Hideo Kojima appeared rather melancholy when we spoke to him at Games Convention this year - which is to be expected, we suppose, since he's just finished the game that will almost certainly be his magnum opus. We spoke to him about MGS4's development, the importance of exclusive titles, and gamers' obsession with hardware.
Eurogamer: How does it feel to be finished?
Hideo Kojima: Ehh... [Laughs] Actually, it took until after release; there was a little time, and it's strange to say but it's only gradually coming to me. I've been getting emails every day about how the game is, but the funny thing is that it's only now started kicking in, gradually, the thoughts and feelings. I'm at that stage right now.
Eurogamer: The characters in Metal Gear Solid express a lot of conflicting views on warfare and what it means to be a soldier. What are your feelings?
Hideo Kojima: For me, originally, looking at soldiers and things like that, my parents have experienced the war, so for me it's very naturally anti-war, anti-nuclear. It's actually very natural for me. In MGS4, there are many conflicts and battles and soldiers that are a part of the story. However, I'm not trying to push anything, any message with that. It's more that I just want MGS4 to maybe provide a starting point for the player. Maybe if he or she didn't know about this, it's just something to maybe start thinking about: what the world is, what war is and what battle is these days. So that's why I put in the companies and nations fighting wars, put in those factors, just to tell people it might be the reality out there.
Eurogamer: Would you say you had complete free reign with MGS4?
Hideo Kojima: It's funny when you say free reign, because if there were no limits and no restrictions to anything I think I could say I still wouldn't be finished today. I'd just have kept going on and on and on, and it wouldn't ever finish, it wouldn't be finished now. When I first saw the PS3 and the team saw the PS3, when we saw what it could do and what it could not do, I was glad of the restrictions, actually. These restrictions make us challenge what we can do, and we challenge up to that wall, and we strive for that, and then in time we finish the product and we release it. Without these restrictions I must say we'd probably never have finished.
Eurogamer: These days games are usually filtered through hundreds of creative minds rather than having so much input from one in particular. How personal would you say MGS4 was for you?
Hideo Kojima: Personally with MGS4, the theme and the world and also many of the gimmicks that I put in the game, these are really personal for me; they're my touches, actually. But I'm not doing the programming anymore, I'm not creating music for the game, no I'm not making the drawings of the characters; that's the team members' jobs, that's not actually a personal side for me. You know, the reason why I say that is that more personal titles have been there in the past, like Policenauts or Snatcher. With these I did many of the parts, that made them more personal to me. Don't get me wrong, the roots of MGS4 are personal because of the themes and story, but it's not as personal with all aspects.
Eurogamer: What would you say was your most personally important game?
Hideo Kojima: That's a question I've been asked a lot of times. I can't name one, I have two. First it's Metal Gear on the MSX, because this was the first title that was sold, that made it out there, because some of the ideas I'd had before didn't make it out. So it was a benchmark to me because it was the first product I did that got released. And it was full of hard times, hard work that I'd put in, Metal Gear - it was a really tough job. If you were to ask me about the second, that would be Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation 1, because it was the first time I actually sat back as a producer. I also did the game parts as well, but being a producer was a different test for me because I had to look at the business side, at promotion and things like that. Also, MGS was sold worldwide, and if it wasn't for MGS on the PS1, I think I wouldn't be in Leipzig today or at this game convention. So these two are really, really precious titles for me.
Eurogamer: Phil Harrison and Satoru Iwata have expressed the view that demand for expansive, epic titles like MGS4 is shrinking. What are your thoughts on that?
Hideo Kojima: I don't think that's true at all. Well, not so in Japan maybe, but in general I think that's not happening. Even if that is a fact, I still think that there are gamers who love these epic games or hardcore games because some people still really live with games, and really receive something from games, and I regard them as real gamers. Now, as long as these gamers exist I feel a responsibility that someone has to do it, to create these games, so I'm not really worried. Besides if I, or someone else, keep bringing out these epic games, it might change the flow of the industry; people might realise that these are really fun games. And time ever changes, and the flow or demand will change, but if you just look at the current trend, and you see it shrinking and you just stop, it will just become zero, so I don't think that is a wise decision to make.
There's a huge user difference. I could back this up with GTA IV, which is a smash hit, and Call of Duty 4 was a smash hit and this season, Gears of War 2 will also probably be a smash hit, so that is proof that there are still gamers out there waiting for these epic games, and I think that will continue. I'm not saying casual gaming is bad, I think that casual games will continue as well as a trend, which is also good. But I think these will coexist.
Eurogamer: Of course, Grand Theft Auto and Final Fantasy used to be exclusive to the PlayStation, and now they're not. Do you think exclusivity is still important?
Hideo Kojima: I think it really depends on the title. With MGS4, there was a lot of thinking behind it when we were announcing the exclusive, season-wise and time-wise and Sony technology and hardware wise and so on. But our intention was, since we were always with the PlayStation for the Metal Gear series, I felt that the users also followed the PlayStation as well - I mean all the Metal Gear fans follow the PlayStation. So it was an obvious match to release MGS4 on the PS3. And if we decide PS3, why not optimise it to make the best of that hardware? That was our decision. Of course, this trend might change within us, because as I said, it doesn't really matter on the hardware. Sometimes if we think a game should be exclusive to one platform, we'll go that way, if we think it should be multiplatform because of the game, we could do that, you never know. As I said, I think it really depends on the title.
Eurogamer: So you see yourself making multiplatform titles, technology permitting?
Hideo Kojima: If we're talking about the future - not MGS4, but my future titles, if we're referring to that - if the hardware technology rises then obviously, you know, it won't be based on the hardware anymore. Probably I will first create the software and then, um, it's a strange word to say, but port to other hardware if that technological ability rises in all areas.
Eurogamer: And Metal Gear Solid 4 specifically?
Hideo Kojima: [Sighs] Well, it's a real difficult question to answer right now... it's difficult to recreate the same MGS4 on the current 360 because of the size of the media and things like that. Also, technology-wise, the 360 is very different to the PS3, and because MGS4 was optimised for the PS3 it is probably not possible. But, you know, what kind of disturbs me sometimes, because a lot of people ask me about this PS3/360 question, is that it's not about the hardware - I want people to look at the game itself. Sometimes I even feel like it should be on a PC so that people don't ask me about hardware and platforms.
Eurogamer: Why do you think that gamers are so keen to separate themselves according to which platform they follow?
Hideo Kojima: Hopefully the day will come when people won't do this, I've been doing a lot of interviews and stage shows, and half the questions are like 'Will MGS4 be coming out on 360 or other formats?', and in the near future I hope they'll ask me about Metal Gear, about us, about our future projects, and will stop caring about the hardware.
Eurogamer: With recent successes with episodic, downloadable games, have you ever thought of working that way with Metal Gear Solid, releasing smaller games?
Hideo Kojima: Well, yes, when the time comes. Right now, if we were to have so many titles on downloadable, I don't think many people would buy those games, I don't think as many people as we might predict would buy these games in that format. But if the time comes and I think that the users are there, then I will of course consider it.
Eurogamer: Why do you think Metal Gear Solid sells so well in the West, compared to other Japanese-developed games that are vastly more popular in Japan?
Hideo Kojima: Honestly, I don't know! But if you want my answer that I personally think, I don't know if it's correct or wrong, but maybe it's because of my era - because of my age. When I was younger, what built me was always movies or novels or music from America or Europe. I didn't grow up on Japanese movies and television only, I absorbed so many TV programmes of American and Europe; that's what I watched. And the culture really came naturally to me when I was growing up, so when I have a game which is an output of myself, I feel that I put in more of that American or European essence that I absorbed when I was growing up. Maybe that is the reason why it sells more in Europe or America.
To give an example in my title, in MGS4 the main character is this old fogey, right? And he battles with a lot of old guys, and in Japan that would never ever sell. So this kind of sense that I have perhaps tingles the European or Western market more.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is Hideo Kojima's most recent game and is out now for PlayStation 3.