By John Szczepaniak, March 2012
Masahiro Ueno, programmer on Metal Gear for the Famicom
Although the MSX2 original of Metal Gear was officially released in Europe, the real success in the West, and especially America, was the 1987 Famicom/NES port. I spoke to Masahiro Ueno, formerly of Konami Japan, who took on this daunting task when he was just 22 years old: "I was a fresh graduate when I worked on Metal Gear. I actually worked on an educational game for Famicom Disc System first, but it was cancelled. So Metal Gear was my second project, but the first shipped game. Muraoka-san, who has been the sound director for the Metal Gear franchise, worked with me on the NES project."
Speaking with Ueno was a little melancholy, since he was reluctant to accept praise for something so important: "As you probably know, Kojima-san does not like the NES version. My team was asked to port the original MSX2 version to NES in three months and we had to make some changes per management and due to the hardware limitations. Since Kojima-san was not involved and he does not like the changes we made; he does not think the NES version is an authentic Metal Gear. What I did is simply porting the game as management asked, so I don't deserve to get credit."
Although Kojima has publicly criticised the NES version, this is unfair. Apart from the phenomenal achievement of programming a NES title in three months, it's still a fun game despite the changes – like an easier remix. Significantly though it was Ueno's version, not Kojima's, which created an American fan base and ultimately led to Kojima continuing the series.
I asked Ueno about the jungle area which was introduced: "Management wanted to differentiate the Famicom version a bit since the MSX2 version had already shipped. Having a different intro was the easiest and efficient way for us to do so, since we only had three months."
The other big change was the replacement of Metal Gear as a final boss: "This was simply due to the hardware limitations. It's probably possible to implement the robot if we had used a better [mapper] chip such as the VRC4, but it was not available for us back then."
Although Kojima tries to disown the NES port, this is both ungrateful and harsh. It's not as good as the MSX2 original, but it's still very enjoyable. Most importantly, if it wasn't for the work of Masahiro Ueno, the first game would not have gained a fan-base in America, and Konami would not have then had the Castlevania III team develop Snake's Revenge specifically for the US market, which means Kojima wouldn't have had that infamous conversation which spurred him on to making Metal Gear 2 for the MSX2, and ultimately the series would have died in 1987, without Metal Gear Solid ever being considered.
The growth of the series in those nascent years was the result of a series of happy coincidences, and Masahiro Ueno is owed all of our thanks and appreciation, for taking on and completing such a monumental task in only three months, fresh out of university.
Masahiro Ueno, we salute you.