Hideo Kojima is more than just the mastermind behind the hugely successful Metal Gear video games: he is a celebrity in the video game world, highly regarded as being one of the most influential game designers in the industry.
Kojima is responsible for the growing success of the action-stealth genre and also for bridging the gap between film and video games thanks to his cinematic influence and love of film.
He incorporates a heavy use of cinematic cutscenes and archived war footage into his games to deliver compelling and intricate storylines.
Read on to learn more about this iconic video game designer behind some of the best games of the last few decades.
Childhood and Early Years
Kojima was born in Tokyo, Japan, but later moved with his family to Kawanishi, Hyōgo. At the age of 13, Kojima had to deal with the death of his father, and he had a lonely childhood. From an early age, he knew he wanted to be a writer or an illustrator, and he would spend most of his time writing and illustrating short stories to send to Japanese magazines – none of which were ever published.
Kojima was an Economics major in college, and even included a short story in his thesis, describing himself as “the only oddball in my class that wanted to make movies or novels.” His passion to write and create would ultimately lead Kojima down a different path. Although he had originally planned to become a film designer, Kojima’s new ambition was to become a video game designer. Kojima owes this to the countless hours he spent playing video games while attending college, feeling there was great potential in the unexplored medium.
Kojima had many of his video game ideas rejected in his early career days, but was eventually hired by the game publisher Konami Digital Entertainment, working as a designer and planner. Due to his lack of programming knowledge, he found his early years there difficult, leading him to almost quit the game industry entirely.
His big break would come when he was offered to take over a project called Metal Gear for the MSX2 home computer. Kojima redesigned the game and it was a hit, leading to a variety of spin-offs and sequels to make the Metal Gear series one of the industry’s best selling franchises, selling over 48 million copies to date.
Metal Gear Solid
It wasn’t until the release of Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation in 1998 that Kojima would become truly recognized for his immense talent. The game featured groundbreaking gameplay mechanics that dared to break the fourth wall.
The boss battle with Psycho Mantis – in which players are forced to remove their controller and place it into the second slot, allowing them to hit the boss and avoid their “minds being read” – is an iconic gaming moment, and a fine display of Kojima’s unique approach to game design.
Themes Within The Metal Gear Solid Games
Kojima states that his parents were an influence on the anti-war themes within his games, with both of them experiencing air raids on Tokyo that left Kojima with a desire to carry over a message of anti-war and anti-nuclear proliferation into his games.
All of the Metal Gear Solid releases have strong thematic influences, which play an integral part in building narrative and character motives. These themes allow Kojima to critique real-world issues, with most Metal Gear Solid titles having central themes revolving around war: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater questions what influence your place of origin has over your personal views, representing the Eastern-Western divide at the time of the Cold War.
Perhaps the hardest hitting of all these themes is a powerful anti-war message hidden away in a cutscene within Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. In the game’s multiplayer mode, players can defend their bases with the use of nukes. The only way to view this cutscene in-game requires you and every other player sharing a game server to deactivate your own nukes.
Echoing the realities of our own nuclear weapons scheme, it is thought to be impossible for players to ever unlock this cutscene through legitimate means, due to the nature of self-interest and the difficulties in getting so many people to work co-operatively.
Influences From Film and Music
Kojima has an immense love of movies, music and literature, with many of the Metal Gear Solid titles drawing influence from Western culture. He cites The Great Escape as being a huge influence for the original Metal Gear, which allowed him to redesign the game to focus on escaping and stealth when he took over the project. Kojima also draws influences from the 007 series, George Orwell’s novel 1984, Full Metal Jacket, Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey – Kojima’s all-time favorite movie.
There are also many nods to musician David Bowie throughout the Metal Gear series. “The Man Who Sold The World” is played at the beginning of Metal Gear Solid V and is also the name of episode 46. The themes of multiple personalities within the song also give hint to a major story reveal that takes place at the end of the game. “Diamond Dogs” is the name of the mercenaries group in Metal Gear Solid V, and the game’s protagonist, Big Boss, also has an iPod you can use to listen to unlockable tracks.
Departure From Konami
A few months before the release of Metal Gear Solid V, things became rocky between Kojima and Konami. Kojima had his own studio, Kojima Productions, and he was working on a new Silent Hill game starring Walking Dead actor, Norman Reedus. After 30 years working for the company, Kojima, the former vice President of Konami, parted ways.
It was a messy end to a prosperous working relationship, with Kojima’s name being removed from all promotional materials and the box art for his upcoming Metal Gear games, and even a lawsuit charge against him if he dared to attend the Game Awards in December 2015, in which Metal Gear Solid V was nominated for five awards and won two.
Kojima Productions Post-2016
After his departure from Konami, Kojima announced he would be embarking on a world tour to meet video game creatives, in order to find a third-party game engine for his new video game. Despite not having much information about the new game engine, Kojima announced his new title would be an exclusive release for the PlayStation 4 alongside a new partnership with Sony.
After his brief departure from the industry, Kojima took to the stage during Sony’s conference to announce he was back. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes and backed by the delightful roars of the crowd behind him, Kojima revealed the trailer for his new game, Death Stranding, starring Norman Reedus.
Constantly pushing the boundaries on game design, Hideo’s influence and impact on the industry is unparalleled. Kojima’s work on the stealth genre has helped spawned video games such as Splinter Cell, Hitman and Deus Ex. His heavy use of cut-scenes has helped shape narrative development in video games, showing other designers the importance of story within games.
More importantly, Kojima’s own influences have helped introduce gamers to important forms of media they may not have heard of otherwise. Kojima’s legacy will continue to have an impact on the future of game design, and will prove pivotal in inspiring the great, young-minds that hope to lead the industry forward.
If you also need to brush up on your knowledge of iconic photographers, check out our latest guide covering Robert Mapplethorpe.
- Words: Mat Ombler
- Lead image: Metal Gear Solid V