By John Szczepaniak, 12 May 2012
nterview with Ryan Payton, formerly of Kojima Productions
Ryan is currently working on his own game project, called Republique, which looks like a rather promising indie stealth adventure. As explained by SiliconEra: "Republique is set in a dystopian future, and the story involves a young girl named Hope calling you on your phone, begging you to assist her in escaping her confinement. You then begin to hack into the various electronics in the building such as cameras and computers in order to aid Hope’s escape, and help her evade security. It's currently looking for backers via Kickstart, and given Ryan's history with some big titles, we hope it succeeds.
JS: Much like MGS2 before it, MGS4 was shrouded in secrecy up till release and nobody had any idea what to expect beyond the first chapter. How did you keep a lid on all that content and why do you think the element of surprise is lacking from so many other games?
RP: A lot of credit goes to the team's dedication to the project and strict adherence to company confidentiality rules. The team also has the added benefit of being in Japan - it’s much harder for things to leak out of Japan because most people aren't driven by the thrill of leaking information. And if you ask the Japanese media to keep a secret - even if they've stumbled upon a big scoop - they usually won't do anything with it.
Another big reason behind Kojima Production's ability to keep secrets is that it doesn't lift the veil on its projects to outside partners until very late into development, decreasing the chance that external partners will accidentally leak something.
JS: It's rumoured that Kojima always intended to end Solid Snake's story with MGS2. Why do you think he changed his mind and how much would you agree that MGS4 definitely ends Solid Snake's part of the Metal Gear saga?
RP: This is just my guess, but I believe Hideo (like the rest of us) simply loves the Solid Snake character. Snake is an icon of video game history and culture, he's a timeless hero – and few people remember this – but he’s also quite funny. So I think it was natural for us to return to Solid Snake's tale for our big coming out party on PS3.
JS: What are your thoughts on older games in the series? Which are your favourites and why?
RP: Metal Gear Solid is the reason why I'm in the game's industry. It completely changed my thinking on what games are and could be. The cinematic presentation was unprecedented, and its encouragement of non-lethal methods to progress is something I thought was revolutionary at the time. I'm disappointed that, 13 years later, this idea hasn't been borrowed by more modern games.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is my favourite game of all-time. The story is clean and powerful, its characters are masterfully crafted and the Cold War backdrop is oozing with drama, fun and crazy conspiracy theories. The gameplay is smartly tied to the major theme of the narrative, and it is, in my opinion the greatest sounding game ever made.
In my books, it doesn't get any better than MGS3.
JS: Was there anything the team intended to include in MGS4, but had to remove for whatever reason? Any content on the cutting room floor?
RP: You'll have to ask the La Li Lu Le Lo about that…
JS: Did anyone on the team toy with the idea of making MGS4 FPS only?
RP: We certainly did toy around with the idea of having a lot more FPS control in the game, but never to the extent that players could play the entire thing in first-person.
JS: What was the funniest, most unusual thing that happened at Kojima Productions, which you've never told anyone before?
RP: For a studio that can house over 200 people, things are pretty quiet there. People are always heads-down, cranking away on their games, so I can't really say too much crazy stuff happened on the studio floor.
The most funny and unusual stuff happened a few floors down in the radio recording booth, where Ken Imaizumi, Aki Saito and I blew off steam by acting a little crazy and saying outlandish things, recording it, and then calling it our weekly podcast.
JS: You've expressed a strong interest in the overall Metal Gear mythos/story that's been built over the past quarter century - how do you feel about some of the canonical revisions that have taken place?
RP: Canonical revisions (retconning, if you will) is a cryptic dialogue you have with your passionate fans. When a series runs for 25-years and has eight canonical games, it's inevitable that story changes need to take place to maintain story consistency. I think it's the community's job to hold the studio's feet to the fire and keep them honest, and it's the studio's job to keep canonical changes to a minimum.
JS: MGS4 is much more streamlined than MGS3. For example there are no complicated sub-menus for healing - what do you say to fans who complain of it being over-simplified? Personally speaking I loved the process of pulling leaches and bullets, applying antiseptic, stitching the wound, bandaging it, then applying a splint.
RP: I have one big complaint about MGS3, and that is the time spent in menus patching up Snake. (A lot of this simply is the fault of loading times.) With MGS4 we were able to streamline controls and keep players in the game more, which is usually a good thing.
For those who don't like more streamlined designs, loath modernization of controls and gameplay, and hate any changes made to the classic formula, I can respect that. But those folks need to realize that games, even in 2011, are way too complicated for the majority of people out there, and we're all in the business of getting more people to enjoy our games. I think most game makers are interested in moving the craft forward, which is the way it should be. If you like the way the old games play, great! Go pick up the newly released MGS HD Collection!
JS: What are your thoughts on the fact that while Peace Walker had a western-style control method, perhaps more in-line with MGS4, it also included a Japanese-centric option affectionately nicknamed "The Monster Hunter Claw" control method by fans?
RP: Peace Walker is a fantastic game victimized by the unfortunate controls of PlayStation Portable.
JS: The legacy of Snake has now flourished for 25 years – what do you say to that? How did colleagues at Kojima Productions feel in 2008 when the anniversary had been over 20 years?
RP: With Japan struggling in the international games business, I believe the Metal Gear franchise is more important than ever. Kojima Productions has inherited the heavy weight of proving to the world that Japanese games can continue innovating in story, design, sound and graphics technology. The good news is that I think the team at Kojima Productions is up to the task!