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“Zone of the Enders,” a new game for PlayStation2 from Konami, is one of the finest giant robot games ever made. But it has been upstaged by a freebie — a bonus demo Konami packed in with ZOE.

People who purchase ZOE will not be disappointed with it; but they are likely to be even more excited by the demo, which features early levels from a game called “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.”

“We are anxious to get comments on the demo,” says Hideo Kojima, the Konami game designer who first conceived the Metal Gear series for the MSX computer. “We are waiting for people’s comments so that we can incorporate people’s ideas and make changes to the final game.”

“ZOE has sort of left my head already,” says Kojima, who produced both games. “Now I am focused on Metal Gear.”

Mercenaries and robots

The name “Metal Gear” refers to a line of giant robots that can be used as doomsday machines. Nuclear-armed and very futuristic, these nearly indestructible fictitious druids are supposedly so powerful that they can tip the global balance of power.

When terrorists have stolen these robots in previous games, Snake — the mercenary hero of the Metal Gear series — has had to infiltrate their fortresses and battle the robots alone. Somewhat of a cross between Toshiro Mafune and Clint Eastwood, Snake is a quiet loner who shoots to kill. The combination of futuristic doomsday robots and a lone gunman has proven irresistible to many gamers.

Konami created an international wave of interest when it revived the Metal Gear series by unveiling a video of Metal Gear Solid for PlayStation at the 1997 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. When Konami released the game two years later, it became a major best seller. Although Konami showed only a five-minute clip of Metal Gear Solid 2 at last year’s E3, the video was the hit of the show.

“I was more excited with Metal Gear Solid (the original),” admits Kojima. “Back in 1997, when we showed it at E3, nobody knew Metal Gear Solid. People got very excited about it, and we became excited because of their excitement. It also made us a little bit nervous.

“This time is our second time, and we are sort of used to people being excited about Metal Gear. It is not a good thing that the team is getting used to that excitement.”

More power, more game

If there was one complaint about Metal Gear Solid, it was that the game was too short. It took most players about 10 hours to help Snake sneak into the enemy stronghold, rescue some prisoners, gather weapons and eventually destroy the Metal Gear.

Knowing that his project was shorter than similar games, Kojima designed Metal Gear Solid to have strong replay value. This time, however, he says that he will make the game longer. “We [the Metal Gear team] feel a lot of pressure, but we also get a lot of fan mail and we feel a little more comfortable,” says Kojima. “Our style has never changed-we have always developed the games that we wanted to do.”

One of the things that made Metal Gear Solid so special was its innovative touch.

Psycho Mantis, one of the terrorists in the last game, appeared to read players’ minds by commenting about other games they played and making their controllers bounce. These seemingly magic touches were actually clever tricks. Kojima got permission from Sony Computer Entertainment to have his program read the saved games on players’ memory cards. Mantis then commented on the file names.

As to making the controller move — PlayStation controllers have “dual shock” technology — they are designed to give tactile feedback by rumbling in players’ hands.

Kojima says that he and his team have come up with new tricks for Metal Gear Solid 2; but he is wisely avoiding discussions about them until the release of the game.

He is also not discussing Metal Gear Solid X — another version of Metal Gear Solid 2 that Microsoft has announced is under development for its upcoming Xbox console.

“Right now I am working on ‘Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty’ ,” says Kojima. “That is the only game I have time to think about right now.”