Nojima: Makime-san, this is actually my second time meeting you, isn't it? I think we met at the Metal Gear 25th anniversary party.
Makime: Yeah, I remember. But more importantly... you're not Hideo Kojima! Right up until this very moment, I was convinced you were actually a pen name for Kojima-san.
Nojima: Sorry to disappoint! I know Kojima-san set up this interview today, so I thought you'd have heard the truth from him...
Makime: So tell me, how long did it take to write the three books?
Nojima: It was about ten months for all three.
Makime: Wow, that's fast! It'd take me three years!
Nojima: Well, you have to bear in mind that I didn't start from scratch; having the basic story already established sped things up a lot. And besides, I really am a big fan of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. (below, MGS2)
Makime: The climax at the end of the MGS2 novel is really great. I could tell you'd fully absorbed and understood the meaning of the game.
Nojima: Thank you. When I was doing Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (below, PW), it was very stop and start all the way as I constantly checked back with the source material, but with MGS2, I just love the game so much that I wanted to make the novel something special. It got me thinking of how plot twists you can normally only encounter in games could instead be expressed in a novel ? and to not just do them, but do them in a bold way. I realized that for that to really work, it couldn't be MGS2 on its own; I needed Metal Gear Solid (below, MGS) as a prequel to set it up. That train of thought led to the books being released as a two-parter.
Makime: PW sometimes felt like it was just following the same path as the game, but Substance really stands on its own as a novel. As I was reading it, I caught myself thinking, "Who the heck is this guy?! Look at how much better he's gotten in one year!" (Sorry.)
Nojima: Thank you. I actually have a really bad habit; whenever I see a great movie or read a great novel, a part of me says "That's so Metal Gear!" For instance, reading your Toppin Parari no Pootaro got me really excited to have found another Metal Gear-style story. It starts out as a very Makime-style world, with the simple NEET (not in employment, education, or training) ninja Pootaro, but he gets wrapped up in all sorts of clashing ideas and ends up in a massive battle. On top of that, there are war and economy themes mixed in, so the enjoyment I got from it was the same enjoyment I get from Metal Gear. To my eyes, Pootaro is totally Raiden.
Makime: I haven't heard that before, that's for sure. (laughs) Pootaro isn't cool like Raiden, you know. For me, what was particularly fun in Substance was, you know how Snake goes into sneaking mode? I mean he actually says it out loud, "Time for sneaking mode!" So you know he's not going to get spotted. It was refreshing to see that kind of thing expressed in dialog.
Nojima: Completely like a ninja. (laughs) This is just my take on it, but I think that kind of stealth isn't something just anyone can do. Who can really pull it off? The Boss, Snake, members of FOXHOUND, and Master Miller, and that's it. Raiden eventually learns how to do it. That's why there's never a sneaking scene in the novelization of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (below, MGSV or V).
I've heard that the first Metal Gear you played was MGS2: Substance. What did you think of it back then? MGS2 came out in 2001, and at first there was a clear divide amongst players ? you either loved it or hated it. A lot of people were angry that they'd bought the game to play as Snake and suddenly found themselves playing as Raiden instead. Nowadays it's seen as one of the series' greatest masterworks, but at the time there was a storm of conflicting praise and criticism. I think the current reaction to MGSV is very similar.
Makime: It never bothered me at all that the main character wasn't Snake. I just had such a great time playing it that before I knew it, I'd reached the end. Of course, that's when you find out the twist. That "So that's what was going on!" discovery was a big surprise.
Nojima: Huh. You hadn't played as Snake before, so not playing as Snake never felt strange to you.
Makime: Exactly. And I had no problem with Raiden whatsoever. I thought he was a cool guy from the start. But as the game goes on, you start to wonder what's real and what's not, until it breaks down into chaos at the end ? and that's scary. It made me uneasy to no longer be sure of who I was even controlling. And then the Colonel starts going crazy, saying things like listing station names, "Kawanishi-noseguchi, Kinunobebashi..." (note: These are actually stations on the Nose line in Hyogo prefecture). That really got to me. I had no idea what I was doing anymore. (laughs)
Nojima: And there were never plans to make an MGS2, either. I've heard from Kojima-san that MGS was a much bigger hit than anticipated, and they had no choice but to make a sequel. By that time, Snake was a legendary mercenary who had already pulled off a ton of missions ? Outer Heaven, Zanzibar Land, Shadow Moses. Meanwhile, MGS2 was something the team wanted newcomers to the series to enjoy. Putting new players right into the shoes of a legendary character with all that history would be quite a challenge. If a newcomer plays as Snake and messes up, the sense of him being this legendary soldier evaporates, and you also have the problem of filling in new players with the backstory of all his past exploits. Kojima-san told me that having players play as Raiden instead was the most stress-free way to resolve those problems. Then Snake could appear in the game, but as a supporting character who helps Raiden out. Since Snake is set apart from the player, his presence as a legend is unaffected by however bad the player might be. This is the kind of twist that really makes me think of the MGS series as not just games, but as story-based games. The player gradually becomes acquainted with this legendary character of Snake right alongside Raiden. And again, that's a concept that's very similar to MGSV.
Makime: Ah, I see what you mean. I've completed MGSV, including all the SIDE OPS, but when I finished the main missions, I found myself thinking, "Kojima-san, why would you do this?" And I realized he must have felt a need to betray players' expectations. So if everyone's clamoring for this kind of a story, then his thought as the creator must have been, "How far can I turn this on its head?" And when I say "betray," I don't mean as a "screw you" to the players, I mean he must have relished the opportunity to create in a way that diverges from everyone's expectations and lets him tell a more interesting story.
For novelists the consumers are readers, and for game developers they're players, but I think that in both cases you need to betray them. It may not have been the story players were hoping for, but I don't think Kojima-san would have spent years working on MGSV if it had a story players could predict. I strongly believe that Kojima-san gets his motivation from seeing how different a thing he can do to what everyone expects, otherwise the MGSV we know wouldn't have been made.
Nojima: And of course, you went into MGSV with no prior knowledge, and completed the game without any added information regarding the story as a whole. How did you feel when you got to the final truth of what was going on?
Makime: As I was playing, I increasingly got this nagging feeling that I was some kind of doppelganger, but I was eager to find out how the story would play out. I never imagined that I was actually playing as myself, the player. When the truth was unveiled, I actually had a kind of horrific feeling, like finding out your wife who you've known for years is actually someone else. Or your family are actually impostors, that kind of thing. I've never had an experience like that in a game before.
Nojima: I had access to the script while working on the novelization, and when I read the truth behind the player character, I got this thrill, thinking, "This is above even the level of MGS2... no-one's ever made a game like this before." MGS2 was a tremendous innovation the likes of which could only be done in the medium of games, but reading the script made me realize MGSV manages to go even further. MGS2 featured Raiden as the avatar of the player, who gradually gets closer to the legend that is Snake, but this time players themselves are Snake, they are the ones forging the legends instead of just hearing about them. For players who've experienced MGS2, doing the same thing won't shock them anymore. This ending is something that surpassed all expectations, betraying the user in an incredible way.
Makime: Exactly. And that's the source of Kojima-san's motivation in creating a new game. I think everyone realizes that now.
Nojima: Kojima-san wrote on his Twitter feed, “V released Snake who tied up his destiny,&player who tied up w/Snake, received baton to complete the circle of legend. This farewell isn't phantom pain. This unburriable "everlasting scent of the hero" will let you move ahead. Enjoy V.” Following that, he sent me a personal email that went like this:
Early video games never had much of a story. Metal Gear was among the first to add story to its gameplay. The player controls Snake, and together we've told this story over the years. As the series went on, the player jumped between multiple characters like Solid Snake and Naked Snake, and the story evolved into the legend that is the Metal Gear saga. In this final Metal Gear, it was only right to return the role of Snake, the main character, to the player. It's saying that from now on, you make the story. It's saying this is what it means to come full circle and complete a story. If this were a one-way medium like a movie, V's ending wouldn't have been possible, but this was a game. This made it possible. Taking a story we've told together over the years, and placing it in the hands of the player. That was the real intention behind V.
If the player wasn't a doppelganger to Big Boss in V, that would have meant Big Boss himself dying later on. And long before V, back in the original Metal Gear, the player (acting as Solid Snake) had in fact killed Big Boss. That made it important for this final instalment that the player once again enters into the story and brings things full circle in their own way. I think it's only at that point that the story truly belongs to the player. This is "creating the story together with the player," something that can't be done in traditional media like movies and books. This can only be done in a video game. That's what makes V the culmination of everything we've always done since the original Metal Gear.
Makime: I think it may take time for fans in general to understand that. It's natural that people are passionate about the characters of Big Boss and Snake, so perhaps it's only when those strong feelings have died down a little that people can examine the real meaning of the game. If you're used to following a set story path, then when the game reaches out to you and passes the baton into your hands, I don't think you can process it at first. For a game to do that was a first-time experience for all of us, myself included. Look at the early backlash toward MGS2, when all that game did was pass the baton from Snake to Raiden. If there's a stronger backlash now, well, I think that's inevitable. After all, this time it's us that the baton was thrust upon.
Nojima: MGS featured two branching story paths, but MGS2 eliminated that split for its story. None of the later titles in the series have a branching story either. At the end of MGS2, Snake tells Raiden, "I know you didn't have much in terms of choices this time. But everything you felt, thought about during this mission is yours. And what you decide to do with them is your choice..." That's the same structure we see in V. You follow a set path up to a point, and then the game asks you how the story ends. It's you, the player, who fought this far, and everything you felt along the way belongs to you. How you move on from here is up to you. That's the real message from Kojima-san, and it's the biggest characteristic that differentiates MGS from other games. Blending player with character and then saying "It was really you all along" is something I think would be hard to achieve in film or books. That's what's most unique about games, if that makes sense.
Makime: Yeah, you can't guide the character in a novel. It's a fundamental difference in the medium.
Nojima: You said earlier how you think it'll take fans some time to really appreciate MGSV. During the intense backlash against MGS2 right after its release, there was actually Project Itoh, before he became a writer, "standing on the front line," if you like, loving the game and saying, "This is the kind of game only I can enjoy!"
Makime: No kidding?
Nojima: Actually, like Itoh-san I already knew Kojima-san personally at that time, but I didn't understand the game at its core the way Itoh-san did. It was Itoh-san who really understood the complex story and the message that Kojima-san was throwing at us. I'm sure MGS2 was never far from his thoughts after that either. I think of his books Genocidal Organ and Harmony as being born of deep thought about what the S3 Plan really meant, what the meaning of free will is, and what it means to tell a story. MGS2 doesn't really have a clear-cut ending. When the game ends, you have no idea what happened to Liquid Ocelot.
Makime: This is true of each character's story arc too, but really that ending leaves you with this deeply unsettled feeling, like the bottom just dropped out of reality. It's difficult to articulate.
Nojima: That's another thing I think Itoh-san must have thought about a lot ? the core meaning of that feeling the game leaves you with, that the story's not really over. I have to imagine that one answer he derived from that was Genocidal Organ, and another was Harmony. In Kojima-san's commentary in the novelization of V, he writes, "The empty space compels you to move on. That empty space is V itself." I think Itoh-san worked to fill in the empty space that MGS2 left with players.