Makime: Just like in the game, Quiet's arc in the novel was fantastic. She had such a macho attitude, like some female Goemon. That scene where she finally speaks English in the sandstorm... that's what really tugged on my heartstrings the most in this novel. And in the novel, she actually ends up dying, doesn't she. Reading that, I kind of felt like, "Oh... so that's what happens... damn." I guess you had no choice, but still...
Nojima: That's something I guess you could call my interpretation, or having read the game's storyline anyway, I thought there was no other possible outcome for her.
Makime: Ah, so since you were writing your first draft before the game was complete, you had your own take on things.
Nojima: Kojima-san actually told me later on, "She doesn't die in that scene," and that it's left open-ended in the game. All I could think about that was, why didn't you tell me earlier? (laughs)
Makime: So Quiet isn't dead for sure after all. I wish she'd come back already. (laughs)
Nojima: But the way she leaves in that scene is a serious tear-jerker, isn't it. Quiet is all about loss. But I'm told it's supposed to be uncertain even in the game whether she became symptomatic or not.
In Project Itoh's MGS4 novelization, Snake dies, but the game makes it totally clear that he isn't dead. Kojima-san said it at some point or other, but originally Snake and Otacon were to turn themselves in and receive the death penalty to atone for their sins. But the response from the people around him made him change his mind. The theme from the movie Sacco & Vanzetti being used in the game is a subtle hint to that. Because from an outsider's point of view, Snake and Otacon are simply criminals. In that sense they're practically the bad guys in the game. That's why in V's novelization, the villain Skull Face goes out of his way to mention the real-life false accusations in the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, the event the movie was based on. I wanted to give Skull Face that sense of not being a one-sided villain, that maybe the accusations against him were not so black and white.
Makime: I see. And Big Boss' organization in V is absolutely a band of criminals in the eyes of the world order. They can be viewed as a kind of war mafia, interfering in world conflicts to make money. But it's hard to see things that way when you're actually playing the game. Viewed from the outside, everything they do is unacceptably wrong, but playing as them makes you see them as good people. That's why I really like Huey's (Emmerich's) character in V. He always says the perfect thing to make you hate him at just the right time (laughs). He seems like the worst bad guy in the game, but viewed objectively that's not the case. As a civilian, he's actually closer to the player than any of the other characters. The things he says actually always make sense, but that just makes you hate him more. (laughs)
Nojima: And in previous titles in the series, leaving aside the bad guys for the moment, there's never been a character who's been so vehemently opposed to his own allies.
Makime: Exactly. I see a lot of what he says as how an average person would react. And Snake or Ocelot or Miller might never break under interrogation, but Huey's just a normal person. He can't hold it together under torture. He ends up giving away the location of the base pretty easily.
Nojima: From society's point of view, Big Boss and his men are a criminal group, but all the staff on Mother Base want more than anything to be like Big Boss. From the player's perspective, the things he does then start to seem heroic, to the point where we think everything he does is right.
Makime: And Huey represents the only external opinion in what's otherwise an echo chamber. But in the game, the one person with those relatively sane opinions is the one who's forcefully thrown out by all the other Mother Base staff. Even when he's drifting away in the boat, he keeps shouting things like, "You're the bad guys! You're insane!" And it's like, you're right, but screw you. (laughs)
For that reason, if the game had featured some other kind of depiction or explanation of Mother Base from an external viewpoint, it might have made it easier to understand what Diamond Dogs represent. What Big Boss and his men do could only be viewed as wrong by most of the world. So if we then think about what's happening right now in the real world as a parallel, and how we react to it, we see that perhaps we need a knowledge and understanding of world affairs in order to reconcile the two differing perspectives. In that sense, it's clear that Big Boss really has "become a demon" from that perspective. Diamond Dogs has nuclear weapons, and they're governed by the severely biased ways of thinking of just two or three people including Big Boss, so they're an extremely dangerous group. That might have been a lot clearer if Diamond Dogs was shown being represented in the media of America and other Western nations as being a terrible threat to world order, a band of renegades. That is to say, if Big Boss and his men were operating based on their own ideals, but were always presented as dangerous madmen by the media. And of course, Big Boss, Miller, and the rest keep increasing the scale of Mother Base despite that representation. They keep making themselves seem worse in the eyes of the world.
Nojima: Yeah, I see what you mean. That might have made the duality easier to understand. What I wanted to emphasize in the novel was that everyone wants to be Big Boss... and that can actually be achieved. Just like Raiden and the boy narrator are infected by Snake's heroism in the MGS2 novel, so the Mother Base staff in V are infected by heroism as well. The same is true of the player. The player can become Big Boss. And if the actions of Big Boss and his group are crimes, if they're bad guys, then the player is infected by that and becomes a bad guy. Big Boss, and therefore the player, becoming a demon ? maybe that's what V is really about.
In the second chapter of the novel, Diamond Dogs soldiers are dispatched to retrieve a microfilm containing classified information on the "Third Child," but in the game it's Snake who undertakes that mission. I wanted to use that kind of alteration to express the "anyone can become Big Boss" theme.
Makime: I see. I can understand that, but don't you think that in the game it's difficult to reconcile the visual look of Big Boss with yourself as the player? I find myself wanting to say, "Big Boss? No no no, he's that awesome guy over there. I'm not that great." (laughs) If the character looked different to the Big Boss we know, for example if the character was a Raiden-esque replacement, and he seemed like a bit more of a screw-up, it would be different. Then we could be like, “Yeah, that's me.”
Nojima: Ah, you're right. (laughs) I totally get that. The Big Boss that I am is pretty pathetic. (laughs)
Makime: I guess you only gradually get to feel that way. It takes time for you to start believing you're worthy of being called Big Boss.
Nojima: Skull Face dies pretty suddenly, doesn't he? Previous games in the series would have had a boss battle against him, but in V it's a battle against Sahelanthropus instead. When I first read the plot, I thought, "What? This isn't much of a climax for the first chapter." When working on the novelization, Kojima-san explained to me that this is a game about defeating your enemies, but then losing your friends. He wanted me to focus not on the game-like thrill of defeating the bad guy, but the sense of loss that comes afterward as allies fall by the wayside. Killing Skull Face doesn't quench the characters' thirst for vengeance; instead, those feelings end up harming the people closest to them. That's why I created Leonard as a new character just for the novel. I wanted an ally character I could kill, and obviously I couldn't bump off Ocelot or Miller, so I decided to create a new named character for that.
Makime: While playing the game you get strong premonitions of the tragedies to come. But I guess accepting and digesting those tragedies takes a lot of time.
Nojima: Take the scene right before Quiet departs. Snake is all beaten up, Quiet is unconscious, and they're hiding in the rocks. There are Soviet soldiers looking for them, and that one soldier shoots the snake that was about to bite Quiet. When I was shown that scene, I was really moved. That soldier must have seen them there, but pretended he didn't notice anything, and walked off back to his unit.
Makime: Ah, you saw it that way? Is it actually intended to be like that?
Nojima: When I asked Kojima-san about it later, he said it's meant to be open to interpretation. But the way I saw it, that soldier went against orders based on his own beliefs, and let them go. He's a run-of-the-mill soldier in the Soviet army, who decided to let their greatest enemies, the focus of all their feelings of vengeance, go free. I think he was, in his own way, trying to break the chain of retaliation. I loved that the core message of the game could be in a scene like that! That's what moved me. Makime: That's deep...
Nojima: And then you have Quiet's decision. It still makes me well up just thinking about that whole scene. (laughs)
Makime: I guess that's why Quiet can never really come back. I understand that intellectually... but I just want her back already. (laughs)
Nojima: I think that compared to previous games in the series, in V there's a lot more room for interpretation of the cutscenes, dialog, and story twists. MGS and MGS2 explicitly explain their themes through the characters' lines. But there were a lot more restrictions in terms of hardware capability back then, which I think made it much more difficult to achieve “read-between-the-lines” type scenes. In MGS2, Snake actually explains the theme directly to Raiden in their dialog, and all we had to do was listen and nod. But with V, I think the increased freedom in the gameplay also broadened how the story could be interpreted.
Of course, for this game to close the loop of the saga, there are slight tweaks to characters such as Ocelot who appear throughout the series. And there's the reaction from fans that Eli's "Kingdom of the Flies" arc is unfinished.
Makime: From my point of view as a novelist, I can appreciate the impossibility of bringing a story to its completion 28 years after it began, with no loose ends or contradictions. There isn't a person alive who could do it; it'd be weirder if we could. Stories aren't created by machines. There are bound to be things that don't mesh together perfectly ? it's simply human. I see that as a part of this work of art by a human artist, so let's love it for what it is.
I think that dedicating yourself to a single work of art for 28 years, and maintaining a high level of motivation toward that art, is so difficult, so unique, that there are hardly any other people in the world who've experienced what it's like. The very fact that V exists is a tremendous success. It's "mission complete." As for "Kingdom of the Flies," I think it's become an easy target for players who haven't reconciled their mixed emotions about the way the main story ends. It's like a punching bag for dealing with that stress. I guess people don't want to accept that MGS is over. That's my take on the various opinions that have been expressed about the way the "Kingdom of the Flies" arc was left up in the air. Personally I think the game was fine without that chapter.
Nojima: Yeah, I also think that the exclusion of "Kingdom of the Flies" doesn't actually influence the main story. If "Kingdom of the Flies" had been in there, it would have been a pretty long segment by itself, and if you look at V's story as a whole, adding in "Kingdom of the Flies" as well would disrupt its balance. Unless it was spun off as a separate story entirely, it would ruin the structure of V's narrative. My personal guess is that really, they wanted to release it later as DLC, or something like that.
If you play through V to the end, and then go back and play it again from the beginning, you find that there are no lies in the story or the setting, all the way to the finish. But, there's huge room for interpretation. I think that's what it means to "give the game back to the players." Where in the past we on this side of the screen just listened to the messages told to us by Snake and Big Boss, now each one of us is free to express our own message. Us becoming Big Boss completes the saga. Perhaps that was the ultimate aim of Metal Gear.