Codec Logs: Our boy is right on schedule. He’ll know soon enough…



To: Blake Foley
From: Sean Gandert
Subject: Our boy is right on schedule. He’ll know soon enough…

I’m pretty sure that Metal Gear Solid almost ended this series for us, and not for any of the obvious reasons (though major life events obviously took their toll as well) but because we were overwhelmed. Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 were interesting to write about, unique and strange and certainly groundbreaking, but they’re also a lot more limited in scope. Metal Gear Solid, on the other hand, was simply too much. It features too much story, too much political intrigue, and there’s too much to say about the characters and the sexism and the weapons and going back through that stupid area with the wolves over and over again (that part was defintely way too much, though in a different way). I went through the game a second time, thinking that would help parse things down and make it more clear what to say. While it kept the game fresh in my head, that was about all it did, and chatting with you about how we should proceed wasn’t nearly as useful as I thought it would be either. We’ve both read Boss Fight’s book on Metal Gear Solid, and for me, at least, it was one of those weird monographs that felt like they’d only cracked the surfaceso then how deep were we going to get with just a handful of letters?  


In the end, I’m not sure if we failed or not, but I’m glad to move on and let things lie as they are. It certainly seems fitting that this is the direction our series has taken us. The first two Metal Gear games are fairly tight, regardless of their idiosyncrasies. But with Metal Gear Solid and beyond (at least, assuming they maintain the same general thrust), we’re talking about games of excess. And with MGS2 we head into a realm where the plot’s excess is almost too much to take inI’m not finished yet, but the layering of what’s here, added with my knowledge of the first three games in the series, gives me a sense of dread because I know I’m constantly missing things. I found myself shushing my wife last night in order to hear what was happening in a cutscene, despite a sinking feeling that there was no way I’d retain everything being said given that I was already five minutes into the scene and there were five minutes more to go, and this is only a few seconds of gameplay after the last 10-minute long cutscene. 


But like I said, the excess is the point, and I don’t only mean thematically. We’re now in the Playstation 2 era, and from here onward AAA games were not about delivering the world’s most compelling, enjoyable experience, they were about shoving so much “value” into those discs that players would feel they received their $60 worth. Sequels have to be bigger, and excess isn’t so much a quirk as it is a selling point. Minimalism is at times praised within indie games, but for the most part we seem to find them antithetical to what we want from games, a place where bigger is almost always equated with better. 

I’d also like to say that in my works of art I like excess, at least when there’s a reason for it beyond bloated expectations. There are people who prefer minimalism, but I’ve always been a person who would rather see a cavalcade of ideas in art, and the Metal Gear series has nothing if not ideas. But then, you’re a person who also enjoys Southland Tales, so I think you get it. Earlier this year, my agent asked me if I could make my next novel short and straightforward, if I could follow just one character on an easily understandable arc. I said sure, because what else do you say to your agent about this kind of thing? But really, I was lying. That type of story isn’t what I tell, and it’s not the type that hooks me the most either. Give me your shaggy, strange beasts, give me your Infinite Jest‘s and your Metal Gear Solid 2‘s. Give me something that I can’t wrap my head around in one sitting, or 10. Give me an experience that we can give a dozen readings to and have all of them be right and wrong and everywhere in between. Metal Gear Solid 2 isn’t my favorite game so far, and on a moment to moment level I prefer playing, say, Destiny, to it any day of the week. But my God do I like it infinitely more.


I wanted to write this first letter before I finished Metal Gear Solid 2 because of the game’s weird bifurcation. I played the first chapter years ago, soon after beating Metal Gear Solid, then I let it sit. I figured I’d beat the rest when we finished uour Codec Logs on that game, but by the time that actually happened I needed to replay it to remember what had happened. That only seems fitting, though, as this break of two years is what happens in the game as well. There’s plenty more to be said about this structuring, how it plays with expectations, how it sets up a sort of modernism-to-postmodernism shift within the game itself not to mention the series as a whole, but what I want to talk about is how much Metal Gear Solid 2 grows the universe of the games. 

Included with current copies (I presume they were there on the original discs, but as we’re playing through the HD rerelease version I’m not super sureI find most of the information pertaining to the varying releases of the Solid games to be confusing at the best of times) of the game are multiple supplements, including the novella-length In the Darkness of Shadow Moses (“written” by Nastasha Romanenko), fake articles from the long-defunct New York Mirror, and my favorite, “The Shocking Conspiracy Behind Shadow Moses,” which like Nastasha’s piece summarizes the previous game, though this time it does so under the guise of a completely unreliable conspiracy nut who’s convinced the whole affair is related to aliens.  Which, for all we know, could be true in this universeif you recall Metal Gear 2, there are space ninjas hanging around, and why else would there be space ninjas if not to fight off aliens?


We also learn from Raiden that he was trained by VR simulations, which makes those VR levels (which I screwed around with a bit) from MGS and MGS2 a weirdly cononical part of the series as well. I spoke about the worldbuilding in MGS more than a bit, as to me that game started becoming realistic in a way that Outer Heaven and Zanzibar Land never did, but what appears in MGS2 is another level altogether. What they most remind me of is the supplements at the end of chapters in The Watchmen, growing the world in ways the games can’t because they’re so focused on these particular missions. Of course we get a TON of backstory throughout the games proper, through cutscenes and dialogue, but this gives Kojima another tool for telling the story. 

Part of what I love about these supplements is that it makes MGS2 an even more engrossing, all-encompassing game. It’s something you dive deep into, reading extra texts, thinking about links to previous games, and I can only hope that this sort of thing continues going forward. If I recall correctly, Kojima promised to quit the series pretty much from MGS3 on (maybe even earlier? Help me out with the real info here, as I’m sure you know it), but my guess is that he just found the world too compelling to leave behind. I’m aware that the series starts jumping around in time after this, and I’d guess that a lot of that is simply to allow him to dig even further into the… Metalverse? I don’t know what we want to call it, but we can surely do better than that, right? Maybe we can’t….


And you know what, like with his excess, I get it. I would happily just doodle stories into the same universe for all of my books even though it wouldn’t be what’s best for them, because if you’re a certain type of creator that’s simply more fun. It would be naive to say that I “get” Kojima as a whole, as he’s at times a very strange man, but I do feel like I understand parts of what led him in this direction, and I think it’s more than just a simple desire from Konami to keep making more money. Those supplements do almost nothing to add to the game itself, and must’ve cost quite a bit to have localized (especially since they’re so well translatedI fantasize about learning more about this series’ localization process almost as much as I do about its actual development), but they enrich the experience to a huge extent. When Raiden mentions offhandedly that he read In the Darkness of Shadow Moses, knowing the actual text makes this moment creates a powerful connection between you and the game. The world, it says, is vast, and these characters exist outside of this handful of missions. They have lives, they’re curious, they read, they think, and while we play as them for these brief periods, they’re not us. The series’ modernism recognizes that the Metal Gear series is composed of games, will have a character ask you directly whether you want to save as if this makes any sort of sense to the character hearing this, but its newfound postmodernism will ask what a game even is, given that this character within it can read the same supplemental texts that we do.

The last thing I want to say about this is that these supplemental parts of Metal Gear, from the VR missions to the texts, are not the same as finding, say, a lore book in an Elder Scrolls game. For one thing, they’re good, and reading them isn’t a self-lacerating process reserved for only the most mouth breathing of internet recluses. But beyond that, I think there’s something else about these, as there were with the optional (but incredibly important for understanding any part of the game) videos that acted as a prologue to MGS. I think it’s the assumption that you will take a look at these at-first-glance extraneous texts, in the same way that I’d assume you read the weird stylized chapters of my books, even though they’re not written in traditional prose. Most games would never assume you know what “History of the Gnoll Overlord Windddogo III, Part 7” says, or that it even exists, but here we’re assumed to pay attention. Knowing about Richard Ames from In the Darkness of Shadow Moses changes what we think about him when we finally meet him in person during MGS2, and this matters. These “supplemental” texts are, in this way, only as supplemental as playing the “Tanker Incident” chapter, which is to say that you could skip them entirely… but why would you? These are part of the game, and while they’re off the side to be discovered on your own time, they’re still the main text, a part of the overall package that makes a Metal Gear game what it is. 

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