With two Guinness World Records for being the most followed video game developer on both Twitter and Instagram, Hideo Kojima is easily one of the most recognizable – and polarizing – names in the video game industry. Fans of his work have described him as prophetic, subversive, and ground-breaking while some critics find his games to be pretentious and overindulgent. In this article, I explore the history of Hideo Kojima to discover how he went from a little boy in Osaka to an auteur and video game pioneer.
Recurring elements in Hideo Kojima’s video games have their genesis in his early life. In an interview with The Guardian, Hideo reveals that he was raised by parents who were big consumers of “westerns, European cinema and horror in particular”. Growing up, his family had a tradition of watching movies together. Consequently, and not unexpectedly, Hideo developed a keen interest in films. This passion was further kindled when his parents would give Hideo money to visit the cinema on his own.
The constant exposure to movies during Hideo’s childhood resulted in him taking up film-making as a hobby. According to Hideo, his first short films were about zombies and were shot using a friend’s 8mm camcorder. His love for cinema would later go on to be a significant influence in his career in the video game industry. Hideo Kojima games are known for their long, cinematic cutscenes filled with metaphor and symbolism. His maximalist storytelling style reached its peak in 2019’s Death Stranding which features well-known Hollywood names such as Norman Reedus, Troy Baker and Conan O’Brien. Death Stranding further bridges the gap between film and gaming by featuring a very easy mode which, as Hideo explains, is geared towards movie fans who may be attracted to the game due to the big screen stars that appear.
Normally there’s only Easy Mode, but we added Very Easy Mode for movie fans since we have real actors like Norman, Mads, Lea starred in. Even Yano-san who never completed the 1st stage of PAC-MAN, was able to complete the game on Very Easy Mode 👍🌈🦀😅 https://t.co/fMZmuZltZw
— HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) September 6, 2019
Hideo has been influenced by a host of different movies. For example, Dawn of the Dead had a significant impact on the gameplay of Metal Gear Solid. As Hideo explains in Official PlayStation 2 Magazine, “the concept of a 3D maze composed of elevators and ducts is from DOTD“. Hence, “MGS is DOTD if you replace soldiers with zombies”.
Entry Into Gaming
Hideo was a university student studying economics when he made the decision to pursue a career in the video game industry. When he embarked on this path, being a game designer was the furthest thing from glamorous. In fact, Hideo admits that he would often lie about his profession to save face. In 1986, he joined Konami and would spend a significant percentage of his career there.
Konami is a Japanese video game developer and publisher responsible for franchises such as Silent Hill, Contra, Pro Evolution Soccer and Castlevania. Although movies were Hideo’s first love, video games soon became his new passion. As he explains:
While it’s true that I entered the games industry specifically because I couldn’t find a way into movies, I soon fell in love with games. It’s so different to film: it’s interactive and you need to understand people in a different sort of way. I soon fell in love with the art of making games.
His first project with Konami was Lost Warld. However, Hideo was limited to developing for the MSX system instead of the more powerful NES at the time. As Deen of Geek explains, Hideo Kojima’s ideas proved to be too wide in scope for the MSX’s capabilities, and Lost Warld was scrapped and doomed to be a forgotten part of his history. Although his first project never saw the light of day, Hideo’s entry into Konami convinced him of the potential of video games. There, he was surrounded by others who had artistic ambitions and believed in the future of the video game industry. The next project Hideo would work on would be the one to change the course of his career forever.
Metal Gear Solid
The first game that would be fully developed by Hideo is Metal Gear. Released in 1987, Metal Gear is one of the earliest examples of a stealth game. It has players taking control of Solid Snake, an operative who is part of the special forces unit named FOXHOUND. Solid Snake’s objective is to infiltrate the enemy’s camp and destroy a machine known as the Metal Gear which is capable of launching nuclear missiles.
Following the success of Meta Gear, Hideo worked on a graphic adventure game known as Snatcher. The game featured several cyberpunk elements and had a cinematic feel that would dominate many of his future projects. However, his ambitions with the game would prove to be larger than what Konami would tolerate. In an interview with 1Up magazine, Hideo reveals that although he intended to for the game to be six chapters long, Konami insisted he whittle it down to two.
Hideo would soon after return to the Metal Gear series with the creation of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. The stealth mechanics of its predecessors were improved upon, and Hideo further explored themes of nuclear warfare and the role of technology in warfare. This game would be the birth of the Metal Gear Solid sub-series that would launch Hideo into stardom within the video game industry. The sequel to Metal Gear 2, simply titled, Metal Gear Solid, was released in 1998 and brought the stealth genre to a 3D environment. Hideo’s love for film revealed itself in Metal Gear Solid through the inclusion of in-engine cinematic cutscenes. The game also set itself apart by asking for something quite unique from players. While other games had you shooting through enemies to progress, Metal Gear Solid instead required you to hide and avoid combat as much as possible.
The subsequent success of Metal Gear Solid‘s sequels helped solidify Hideo’s name within the video game industry. In 2011, Hideo became Executive Vice President and Corporate Officer in Konami Digital Entertainment.
In addition to building a legacy around himself through Metal Gear Solid, Hideo also developed a mythic status as a bit of a prophesier. Many had noticed that the themes dealt with in the Metal Gear Solid series seemed to predict real world events.This is particularly true of Metal Gear Solid 2 which is considered an important part of video game history due to its subversive narrative and its positive impact on Hideo Kojima’s career. Vice has discussed how Metal Gear Solid 2 seemed to predict increased social control in a post 9/11 world while Gamesradar argues that Metal Gear Solid 2 predicts the rise of data surveillance.
After Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of Patriots was released in 2008, the world patiently waited to see what Hideo would come up with next. However, much to everybody’s surprise, Hideo’s career would take an unexpected turn.
Among fans of Hideo, Metal Gear Solid V is a polarizing title. Some consider it his magnum opus while others regard it as a half-finished game sabotaged by Konami. Although the details are murky, the development process of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was a turbulent one that would end with Hideo leaving Konami. This is perhaps the darkest portion of Hideo Kojima’s history in the video game industry. According to SVG, the split between Hideo and Konami was motivated by differing goals. While Konami wanted a future in the mobile games market, Hideo wished to continue building on his ambitions of making cinematic games. Hideo’s removal from Konami was rather unceremonious. Surreptitiously, the ‘A Hideo Kojima Production’ title was removed from the cover of Metal Gear Solid V, and Kojima Productions Los Angeles was renamed to Konami Los Angeles Studio.
Perhaps the biggest smoking gun that alerted the public that all was not well between Hideo and Konami was when Metal Gear Solid V won the awards for Best Action Game and Best Score/Soundtrack at the 2015 Game Awards, yet Hideo did not receive the award because he had been barred by Konami from attending the event. That same year, it was revealed that Hideo Kojima’s relationship with Konami was history.
The end of Hideo’s relationship with Konami would not be the end of his career in the video game industry, however. His next project would perhaps be his most polarizing yet.
Following his split from Konami, Hideo re-established Kojima Productions. The first game that the studio would create would be very much influenced by Hideo’s own experiences and emotions. As he explains in an interview with Time magazine, his departure from Konami had left him feeling lonely and estranged. However, he soon realized that he had no reason to feel lonely because he had spent his career making connections with several other artists and creatives. His first project after leaving Konami, titled Death Stranding, would be all about making connections.
The themes of Death Stranding are ingeniously conveyed through both the narrative and the gameplay. The protagonist is Sam Porter Bridges, a delivery man who is tasked with reuniting a post-apocalyptic America which has been ravaged by the ‘Death Stranding’ which has caused beings from the purgatory between life and death to roam and destroy the country. This rebuilding of America must be done by establishing a ‘chiral network’ that will connect people and forge the United Cities of America.
In his interview with Time magazine, Kojima spoke about his own struggles with loneliness and stated that “there are so many people who play games feeling like that, like they don’t belong in this society”. However, the game shows players that they are not truly alone and that connections with others are possible. This is due to the collaborative nature of the game enabled by online features. Although players cannot see other players, they share the game world with one another and interact with structures others have built. For example, when multiple players have walked the same route, footpaths will eventually appear which both guide other players and demonstrate that they are not alone. Larger structures such as bridges and roads are collectively built with players from around the world contributing by donating raw materials. By seeing the contributions other players make, as Kojima states, “you won’t feel alone anymore”.
Hideo managed to re-establish himself after leaving Konami, and proved that he is capable of delivering compelling video game experiences while working independently. It seems as though Hideo might live out his childhood dreams and become the filmmaker he once imagined himself as. In an interview with BBC Newsbeat, Hideo said that Kojima Productions will be making films in the future. With an iconic history behind him and a bright future ahead, it seems the world is Hideo Kojima’s playground.