Nicole Smith ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Video Games Editor
Last night at The Game Awards, host Geoff Keighley presented game designer and director Hideo Kojima with the Industry Icon Award, the most prestigious of the night’s accolades. While introducing Kojima, Keighley made multiple references to transgressions rendered upon Kojima following his departure from Konami, but for those not familiar with the Kojima/Konami fallout, this was possibly both confusing and intriguing. What kind of crazy dirt went down behind closed doors? Well, time to find out.
In 2014, an interactive horror title was quietly published on the PlayStation Network without much fanfare save from a mysterious announcement at that year’s Gamescom. The game, entitled P.T. by unknown developer 7780s Studio, engaged the player in a series of repeating hallways, disturbing imagery, and mind-boggling mechanics, all wrapped up in some really admirable graphical work. The game was confusing and hard to beat, but altogether terrifying and well-loved by everybody who got a chance to experience it. As players began to unwrap the enigma of P.T., they also began arriving at the game’s ending cutscene, an announcement that shook the game industry with surprise and excitement. 7780s Studio wasn’t a real game developer, nor was P.T. the final title of the game; the whole thing was a well-disguised demo for an upcoming installment in the famous Silent Hill series, aptly titled Silent Hills. The game would feature motion capture from The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus, and was being directed by Pacific Rim creator Guillermo del Toro and, of course, Kojima.
The enthusiasm surrounding P.T. (which incidentally stood for “playable teaser” all along) was rampant. Sony announced that P.T. had been downloaded over one million times, and prominent gaming personalities on YouTube were clamoring to cover it, including PewDiePie, Achievement Hunter, Markiplier, Game Grumps, and pretty much anybody who could get their hands on it. The P.T. fervor was strong and enduring, and was further fueled by a brand new trailer, running in Kojima’s own Fox Engine, debuted during the 2014 Tokyo Game Show. The video game industry was ready for a truly masterful next-generation horror title, and they trusted that Hideo Kojima would deliver it and then some.
Fast forward to the spring of 2015, when rumors began to surface that Kojima would officially part with his longtime publisher Konami following the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain later that year. Kojima had expressed as early as 2013 that Metal Gear Solid V would be his last title in the series, but many assumed that he would simply continue to work with Konami as he moved forward on new titles, such as Silent Hills. However, in April that same year, Silent Hills was officially cancelled. Not much explanation was given by either Konami or Kojima, but inferences could be made about longstanding creative differences, and as added salt to the wound, Konami retroactively scrubbed P.T. from the PlayStation Network. It would no longer be downloadable, and only systems that already had a copy of the game would be able to play it.
The presence of both Kojima and Kojima Productions was carefully weeded from Konami’s websites and the websites of their intellectual properties. Many speculated that this was just a sign that Kojima would be leaving Konami, but the reality was a bit bleaker. Kojima and his team would see out the production cycle of Metal Gear Solid V with Konami, but as a contracted workers as opposed to employees. Corporate emails and phones were restricted, and mentions of Kojima’s involvement in the project were removed from Metal Gear Solid V, with Konami stating that they were hiring new project heads for the Metal Gear series. Worse than being fired, Kojima’s employment had been frozen.
Theories of why the rift arose between Kojima and Konami are plentiful. The prevailing opinion seems to be that Kojima, having worked on the Metal Gear series for nearly 20 years and working in an environment that saw Japanese AAA console titles as a dwindling form, really just wanted to move on. He felt that Metal Gear Solid V would be a strong way to end the Metal Gear series, but Konami, seeing Metal Gear as one of its choice earners, disagreed. Stripped of his intellectual properties, his studio, his in-development projects, and his career, Kojima left Konami in December of 2015.
According to a Konami spokesperson, Kojima would take a long time off from work following his departure, which is where The Game Awards 2015 comes in. Hosted on December 3rd, The Game Awards nominated Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for five separate awards, of which it won Best Score/Soundtrack and Best Action/Adventure Game. When it came time for these awards to be accepted, Geoff Keighley informed the audience that Kojima had been banned from attending the event by Konami’s lawyers. Audience members raucously booed this move on Konami’s part, and were all the more liberal with their applause for Keighley and 24 actor Kiefer Sutherland, the voice for Metal Gear Solid V’s main character Venom Snake, who accepted the awards on Kojima’s behalf.
So, a year prior to yesterday’s events, Kojima was stripped of his production studio, his credits, his awards, and ostensibly everything that made him Hideo Kojima. However, this was also where we began to see a change of tides in his favor; his long stay of absence from work was apparently not as long as Konami had expected. On December 16th, thirteen days after The Game Awards 2015 debacle, Kojima and Andrew House, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment, announced that Kojima Productions would be reestablished as an independent studio under the wing of the PlayStation. With a small team he’d taken with him from Konami, Kojima was given creative control of a then-unrevealed title made exclusive to the PlayStation 4.
From there, it seemed that Kojima’s ventures were spreading like wildfire. Behind the scenes, Kojima began reorganizing the contacts he’d worked with on P.T., posting on Twitter about meetings with Norman Reedus and presenting the Keynote Address at the 2016 D.I.C.E. Summit alongside Guillermo del Toro. The anticipation surrounding Kojima’s next project was palpable as he began releasing cryptic pieces of studio artwork and seemingly random songs and other sources of inspiration, the most notable of which being Low Roar’s I’ll Keep Coming (you’ll see why in a minute.) Then, in June of 2016 at the Sony conference of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Andrew House introduced Hideo Kojima to an audience anxious for news. He didn’t disappoint.
Kojima premiered the first ever trailer for a brand new intellectual property entitled Death Stranding. The trailer featured images of beached marine life, oil, a creepy baby, and to the audience’s elation, a fully motion-captured Norman Reedus, all set to the sounds of Low Roar’s I’ll Keep Coming. Many attendees claimed that it was the biggest announcement of the conference, and even rival development companies could agree that seeing Kojima back in action and creating for the love of creating again was inspiring to see.
Death Stranding was a big moment, both for E3 and Kojima, and it’s kept fans on their toes ever since the trailer released. It was felt industry-wide as a moment of victory, watching such a celebrated creator be knocked down as far as he could be before bouncing back in record time. From there, it’s been nothing but up for Hideo Kojima, who accepted his Industry Icon award with a gracious speech thanking his fans for their unwavering support and love. But he wasn’t just there to get a trophy and go home; yesterday, Kojima unveiled a second trailer for Death Stranding, this time confirming collaboration with Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen and, you guessed it, his loyal friend Guillermo del Toro.
It’s exhilarating to consider what’s yet to be seen of Death Stranding, and even more so of what lengths Hideo Kojima will go to in order to deliver a quality, creative product that players will enjoy in the face of his egregious mishandling. But one thing’s for certain about Hideo Kojima’s stance on his role in the world of video game development; to use his own source of inspiration, it seems he wants to let us all know, “I’ll keep coming.”