The reveal at E3 of Death Stranding, Hideo Kojima’s first collaboration with Sony, was certainly cathartic. In the same manner that Victor Frankenstein’s creation became his obsession, Kojima seemingly became obsessed by the success of his 1998 sequel Metal Gear Solid, producing five direct sequels and more than a dozen related titles in an 18-year period. No wonder his family have been pressuring him to retire from making video games in recent years.
Though Kojima found time to design Zone of the Enders in 2001 and Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand in 2003 – as well as help produce the dating sim Tokimeki Memorial Drama Series – one has to go back to the mid-1990s before you can see Kojima being fully committed to developing an original IP. His recent aborted Silent Hill game, though impressive to look at, does not count as it was not his creation, and does not justify his reputation as an “auteur” of video games.
To be precise, it was Policenauts, his 1994 classic for the Sega Saturn, that cemented Kojima’s reputation as a great game developer. A sci-fi story, the plot focuses on a detective who travels to a space colony in order to investigate his ex-wife’s murder and the sudden disappearance of her new husband. The game garnered rave reviews for its plot, as well as its early use of full motion video and voice-over work. Policenauts was preceded by Snatcher, which was a mashup of Terminator and Blade Runner; a concept Kojima honed over a number of years across multiple different platforms, with the Sega-CD release being the definitive version.
Kojima could have hardly expected Metal Gear Solid to be as successful as it was, though he had stated his intention to create the “best PlayStation game ever.” It sold six million copies and become one of the definitive titles for the console (it has been voted as the greatest PlayStation One game multiple times). One reason for this was that it was the first title to perfect the “stealth” mechanic in a game, as opposed to the “Doom” mechanic (kill everything and kill it quick).
Whatever happened to cause the end of Kojima’s 30-year relationship with Konami – Kojima is contractually obligated not to talk about it – one can surmise from interviews where he discusses the inability for many video game companies to take risks, and statements from Sony that imply that they think it unwise to place constraints on developers such as Kojima, that all was not right at Konami. Articles in the past year have highlighted their corporate restructuring process, and it seems that Kojima was not happy with it – and the cancelling of his Silent Hills game.
With Kojima now independent, he is free to focus on the projects he wants to. Perhaps – and this is just unsubstantiated – Kojima himself had become tired of the success of Metal Gear Solid, and having had his opportunity to try something different with Silent Hills scotched, simply tired of doing the same thing year in year out. Let’s hope that Death Stranding can offer something as exciting and innovative as Snatcher and Policenauts did back in the early late 1980s and early 1990s.