Let’s start with what it isn’t: a sequel to Snatcher, Policenauts, Z.O.E., Boktai or PT. That might come as a blow to hardcore fans, but if you're under 25, you’ll likely need to google 80% of those names, and – bluntly – Konami retain the legal rights to the franchises. That said, there are multiple clues about what Kojima is working on, which stem from a logo, a christmas card, several thousand tweets and the world's most popular sci-fi MMO FPS, and I’ll do my best to assemble the pieces below – before making a bold prediction. How does a 2001-inspired, anthropological, space-exploring, mech-based, character-led, action game sound to you? First off, here are the latest bits of news on the project so far...
He’s setting up an independent development studio called Kojima Productions, which shares a name – but little else – with the team that built Metal Gear Solid 5. A handful of core team members have moved with him, including legendary MGS artist Yoji Shinkawa, plus Producer Ken Imaizumi (who was once-poised to take over the MGS series). Notably, MGS5’s lead programmer Yuji Korekado doesn’t seem to have joined Kojima. Korekado’s name appears on the credits before every MGS5 mission and he worked on all the key MGS titles from 1998-2015. In inside circles, he was seen as pivotal to the development of Metal Gear’s gameplay systems, so it’ll be interesting to see how Kojima operates without his input. Kenji Yano, a novelist and long-time Kojima collaborator, recently joined Kojima Productions, which *may* hint at the new game’s breadth of narrative and lore ambitions.
Kojima Productions have struck an exclusivity deal with Sony to publish their first game – more on that later – but it will also appear on PC. Sony will relish the kudos of tying gaming's foremost auteur to a console-exclusive deal, but 'spiritual sequels' to titles like Policenauts, Z.O.E. etc are unlikely: there's no financial sense in securing exclusivity of a niche title championed by a few thousand nostalgic gamers. “It (Kojima's new game) will be something completely new”, confirmed a Sony spokesman in an online Q&A session.
Kojima isn’t the first high profile developer to leave from the franchise that made his name. In 2010, developers Bungie stepped away from lore-rich multi-player sci-fi shooter Halo to work on a mysterious new game, which after months of speculation turned out to be… the lore-rich multi-player sci-fi shooter Destiny.
Naturally, there's no guarantee that Kojima will follow the same trajectory, but Sony won't have invested heavily in an interactive graphic adventure (Policenauts), a pure mech action game (Z.O.E.) or a vampire-chasing RPG literally powered by sunlight (Boktai). Financially, the only genres that make sense are action / shooter / open-world / RPG, and there are multiple clues to suggest that Kojima may craft an alternate take on Metal Gear Solid, as Destiny was to Halo.
"I want to create something that’s what people expect, but at the same time will have something new that people haven’t seen before", Kojima told IGN in December 2015. At face-value, that's a cinematic, story-led, stealth-action game – with a twist. “The only way to create high-end games is to target the global market,” Kojima told The New Yorker, “But in order to target the global market, the management behind the project needs to have a keen sense for what will work, and be willing to take risks”. Kojima had considered taking a sabbatical before launching his new studio, but was talked out of it by a Hollywood friend. “Hearing that affirmed to me that my role in this world is to keep on making big games for as long as I can,” Kojima said. “That is the mission I’ve been given in life.”
We know Kojima is working on a big, familiar, global game… with an element of subversion / innovation. Kojima Productions new logo is a major clue, which looks like a skull in a helmet; a fusion of futuristic and medieval styling. “I’ve always loved astronauts, and [the new Kojima Productions logo] is designed so it can be seen as a medieval knight or an astronaut’s helmet,” Kojima told IGN. “The concept is, with new technology and a pioneer spirit, we want to bring you to a new realm – within the digital world, I mean – we want to travel together with you to a new realm to which no one has gone before.”
Kojima's twitter feed is rich with clues. In early 2012, I studied hundreds of his tweets to make some bold predictions in the now defunct PSM3 magazine about (the then unconfirmed) MGS5, suggesting it would be: open-world, on new-gen systems (this was pre-PS4), set in Africa, concern the philosophical dispute between Big Boss and Major Zero, be set largely in the 70s, with a cameo from a young Solid Snake. Kojima's clues are no accident, and he often leaves the truth in plain sight without offering the context. For example, months before the (now abandoned) Silent Hills was announced, with its protagonist Norman Reedus, Kojima was posting pictures of himself posing with The Walking Dead star – just not explaining why.
On 11th October, when Kojima was still contracted to Konami, he tweeted “Bought NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC as there was special Artie about HOMO naledi” (note the capitalisation). In December, he launched the new KJP website, with its reference to gamers as 'Homo Ludens'. One of Kojima's more obvious tweets states: “Regarding our new logo, we have a whole set of body besides the head. I let you imagine first”. Kojima then spent weeks RT'ing fan interpretations of the character's body, with the majority resembling mech suits (often holding swords) with a human skeleton inside. Again, the conscious decision to RT some pictures, and not others, could be telling. Cementing the obvious, Kojima shared a Yoji Shinkawa (the famed MGS artist) sketch of the mech-skeleton in 3D, plus RT'ed a fan reference to the logo being an 'X-ray'.
In recent days, Kojima has stopped hinting, and made it explicit: releasing a picture of the Kojima Production’s character in a full body suit. The skull / knight’s name is Ludens (or Ludence, subject to translation), which alludes to the ‘From Sapiens to Ludens’ headline on the Kojima Productions website. It isn’t a grand assumption to add the prefix ‘Homo’ to this statement, creating ‘From Homo Sapiens (humans) to Homo Ludens (a 1938 cultural / historical book that translates as ‘playing man’, which discusses the importance of play to culture and society). This ties neatly with the cryptic messaging of the Kojima Productions mission statement, and might directly allude to ‘Ludens’ as the character you play i.e. the player’s character. It’s a leap of faith, but Kojima has extensive form for double-entendre and deliberate (if not that subtle) allusions.
More literally, Ludens’ suit features the words ‘Extra-Vehicular Creative Activity Suit’, described by Kojima as an EVA suit, which are used by NASA to keep astronauts alive in hostile atmospheres when outside their vehicle or base. There’s more to add, but it’s best summarized in this superb short analysis video from Kojima expert YongYea. Key observation: the skull isn’t necessarily part of the body, but a metallic mask… so who or what is underneath?
Ludens are also a humanoid race in the fictional Noon Universe, from the novel ‘The Time Wanderers. They are born human, but possess latent mental powers, and see their role as ‘beyond humanity’, accelerating the growth of less developed civilizations. As I’ll explain, Kojima holds Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 in great reverence, noting how the monolith instantly evolves the primates who observe it. What if Ludens performs a similar role, exploring emerging – or extinct – civilisations as some kind of ‘accelerator’… yes, it’s a big leap, but I’ll join the dots as we go.
The evidence stacks up. “We’ve been working on a franchise (MGS) that is beloved and has recognizable characters. One of my big goals is, visually, with whatever characters we create, to go beyond that, to be more recognizable, more beloved”, Yoji Shinkawa told IGN. Words like 'recognizable' and 'beloved' seem more consistent with human(oid) lead characters, like Solid Snake, than the – iconic, but more generic – mechs in Z.O.E. Kojima even tweeted a KJP Christmas card (by Shinkawa), with a sexily-dressed female character, looking like a cross between Eva and Naomi from MGS.
In April 2016, Kojima shared his founding principles for creating new characters, which would align with a human protagonist – see below:
Kojima Productions' recruitment website lists a Weapons / Mechanical Artist role seeking 'Rich knowledge in mechanical and military field' and 'Weapons, gadgets, vehicles, 3D model production, such as mechanical'. A Cinematic Artist role makes explicit reference to 'cut scenes' and an Animator role 'rides and mechanical, monsters such as', plus 'facial animation'.
An AI Programmer is sought for 'crowd AI' plus 'Behavior of NPC and enemies'. A Character Artist needs 'Anatomy, experience of scan data'. The Music Composer will create 'Music in high-end game'. Kojima has stated that his new project will be smaller scale (than, we presume, MGS5), but this doesn't sound like an indie project.
Kojima Productions' press-release references 'developing products that will push the boundaries in innovation and ignite consumer interest worldwide'. Given Sony's involvement, an obvious innovation could be PlayStation VR – a great fit for a game with mech elements – and many have drawn comparisons with the KJP helmet logo and a VR headset. In 2014, speaking to The Verge, Sony's Shuhei Yoshida claimed that Kojima working on PS4 VR 'would be awesome'. Kojima, however, cooled speculation during a recent interview with IGN: “One day I’d like to make something using this technology, I’m not sure yet. But I do believe it has a future. I’m not sure if it’ll be current format, the big goggles, maybe it’ll change to AR or something,” he said. “But when this technology enters the living room, games and movies will change significantly for a lot of people. And I’d like to take part in that.”
Given his disparate twitter references – including Godzilla, Starsailor, Kobo Abe, Junji Ito, Nicolas Winding Refn, Arnaldur Indridason and Noriyoshi Ourai – it's hard to detect a theme, bar eclecticism itself. However, he has repeatedly expressed interest in the crime genre, notably The Killing (Danish original), Luther, Sherlock and Wallander over the last few months. He's also re-iterated a willing to collude with Hollywood director Guillermo Del Toro, with whom he was due to create Silent Hills. Oddly, he's still RT'ing Metal Gear Solid fan tweets… but that's another article entirely.
In interviews over the last decade, Kojima has expressed interest in writing novels, directing movies, *visiting space*, expressed creative jealousy of Breaking Bad and Gravity, plus making a game where the disc 'breaks' once you die. So, again, few unifying themes. In 2014, he told Game Informer “I’ll probably be saying this until I die, but there are still more things I want to tell, more things I want to communicate, and more things I want to experiment with”. This appears to have come true, with Kojima recently telling IGN that his new venture may expand beyond games. "The focus is on digital content, so we could consider movies, animations, anything. But first I think people expect games from me. That’s where I want to put my focus. Once we have an established IP in games, something solid that satisfies people, then we can consider movies and videos."
This is the key point. Kojima's first game may likely be a canvas – a universe – from which all these experiments can derive. Think of The Matrix, and its experiments with The Animatrix, or games like Path Of Neo. One notable aspect of Bungie's deal with Activision for Destiny is that the developer retained legal ownership of the property. Having 'lost' control of MGS (which belongs to Konami), it seems unlikely Kojima would relinquish control again. The recent Sony Q&A about KJP's first game asked 'Will the title's copyright belong to SCE (Sony)?'. The reply: 'We have nothing to announce at this point in time. We will announce further details when ready'.
Kojima confirmed the game’s genre, in line with his previous clues, in a recent interview with Famitsu magazine. “While not to say that it’s (i.e. the game) open-world, users who enjoy today’s AAA games (The Division and Uncharted, etc.) will be able to easily enjoy it. When it is announced, you might think ‘that’s not that outstanding,’ but you’ll understand when you see it and play it. The genre is action.”
Speculating deeper, I imagine Kojima's first project will be an action / stealth game, with mech elements and strong human characters. It'll be AAA in feel, but smaller than MGS5. Speaking at the Nordic Games Conference in May 2016, Kojima admitted the game will be bigger than he originally intended. It'll be the opening chapter of a new franchise, with a universe broad enough to reflect Kojima's eclectic tastes. Expect Sony to publish the first game exclusively (for a timed period), and for the series to go multi-format (like Titanfall 2). While it won't be a sequel to Kojima's more niche titles, it will likely nod to many of them: Z.O.E.'s mechs, Policenaut's mystery / investigation (hence the repeated crime tweets?), a frisson of PT's horror… in other words, much like MGS: Kojima won't let the broader canvas constrain what he wants to say, politically or philosophically – or of experimenting with eclectic playing styles.
As a wilder bet, consider the repeat references within KJP's 'Homo Ludens' mission statement. There's reference to 'the moment we enter this world', 'play has been our ally since the dawn of civilisation', the 'primordial' basis of imagination, 'Even if the earth were stripped of life and reduced to a barren wasteland' and 'our new evolution awaits'. The KJP logo is a fusion of old and new. Being forced to speculate, I'd say that hints at a game that spans swathes of time, alternate universes or how species' evolved. It's consistent with MGS's messages of legacy and generations (Gene, Meme, Scene etc), and might allow an Assassin's Creed-style view of history i.e. a binding theme, like the Templars / Animus, allowing you to visit any location (and keep the game fresh). Think Star Wars (A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) or the conclusion of the BattleStar Galactica TV series.
Kojima’s twitter timeline contains multiple references to Stanley Kubrick’s philosophical sci-fi classic 2001,whose own pack shot / logo has uncanny similarities to the Kojima Production’s helmet logo. Speaking to IGN in 2014, Kojima claimed it was his favourite movie of all-time and made him want to become an astronaut. Is it too big a leap for a 52 year-old developer, finally granted full creative freedom, to craft a game that allows him to live his childhood dream? "I feel extremely free right now," Hideo Kojima told attendees of the D.I.C.E. summit in Feb 2016. "I'm trying to make a very big game with an extremely small team. I am doing exactly what I want to do."
Kojima even RT'ed an image of the skull / knight character holding another, mysterious, skeleton in his hand, which almost suggests the helmet's angulation is deliberate, like it's looking towards ground, or uncovering ancient artifacts / civilisations. Natually, Kojima’s recent tweets include a visit to The Dinosaur Expo 2016, with lots of pictures of excavated remains… but it could all be a speculative leap too far, or the dangers of confirmation bias. Perhaps Kojima’s game will be called Alloy Cog Invincible, starring a gruff, bearded, solider for hire. Yet, this is Kojima, and the MGS5 unveiling journey began with an illustration of Big Boss next to a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, which was nigh-on the final truth… plus ‘target footage’ of a child soldier running around an open-world jungle, admiring a horse.
Either way, it’s in exactly these grand, speculative pathways that the madness, and brilliance, of Kojima resides. AAA gaming needs him, the grand, fourth-wall breaking, auteur, and whatever his new project turns out to be, it'll be thrilling to follow the journey.
Kojima will likely be teasing more details at E3 in June 2016, but don’t expect to see anything of the game until 2017… or beyond.