"I can't fail. I can't disappoint"
At DICE Summit 2016, hours ahead of his keynote presentation with film director and friend, Guillermo Del Toro, we had a chance to sit down and chat with Hideo Kojima to discuss his new found freedom as an independent developer. After his seemingly troubled tenure at Konami, the famed Metal Gear creator is free to do as he pleases thanks to his partnership with Sony; a deal that he says comes with no restrictions. By and large, it’s clear that Kojima has a new lease on life and is planning to take full advantage of the support he’s received from industry friends and fans alike, but rather than collaborate with his peers, he's focused on making the next Hideo Kojima game, first and foremost.
GameSpot: Congratulations on getting out and starting your new company. It's been about two months since the new Kojima Productions studio was announced. What kind of progress has been made since the day of the announcement, in terms of hiring and getting off the ground?
Kojima: In theory--and ideally--you put together some staff, you look for facilities, and then you start working on a project, planning and testing, but...I'm doing all of this in parallel. Many people say, "Your games are great but they take a while to come out," so I'm trying to change that.
How do you decide what to work on first? You have the world in front of you: how do you choose the right project?
Originally, after working for 30 years in one company, I was thinking of taking a one-year hiatus. But if I don't keep creating, I will definitely get rusty. So I was thinking of making not a blockbuster, but something more edgy, maybe a small movie. That was my original thought process.
"Many people say, "Your games are great but they take a while to come out," so I'm trying to change that." -- Kojima
However, after talking with several friends and fans, a lot of people told me, "Everyone is expecting a lot from your next project, and it has to be a big one. Something that goes over a game that earned perfect scores; something that goes beyond that. Don't get derailed."
So I gathered my thoughts and considered the situation, and I decided that I would work on an edgy project. There are many things that I want to do, but I didn't have to think too much about which one I wanted to work on; it kind of came naturally, what I'm working on now.
How are you dealing with the pressure that comes with the responsibility of running your own studio?
I have to be honest, for this project I'm working on, there's are a lot of people, staff members, and fans who have high expectations. I have the feeling that I can't fail. I can't disappoint. I can't go out there and do something too, too extreme, so there's a little bit of that which I have to deal with.
Especially, because it's our first game and we're working with Sony, I want to make sure that it's a great game for Sony, so there is pressure in that. However, I'm not even thinking of letting any of that to change anything that's in the game.
Sony seems like a good fit for you. Is that because they've given you total freedom? Is Sony controlling any aspect of what your first project will be?
They are not controlling what I'm doing at all; that was part of the conditions, and Sony was very respectful towards me and what I do. In that regard, it's been very nice, and very pleasant.
When you think about your success, does it surprise you? Did you imagine that you would get to this point when you started making games?
The first Metal Gear Solid title was surprising because I just made what I wanted to play, and I didn't expect it to perform that well, and it actually didn't need to perform that well, so that success was a surprise.
Metal Gear Solid was a surprise, and with Metal Gear Solid 2, there was a need to expand and build a market, so I had to keep that in mind. One thing that I never want to do is to change anything so that a game can to sell more copies.
If you could go back 30 years and give yourself one piece of advice, what would that be?
I guess it would be: "Believe in yourself." Even now, and with the previous franchises that I worked on, whenever you try to do something really new, it's hard to people to understand. The closer they are--and especially the people that are really close to you--they are opposed to doing something completely new. When you try to create something that doesn't exist it's difficult to communicate and convey that message to staff. There are always people telling me that I have to do things a certain way, but the only way to do what I want is to believe in myself.
Another piece of advice I would give myself...given that I didn't expect Metal Gear to be so successful: I would tell myself to make something that wouldn't be successful. It would have made things a lot easier. I don't mean to brag with what I'm about to say, but I'm always making adjustments and playing the games I make, and I think to myself, "This is too fun, this is going to make other jobs harder. I need to make it a little more boring, because it's just too good."
Are you cautious about making another game that could turn into a series?
For this, with Sony, we are working on a project that will be a new IP, of course, and I have no idea if it's going to be a series or not, but I want to make something that will have a big enough impact to become a series. By impact, I mean from the things that are unique to the game, the characters, and the world. This impact can lead into something outside of games, such as anime, manga, figures; something that is rich enough to expand.
Are you more interested in making a game with a really strong narrative, or really strong gameplay?
Both, because people expect both from me. I want to do something that gives a lot of freedom and interactivity. Like I did in the past, I want to make something that has a very strong, dramatic story. That's what people want from me and that's what I want to do. It would be so much easier if I could give priority to one or the other, but people expect both from me. At this point, it would be easier to make a linear game, but that's not…
"Sony is supporting us to make a big game that's edgy with a strong story that gives the player a lot of freedom" -- Kojima
It's risky, because we're just starting up, so it probably would be better to go with something smaller-scale, maybe linear, but Sony is supporting us to make a big game that's edgy with a strong story that gives the player a lot of freedom, with new elements, and I don't know if that's possible. But we'll see.
Will your next project be a collaboration with another creator?
At this point, fans are expecting a game that’s mine, with 80-90 percent of my blood in it, so I would like to make collaborations, but that would lower the density of my identity in this game. Collaborations should be for other projects.
People make a lot of assumptions about you; what's the biggest misconception?
A lot of people say that I spent too much money or take too much time, but that’s a misconception. My last project was late about five or six months, but I’ve always kept my word on timelines and budget. For example, I do take three to four years to make games, but that's the plan from the start.
I take a lot of time because I create my own teasers, posters, and I work on how to create the box for sales. Japanese creators are famous for being loose with schedules, and I think people put me in that category, but it's not reality. In my case, I'm a director and a producer, so I have to stay aware of production and the budget.
Lastly, how is your beard working out?
I'm not used to it, so I think about shaving it every day. In becoming an independent and creating my own studio, I wanted to change something about my look. I've received a lot of positive comments from people outside Japan about my beard, but inside Japan, beards have a bad image. People think, “You look old, you look tired." My kids definitely don't like it.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today, and congratulations on your upcoming award.
Thank you. I'm really glad I can now have a decent, normal interview. It just feels so good.