhaps he just needs to think about it differently – pole vault it, blow it up, float over in a balloon.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of perspective. If you change the camera angle, you can see that the wall only goes so far — you can just skirt around the edge. So, long story short, defeating the impossible requires coming up with new ideas or changing your vision.

10:43 — The impossible in game design begins with technology. The better the hardware and technology, the higher your foundation, and the less of a wall you have to climb. Otacon comes in and adds the support of software technology, which is a box that makes it even easier for Snake to climb the wall. Are we all following this metaphor? Pay attention, there will be a quiz later!

10:44 — Let’s talk Metal Gear. Back in 1986, Kojima was given the mission to create a combat game for the MSX2. The reason for the mission was a kind of a phenomenon of Rambo 2 and combat games were quite popular. So his bosses wanted to bring coin-op combat games into the home. By “combat game,” he means 2d action titles with a background, the player, more than four enemies, and bullets.

10:51 — The hardware at the time was seriously limited. You could have 8 sprites on screen at a time – the ninth one would vanish. So when making Nemesis, they had to rotate which sprite was the “ninth” at any given moment, just to be able to have enough things on screen. Unfortunately, that meant that sometimes the player’s ship was what vanished. Eeep.

In the case of that combat game, you’ve got the player, two enemies, that’s six sprites, then two bullets aaaaaand….you’re done. So Kojima thought that, given the restrictions of the time, making a combat game was…wait for it…impossible!

10:54 — So Kojima’s first thought about how to deal with the problem was a combat game with no fighting. Not too much fun, though. Then he thought of a combat game about escaping. But that’s just about running away. Again, not fun. But what about running and hiding? “This could work, this could be revolutionary!” But he was concerned that it wouldn’t sell, because it wasn’t terribly heroic, the running and hiding. So he turned it around into an infiltration game – and voila, the stealth genre was born.

10:57 — OMG, this keynote does come with cutscenes! Of course, they were much shorter in the original Metal Gear.

11:00 — So, on to the sequel. The mission for that one was to create a stealth game on the next gaming platform that surpasses the previous creation. But there was no advancement to the hardware. The mission therefore changed to making a deeper stealth game using the same limited hardware. The end result was Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.

Enemies gained a wider field of vision, and the player now had to consider the placement of enemies off screen, instead of just the ones in the room with him. And so we have the enemy-displaying radar.

Ooops, hang on, technical difficulties…talk amongst yourselves for a minute.

11:05 — Ok, we’re back up and running. Metal Gear 2 added the evasion phase, where enemies will continue to look for Snake for a while after they lose sight of him. Enemies could hear now, too, bringing even more tension to the game.

“Ok, for the people who know, there was a game called Snake’s Revenge on the NES, but that was a bit of a crap game, because I wasn’t involved with that.”

11:06 — Aaaaaand another cutscene! Kojima jokes that “it’s gotten a little longer.”

11:08 — Game was a hit, so the mission for the sequel became make a 3D stealth game for the MSX2. Ok, this one actually was impossible. But then there was PlayStation. Oh, yeah, the Saturn came out, too. Like that matters.

11:11 — So the new mission became to make a 3D stealth game for the PlayStation. And we got Metal Gear Solid, and it was kick-ass. Ok, Kojima didn’t say that, but we’re all thinking it.

The sound on the presentation has kacked out. But Kojima is soldiering on, pointing out that Snake could now hide in ducts, and you could zoom in and out with the sniper rifle.

11:1 — Oooo, now we get to hear samples of the Metal Gear voice overs in six different languages. There’s David Hayter, sounding very young. Snake sounds even more ticked off in German — Kojima says it sounds like “I wanna eat some sausages.” The Italian version now, which Kojima sums up as “I wanna eat some pasta.” The Spanish version is very passionate…definitely my favorite after the English. As for the French version…sorry, but it’s impossible to take seriously. French is a lovely language, and all, but it just doesn’t work for Snake,for some reason. Kojima calls it “a little romantic.”

11:18 — We’re watching footage from Metal Gear Solid, a PlayStation game, on a huge screen, and you know what? It still looks great.

11:20 — “I’m pretty sure you’re all tired of my presentation by now…” Um…I wasn’t gonna say it, but yeah, kinda. So he shows us a Japanese commercial for Metal Gear Solid. It’s in Japanese and features pretty girls.

11:21 — The new mission was to make a realistic looking stealth game, which became easier when PlayStation 2 came out. “This machine was really capable to recreate things in detail and graphics…We could put in a lot more.” Oh, but realistic wasn’t enough — the game had to be immersive, too. And then we got Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty.

Sons of Liberty not only was better looking, but had a more fully realized game world. People cast shadows, Snake had facial expressions. It was also the first time they did motion capture, and there were even longer cutscenes.

“I believe some of you did not like these longer cutscenes so much.” Pause. “This is where you’re supposed to laugh.” Awkwaaaaard.

11:26 — We’re watching footage of Sons of Liberty on that big-ass screen and damn, it looks great, too.

11:28 — Once again, there was no advancement in the hardware, so Kojima and crew had to figure out how to make an even better Metal Gear on the PS2. Kojima reviewed the previous games in the series and realized that he had yet to set the game in a natural, open environment. Easy enough to understand why — the man-made environment is far easier to create with polygons and suchlike.

11:33 — You know, I’m beginning to understand why Kojima’s cutscenes are so damn long. “Succinct” is not a concept with which he is familiar. Annnnyway, he tweaked the traditional Metal Gear formula, adding camouflage and survival to the natural setting.

“Everyone said the cutscene in Metal Gear 2 was too long, so I made it a little shorter in MGS4….You’re supposed to laugh here, guys,I’m talking about the cutscenes!”

11:36 — We watch a clip of MGS3 on the big screen. It doesn’t hold up nearly as well as Sons of Liberty, though.

11:38 — We see the Japanese commercial for MGS3,which features a Japanese businessman surviving in the jungle, Snake style. It’s really quite hilarious.

11:41 — Behold, the awesome power of the PS3! The rumors that Kojima had heard about the PS3 didn’t quite match up to reality. Instead of using the “awesome power” of the PS3, the mission for MGS4, the “ultimate stealth game,” was to use the actual power of the PS3 to create a new infiltration experience.

11:45 — The PS3 is a “monstrous machine,so the cutscenes are monstrous, as well. Come on, you’re supposed to laugh!” Oh, Hideo.

Yeah, Guns of the Patriots on a big-ass screen is niiiiiiiice.

11:49 — Kojima walks us through a review of his presentation. Basically, the point is you must be willing to revise your thinking if you want to make it over the wall of impossibility. If the hardware doesn’t give you a boost, try the software. If that’s not an option, revise your vision. Think around corners. Sometimes limitations are just inspirations in disguise.

11:53 — Japanese game design overcomes hurdles through such rethinking, whereas Western game design overcomes obstacles through technology. Or so says Kojima, anyway. He calls it designer-based game design versus technology-based game design. What Kojima wants to do is combine the two schools of thought. And if he can? That’s the next Metal Gear.

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