You might not have played the games he made, nor have watched his trailers, but you’ve definitely heard the name: Hideo Kojima. Is he a genius, a visionary or an overhyped developer? So many men, so many opinions.
Who is Hideo Kojima?
Born in 1963 in Japan, Kojima, an avid fan of movies, started his career writing short stories. He wanted to be a movie director. During his time at the university, he spent a lot of time playing video games and eventually, much to the dismay of his friends, decided to tie his future to this industry. Nobody but his mother believed this would work out for him, but it did. Konami gave him a chance, launching his career in 1986. The early days were hard – Kojima wanted to create games but programming wasn’t his strong suit. Undaunted, he was eventually asked to take over a project called “Metal Gear”, and the rest, of course, is history.
Hideo the Visioneer
1988 gave us “Snatcher”, Hideo’s first graphic adventure game, featuring a post-apocalyptic world replete with cyborgs, a whiff of “Blade Runner”, fresh ways of telling a story, cut scenes and graphic design. This revolutionary foray was the inaugural showcasing of Hideo’s abilities. In 1990 Kojima created a spinoff of the series, “SD Snatcher” (released for PCs in 1992), and he also worked on “Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake”. 1994 gave us “Policenauts” and 3 years later we saw the first of “Tokimeki Memorial Drama Series”. Kojima’s reputation in Japan was cemented.
But it was 1998 and the release of “Metal Gear Solid” for PlayStation that launched Hideo Kojima as a global phenomenon, making his name known to fans all over the globe. Not only were the characters and story lines well designed, but the gameplay was the first one in the series to use 3D graphics and extensive voice acting. The sequel, “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” was released for PlayStation 2, and was praised for pretty much everything – from the graphics and gameplay to the storyline. And “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater”, released in 2004, only confirmed that a true legend had been born.
Konami, mon ami?
MGS 3 was supposed to be the last installment of the franchise, at least for Kojima, who now. He wanted to do something different. In 2004 he produced “Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django” for the Game Boy Advance and “Metal Gear Acid” part 1 and 2 for PSP. But Konami didn’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs – “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” was announced and fans made it clear that they wanted to see Kojima working on it, despite his declarations. When the team that was working on it received death threats, he threw his hat in the ring and stepped in to co-direct the game a final time. “One last game” became “the few last games” though, as he also produced, directed and wrote material for “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance” and “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.” In the meantime he also gave us “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow”.
2011 saw Kojima rising in the Konami ranks, branching out to work on numerous assignments, including “Project S”, of eventual Sdatcher fame, a radio drama inspired by “Snatcher”. But the biggest news, of course, was that he had grown interested in making a “Silent Hill” game. Fans went crazy, especially after finding out that the famous movie director, Guillermo del Toro, and popular actor Norman Reedus would also be joining the project. In 2013, however, Konami proved that they really like their goose. Yup, they announced another MGS game, “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”, THE final game to be created under Kojima. But this didn’t distract Kojima in his pursuit of other projects, including a playable trailer for “Silent Hill” released in 2014. Looks like smooth sailing to epicness, right? Right?
Well… 2015 was a year of change for Kojima. First, rumours started spreading that Kojima was leaving the company. Then the trailer for “Silent Hill” was removed. Things got even spicier when Konami removed Kojima’s name from everything related to “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” (released in September 2015), while stating that Kojima is… on holiday, pretending everything is just fine. Some sources claimed that Kojima was locked in a room at the company’s HQ, banned from contacting any other developers directly. Everything was not fine, which we found out definitely thanks to Kojima’s friend, Geoff Keighley. Despite winning two awards, Kojima was not present at The Game Awards 2015. As Keighley stated, Konami’s lawyers banned the director from travelling to the ceremony and accepting any awards. And you wondered why people booed you, Konami?
The end of 2015 marked the end for Konami and Kojima’s cooperation but the beginning of a new chapter for Hideo – Kojima Productions became an independent company. Fans had high expectations and Kojima soon personally gave them a taste of things to come – in 2016 “Death Stranding” was announced, debuting the motion capture trailer with Norman Reedus at E3 Expo. As Reedus himself said in an interview: “He’s a genius. He came out to San Diego for Comic-Con, and he had some stuff on an iPad that he wanted to show me. I sat in a little restaurant at a booth watching this iPad and the things he’d created, and I was just blown away. I was like, ‘Whatever you want to do, let’s do it. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.’ It’s unreal. People will do whatever he wants because he’s a visionary.”
Weird but beautiful, disturbing but incredibly poetic, the trailer was enough to again whet fans’ appetite..
In December 2016 Hideo finally made it to The Game Awards. Geoff Keighley, the man behind the TGAs, was totally fanboying Kojima, but for many people what Geoff said that night on the TGA 2016 stage while honouring him with The Industry Icon Award was exactly what they thought as well.
Kojima didn’t come to the ceremony empty handed – he brought us a second trailer for “Death Stranding.” The video featured Guillermo del Toro, a long-time Kojima supporter, and fan favorite Mads Mikkelsen. In an interview, Mikkelsen echoed what most others had to say about Kojima: “… the stuff he told me? I only understood some of it. (…) I have to see it before I understand. Because with Death Stranding, he’s creating something completely new. (…) I also saw the trailer he had done with Norman Reedus, and I thought that was spectacular just from the standpoint of an actor. The emotion, the feeling of it, the sensuality in what he does. Without even being a gamer, I was like, this is crazy, what he’s doing. I loved it.” Fans agreed with him on this. Theorycrafting, looking for hidden clues, analyzing both trailers side by side, frame by frame – the response of the fanbase was incredible. And it was just a trailer!
But what actually makes Hideo Kojima so special?
Well, there is a reason they call him the David Lynch of gaming. His passion, excitement and desire to experiment brim in every game he touches. He knows how to feed your curiosity. His creativity is undeniable. You may not always like what he is doing, and you may not like the final product, but you have to admit his originality and “weirdness” are stunning. His attention to detail and the poetic side of the visuals perfectly supplement the storytelling for his games. He pushes the boundaries, so what we get as a final product is unexpected and unpredictable. Kojima’s sense of cinematography is also incredible. His creations can be frustrating and require patience, as he sometimes does miss the mark, but he has the courage to experiment and that has gained him respect from all quarters.
As did his dedication to work. In his own words: “Wake up at the same time every morning, go to work, have morning meeting, work on the concepts & script, lunch, give direction, write the script, dinner, give supervision, go home, watch 1 movie, read the book before bed. Tweet in between.I am always thinking of the ideas in my mind even in the toilet or at the dinner table so 3/4 of my day is dominated by game creation.” Three-quarters of the day, now that’s impressive. His activity on social media additionally boosts his celebrity status. He’s riding the wave of his popularity and good press, further raising his ‘icon’ position through his tweets and “HideoTube” videos. And it looks like he has done his homework on how to keep fans interested, too. Something as simple as the “E3 report” video becomes so much more if you have a doll from the trailer of your hyped game in the background. Is that triangle on the table just a triangle, or is he trying to tell us something?
People love mysteries, people love to see things where there are none…or are there not? This is a brilliant example of next-level PR, where fans are not being spoon-fed, but need to think outside the box. Cleverly using someone else’s popularity? Kojima did that too, featuring Mikkelsen of “Hannibal”, “Doctor Strange” and “Rogue One” fame by having him star in one of his “tubes”.
What does the future hold for Kojima? That is a question only Hideo Kojima can answer, but since he has never forgotten his original passion – movies – and expressed his interest in this industry, we can hope that a dazzling new chapter will soon unfold.