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Metal Gear Solid 2 was the game that changed everything for PS2

DF Retro looks back a technological masterpiece, starting with its stunning E3 2000 reveal.

Flashback to the turn of the century and Konami stands as one of the most prolific publishers in gaming. From its 16-bit classics to its more experimental 32-bit titles, the red and orange Konami logo long stood as a seal of quality. PlayStation 2 had just launched, but the initial line-up of games was shaky - and there was a decided lack of a killer app. The reveal of Metal Gear Solid 2 at E3 2000, prior to the system's Western launch, was the turning point in the fledgling system's fortunes.

Hideo Kojima completed his first draft of the game's design document in January 1999. The sequel was referred to as Metal Gear Solid III or MGSIII - the roman numerals referencing the New York skyline. The document lays out ideas for a sequel that would be developed for Sony's still unannounced next-generation console - the PlayStation 2. Kojima envisioned huge numbers of enemies on screen with bodies that remain in the scene, the interaction of light and shadow, physics interactions with real world objects, multi-tiered environments and advanced enemy AI. The intent was not to push visuals to the limit, but rather to use the processing power of PlayStation 2 to deliver an enhanced gameplay experience, something the team continued to work on all the way to the run-up to E3 2000.

The road to E3 was a challenge - the team worked hard to prepare a trailer that Kojima himself helped to craft. Internal demos give us an idea of what the game looked like prior to this initial reveal but a lot of work was poured into creating the finished reveal. The trailer would be created from the game engine rather than pre-rendered imagery while enemy behaviour and scenarios were programmed to behave in a specific fashion for the showing. The staff at Konami's American office were initially sceptical of this nine-minute presentation, as it would eat up a significant chunk of their video roll and they hadn't even seen the game yet, but Kojima persisted and the stage was set for the big reveal.

To say that the resulting trailer was impressive would be an understatement. The extended trailer set a new standard in cinematic presentation. Some were unconvinced - was this really a game? How could it look this good? Was it really running on production PlayStation 2 hardware? It seems strange in retrospect, but prior to the reveal, Kojima was concerned that his focus on interactions and AI would leave the visuals looking underwhelming next to the competition. There was certainly nothing to be worried about. What stands out about this trailer still today is the way in which it demonstrates the intentions of the developers. Most trailers are either of the purely cinematic variety or simply a lengthy gameplay demo. The original MGS2 trailer, however, attempted to do both. Most sequences demonstrated were focused on highlighting gameplay opportunities from cinematic angles.

Cover image for YouTube videoDF Retro: Metal Gear Solid 2 - A Kojima Masterpiece
A real labour of love, John Linneman's Metal Gear Solid 2 retrospective charts the genesis of the game, assesses the technology of the final release and showcases the strengths and weaknesses of every version available.

We could see how things such as shadows would play a role in the stealth system, how physics figured into the combat and how the enemy AI would react to the player. The scenarios presented in this trailer would not exist in the final game exactly, but all the gameplay opportunities displayed certainly did, and it was all captured from real development hardware. The trailer was displayed at 60 frames per second but in busy scenes, screen-tearing was evident. Beyond that, the game was still rendering at a lower resolution using interlaced field rendering which resulted in obvious jaggies and flickering - something that would be addressed in the final game with a bump in resolution. There was doubt at the time but looking back, it's clear that everything on display was generated by the game engine.

There were sections in the demo which didn't make the cut at all - the trailer finishes up with Snake escaping from the tanker as it explodes around him. This does not occur in the final game and it's likely due to the realization that making such a sequence fun simply wasn't working. The same goes for some of the outlandish ideas outlined in the design document - Kojima specifies scenes with hundreds of on-screen soldiers but would anyone really want to fight that many enemies in this game even if it were feasible?

The demo continued to play at Konami's booth throughout E3 week drawing tremendous crowds at all times. At a show when most of Sony's booth was focused on playing DVD copies of The Matrix, this game really stood out and single handedly contributed to the rising hype for the PS2's upcoming release in North America. The show was a smashing success and Kojima returned home proud of what the MGS2 team had achieved, but it's from this point where development kicked into high gear.

The next major milestone would be the completion of a playable demo - a demo that would be released alongside another KCEJ game in development, Zone of the Enders. Directed by Noriaki Okamura and produced by Kojima himself, Zone of the Enders was one of the first major Konami projects released for PlayStation 2 and to help sell the game a playable demo of Metal Gear Solid 2 was set for inclusion. The demo itself contains the first portion of the tanker chapter up until the defeat of Olga. Players are given free reign of the tanker up until this point which helped prove that everything that had been shown prior was very much real.

Cover image for YouTube video
We sourced the best quality version of that incredible E3 2000 reveal, and 'remastered' it for 60fps playback. We're pretty sure this is the best version of the asset online.

More importantly, the demo demonstrated just how much potential the gameplay itself had. While the path through the demo was highly linear, the levels were designed as mini-sandboxes with a tremendous amount of interactivity. Metal Gear is also about freedom within a linear framework and nothing illustrates this better than the tanker sequence in MGS2.

Following this demo, MGS2 would make its next appearance at E3 2001 with another brilliant trailer. It's at this point where Kojima's plan to hide the game's real main character - Raiden - really kicked into overdrive, but the original trailers had already showcased most of the areas where Snake would be playable in the final game. To show new content without revealing the secret, Kojima opted to include fake sequences in the trailer. Snake was shown battling Fortune, for instance, or engaging a jet on the Washington Bridge. With the narrative dealing with things such as the manipulation of digital information, this deception fits right into the themes of the game. It was a bold move that many enjoyed but some fans would feel betrayed by the final game, clearly a part of the Metal Gear series but with only limited amounts of playable Solid Snake action.

The trailer itself ended with the text 'MGS2 Submerges'. Marketing wise, this helped to build up excitement but ultimately, the message was genuine - Kojima and team were entering the crunch period and had to pour everything they had into getting the game out of the door. It was a difficult development period, but Metal Gear Solid 2 did indeed arrive in November 2001 - even though the 9/11 attacks had required some minor alterations to the game design.

But it was the E3 2000 trailer - reproduced on this page in the best quality available online - that showed the world that PlayStation 2 was a powerful piece of hardware, while the March 2001 release of the playable demo confirmed that Kojima and his team could deliver. By this time, technologically adept releases like The Bouncer, Onimusha and Zone of the Enders itself were showing more of what the hardware was capable of, but the reveal of MGS2 was the event that PlayStation 2 needed to convince many sceptical gamers, especially at a time where Dreamcast was looking so potent.

Of course, this is just one element of the MGS2 story. For a more detailed look at the game, and detailed analysis of every single version available, be sure to check out the DF Retro video embedded on this page. We had a lot of fun putting it together, and hope you enjoy it.