Codec Logs: When You’re Boiling an Egg, You’ve Got to Time It Just Right



To: Blake Foley
From: Sean Gandert
Subject: RE: The Phantom Sequel

Dear Blake,


So if Metal Gear 2 isn’t just more of the same, then the question I have to ask is, “What is it?” Obviously there’s not just one answer to this question, but I think the bigger aspects of what changed during just three years indicate the direction in which  Hideo Kojima ultimately wanted to the series to head. The first, and probably stranger of these (at least, to anyone not closely following his career at this point), is that Metal Gear 2 is in many respects an adventure game.

When I say adventure I don’t mean the vagaries of “you go on an adventure,” I mean the game genre, which was at its height back in 1990 when the game was released. Perhaps that should come as little surprise, considering that the second game Kojima directed was Snatcher, a game I don’t think either of us have ever played (ok, I don’t think you’ve played it, I’m relatively certain I haven’t) but is well-known to be an offbeat cyberpunk adventure game. The genre can be pretty expansive , so what exactly that means in this case I can only guess at, but regardless we see the basic trappings of adventure game logic all over the place in Metal Gear 2, both for better and worse.

I’ll start with the better part of things. Whereas in Metal Gear you needed to use a handful of tools to overcome obstacles, this was a relatively minor part of the whole game experience. You needed a gas mask to get through the gas room, and a parachute to drop off a roof, but these are straightforward uses, small moments that would only qualify as puzzles to the terminally braindead. The unfortunate effect of this straightforward gameplay is that Metal Gear gets pretty same-y after the first building, because you’re still shooting and avoiding generic military men right up until you finally blow up the titular walking tank. I mentioned earlier that it’s great Metal Gear had a story, but aside from a handful of instances (chief among them defeating the Metal Gear itself), you don’t actually need to listen. And that’s normal for the era, since back then stories for console games tended to be superfluous at best.


EB.net_Metal-Gear-2_30But in Metal Gear 2, suddenly your equipment is part of the story. For instance, you don’t just use the brooch as a key, instead you have to take the brooch over to a specific room and heat it up or cool it down, then take it back after its secret key has been revealed. It’s a small distinction, but that extra step brings your inventory to life. No longer are even items like rations simply tools, they’re something that play an integral role in the narrative. You have to talk to the kids to understand what to do with the brooch in the first place, making it a whole chain of events you need to complete in order to move forward. All of which means that you can’t just trudge forward and slot in new key cards in order to beat the game, instead you have to listen to characters and pay attention to what’s going on. Why is there an animal expert talking to you? Well, hopefully you remember his existence, because a couple hours down the line he’s going to be vital in solving a strange problem.

These adventure puzzles go from simple to completely absurd. But I want to highlight one thing that particularly stymied me: the snake and the owl. Getting the snake out of my inventory took me a great deal of trial and error and guessing and ultimately looking online for an answer. But this quest, more than any other, illustrates the importance of actually noticing what’s going on in your inventory. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this strange puzzle, and also any other adventure game-y parts of the game that struck you as memorable. So much of the story gets told through these moments that, aside from maybe the swamp, they’re what stuck in my head most about the game.


EB.net_Metal-Gear-2_32This leads me to the other big change in Metal Gear 2: the story is much, much bigger. It would be very easy to have the game repeat the story beats of the original and make it all about simply another military weapon gone mad. Instead, we have the introduction of Oilix and a professional skater/love interest and more scientists and worldwide intrigue. The story takes place in a world larger than just one compound, and it wants us to start thinking about the context in which games like Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 might be realistic. It’s not all there yet, but that’s not too surprising considering this is still an 8-bit game we’re talking about here. Still, it’s certainly more interesting to follow than “there is a tank with nukes, that’s bad, kill it.” We became obsessed with odd parts of Metal Gear like Big Boss’s old man tone and Steve partially because the story itself wasn’t particularly strong. In contrast, while Metal Gear 2 might not always make complete senseumm, I had to talk to about 30 orphans to beat my way through this military compoundthe central story is weirdly compelling. I wanted to move forward in order to see the next plot beat, not just because it would bring me to the next “level.”

EB.net_Metal-Gear-2_05What signals this big shift in focus occurs with the game’s first boss. Up until then, it’s very similar to Metal Gear, but once you meet Black Ninja things immediately get weird. Let me quote some dialogue here. “I am Black Ninja, a former member of NASA’s extraterrestrial environment special forces unit.” Wait, what? Suddenly there’s Nasa and aliens (possibly,) and ninjas are part of these units? Not only that, but it turns out Black Ninja is secretly Kyle Schneider, leader of the resistance in Metal Gear, and he’s allied himself with Big Boss. “I was almost killed, but not by them. By you, and your country. … NATO launched a massive bombing campaign against Outer Heaven.” So many things are happening here it’s like opening up Clifford the Big Red Dog and finding that someone’s jammed a copy of Hamlet in there instead. Not only are all of your expectations overturned, but the strangeness of what’s happening here opens doors for nigh-infinite strangeness later. Schneider’s big reveal is a way of saying that not only does the story matter, it’s always mattered (even when, you know, it didn’t), and no detail or character will be forgotten. It’s a delightful way of building out this world and asking us to begin questioning how it relates to reality, and I absolutely love it even as the limits of this approach are immediately pretty obvious… though I can talk about that more in the future if you’re interested.


I want to hear whether you felt the same way that I did about Schneider, but also all of the game’s other bosses. I felt like they’re both radically different yet of a piece with what we saw in Metal Gear. Suddenly they all feel like characters, even when those characters are hilariously dumb. How did you feel about the number of double crossings going on (seems a bit overused to me), and most importantly of all: there are like 100 orphans hanging around while I’m out there killing men left and right. Given that fact, isn’t Solid Snake being more than a tad reckless?


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