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Q&A: Konami's Payton, Imaizumi Look Back On Metal Gear Solid 4's Creation

On the eve of Metal Gear Solid's release, Gamasutra sits down with producer Ken Imaizumi and AP Ryan Payton to look back on the game's creation, its eschewing of vertical slice development, and the reality that Grand Theft Auto IV is a "hard

Christian Nutt

June 3, 2008

7 Min Read

After years of development and some delays, Kojima Productions is on the verge of the June 12th release date for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots on PlayStation 3. Billed as the last Metal Gear title helmed by series creator Hideo Kojima (admittedly, a claim that has been made multiple times before), Guns of the Patriots is further notable for being a high-profile third-party PS3 exclusive - something of a rarity in these multiplatform times. During a recent Konami event, producer Ken Imaizumi and assistant producer Ryan Payton sat down with Gamasutra to discuss the game's considerable scope, how the development process changed and how it didn't from prior Metal Gear titles, and how it feels to follow Grand Theft Auto IV. Obviously, you've reached the end of MGS4's development. How does that feel? Ken Imaizumi: How does that feel? We're finally finished! It was really long. I'm relieved, dazed, and confused about what to do next. We'll see where that lies. Obviously, the game looks great, and I think it will be successful. But there's a lot riding on the success of this game, too. So are you feeling that pressure right now, or are you just happy to be done? KI: I'm still waiting for it. I'm kind of worried about the debut. There's so much pressure. Ryan Payton: I think Ken's being modest. I think we've got something really special on our hands. You know, four years of work went into something that we weren't going to rush out the door. He initially wanted it out in 2007, but we decided to put that extra polish on it. As you can see today in our gameplay presentation, you can see all... yeah, the gameplay's intact, but just all the extra layers of content and complexity that we wanted to put in the game before putting it on store shelves. In that sense, I think it's going to pay off. KI: I think so, too. We tried so many new things. The game control is totally different from Snake Eater, and we were very worried that maybe people will like it, and maybe people don't. That's why I'm a little worried. It's a little pressure. RP: Based on our initial feedback at TGS and later at E For All, the public actually got hands-on time, and the response was very good. Also with our MGO beta, the players got to try out the control scheme on their own PS3s. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It's been a nice validation before the game actually hits the store shelves. You said that you pushed it back a little bit to get more polish on the game. That seems to be fairly common. There was a statement saying that most top-selling games have been delayed. Also, EA said it's going to stop doing quarterly guidance, so it can push back games to add polish. This is a real trend. Do you think this is something that's going to become consistently really important? RP: I think it's a trend that's going to stay around for a while. It's funny. There's ways you can compare the game industry to Hollywood in ways that don't really hold any water, and that's one thing that people criticize game companies of. "Why can't you guys hit your dates when Hollywood movie studios always hit their dates?" I think it's a totally different animal, in that sense. It's in adding that polish. When you go into post-production on a movie, there's only so much you can do. But for a game, there's just so many different elements. This wasn't initially the plan, but I think it's kind of been a happy accident, where all of a sudden in 2008, you have Smash Bros., which was in March, GTA in April, and you have Metal Gear in June, and all of a sudden, in previous years, there was nothing. There was nothing in spring and summer, and all of a sudden, you have three huge titles that are really going to carry 2008 into the fall and the Christmas season. I think this is healthy for the game industry. KI: Hot summer, hot spring? RP: Yeah! Are you guys happy that you came out after GTA? It definitely increased the install base of the PS3. RP: GTA is a hard act to follow, though. I mean, it's a very deep game. People will be playing it for months or maybe years on end, especially with their online modes, too. We're fans of that title as well, and we know that people who are picking up PS3s for the first time along with GTA are going to look for something next, to see how far they can push the platform. GTA does a lot of really impressive things technically. On a visual level, I think Metal Gear Solid 4 does a lot of great things as well, and also with audio and what we do. I think it's a natural progression. If you buy a PS3, you buy GTA4. I don't see why you wouldn't buy MGS4 next. You guys had to develop a next-gen engine, and it completely changed the way the game played and everything. That's a challenge in itself, not even counting on developing the game on top of that. How did you approach that challenge at Kojima Productions? Did you have to change the way you worked from PS2 to PS3? KI: Actually, we challenged... that was a really big challenge, but it didn't change so much. I mean, the same members worked, but we put more people and hired more people, because the team was at a maximum of 200 people. So that was really hard, to keep the high quality. That was really tough. But basically, the way to make a game is the same as before. RP: And yeah, it's a Kojima Productions tradition. There's lots of trial and error, and there's lots of tests. It's not just jumping into it feet-first. It seems like the Japanese style of making games is quite different than that of the U.S. It seems like some of the methodologies you use are a little bit like the things people are starting to try here. The vertical slice is something that was introduced a few years ago, which is where you produce one part that almost looks like the final game up front. But that seems to be how Japanese games start - for a couple of years, you'll see a very polished beginning part to games. KI: Our development was different. RP: We couldn't make a vertical slice. TGS was a big test for us. The game was actually being played by the public. We had to make a lot of design decisions leading up to TGS. That was a great milestone for us. But up until that point, we didn't really have a working game. Again, the pressure of the team pushed us to make some really hard decisions. So did you freeze your design right before TGS, when you were doing the demo? Is that kind of how that works, in gameplay design? KI: No, because we were making gameplay until the last minute - tuning, and putting in new features. At TGS, that was only one of the milestones. It wasn't a final. It was only the beginning, at TGS. Maybe a beginning of the milestones. Now that you've completed and ship the game, how do you feel about the PlayStation 3, now that you've completed development on a full-fledged game for the platform. How do you feel about its performance and its development environment? KI: It's hard. Just kidding. I mean, really hard, that's true. But you know, the first year, we tried lots of stuff, but that was not easy. We tried to find a way to solve those problems, and we found it. Now, we feel like we can try to do something else for next-gen. Maybe we can try to make better-quality graphics for something new. Right now, I feel like I'm really more comfortable with the PlayStation 3 than before. The first year, it was really like a giant monster, or something like that. But now it's like a friendly platform. And Sony was very supportive, too.

About the Author(s)

Christian Nutt

Contributor

Christian Nutt is the former Blog Director of Gamasutra. Prior to joining the Gamasutra team in 2007, he contributed to numerous video game publications such as GamesRadar, Electronic Gaming Monthly, The Official Xbox Magazine, GameSpy and more.

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