Solid Snake and the Metal Gear franchise is one of the best-known action/stealth games ever. The franchise has lasted over 30 years and has garnered a total of 21 entries in the series. As of March 2015 over 41 million copies of the games have been sold. The games are generally loved by most gamers for helping to bridge the gap between games and true interactive cinematic experiences. But the thing that consistently brings fans back to the series time and time again, is, of course, it’s protagonist Solid Snake.
Solid Snake is the ultimate super spy and super soldier. He is brave, self-sacrificing, compassionate, brutal, and most of all human. While he is obviously heavily based off James Bond, he is a much deeper character (or he has developed so throughout the series). In his earliest appearances he looks very similar to major Hollywood actors (look at the original box art, he looks strikingly similar to Michael Biehn [of Terminator and Aliens fame]). He has made appearances in games, films, books, art, music, toys, and many other more.
Hideo Kojima was born August 24th, 1963, in Tokyo, Japan, but he moved to Kawanishi, Hyogo (same city where I live, coincidently) when he was very young. Both of his parents worked and he was often home alone. He dealt with his isolation by watching TV and movies. He began drawing and wanted to pursue a career in the arts, but he was encouraged by friends and family to choose a more secure and safe career path. He and a friend started making a movie on their 8mm films. Soon he decided he would be a movie director.
Once he started university, he studied economics planning on going to start a career later in the film industry. While in college, he began playing video games on the Famicom. He decided that he wanted to get involved in video games. He was discouraged by friends, and classmates, who told him that the game industry was too new and unstable to provide a stable career, but his mother encouraged him to follow his dream.
After many denied applications, Kojima was eventually able to secure a position at Konami’s MSX division. MSX was a home computer system that many of the early game publishers made games for. It was more limited than the Nintendo Famicom. Kojima did not initially enjoy working on the MSX, because of the severe limits. He wanted to work on Famicom or arcade games. Kojima’s ideas were often overlooked because he had no knowledge of programming, and his ideas might have been too difficult or grandiose for the simple system. Kojima was disenchanted and seriously considered leaving the company, but he decided to hang on just a little longer.
That was when history was made. A senior associate asked Kojima to take over a project named Metal Gear. It was originally planned as an action game, but hardware limitations limited the amounts of bullets that could appear on screen at any one time. Out of ideas, the associate gave the project to Kojima. Kojima decided to ditch the standard action idea, and after watching the movie classic The Great Escape he decided to make a game about a prisoner having to stealthily escape a prison camp. Over time that original idea morphed into a secret operative sneaking into a base named Outer Heaven.
Metal Gear was a success on the MSX, and later was ported to the Famicom. Kojima has disavowed the American localization and Famicom port. He claimed that the team that ported the game did it without any help or input from the original team. It changed some of the game aspects, and in the American version there were many translation mistakes. But despite this, it was a big success. Due to Metal Gear’s success Konami had another team develop a sequel, without Kojima, called Snake’s Revenge.
Kojima did not know anything about the sequel of his game. He had already been developing his own sequel for the MSX. It further developed many of the stealth mechanics of the original. In this one, you would be able to duck, use radar, knock on surfaces to distract guards, and crawl. These updates would become staples of the series.
Nearly 8 years passed with no more entries into the Metal Gear series. Metal Gear Solid would premiere on the Playstation in 1998, and quickly become one of the best-selling games on the system and make Snake and Kojima celebrities.
Metal Gear Solid was originally developed as Metal Gear 3 and was initially developed for the 3DO. But because of the quickly declining sales and lack of support for the 3DO, Konami decided to shift development for the Playstation. Kojima decided to rename the game Metal Gear Solid, because it had been so long since the last numbered entry in the series.
Metal Gear Solid would be the first entry in the series that would be in full 3D with voice acting. Anyone who has played the game will admit that it is less like playing a video game, and more like actively participating in a spy movie. It had opening credits, complete with voice overs, and long cut-scenes. It’s story was more mature (dealing with genetics and nuclear proliferation) than standard video game fare. For me, this was the game that showed me games could be more than just fun distractions. They could tell moving, impactful stories.
After many new highly successful games in the series (and many statements by Kojima that this would be his “last” Metal Gear game), just months before the stated final entry in the numbered series, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, it was suddenly revealed that Hideo Kojima would finally be leaving Konami. Later it was rumored that Kojima and Konami’s split was less than friendly.
When the box art was revealed, all of Kojima’s credits for the game were unceremoniously removed. While we still don’t know the full story, it marks the end of Metal Gear as we know it. Surely, it will continue, but without the creator it will certainly be different.
In Memorium: Snake 1987-2015