Hideo Kojima has spent the majority of his 30-year career designing, directing, and producing Metal Gear titles. Having left the series behind, the revered Japanese auteur has more autonomy than ever before. For fans, this is incredibly exciting, but for Kojima it's also a period of uncertainty.
Despite his vast amount of experience, the realities of modern game development create inherent risks. His next project, Death Stranding, is being developed by his newly established Kojima Productions studio. Its partnership with Sony certainly mitigates some of the risks most independent developers face, but they're not completely removed.
Triple-A games take a long time to make, they're expensive, and in Japan--which has shifted its focus to mobile, free-to-play, or pachinko--they're becoming increasingly rare. Following his Q&A at the 2016 Develop Conference, GameSpot discussed some of these challenges with Kojima, along with his Metal Gear legacy and how he sees video games evolving as a medium.
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The Metal Gear franchise is now close to 30 years old and you've started a new chapter in your career. How do you look back on your legacy and what are your fondest memories of working on the series?
My fondest memories are back when I made the first Metal Gear. I first made it on the MSX, which was only available in Japan and Europe back then. There wasn't a big market so it wasn't a massive hit that everyone knew of, but the people that were really into games knew of my game. But still, it made me feel very special that something that I made was an actual product and people that I'd never met in Japan and Europe were playing and enjoying. Those are very fond memories.
Back then I was doing PC software mostly. It was something very underground and not something the casual gamer would know about. However, when we released Metal Gear Solid it became a worldwide success and it definitely changed the way I lived. I had a lot of expectations on me from then; a lot of things changed.
Your movie and music passions had to be filtered through the lens of Metal Gear, but now you can express yourself in different ways. How does it feel to be able to have that freedom?
Metal Gear isn't the only game I've ever made, but even within Metal Gear--or another new title--I've always tried to be as creative as possible. The process of starting over again and creating something new hasn't changed that much.
The core of game-making doesn't change that much ... I'm very confident in what I'm doing ... it's what I've always been doing.
You're a developer with 30 years of experience. Does this make going independent and starting again less daunting?
This might not be the answer people are expecting, but yes. I have been making games for 30 years, so I have experience and knowledge, but most of the time I was working on new hardware before and for each instance I had to reorganize and find new people. Back when I was in Konami a lot of things changed regularly; right now it's the same thing, where I have to find new people to work with and build a new team.
There are certainly some areas which are refreshing, but overall the core of game-making itself doesn't change that much, and because it doesn't change I'm very confident in what I'm doing. In part, it's what I've always been doing.
In a previous interview you said you'd tell your younger self to make something less successful as it would make things easier. You said making sure every aspect of the game meets the same high quality has been challenging. How does that advice apply to you now that you have an opportunity to apply it again?
That interview might have been misunderstood because if you're not successful in something to begin with, you don't have the chance to keep on doing it. I think it's more about the choices you make once you're successful. So, looking back, I think I'd say, "Believe in what you're doing and keep moving forward."
A lot of creators that have produced work as beloved as Metal Gear often struggle with having that thing define them and their careers. Do you worry about if you'll be able to make as big an impact in games as you did with Metal Gear, or if you'll be able to redefine yourself?
I made Metal Gear so I think people will keep associating me to it, but I will continue making other things. I expect people to talk about those things too, so I wouldn't say I'm worried. I guess one concern I have is that the extremely passionate Metal Gear fans won't be happy no matter what I do unless it's Metal Gear. But there's only so much I can do and I really hope they like what I create next outside of Metal Gear.
You said in your Develop Q&A that you never want to stop making games because you can achieve your storytelling ambitions in the medium. But does the idea of pursuing movies, TV, or books, where that passionate fanbase and legacy doesn't exist, appeal to you?
Yes, I would definitely like to make a movie someday and if time allows I'd also like to write a novel. But those wouldn't necessarily be for the fans I have so far; it'd be for other people and so I can explore other things. I would like to do it.
You've repeatedly said that your team enrich the games you make, but the focus has always been on you as a creator, which no doubt places a great weight on your shoulders. How do you feel about being that kind of celebrity and have you thought of stepping out of the limelight, or pushing others into becoming the faces of the new Kojima Productions?
In Konami I made an effort to find new talent and push them forward. It didn't go that well but as a company it was important to do that. This time it's very different and I've set up the studio like it's a music band. I talk with the people that would want to join my team and see if they want to make my games. For now, that's how I'll carry on.
Your intention was to start with a small gaming experience, something like an indie film, but expectations meant you scaled up to a large, Triple-A experience. How do you feel about having expectations alter the course of what you want to do?
It's not that outside factors make the whole decision for me, but that was a time when I was trying to figure out whether I should make something indie or with a big budget. I wasn't sure, but I decided that I didn't want people to think that you need to be part of a big company to make a big game. I didn't want the young developers to think they need to be part of a big company to make big games. That was one of the things that I wanted to prove: that young developers have a chance.
I do hear and listen to what other people think, but in the end I balance that out with what I really want to do. In this case timing had a lot to do with it, whether it was the right time to make a small or big game. That contributed to my decision.
Another big motivation was in Japan, you make a big game by being part of a big company. Once you step outside that you cannot make games—or that's what people think and believe. I want to prove that wrong.
Do you think that will change, given that the industry as a whole seems to be indicating that model isn't sustainable, especially in places like Japan? Will we see more prominent indie Japanese developers?
Maybe "indie" wasn't the best choice of words, but one thing I'd like to see is the developer and publisher being separate. In Japan, the publisher usually owns the developer and ideally I'd like to see it like how the film is industry where you have many developers making games and the publisher goes outside and decides where to invest. I think going that way, we'd see many more interesting things.
I didn't want the young developers to think they need to be part of a big company to make big games.
The episodic model is often highlighted as a solution to expensive, protracted development problem. Does episodic game releases appeal to you?
For [Death Stranding] I can't tell. I'm not sure. But in the future I think this is a change that will definitely take place and I'd be interested. I don't think movies in the future will last two hours, especially when people are already demanding more speedy experiences and delivery. So taking shorter time spans to develop, putting it out, integrating user feedback quickly, and having that freedom in game-making, I think it will apply to movies and TV too.
Right now we have two-hour-long movies and TV episodes are roughly 40 minutes, but in Japan you have morning shows that last 15 minutes. That's where I think things are headed, having five or 15-minute episodes. For games, having massive, long games will become a thing of the past.