Thursday, April 9, 2009

DFB – “Operation Intrude N313” (Metal Gear) – Part I

Okay, so I finally decided to start my yearly playthrough of the main Metal Gear series last night. This premature start was influenced by quite a few things. First and foremost, I’m currently reading something right now (thanks Michael) that’s going to help establish a few things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Next, my interest has dwindled significantly in the two other games I was currently playing (Chrono Trigger, Thief: Gold). I do definitely intend to still play through them, but I thought it would be better to wait for right now. It would have especially been unfair to Chrono Trigger to force a playthrough, so I’ll just continue silently watching the Vintage Game Club’s coverage. Also, I’ll try and use any discoveries that I find while playing Thief, in order to further establish points made in these posts. No doubt that another quality stealth title will give me further insight into the matters I’m going to spend the remainder of this month whacking with a stick.

First off, let me firmly press forth that I don’t want the first two titles officially remade. More specifically I don’t want Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake remade. The original Metal Gear I could live with, but why remake the original without remaking its sequel? That’s a bit of a paradox, so I opt for leaving them both the hell alone. Metal Gear 2 however, is a twenty year old game that can still impress by today's “stupid-standards”, so it shouldn’t be touched...period. Also, fleshing out Metal Gear 2 past a certain extent would run the risk of it tainting Metal Gear Solid, which it is a precursory carbon copy of.

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I never really felt the need to give “Young Snake” his bandanna. Even though it’s there for the in-game sprite and transceiver screen, I thought it would be more poetic for him to pick it up from a “certain character” towards the end of the game. I also felt compelled to revert him to his natural blonde state as well.

At the same time however, I AM paradoxically remaking these games. This is strictly from a conceptual standpoint and for self-satiation alone. In a sense, it could be referred to as my personal “fanboy masturbation”. If it for some reason satisfies the misguided wills of any one person that wants a remake…well that’s just a bonus on my end. Anyway, this initially started out as me simply illustrating bits and pieces of the first two games, as I was going to start this blog within the next month anyway. Over the course of a few weeks, it expanded very swiftly into me mapping out the entire backdrop of Outer Heaven/Zanzibar Land, rewriting the first game’s entire script (The dialouge's novelty isn’t cute to me anymore) and infusing it with updated plot influences and reference points so it might actually feel a tad more durable as a game. I’ve even started juxtaposing certain scores from my own music library to establish “feels” for certain areas. As I stated a few blogs ago, I’ll be throwing up some of the rough sketches I have from my growing pile of drawings regarding this little project. Since Metal Gear 2 requires much less work as a “remade title” from my perspective, I’ll probably focus more on the drawings for that when I come to it (so they won't be as rough). It’s simply the first title that created an appetite for this and I don’t have anything else to do right now. Whether or not I post those will have will remain to be seen.

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You sneak, you sneak hard.

The only thing I’m placing up for public viewing will be the drawings of course; it’s too dangerous to let anything else slip. I may even burn the sketches and delete all of the files afterwards just to be safe from myself (It’s not the first time I’ve done it). I want to satiate the desire without necessarily capitalizing on it in any way, shape, or form. If that makes sense to anyone, bless you for understanding, otherwise you can just simply regard me as an amusing-contradiction for all the subsequent Metal Gear posts...I don’t really mind.


So Let’s Start…

So---what we’re talking about today is Metal Gear, a Famicom game released by Konami in 1987 & designed by Hideo Kojima (screw the later released NES port for right now). As everyone found out from Kojima’s recent keynote, the game was born from the technical limitations prevalent at the time. It evolved from and into a base mechanic, urging players to avoid their enemies rather than do combat with them. Kojima has always been known for his cinematic games and this is often perceived as a double schism in the mass gaming audience when regarding the Metal Gear games. The man has quite simply found his place as a film-maker within the video-game industry. This presents two twenty year old problems from a fundamental standpoint. Number one is that they are all extremely cinematic by nature, constantly illustrating a sincere yet blatant parody of Western film, be it through cutscenes, of-the-era-film-references, or Hollywood score composers. The narrative fight still rages on in video-games today and the Metal Gear franchise stands on-trial for the excessive use of cutscenes. Number two is the nature and core-mechanics of the game, it’s a stealth title. By nature and in this current age, it’s almost an impossible type of game to accurately make. It constantly calls upon the player to suspend disbelief, as the nuances of perception and AI can be felt in every inch of every title, especially this twenty-two year old game.

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I’m still not finished with “Young Snake”. My obsessiveness is pigheadedly trying to incorporate all his aesthetic influences to perfection (e.g. Biological Japanese Mother, Kyle Reese, Shinkawa’s Design, etc.).

Despite its limitations, Metal Gear is still a fairly cinematic game; it has its own little cutscenes, and the game itself unfolds fundamentally around the narrative it’s telling. Anyone looking hard enough will notice the correlations that have been pointed out by hundreds of people before. Metal Gear alludes to films such as The Terminator & Rambo (I’d even argue some Predator in there as well). These all in some part had some effect on the “running rather---“ theme that the entire series is built from. We’ll hopefully dig deeper into this as the blogs continue, but one really has to address the issue most prevalent in stealth titles. The foremost for me is the AI at work. It’s a given that even a stealth game in this age will have guards that come off as moronic idiots. Even the recent Guns of the Patriots hides behind its own self-affluent humor and conveniently placed mechanic of sneaking through two factions fighting each other. Do we really need damn-near Skynet to present the illusion that’s being pursued here? I’m not being as facetious as some would assume about that either, I’m simply asking a question that anyone familiar with programming could answer me on. Guard paths are obsolete, even in the context of the narrative. Set paths to be memorized have become a dead-pan presence and even posted sentries have their flaws (i.e. someone standing still senses more than they would if moving). The art/act of stealth & covert ops is a high-class game, even in reality, and video-games can’t really mirror that right now…it’s just asking too much.

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Outer Heaven's Entrance, First Screen

We’re now left with the poor bastards that can’t enjoy the core game mechanics in these games because of the aforementioned limitations, and I can honestly understand that. After all, it’s just another by-product of this “genre’s” (I disdain the term so I put in quotations as if it changes anything) limit. Exhilaration is relative, plain and simple. The grasp of shooting things in video-games has diminished over the past two decades of gaming for me. It’s in state of perpetual degradation (with its only solace being offered by quality animation). However, my tastes are such that sneaking past a guard who doesn’t know I’m right behind him/her actually shoots some eppy around in my brain in a far more pleasant manner. I’ve heard people compare these games as each screen being a puzzle, and that’s not such a bad comparison to be honest, because every time I make my way across a screen, area, or section of a Metal Gear game, it’s the constant equivalent of placing in the last piece of an elaborate puzzle. My self-adjusted suspension of disbelief for stealth games allows me to play around with the tension and excitement of the titles until it becomes one big cloud of varied natural “highs” (e.g. successfully navigating a room, narrowly escaping detection, actually getting caught, etc.). Some people feel that exhilaration in varying degrees, some don’t feel it at all. The rare case is a freak like me, who literally spends hours sifting my way through the grass in Snake Eater.


Quick Story Overview/Catchup of my Progress

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Soldiers aren't known for their perfect grammar.

Metal Gear takes place in South Africa and begins as a twenty-three year old FOXHOUND rookie is sent to penetrate a fortress known as “Outer Heaven”. His objective is to locate a captured soldier within the fortress. This captive soldier is the highest ranked member of FOXHOUND, known as Gray Fox. Fox’s final transmission was lost as he was captured and ended with two words: “METAL GEAR…”. Big Boss, the leader of FOXHOUND, chose to send in a new young recruit, Solid Snake to penetrate Outer Heaven, rescue Grey Fox, and investigate his final transmission. After rescuing various POWs and sneaking his way through the fortress, Snake allows himself to be captured. This grants him access to Fox being held in the next cell.

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Rescuing Grey Fox

After freeing Fox, the veteran informs Snake about the true nature of Metal Gear. It’s a bipedal battle-tank with a nuclear armament, capable of striking any portion of the planet. Fox informs Snake that in order to stop or destroy Metal Gear (which hasn’t been activated yet), he must seek out Dr. Drago Petrovich Madnar, the engineer responsible for its creation. As Snake sets out to continue his mission, he is greeted by an Outer Heaven mercenary known as the Shot Maker. This Russian man is formerly of Spetsnaz and was the only guard placed in charge of Grey Fox’s cell (apparently he was enough). Solid Snake must initially face this individual (who earns his namesake by unmatched skill with a riot shotgun) without his weapons, as he just escaped from captivity. With Big Boss’s help via radio, Snake is able to locate his items and deal with the mercenary, granting him ground to continue his mission.

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Boss Encounter #1 – Shotgunner/Shotmaker/Shoot Gunner.
I think it’s important for this title's bosses specifically to be based around the mechanics of their weapons (hence their silly names). The technology now allows for more “realistic” leeway than the 80’s “gamey-gimmicks”. Expanding the area of combat and focusing on the abilities of a combat/riot shotgun (perhaps both as a “phase-based battle”) is a necessity now.


"Digging"

Cheap Parlor Tricks
I do sometimes wonder about the cheap tricks that gaming sometimes forces us to cope with. As a pragmatic-gamer would argue, that's just a game playing up its voice given the technological-limitations. To what price does this sell itself though? Sure, in 1987 it wasn't a big deal, but how tied are games to their respective "gamey" tricks? Lord knows they're still plaguing a lot of games now. The example I'm using here is the rolling pin from Metal Gear, which is an outright offense to its context. It's an obsolete purpose in this game's world...or maybe I just want to believe that? Should things like this stay for the novelty? I have no idea...I'm certainly going to try and replace it with something that at least makes some logical sense. Even a ten year old would question the purpose of this thing and it's pretty much just comic relief now, despite the fact that it's creating a dynamic experience while Snake makes his way to Fox.

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What the hell man? Rolling Metal? Why the hell is that pin there---what purpose is it serving, and HOW THE HELL IS IT EVEN TURNING?


Leveling Up! *cue Final Fantasy fanfare*
In this game, Snake levels up for every five POWs he rescues in Outer Heaven. This allows him to carry more ammo and such. Leveling up is something gamers respond fairly well to, it's a consistent progenitor that's been bastardized in recent years with Trophies and Achievements. Having a game actively reward you as if to say "touché" to the player is far more pleasurable, as it's an underlying mechanic in the game itself. Someone like me runs the risk of taking the mechanic too far and over-complicating things though. I have however, been sketching out roughs on how to totally eliminate the HUD in the game. Here's a recreated scene as an example:

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Fuck Trucks
As long as someone isn't using a guide for the game, the trucks provide a superficial X-factor that most ever won't forget swearing at in their youth. I personally like the outlandish means of frustration they provide, granted the player is stupid enough to fall into their trap more than once. If Snake hops aboard certain trucks as the game progresses, they automatically transport him back to the beginning areas of the game. This can be extremely taxing, as the amount of resources it takes to navigate Outer Heaven makes it seem like the base if far larger than it actually is (perceptive phenomena FTW). It especially weighs down on one's ammunition, as the guards reappear constantly in this game. It's a superficial means to establish "the illusion" but I'm not as critical of this one as I am of that fucking rolling pin...

Cold & Lonely
Once again, the first playthrough of any game is most memorable partly because of this. Gamers have an almost innate masochistic desire to experience the world through a certain lens of reality (yet most use it as a disgusting means to escape reality, HYPOCRITES). I'm not biased against using FAQs or anything, but nothing touches my initial playthrough of a game...and I mean nothing. Becoming lost and stuck in games is often a point of judging how one experiences their games overall. The nature of being lost and frustrated, how does one consciously balance this within the design? I imagine developers can create windows for something like this, but artificially simulating it too specifically becomes a disaster and frustrating the player for no other reason than to piss them off...is...just…not good. Without a guide, Metal Gear has moments of outright difficulty, as is such with most titles from the 80’s/early-90’s. Some parts of Metal Gear’s assholishness still fit (i.e. the above truck-fuck), but plenty need to be cast off altogether.

WTF
Continuing the artificial-frustrations rant, Metal Gear is noted in doing this constantly. These simply must evolve, I’ve seen it thrice so far and I’ve scoffed each time. Guards have conveniently timed appearances from trucks, rooms are structured for you to run in and get smashed, and some are even structured for you to immediately run in and be seen. One could argue the purpose of the binoculars here, but it interrupts the pacing so much for me that I’m forming the argument that they shouldn’t even be present in the game on a principle. I appreciate the fact that they attempted to place another layer of stealth over the game to keeping the player constantly on their toes, but there had to be other ways to deal with it. I regard instances like these as the leftover screws from an otherwise perfectly built desk.

Radio Ramble
My Biggest complaint about Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was the lack of radio conversation. Real-time talk is still not something I’ve seen predominantly in a Metal Gear game (even though it should have appeared in Guns of the Patriots). This would help with a lot of people’s ”cinematic cringe” reaction and aid immensely with a wider range of individually-created contexts (i.e. listening to certain conversations during different parts of play). The radio/codec conversations are an integral part of the Metal Gear experience. This also creates a window for me to play around with the typical MGS humor, as well as real world references. Reading about South Africa is as much as I can afford right now, but make no mistake, I'm certainly using the world-wide web to my advantage here.

Recurring Mechanics #1

I don't really have to explain this do I? Metal Gear is a series that thrives off its continued passing down of "Thechanics" (Thematics+Mechanics). It can be turned into an entire series itself, so I'll do just that. Here's the few I've run across just in the first few hours of the game.

Infamous Cards
With the exception of Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots, there has always been a focus on Snake acquiring certain keycards to access advanced areas of the game (which runs as a direct corollary to Snake's leveling up as well). The most frustrating part about this title is that YOU HAVE TO KEEP CHANGING THE DAMN CARDS AS THERE ARE NO LABELS ON THE DOORS! This means it's not uncommon to find yourself in front of a door going through all your acquired keycards, just to figure out which one will open it. It's like using a janitors key ring to figure out which one opens the principal’s office before she gets back...IT'S ONLY AN HOUR LUNCHBREAK.

"YOU ARE CAPTURED!"
Snake getting tossed in the clink is as common as breathing in the Metal Gear universe and it started in this game. A POW tells Snake that the best way to find Grey Fox is to allow himself to be captured. The only way to do this is to find one's way to a dead-end screen, in which the player triggers a scene with a guard coming to hold Snake up and take him away.

Walls Worth Suing For
Metal Gear is also the game that started the mechanic of Snake having to knock on portions of the wall in order to find the weak areas within them. It's a little silly in this title, as Snake can basically punch some walls down once he finds out which part sounds funny. It at least made me appreciate having to seek out C4 in Metal Gear Solid all those years later.

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This asshole only tells you this obvious bit of information AFTER YOU’VE ALREADY WALKED INTO THE POISONOUS ROOM!

RC Toys!
Before the Nikita missle launcher, Snake was using R.C. missiles to pass electrified floors in Outer Heaven. In Metal Gear however, the R.C. missiles pretty much break the boss encounters. That was a downside for me, so I shot all mine at the wall and opted for taking on the Shotgunner with my handgun.

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Boss Battle Breakers

Freaks!
This is such a given, you should be slapped if you didn't consider it. Metal Gear Solid is KNOWN for its boss encounters. They usually consist of some elite soldier breed wielding some special honed skill in narrative context. There's not many in Metal Gear, but the design archetype is noticeable even in this game. Snake's enemies usually have ridiculous talents that integrate themselves within the facility of the game itself (i.e. encountering the Shotgunner in a cramped area)

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Yoji Shinkawa’s designs are my personal design template. The input from other aesthetic influences such as film references will be minimal. The only thing that will actively combat this is how my own style and degree of quality (or lack thereof) will clash with his…as it’s obviously making an aesthetic allusion to his work.

Stupid Jackass
After facing the Shotgunner and retrieving your confiscated items, Snake will notice a transmitter in his bag that alerts all guards to his presence within a room until he notices it and tosses it away. This is actually a far more generous alternative to the bomb that Ocelot places in Snake's items after his capture on Shadow Moses ten years later. That little present simply blew Snake to hell if he didn't notice it in time.

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"Throw the transmitter away!"

Cardboard Cool

Yup, it was here too...and it worked a hell of a lot more, given the technical constraints at the time...heh.

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The rest of the world melts way when you're under the box...


I'm going to split these sections up in relation to the boss encounters, so the next post will continue on from the defeat of the Shotgunner...

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Back to the box...

~sLs~