Hideo Kojima (b. 1963) is a Japanese video game designer, screenwriter, director, and producer. He is the director of Kojima Productions, which he originally founded in 2005, and a former vice president of Konami Digital Entertainment. He is often regarded as an ‘auteur’ video game director.
He is the creator, director and writer of a number of widely praised video games, including the ‘Metal Gear’ series of stealth games, and the adventure games ‘Snatcher’ and ‘Policenauts,’ and he also directed or produced games in other series, including ‘Zone of the Enders,’ ‘Boktai,’ and ‘Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.’
Kojima was born in Tokyo and moved to western Japan at the age of three. He said that early on in his life he already had to deal with death, with his father passing away when he was only 13. Kojima has noted that growing up he was a latchkey kid, often having to look after himself when he came home from school. Staying at home by himself in isolation still affects him to this day stating, ‘[whenever] I travel and stay at a hotel I put the TV on as soon as I enter the room, just to deal with the feeling of loneliness.’
Initially wanting to be an artist or illustrator, he was often discouraged by societal norms of Japan which favored finding safe, well paying jobs and was also discouraged because his uncle was also an artist but suffered from financial difficulties. He eventually started writing short stories and began to send them to Japanese magazines but was never able to get anything published. He cites that his stories were often 400 pages long while most magazines wanted their short stories to be around 100 pages. Eventually he shifted his focus to making films with his friend who had an 8mm camera.
While studying economics in university, Kojima found himself playing video games during his free time, mainly games on the Famicom. In his fourth year in university, Kojima surprised his peers by announcing his intentions to join the video game industry, despite initially having ambitions of becoming a film director. The majority of his friends strongly discouraged him from pursuing video games due to it being a new medium that wasn’t as respected or financially secure. His mother, however, remained supportive which gave Kojima the confidence to go ahead with his dream. He would later reflect positively upon his choice, stating, ‘The industry was full of dropouts, people who felt like games offered them another chance. I met many people in that same situation; we bonded together through that in some sense.’ Kojima has cited Shigeru Miyamoto’s ‘Super Mario Bros.’ (1985) and Yuji Horii’s ‘The Portopia Serial Murder Case’ (1983) as the games that inspired him to make this decision.
‘Portopia’ id a murder mystery adventure game, and was an important influence because, according to Kojima, it had ‘mystery, a 3D dungeon, humor, and a proper background and explanation of why the murderer committed the crime. That is why there was drama in this game. My encountering this game expanded the potential of video games in my mind.’
Kojima’s love of film is noticeable in his games where he pays homage through his stories and characters, sometimes to the point of pastiche, as in Snatcher. He cited a contrast between films and games as while in his games he intends to portray violence like in a movie, in the game it is up to the player to decide. He wants people to understand the effects of violence. As he considers the games too stressful, he also wants comic relief to contrast it.
Snatcher is inspired by many science fiction movies, particularly from the eighties, including ‘The Thing’ and ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers.’ Solid Snake is named after ‘Snake Plissken’ from ‘Escape from New York,’ his real name, ‘Dave,’ is from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ and his trademark bandanna is an homage to ‘The Deer Hunter.’ James Bond also had a large influence on the ‘Metal Gear’ series, with ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ having a James Bond-like introduction sequence.
In an article he wrote for ‘Official PlayStation 2 Magazine,’ Hideo described the influence of the film ‘Dawn of the Dead’ on the ‘Metal Gear’ series. The zombie classic inspired ‘the maximum three-dimensional use of a closed area like a shopping mall with elevators, air ducts, and escalators.’ These aspects are similar enough in his view that ‘MGS is DOTD if you replace soldiers with zombies.’
He also received inspiration from anime. His early works, particularly the cyberpunk adventure game ‘Snatcher’ (which uses anime-style art), were influenced by cyberpunk anime, most notably ‘Akira.’ In a recent interview, he mentioned that his ‘Zone of the Enders’ series was inspired by mecha/robot anime, such as ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion.’ Mecha anime were also an inspiration for the ‘Metal Gear’ series, which features mecha robots.
In regards to storyline development and interaction with them, he said: ‘Storytelling is very difficult. But adding the flavor helps to relay the storytelling, meaning in a cut scene, with a set camera and effects, you can make the users feel sorrow, or make them happy or laugh. This is an easy approach, which we have been doing. That is one point, the second point is that if I make multiple storylines and allow the users to select which story, this might really sacrifice the deep emotion the user might feel; when there’s a concrete storyline, and you kind of go along that rail, you feel the destiny of the story, which at the end, makes you feel more moved. But when you make it interactive — if you want multiple stories where you go one way or another — will that make the player more moved when he or she finishes the game? These two points are really the key which I am thinking about, and if this works, I think I could probably introduce a more interactive storytelling method.’
In terms of reverse influence on film, his work on the storylines of the Metal Gear series was cited as an influence by screenwriter David Hayter, the voice actor for Solid Snake, on his screenwriting for Hollywood films. He stated that ‘Kojima and I have different styles,’ ‘but I’ve certainly learned things from him, especially about ambiguity and telling a story without giving all the answers.’
Kojima attempted joining the game business but was unable to do so at first. His game design ideas were rejected but he never gave up and eventually he was accepted. He joined video game publisher Konami’s MSX home computer division in 1986 as a designer and ‘planner.’ Initially, he was disappointed with his assignment, and desired to work on Nintendo Entertainment System and arcade games instead—Kojima felt the color palette of the system was too restrictive. Kojima’s gameplay ideas were often overlooked initially, and due to his lack of familiarity with programming was repeatedly snubbed in his initial years. At one point Kojima considered leaving the company, but he hung on. The first game he worked on was ‘Penguin Adventure,’ the sequel to ‘Antarctic Adventure,’ as an assistant director. The first game he actually developed was ‘Lost Warld,’ an MSX platform game in 1986. However, the game was ultimately rejected by Kojima’s superiors at Konami.
Kojima was asked to take over a project, ‘Metal Gear,’ from a senior associate. Hardware limitations hindered development of the game’s combat. Inspired by ‘The Great Escape,’ Kojima altered the gameplay to focus on a prisoner escaping. It was released in 1987 for the MSX2 home computer in Japan and parts of Europe. The game revolves around a special forces operative codenamed ‘Solid Snake,’ who is sent to the fortified state of ‘Outer Heaven’ to stop a nuclear equipped walking tank known as ‘Metal Gear.’ ‘Metal Gear’ is one of the earliest examples of the stealth action game genre, where avoiding encounters from the enemies is emphasized over direct combat. A port of the game was also released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Kojima was not directly involved in the production of this version and he has openly criticized some of the changes made, such as bad translation and no ending boss fight with Metal Gear (which was included in the MSX2 version). Most of these flaws were fixed in the MSX2 English port included in ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence’ for the PS2, and ‘Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection’ for the PS3 and 360.
His next project was the graphic adventure game ‘Snatcher,’ released for the NEC PC-8801 and MSX2 computer platforms in Japan in 1988. The game, influenced by science fiction works such as ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘The Terminator,’ and ‘Bubblegum Crisis,’ is set in a post-apocalyptic world and centers around an amnesiac detective who faces a race of cyborgs (the titular Snatchers) that kill their victims, copy their likeness and assume their place in society. While Kojima and his team wrote the entire story, they were forced to leave out the final act of the game due to time constraints. The project was highly regarded at the time for pushing the boundaries of video game storytelling, cinematic cut scenes, and mature content, and was praised for its graphics, soundtrack, high quality writing, voice acting, post-apocalyptic setting, light gun shooter segments, and in-game computer database with optional documents that flesh out the game world. It has been called the first interactive digital novel.
In 1990, Kojima was involved in the productions of two MSX2 games: a spinoff of ‘Snatcher’ titled ‘SD Snatcher’; and a sequel to ‘Metal Gear’ titled ‘Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake,’ which further evolved the stealth game genre. The player had more abilities, such as crouching, crawling into hiding spots and air ducts, distracting guards by knocking on surfaces, and using a radar to plan ahead. The enemies had improved AI, including a 45-degree field of vision, the detection of various different noises, the ability to move from screen to screen, and a three-phase security alarm. The game also had improved graphics and a complex storyline dealing with themes such as the nature of warfare and nuclear disarmament.
‘SD Snatcher’ is a role-playing video game which adapts the storyline of the original game, while featuring its version of the originally planned ending. The characters are depicted in a ‘super deformed’ art style, in contrast to the original game’s realistic style. Like the original computer versions of ‘Snatcher,’ it was only released in Japan. It abandoned random encounters and introduced an innovative first-person turn-based battle system where the player can aim at specific parts of the enemy’s body using firearms with limited ammo.
Due to the success of the original ‘Metal Gear’ on the NES, Konami decided to create a sequel to the game, ‘Snake’s Revenge,’ without the involvement of Kojima. During a ride home on the train, Kojima met one of the staff members who worked on the game who asked him if he would create a ‘true’ Metal Gear sequel. As a result, Kojima began plans for his own sequel titled: ‘Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.’ The game was only released in Japan for the MSX2, as one of the last games Konami produced for the computer system. The game would not be released overseas in North America and Europe until its inclusion in 2006’s ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.’
In 1994, Kojima released ‘Policenauts,’ a film noir/sci-fi-themed adventure game set in a space colony, for the NEC PC-9821. Kojima oversaw the subsequent ports released for the 3DO in 1995; and the PlayStation and Saturn in 1996, which all featured animated cut-scenes not in the PC-98 release. Despite announcements for an English release in 1996, problems with syncing the English dialogue with the cut-scenes stopped its production. An unofficial English translation patch was released to the public at midnight (JST) on August 24, 2009, to coincide with Kojima’s 46th birthday. From 1997 to 1999, he developed the Tokimeki Memorial Drama Series, a trilogy of visual novel adventure games.
In early 2001, Kojima released the first details of the sequel to ‘Metal Gear Solid,’ ‘Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty,’ for the PlayStation 2. The game’s highly detailed graphics, physics, and expanded gameplay quickly made it one of the most anticipated games of all time. The game was highly successful and critically acclaimed at release, due to its graphics, gameplay and storyline, which dealt with myriad philosophical themes as specific as memes, censorship, manipulation, patricide, the inherent flaws of democracy and as grandiose as the nature of reality itself. While ‘Metal Gear Solid 2’ appealed to gamers with the discussion of these, the bewildering maze of dialogue and plot revelation in the final hours of the game turned off some who expected the Hollywood-style resolution of its forerunner.
Before the release of MGS2, Kojima produced the game and anime franchise ‘Zone of the Enders’ in 2001 to moderate success. In 2003, he produced ‘Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand’ for the Game Boy Advance, in which players take the role of a young vampire hunter who uses a solar weapon which is charged by a photometric sensor on the game cartridge (forcing them to play in sunlight). Another team inside Konami (in a collaboration with Silicon Knights) began work on ‘Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes,’ a GameCube remake of the first Metal Gear Solid with all the gameplay features of ‘Metal Gear Solid 2’ and with cutscenes redirected by action/horror film director Ryuhei Kitamura. It was released in 2004.
Afterwards, Kojima also designed and released ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ for the PlayStation 2. Unlike the previous games in the series, which took place in the near future and focused on indoor locations, the game is set in a Soviet jungle during the height of the Cold War in 1964, and features wilderness survival, camouflage, and James Bond styled espionage. The North American version was released in late 2004. Critical response to the game was highly favorable. Kojima has said that his mother even played it, ‘It took her an entire year to complete ‘Metal Gear Solid 3.’ She would get her friends to help her. When she defeated ‘The End,’ [a character the player faces off during the game] she called me up and said: ‘It is finished.”
At the 2013 Game Developers Conference, Kojima unveiled ‘Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain,’ which is set to be his final ‘Metal Gear’ work, noting that this time unlike previous announcements that he had stopped working on the series, was very serious about leaving. In 2015, reports began to surface that Kojima would part ways with longtime publisher Konami after the release of ‘The Phantom Pain.’ Konami later stated that they were auditioning for new staff for future ‘Metal Gear’ titles and removed Kojima’s name from the series’s marketing material.
On December 16, 2015, Kojima released a joint statement with Sony Computer Entertainment, announcing that Kojima Productions would be re-established as an independent studio and that their first game would be console exclusive for the PlayStation 4. At E3 2016 in Los Angeles, Kojima personally showed up to announce the game’s title, which was revealed as ‘Death Stranding’ in a trailer. The trailer also showed actor and inspiration for the main character Norman Reedus, who Kojima had previously worked with in the canceled ‘Silent Hills.’