Saturday, February 12, 2005

What's next for Metal Gear? Plasma Snake?

Here's a haiku I composed while attempting to play Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater:

creeping through the grass
i am completely hidden
shit they're shooting me

Metal Gear seems to be a great example of what, years ago, would've been called interactive cinema. A lot of game developers thought that, with the new storage space of the cd-rom and the powers of Hollywood, a mixture of film and game techniques would bring about a new era of emotion-packed gaming.

What we got were a lot of games filled with hackneyed plots, atrocious dialogue, z-grade actors and horrendous full-motion video (Night Trap, anyone?).

So why would I even mention MGS3, which is a gorgeous and meticulously-designed experience?

Because the creator, Hideo Kojima, is much more of a film director than game designer (and that is not meant to be disparaging). I think he has succeeded brilliantly in creating a game that functions as interactive story. In this interview he even discusses his dreams of getting an Oscar.

What contributes to the overall feeling of game-as-movie?

The first smart design move is the placement of minor interactive elements into cutscenes. These are mostly innocuous things (e.g., allowing the player to switch between 1st and 3rd person views while Snake parachutes to his landing zone) but ensure that the feeling of interaction will be preserved even while story elements are playing out.

The second is the camera placement. Camera angles lend certain emotional tones to scenes, and coming up with a camera system in a game that evokes the desired feeling that doesn't disrupt the gameplay is incredibly difficult. In Snake Eater the 3rd-person view can only deviate slightly from a fixed spot - a small amount of up-down, left-right and about 30 degrees up-down movement.

Third is direction. Most maps are fairly simple and goals are straightforward. As a player you are herded along with the story, but never at the expense of giving up control. Even when your sneaking is interrupted by an incoming message to propel the plot you have small pics of the person speaking to flip through.

Kojima described how he wrote out a 'script-let', which was a plan for the entire game - how the player would move through the environment, what types of things would happen, even what the player would hear as the game progressed.

Fourth is scope. The game has broad plot ideas (the Cold War), specific goals (rescue Sokolov) and minor trivialities (one woman's fixation on science-fiction movies). The boss enemies are appropriately menacing, especially their names - The Pain, The Fear, The End, The Fury, The Sorrow and The Boss (natch). The story is incredibly convoluted, as veterans of the series expect.

This game definitely wins my Oscar vote.

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