Hideo Kojima just finished his interview that was being held at GameFest in light of the Art of Video Games Exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum for American Art. The whole conversation took about an hour and can be viewed here, or a summary of it can be read below.
The interview was being conducted by Chris Melissinos, the museum’s guest curator. Kojima Productions’ staff member Sean Eyestone acted as a translator.
First, they talked about the start of Kojima’s career and his influences. The first game Kojima remembers playing is Pong, or maybe it was a Japanese variant of it. However, Space Invaders is the first game that really pulled him in and he played a lot.
Kojima explained that originally he wanted to become movie director, but didn’t have access to the necessary equipment, so he started writing novels instead, as that was something he could do on his own. That’s when the Famicom released. Kojima became addicted to it right away, and he felt the potential hidden in this new medium. He then got the idea to use this as a way to tell stories, in stead of movies.
The interviewer asked about the anti-war and nuclear proliferation themes that permeate the MGS series, asking Kojima where it comes from. Hideo Kojima explained his parents were born in 1930s, and they experienced air raids on Tokyo. The anti-war sentiments influenced Koijima, and he wanted to carry over this message into his games.
Kojima also addressed the advantages of video games over other forms of story telling. How would it feel if you could actually interact with environment instead of just looking at it, like in movie? Wondering about these things was the starting point of Kojima’s design philosophy.
The influence from the movies didn’t come as much from the setting or story, but more from his desire to recreate the situations of those movies. Like in The Great Escape, the tension you feel while watching it, what would it be like to be actually there? As another example he took a vampire movie, where the characters are fending off vampires until the sun rises. This kind of feeling is what he wanted to recreate with Boktai.
The interviewer also asked Kojima what qualities a good game designer needs, according to him. First of all, Kojima said a designer needs to have a curiosity. He needs to have a lot of different interests, and be willing to try new things. Also, since games run on technology, he must have an interest in the latest technological trends. But aside from the technical aspect, he must also have a cultural interest, and interest in the latest visual trends, stories, music, and such. Lastly Kojima mentioned that a good game designer needs to have a spirit of wanting to give something to someone, to share an experience, and to think about how you can make other people have fun. And be willing to sacrifice himself in order to achieve this, in a way.
Kojima was also asked what games had most profoundly impacted him. First of all he mentioned Super Mario Bros, and said that without that game, he probably wouldn’t be sitting here. Another game that impressed him and stood out to him when he entered the game industry, was polygon based game called Another World (Out of this World in America). According to Kojima, this game did a great job of conveying the creator’s style.
The next aspect the interviewer asked about was about balancing commercial interest with creative desires, and how to maintain this balance. Kojima answered he would like to use all 24 hours in the day for creating games, for the creative aspect of it. But in order to create something great, you have to create an environment that makes this possible, that’s why he decided to become a producer.
Now he has the power to do what he wants to do (budgets, hiring people, deadlines). But to become a producer you have to know business, be organized. But the role of producer is only to facilitate creativity. That’s the priority.
Because Kojima has said in the past he doesn’t consider games to be art, in light of the current exhibition the interviewer asked if he still feels that way about it. According to Kojima games do have a place in the art world, and the synthesis of parts can be perceived as art. But as opposed to for example a painting, with games the creator doesn’t have full control over the message, he can’t push his views completely on the viewer. Kojima sees his job as to take the various parts (music, light), combine it as a whole and present it to the player, who then becomes part of the art. So in a sense you could say it’s art, but not the traditional kind.
Next, the interviewer asked how Kojima felt about the future and the progress made in the industry. Kojima answered that he thinks interactive entertainment will not go away, there will always be demand for it. Technology is always evolving, and interactive entertainment will evolve with it.
It will also become much wider in society, for example in the medical field. Video games could be at the forefront of technological advancement in a way. Kojima feels that the future is bright.
After the interviewer was done with his questions, he asked Kojima some questions that were submitted by fans.
How does it make you feel to know that your games are inspiring future film makers and game designers?
Kojima answered he found this idea to be very exciting, and feels it is an honor. Since he was influenced by movies when he grew up, he feels like it’s come full circle, almost like it’s sort of a destiny.
Would you consider making a movie of your own?
Kojima said he would love to make a movie someday. But it wouldn’t be Metal Gear Solid, because that’s designed as a game. For a movie he would have to come up with something else, that’s better suited for the specific medium. If Metal Gear Solid would become a movie, he would have someone else write a new script, specifically as a movie. Kojima concluded saying that he is working on something, and hopes to have something to announce in the near future.
What character from MGS do you identify with most?
Kojima jokingly said that he answers this question differently every time it is asked. Yesterday when someone asked it to him, he said Otacon. But now he went with Snake. He continued to talk a bit about the character’s evolution throughout the years. At first Snake didn’t really speak, because the game didn’t have voices. This changed when MGS1 came out. Then, from MGS1 to MGS2, he also got facial expressions, which were made even richer with MGS4, in which they could even have an old looking Snake with a wrinkled face. So the character got more expressive with every game, which is why he is so well suited for games.
How do video games enable richer stories?
Introducing story in action game is a difficult task, and game creators struggle with that balance. But the pay off is much greater, because you are interacting and can express things you can’t with movies or novels. Because the player experiences the events himself, he feels emotions for the character. Allowing the player freedom is also important, so the key is balance: illusion of freedom, but also story. That’s what Kojima said to be aiming for in his next game. He has a reputation for long cutscenes, but he’s experimenting with new ways of telling a story, and for the next game will use a little less cutscenes, but there will still be a narrative.
What is it that fascinates you about western politics?
Kojima explained he was raised under influence of western culture, constantly being exposed to it through tv shows and movies. Detective shows and sci-fi shows influenced him. Most Japanese children want to become Japanese police officer, but Kojima wanted to be a murder investigator, and work for the LAPD when he was a child. Of course he was also influenced by Japanese culture, but more than half of his influence was from outside of Japan, through movies and music. He also feels his sense is more international, not specifically Japanese. The Metal Gear games are set in America because he wants to tell a grand, epic story, and therefor doesn’t want to limit himself to a small country like Japan as a setting.
What was your shining moment of accomplishment in 25 years of MGS?
Kojima responded that he debut of MGS1 was the point everything changed in his career. He became an international success, and his name became known In Japan, North America and Europe. It was a new era in his life.
This year marks 25th Anniversary for MGS, and Kojima said he wants to make it one of the best years for him. He is working on something right now that he thinks will be the shining moment of his career, or of his life.
After this question the interview was over, and the interviewer handed Kojima a book dedicated about the Art Exposition, and the audience got the opportunity to receive an autograph.