"Hello everyone - I am back!"
You can say one thing about Hideo Kojima: he certainly knows how to make an entrance. The superstar developer strode out onto Sony's E3 stage like a rock star - and was greeted by the sort of welcome usually reserved for returning war heroes.
Which, in a sense, he is. The unheralded, unexpected appearance midway through the platform holder's press conference marked the end of Kojima's post-Konami exile and his first major public engagement since his newly-formed Kojima Productions studio joined forces with Sony. Kojima has never been one to recoil from the glare of the spotlight, of course, but you sense there was more to this than mere indulgence or grandstanding.
"Seeing how the people were welcoming me made me feel really, really good," he reflects a couple of days later, speaking via a translator in a room hidden away from prying eyes at the back of Sony's stand on the showfloor.
"Last year I had some difficult circumstances and my family was telling me: you're old, you should retire now and take it easy. Fortunately a lot of fans around the world are waiting for my games so I decided I wanted to keep making games. I established my own company and within two-and-a-half months we were able to make a teaser and deliver something to the people, finally.
"And seeing the reaction of the people - most people seemed to like it - made me feel really good that I made the right choice. My decision was correct."
Ah yes, that teaser. There was certainly no more bizarre, or attention grabbing moment at last week's E3. Starring The Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus, a baby and an aquarium's worth of dead sea creatures, it's brilliant, beautiful and utterly bewildering,
Heavy on symbolism, metaphor and allegory but light on anything even remotely resembling gameplay, it's purpose and meaning has been keeping the internet awake from the moment it opened with a typically quixotic quotation from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence.
Is it a game trailer? A statement of intent? A devious red herring? All of the above, or something else entirely? Even seasoned Kojima-watchers have been tying themselves on discussion threads trying to decipher what's going on.
"There are a lot of hints in there, hidden," says Kojima with an impish smile. "The world having this discussion about what this teaser means was kind of the objective. That's what I wanted to happen.
"The [Death Stranding] game will take a little more time to be completed, but the game for me has already started. I am going back and forth with the users, having this interaction, this connection with the people, this discussion."
As you might expect Kojima isn't about to spoil his own fun now by going into specifics. "It would be like telling you who's the killer in a mystery novel," he explains, relishing the challenge he has set. So I run a few fan theories by him instead.
Is the baby a clone of Norman Reedus' character?
Kojima shakes his head laughing, not needing to wait for his translator to convert the words into Japanese. "I read that one! That one is off!"
Okay, how about the scientific equations some sharp-eyed fans discovered on the tags around Reedus' neck (specifically The Schwarzschild Radius and the Dirac Equation). Do they indicate he fell through a black hole?
Kojima stops laughing and pulls a face that may or may not indicate a nerve has been touched. He thinks carefully before deliberately replying: "What I will say is, I wanted people to find those...'
What about the theory the baby is actually Metal Gear Solid 5 and the whole thing is actually an elaborate riposte to your former employers Konami? Another shake of the head but at last a clue to that killer.
"Part of the trailer is based on the song 'I'll Keep Coming' [by Icelandic band Low Roar]. I will keep coming; Norman Reedus and [long-time design collaborator] Kyle Cooper will keep coming back; waves are a big theme. As for Konami? I thought people might link it but there's no connection in there."
Prior to this interview, my personal pet theory was that there was no Death Stranding. That Kojima had too little time and too few staff to have even started on it, and the trailer was a concept piece designed to get people talking. A conjurer's trick from one of one of gaming's masters of misdirection. Kojima is quick to dismiss the notion.
"One thing I really want to tell people is the teaser is running in real-time," he says with tangible pride. "We made it in two and half months - and generally teasers are not made by the development team. A lot of trailers are outsourced - that happens pretty often - but we don't like to do that. We made this teaser ourselves, so people can trust us."
How representative is it of the final game?
"It is representative. What you see will be in the game."
So, to confirm, Norman Reedus' character and the dead fish-strewn setting will be in the final game?
"Yes. It will be in the final game. But... it is a teaser."
I ask Kojima what state the actual game is in. Industry sources have estimated Kojima Productions currently has a staff of, at most, 20 people. Does anything other than this teaser exist outside of its creator's head?
"Outside of my head I'm making a lot of planning documents. And this time as I'm trying to do new things. For example, as far as the game engine goes, I want to give [Death Stranding] a specific look, and [the trailer] is made on one of two candidates.
"For the new game elements I want to try, you always want to make it and then evaluate and iterate - and those we are doing on the other game engine candidate.
"We are getting to a very good point about how we are feeling about the visuals so we are very close to making a decision on the game engine. And once that is decided we will be in full production."
My allotted time is up and, as usual with Kojima, the interview has prompted more questions than answers. We return briefly to the subject of that press conference. Kojima was personally introduced on-stage by Andrew House, the Group CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment and the very biggest of PlayStation's bigwigs. It was, I think, a striking demonstration of how important this new partnership means to the company.
"With Sony I have a relationship that goes back over 20 years, there is already this connection," Kojima explains.
"I was fortunate enough that I got many offers from many different people but for me for my first project it was very important to have trust where I was working. In those terms, there was already a relationship of trust with Sony.
"When starting a company and trying to create a product there are so many problems that come up and within that I want to focus as much as as possible on my creative labours. I want to keep away the noise as much as possible. In that regard I think I made the right choice.
"We were able to make [the Death Stranding trailer] in two and a half months - I don't think there are many companies that can pull that off."
Yep - Hideo Kojima is back, alright.