a new direction for metal gear solid
(impressions of konami's metal gear solid: the twin snakes for nintendo gamecube)
by tim rogers
For those of you wanting a simple answer to a simple question: no, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for Nintendo GameCube does not suck. Because the game it's based on doesn't suck, by default, it doesn't suck, either. If you want to know how the game plays, go buy Metal Gear Solid for PlayStation. If you haven't beaten that game before, do it now.
Sure, the GameCube version is going to have (most of) Metal Gear Solid 2's graphics, and some of its moves (being able to drag around bodies, for example). Still, the game is highly playable enough in its oldest version to rank as one of my personal top five games of all time. Don't worry about waiting for this version, because I'm sure Hideo Kojima is going to change something or other. Why I think this, I can't explain. I'm just sure of it.
My feeling might have something to do with the massive amounts of extra staff brought into the remake project -- including Denis Dyack of Silicon Knights, who called Hideo Kojima "Aristotle" and Shigeru Miyamoto "Socrates" at the Nintendo Press conference. Aristotle, pleased to be working with Socrates, said he never would have gotten into videogames if he hadn't played Mario Bros. Socrates's pleasure to be working with Aristotle might be because of this desire to enforce that Gameboy Advance connectivity rule, or it might be because Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, at some point, turns into the Real Metal Gear Solid 3 I've heard people talking about.
Dyack's pleasure to be working with them both might have something to do with keeping Silicon Knights in the public eye. Much as seeing a "Sega" logo next to a "Nintendo" one on the title screen of F-Zero GX makes me think more warmly of Sega, seeing a "Silicon Knights" logo with a "Konami" logo before a Metal Gear game gives me a feeling like when a guy who's sort of your friend dates a girl whom, whether you think she's pretty or not, makes him look like some kind of superhero. To say that making a Metal Gear is the only thing making Dyack look like a superhero is to discredit the work of holy-shit genius that is Eternal Darkness, which I never reviewed for some reason. Much as I hate calling one game a "killer" of another thing, even tangentially, I must muse: does being associated with The Kojima make The Dyack more of a superhero than killing Resident Evil?
The answer, however, is not the focus of this article. No, we're here to talk about editing.
Now on to a more detailed analysis.
With information gathered from press kits and press conferences -- from words delivered direct from the mouth of The Kojima -- I can tell you that the game is being made from the ground up by Silicon Knights. The cinematics are all being redone, too, by Napalm Films' Ryuhei Kitamura. He directed a movie called Versus, which you might have seen.
For me, one of the more striking unfinished elements of The Twin Snakes' demo is the codec screens. Most players complained about staring at the green-ized faces of the two characters as they talked on and on. In Metal Gear Solid 2, as characters talk, you can move their faces with the control sticks -- and even zoom in. In the demo of The Twin Snakes, though the graphics are now on par with Metal Gear Solid 2, though the voices have been entirely redubbed -- with new technology, no doubt -- the codec screens consist of exactly the same sprites as in the PlayStation version. Some of showgoers complained. Some hoped that the "finished" version would have MGS2-style 3D-ish codecs. I wish for something else.
In the beginning of Metal Gear Solid, we see the Colonel standing in the bustling operations center of a Navy boat, plotting a course of some sort as he remotely talks to Snake. When Snake arrives, and kneels down behind a container crate, we hear the codec beep. Snake touches his ear. We zoom in, and the green-on-black codec conversation screen opens.
The codec is an inner-ear implant. Only Snake can hear it. When he talks, no one else can hear him, thanks to a throat implant that translates the vibration of vocal cords to electronic sound. You know, like a character in a movie who had throat cancer and has to talk with one of those microphone-ish things. Regular people can use those, too -- all you have to do is hold it up to your throat and mouth words. It's creepy.
We had a presentation on it in middle school, in case you were wondering. Ahem.
Anyway, why not show Snake kneeling down by the container? Why not show guards walking around in the background? Why not cut in scenes of the Colonel -- or Mei-Ling, or Naomi -- on the boat, at their respective stations? In MGS2, there's an explanation as to why we don't know where the people Raiden is talking to are in reality -- and, to a certain extent, it works. In The Twin Snakes, we could use some codec cinemas.
For one thing, a lot of Snake's job is sitting and waiting; hiding quietly. That's how spies are. Splinter Cell is (ahem) kind enough to let you do that silent waiting in the shadows. Metal Gear Solid is all action. When the codec screen comes up, the typical gamer gets a feeling much like when Captain N calls out, "Hit the pause, guys!" When we look at that black-and-green screen, the game outside vanishes. We no longer are aware of the soldiers with guns wandering around.
Maybe, if Snake is waiting for orders, he could pace around a storeroom during the cinema, hiding from guards -- maybe we could even control his movement? If he's just sitting with his back to a container, maybe he could keep looking over his shoulder. Maybe we could zoom in, and show a guard drinking a cup of coffee or smoking a cigarette? Or maybe even Snake smoking a cigarette? The possibilities are nicely endless.
Some have said such cinemas would be too costly, or too much work. I say -- so is remaking the game from the ground up. Maybe, though, getting Ryuhei Kitamura to direct these scenes would show how long some of them really are. A little dialogue editing -- on top of some cinemas -- would result in a game that flows better.
What I call for in this new ground-up remake is real, live, editing. Games are very seldom "edited." Sometimes they're "edited" for content. Sometimes, a "Director's Cut" is released -- with more features. The problem with some of the truly great games is that many of them are too long. Metal Gear Solid would rank as literature if pared down -- and no, I'm not talking about getting rid of any of the more outlandish characters -- Final Fantasy VII would become a truly viable sci-fi-fantasy story if a few of the more ridiculous scenes were cut out. The same for Final Fantasy VIII.
. . . well, maybe not.
With a book, it's easy to cut out paragraphs at a time. With a movie, it's easy to shoot footage, clip the film, and throw it away. Writers and filmmakers call this "killing your babies" -- even little scenes you truly like might have to go. Part of becoming a good writer is learning when to get rid of the things you love.
With a game, so much is involved with the making of each individual scene that cutting something out is more of a heartbreak than in any other medium. Coding, music, sound -- all of this has to be in place for a tester to play a game as a "game." Movies don't always need color to be viewed as movies. Books don't need to be printed. Games have to be refined to a certain level to be experienced correctly.
When asked last year what game I'd like to see remade from the ground-up, I replied simply: Metal Gear Solid. People generally believed this was an odd suggestion -- the game is so damned current. I had to explain it to them like this: to the novelist, simply reading a book again doesn't inspire editing. It's writing the book a second time, with a careful memory of how it was the first time. If you forget a detail you put down the first time, why would anyone else remember it?
Metal Gear Solid, released in 1998, is the first game that made good on the promise Newsweek made the people of America when they featured Parasite Eve's cinematics in an article: Games are starting to look better than movies -- and they have mature stories, too! Non-gamers who turned into gamers found Parasite Eve a boring lump of voice-less semi-sci-fi content. Metal Gear Solid was the beginning of an era of videogames that is only now (with E3 titles such as Cy Girls and Firefighter FD18 -- both by Konami, don't you know) being followed-up. If we're going to look back at anything and try to do it justice, let's quit digging up names like Rygar. This technology of videogames is moving, man. If, as Chris Kohler suggests in his book, Shigeru Miyamoto will be remaking Super Mario for the rest of his life, and that's a good thing, then the generation of game designers that shall be born from a mixed love of Miyamoto and Kojima would do well to ground-up remake and repeatedly keep current the original Metal Gear Solid. Last year, I was trying to say that the time for a good first attempt.
This in mind, we aren't living in ancient Greece. Metal Gear Solid is of a far-from-oral tradition. Any remakes should exist to make the game tighter, I say. Even so, Homer must have pared down the wording on one or two things as he told and retold and made more fantastical The Iliad. Even if you're going to add some bizarre new "TURN THE GAME CONSOLE OFF NOW" sequences to blow our minds, I say make the game, on the whole, a tiny bit shorter, cutting out only the parts no one would remember -- a line of dialogue here, two lines of dialogue there. Which lines of dialogue, I can't say without regular direct deposits to my checking account. It should become apparent if the people doing the remaking pay enough (and not too much) attention to the original.
Remaking the game from the ground up would be like rewriting a novel again four times -- which I actually once did. When I'm writing a scene I like, it feels breezy. I get a beverage, maybe a bag of pretzels, and turn up my music. When I'm rewriting a scene I don't like, I chat with my friend online, ask her why the hell I'm not published yet. I then answer my own question by detailing what sucks and why. I then quit writing the sucky part and structure the writing around it. The same can and should be done with Metal Gear Solid's script.
In closing, Hideo, if you're listening -- and I know you have my business card, which might have led you to this site (or not -- Chris Kohler tells me "He definitely threw it away, dude") -- how's this for Gameboy Advance connectivity: connect the Gameboy Advance to the GameCube, and be treated to an old-school sprite-based green-on-black Metal Gear Solid codec display on your Gameboy Advance screen. Sure it's unnecessary, and sure, the player would probably never want to look at it. However, given your track record for making videogames about videogames, given the way you like playing with the player who's playing with your game (really, making us unplug the controller cord? making us look on the back of the jewel case for Meryl's codec frequency?), this sort of thing is the next logical step.
Everyone else, buy Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for Nintendo Gamecube when it's released some time late this year, whether or not Konami and Silicon Knights do any of the things I suggest they do with it.