The real reason we were at the Metal Gear Solid 4 launch party wasn’t to photograph the line at Best Buy. I went to the event to speak with Ryan Payton, assistant producer at Kojima Productions. One of the decisions I made about the interview was to avoid spoilers so we didn’t talk about the plot of Metal Gear Solid 4 at all. Instead we discussed future plans for Metal Gear Online, and how Solid Snake got his iPod. Read on without fear!
Metal Gear Solid 4 is a really big game for the PlayStation 3. A lot of people here tonight are big Metal Gear fans, but how do you think a newcomer to the series will be able to get into Metal Gear Solid 4?
As we went into development we had a number of high priority items, things we knew we had to accomplish. The number one was to be a killer app for the PS3, to wrap up the story of Metal Gear, and about a list of about ten really important things. In the list of ten things was making sure people who have never played Metal Gear will still understand the story and enjoy the game having no prior experience [with the series].
Based on that objective we’ve implemented a number of different items in the game to get people accustomed to the story without playing the previous games. Like the flashback scenes players can trigger throughout the cutscenes will remind them of what happened in previous games or let them know what they might have missed if they haven’t played that previous game. Even in the script too, we don’t say, “Hey remember what happened six years ago?” We do a pretty good job of explaining the context and why this is important. In sight of all of that MGS4 has its own mini story from start to finish. There is an intro, climax and conclusion. People who haven’t played Metal Gear I think should be just fine.
What’s your favorite change or evolution in Metal Gear Solid 4?
The controls finally feel good for a Metal Gear game. That’s a first for us and something I’m very proud of. Also the dynamic gameplay. More so than any other Metal Gear, MGS4 really rewards multiple play throughs. There are so many different ways to approach the game. There isn’t a linear path, so to speak, especially in the first act where you’re in the Middle East. There are a number of different alleyways you can go down, you can go down streets and the soldiers will react to you different each time depending on the relationship you have with the local rebels.
It also depends on their mental condition. You can attach the Solid Eye and see a gauge that indicates what kind of metal state the solider is in that time. They can be aggressive. They can be scared. They can be angry. And that will affect the way they approach the player, that’s something I’m very proud of. Every time a player plays the game it’s going to be totally different.
Speaking of the controls the Metal Gear Solid series has always implemented rumble as a core feature. Was Metal Gear Solid 4 designed with rumble in mind before the Dualshock 3 was announced?
We were disappointed when the PS3 launched and there was no rumble. We thought Metal Gear Solid 4, outside of Portable Ops, would be the first Metal Gear Solid game without any rumble. We were happy with the fact that we had the SIXAXIS, at least, and that kind of functionality we can play around with. When Sony announced at TGS 2007 that the rumble was back, that was a very happy surprise for us. We got right to work on implementing rumble, in time for TGS. We only had our devkits literally weeks before TGS. We had a guy implement it into the game and then he spent the next four or five months tweaking and adding this really cool rumble functionality that players would expect from a Metal Gear Solid game.
Do you think that the SIXAXIS tilting enhanced the controls?
Absolutely. After you play Metal Gear Solid 4 you’ll smile when the SIXAXIS comes up. There are things in the game that I can’t talk about because they will spoil the fun, but it’s a Metal Gear Solid game you know we’re going to exploit every single thing in the PlayStation 3 hardware. If it’s rumble, SIXAXIS, the game clock inside the hardware. We will exploit everything we have.
How difficult was it to keep spoilers from leaking to the public?
I think we did a pretty good job up until six days before launch when all hell broke loose and some copies of the game leaked. People started uploading the ending to Youtube, which was you know very disappointing to us. We want people to be surprised, happy, and really enjoy all the work we put into the conclusion of the series. Up until that point we did a really good job.
In March 2008 we invited some press to Japan to play the game, a pretty close to final build, and they all had smiles on their faces. They came up to me and said “I can’t believe you could hold back so much of this.” Here they thought the game would mostly be set in the Middle East. They thought after reading all the preview articles and seeing all the trailers they had a pretty good idea of what Metal Gear Solid 4 would be about. After they finished the game at the event they were all smiles. They were pretty impressed with what we were able to accomplish.
How did Solid Snake get an iPod?
Haha. That was an idea from Mr. Kojima. You know he’s a fan of the iPod. He’s talked about it on his blog years ago. He was obviously thinking about how it affects culture. It was his idea to approach Apple and ask if they were OK with us not only implementing the iPod, but Apple-made laptop and desktop computers as well, which you will also find in the game.
We’re also going to see a lot of PlayStation products in the game.
Oh sure. Absolutely. It’s another thing you give us a platform and we’re going to exploit it. We’re going to have the PSP in there. We’re going to have the PlayStation 3 in there as well, 3D modeled somewhere in the game.
What about the Assassin's Creed collaboration? At first it seemed it was a joke. How did that partnership come about?
Did you think it was a joke? Did you think it was really in the game when you saw the April Fool’s trailer?
I wasn’t sure what to think since the trailer was released on April Fool’s Day.
That didn’t start of as a joke. It started off as a real deal. Back at E3 2007, I was able to set up a meeting with Patrice, Jade and Hideo. We all sat down in kind of a roundtable discussion for the press to discuss similarities and differences between Metal Gear Solid and Assassin’s Creed. And to tell Jade and Patrice how much we respected Assassin’s Creed, what of we saw of the game up until that point. The next meeting went on to TGS 2007 where we decided, “Hey we should do something together.” Soon after that we came up with an Altaïr costume in the game. Ubisoft went way above expectation in terms of coming up with assets, providing animation data, texture data, and 3D modeling data. We were able to implement the element quick and it was one of the last things we put in the game. It was very dangerous to put it in the game at that time, but we knew it would surprise a lot of people, make people laugh, and it is fun to play MGS 4 as Altaïr, I’ve got to admit.
Can you play as Altaïr in Metal Gear Online?
No you can’t.
You get a Starter Pack for Metal Gear Online with Metal Gear Solid 4, but what’s beyond the Starter Pack?
What’s beyond the starter pack is what our team is working on, as we speak, in Tokyo now. New maps, new characters you can play as, new skills, and new modes for online. In essence it’s very exciting for us because we know it’s a starter pack. It’s just the beginning. We have a lot more content planned and we’re going to try to keep Metal Gear Online alive stimulated throughout the year, and hopefully well into 2009 as well.
Do you plan to sell these extra pieces as downloadable content?
Yeah, the idea is to call them expansion packs. We have different themes for each expansion pack. The starter pack is a free taste of the game. Later on we’re going to introduce some pretty exciting environments and characters that are going to be pretty hard to resist in terms of how cool they are.
Can you share some of your strategies for Metal Gear Online? What tips would you give to someone playing the Starter Pack for the first time?
Tip number one is to link up with your teammates. This has proven to be a bigger challenge than we expected. With MGO [Metal Gear Online] we’re approaching online multiplayer in a pretty dramatic fashion where it is not kill kill kill, you against everyone else. It really is team based cooperative matches.
In MGO you’re most likely going to be on a team. When you start out you want to hit the triangle button to link up and so you can share your information. So you can see them see them across the stage, even if a wall between them, you can see a silhouette of them. You’re going to get information if they die, if someone is attacking them, if they need your help. That really gives your team an advantage. If you watch YouTube videos of people playing tournaments against us during the beta you’re going to see a real team how they function.
It’s so rewarding, so fun when MGO is clicking like that. When you start off MGO and have no idea and you go free for all it’s just like any other deathmatch game packaged with a next-gen title. It’s nothing really new. It’s really going to be our job on how to educate the players on how to play MGO.
Snake’s saga might be over, but awhile ago Konami announced a digital novel based on Metal Gear Solid 2 coming to the PSP. What happened to it?
We have it coming out on DVD in Japan. We’re looking at the US market and Europe to see if it’s worth releasing here stateside. If they do, I hope they do it as soon as possible because it gives such a great refresher on the story of Metal Gear Solid 2. One, it’s quite a difficult story to understand and in digital graphic novel form it’s there. It’s clean cut. It’s really exciting. I want players to get their hands on it as far as an English build is concerned.
I have to ask about the Metal Gear Solid remake rumor for Xbox Live Arcade?
Yeah, I saw that on the internet along with Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Ocelot or something. Both of those rumors are just rumors. They didn’t originate from us, that’s for sure.
Images courtesy of Konami.