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GAMES

For fans, ‘Metal Gear’ without Kojima involved is ‘game over’

by Brian Ashcraft

Gamers know it: Every time Hideo Kojima finishes one of his “Metal Gear” stealth video games, he attempts to wash his hands of the wildly successful franchise and says, “That’s it. I’m done.”

Yet, “Metal Gear” is to the famed game-creator as the mafia is to Michael Corleone: Just when he thinks he’s out … they pull him back in. “They” being the series’ fans.

Kojima’s latest attempts to reduce his “Metal Gear” involvement seem futile, as his studio, Kojima Productions, is ramping up for a brand-new title. Last month, the studio released a help-wanted website for what they are labelling the “next” “Metal Gear Solid.” Judging by the long list of jobs on the site, the studio is looking to hire a brand-new team — or at least a big chunk of the huge number of staff required to make one of these games. And while the studio hasn’t said whether or not Kojima will actually be directing this title, if the past is anything to go on, no doubt he will be.

Kojima first created “Metal Gear” in 1987; it featured a nuke-wielding mecha (large robot) called “Metal Gear” and a sneaky special-forces soldier named “Snake.”

Between 1987 and 1999, Kojima worked on four “Metal Gear” games: “Metal Gear,” “Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake,” “Metal Gear Solid,” and “Metal Gear Solid: Integral.” During that time, he also worked on sci-fi games and even dating games. His output was varied. These days, however, it’s anything but.

Between 2000 and February 2012, Kojima released approximately 20 “Metal Gear” branded games. Some of them were remakes, and for others Kojima only acted as producer. Yet, during the last decade, the “Metal Gear” brand exploded. While Kojima worked on non-”Metal Gear” games at the beginning of the 2000s, such as mecha title “Zone of the Enders” and Game Boy Advance game “Boktai,” as the decade wore on, he became increasingly focused on “Metal Gear” — no doubt largely the result of the flurry of interest surrounding “Metal Gear Solid 4″ (aka “MGS4″).

While “MGS4″ wasn’t released until 2008, the tease leading up to it was years in the making, starting with a 2005 debut trailer. It was easily one of the most anticipated games of the last 10 years, and it was supposed to be the game that Kojima did not direct.

After “Metal Gear Solid 3,” Kojima said that he would be stepping down. The game was meant to be directed by Kojima Productions staffer Shuyo Murata, but the knee-jerk reaction by fans was so negative that Kojima stepped in as codirector. Some crazed fans even threatened Kojima’s life if he didn’t make the new “Metal Gear.”

The ensuing “MGS4″ was big-budget and super-hyped. It was also brilliant. But it was too long, and in serious need of a good edit. What makes Kojima’s games so interesting is that they are often over-indulgent, or even self-indulgent, showing a game-creator operating unchecked and unedited. There are lengthy, cinematic character monologues that throw every single game-design rule out the window — namely, that video games are things you play, not watch. Kojima deals with big ideas — war, heroism, capitalism, and even love — in big ways, wearing his heart on his sleeve the entire time. The refusal to play by the rules and make up new ones as he goes along makes Kojima a truly interesting game-creator — a maverick in an industry dominated by rules. His work is the video-game equivalent of the great New Wave French director Jean-Luc Godard: He can’t really tell a straight story and sometimes he fails miserably in his design choices, but his art is all the better because of this. That isn’t to say all his games aren’t fun to play. They are.

“MGS4″ may well be one of the last, great third-party exclusives. “Third party” refers to game studios that do not make consoles. For example, Sony, which makes consoles and games, is called a “first-party” studio. Konami, which does not make consoles, is thus a “third-party” studio.

“MGS4″ was slated for the PlayStation 3 as an exclusive title, though there was much speculation that the game would also be released on the Xbox 360, Sony’s rival console -as was the case with other third-party games that were once exclusive to PlayStation 3, such as “Final Fantasy XIII.” “MGS4,” however, remained exclusive.

And as with “Metal Gear Solid 3,” when “Metal Gear Solid 4″ was released, Kojima once again signaled that he would be moving away from the series and that he wanted younger staffers to take the reins. This would allow Kojima to spread his wings, and develop other games. However, once again, fans freaked out, and Kojima found himself working on yet another “Metal Gear” game, this one for the handheld Sony PSP. While hugely popular in Japan, the PSP’s popularity has dwindled in the West in recent years, and 2010′s “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker” didn’t quite recapture the interest that “MGS4″ had.

But now Kojima Productions is moving forward on the “next” “Metal Gear.” According to the advertising, the game is coming to “high-end consoles and PC”, which means it won’t be a PS3 exclusive like “MGS4.” The game might even appear on the next generation of PlayStation and Xbox consoles. It’s still unclear whether Kojima will be involved in this “next” “MGS”; or if he’ll only be acting as an overseer. The good news for fans of Kojima beyond his “Metal Gear” titles is that he is working on a new game with the codename “Project Oni” (“Project Ogre”). Details are scant, but it looks as if it may be a military-based title, somehow featuring an ogre. Perhaps it will finally be enough to convince fans it’s OK for him to let go of “Metal Gear.”

Brian Ashcraft is a senior contributing editor at gaming website Kotaku.com.