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Codec Logs: World-Building with Steve

From: Blake Foley
To: Sean Gandert
Subject: RE: Entering the Cardboard Box

Sean,

eb.net_mg1_infiltrateEven though I’m a long time fan of the series, I actually never went back to Metal Gear on the MSX2. I stumbled my way though the surprisingly different Metal Gear on the NES many years ago (and I think I may have used some cheat codes along the way), but this is my first time with the game that actually kicked it all off. It’s too long of a story to get into, but Hideo Kojima had nothing to do with the NES version and as such it’s not considered part of the series canon. I was excited and nervous to go back to not only the series’ roots with the MSX2 game, but also, in a way, the stealth genre’s roots too. I’m very glad I did.

You were right when you said that the difference between the action genre and stealth genre is player power, but I would argue that the stealth genre isn’t necessarily about an absence of power; instead it’s about a difference of power. Solid Snake is at his most powerful when he has not been detected. He can lurk in the periphery of the enemies’ vision and take out an entire squad without either side firing a single bullet. But the game doesn’t end when he’s been spotted. At its best, the stealth genre is about situational awareness, improvisation, and trade-offs. In a well made stealth game, being spotted is a branching point. Do you run or do you fight? Usually the answer lies somewhere on a spectrum in between. You say that you aren’t good at stealth games, but the best stealth games don’t necessarily require you to be good at stealth to be successful. Metal Gear gives you a sub-machine gun, after all.

eb.net_mg1_stealthWhat are the worst stealth sequences you have ever played? I’m going to guess anything with an instant fail state for being spotted. You will rarely find a sequence like this in a game in the actual stealth genre; these scenarios usually pop up in the action or adventure genres, and I can think of several AAA offenders. I know we’ve both been there, trial-and-erroring our way from checkpoint to checkpoint in poorly conceived stealth sequence in what is otherwise a well made game. The developers must know that this isn’t fun, so why do they include it? Stealth sequences in other genres are attempts by the writers and developers to turn the tables on the player. You are no longer living the power fantasy, but instead vulnerable. It’s a way they can add tension to the story and it is the story that often keeps these sequences locked to a binary state of unseen and failure. The story dictates that being seen is BAD, so you can’t go and have the player character getting spotted and still proceed. Nope! Back to the last checkpoint you go. Beyond the fact that instant-fail stealth sequences are up there with escort missions in the pantheon of terrible game design, my point is that the stealth genre isn’t just about stealth, it’s about everything that follows. The player might be vulnerable when spotted, but a good stealth game gives the player the opportunity to succeed, even in failure.

These first letters, I suspect, will be the most gameplay-centric. I mentioned to you elsewhere that the gameplay doesn’t change too drastically until later in the series. Kojima tends to build on the foundation that he started with Metal Gear, but it is important to note that that foundation was built to keep things moving, and I think there is a little irony in the fact that Hideo Kojima, the man that is all about story, still manages to tell his story without resorting to restrictive gameplay.

eb.net_mg1_metal-gear-bossIn many ways, it’s the characters that make Kojima’s story work. They bring a personality to what would otherwise be a pretty dry near-future military plot. Big Boss and the resistance fighters aren’t just there to deliver exposition, they also set a tone and establish the game’s world. Big Boss comes off as a senile old man. We later find out that he is intentionally not being helpful because he—DUN DUN DUN—was the big bad villain the whole time, but damn, he comes off as a complete weirdo regardless of what side he is on. I think my favorite example of his weirdness as a character is when you call him about the enemy uniform. “Enemy uniform?” he asks. “What, like a girl’s high school uniform? …over.” This makes him memorable when he could have easily been a throwaway C.O.

As far as female characters go, Diane and Jennifer are extremely helpful and extremely capable… but as would soon become typical for women in the series, Diane comes with some issues. Diane inexplicably falls in love with Snake and tries to express her feelings in the game’s final moments. This is merely a stumble when put next to how the series handles women in later entries, but it’s certainly cringe-inducing and unnecessary.

But Diane leads me to one of my favorite parts of the game, Steve. Steve is the fellow that occasionally answers when you try and call Diane. He is Diane’s brother and he is not too pleased that this fellow named Solid Snake keeps calling his sister. As you mentioned, when you first try and call Diane, you find out that “she is probably out shopping”. It’s Steve that delivers this information. I can’t help but wonder what Diane is actually doing when you call? Is she out ambushing a supply line? Is she blowing up a communications tower? Does Steve have the slightest clue? While I find Steve to be a funny distraction, he’s also important for world-building purposes. His existence in Metal Gear proves the existence of a world beyond what is shown in the game. He is not essential to the plot and that is what makes him so special. He isn’t there to push you forward and he isn’t there to give you a weapon. He is a brother that wants to protect his sister.

eb.net_mg1_bloody-bradAnd then there is Bloody Brad. In the game, we don’t know much about him. Diane tells us he is indestructible and that we should run away. My original assumption, based on my history with the series, was that Bloody Brad is a vampire and that we were getting our first taste of the series’ supernatural elements. I actually looked it up, and it turns out that Bloody Brad is a TX-11 robotic cyberoid originally called Mr. Arnold in the original MSX2 version, an homage to Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Terminator. While I may have been wrong about the supernatural, he is definitely an early taste of the fantastical the series is known for.

Mr. Arnold’s switch to Bloody Brad brings me to a new topic that we will inevitably touch on as we progress through the series. Hideo Kojima has a story to tell, and he isn’t afraid to retcon something that he had said previously to make a new story work. For this project, we both played the Metal Gear re-release that was first put out on mobile phones in Japan and was later included in the Subsistence versions of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. The main thing to note with this version is that the script was updated. Most of the changes are minor, but some were made to bring the original Metal Gear in line with the bigger continuity that Kojima continued to build on over the years. Do you think this is problematic? Is Kojima pulling a George Lucas on us?

I really love the game and I feel like it holds up remarkably well; even with a kind of sloppy second act. Did you run into this issue in your playthrough? What did you think of Big Boss’ turn at the end? Do you think his motivations made any sense?

-Blake

P.S. Fourth wall breaks are as much a part of the series as the cardboard box and the moment when Big Boss tells you to abort the mission and turn off the console is wonderful.

P.P.S. I forgot to tell you… You should totally take your Metal Gear cosplaying cats to PAX. They’re sure to be a hit. …over