The Making Of Metal Gear: part two
In the second part of our Metal Gear 25th anniversary celebration we go behind the scenes of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and defend the under-rated Snake’s Revenge
The Making Of: Snake’s Revenge
Let’s get one thing straight: Snake’s Revenge is good. One of the biggest travesties in the series’ 25 years is the insistence of fanboys who claim otherwise. Although Kojima wasn’t involved, the game stays true to the spirit of the original, requiring both stealth and patience. It features diverse locations, standout visuals and great music – by all accounts it’s one of the best in the NES library and deservedly sold well. Gameplay is complex too, as you interrogate officers, use directional microphones, and manage a massive inventory. Additionally, not only was it developed by the Castlevania III team, but Kojima himself likes it. Without Snake’s Revenge the series would have ended in 1987. Its only legitimate negatives are a tricky opening level, side-scrolling areas which are out of place, and rather tough bosses. But you know what? Man-up and defeat the final boss and then say you don’t like it. A little effort will reward you!
The Making Of: Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake
Due to low sales Kojima didn’t plan a sequel to Metal Gear, instead starting work on Snatcher for the NEC PC-88. The US release of the NES port, meanwhile, did phenomenally well. In the November 1988 issue of Nintendo Power it ranked third after Zelda and Metroid, and stayed in the monthly top 30 until January 1990. Konami Japan was aware of this and asked several members of the Castlvevania III team to produce a sequel for the West. In an interview for the now-defunct Gamers Today website, Kojima explained: “When I was in the MSX division, this one guy in the Famicom division developed Snake’s Revenge. One day we hopped on a train together. We were talking and he says, ‘I’m developing this game called Snake’s Revenge, but I know it’s not the authentic Snake, so please create a new game of your own.’ That was when I decided to create Metal Gear 2.” And when asked what he thought of Snake’s Revenge, Kojima replied: “I thought it was very faithful to the Metal Gear concept. I enjoyed it.”
Wanting the inside story, games™ tracked down Toshinari Oka, who kindly answered questions through an interpreter. Some websites credit Oka’s first job at Konami as a contributor on the RPG-remake SD Snatcher, but the man himself is quick to refute such claims. “I didn’t work on SD Snatcher. I joined Konami in 1986, in April. Do you know Parodius? I worked on the MSX version. The very, very first version of Parodius. I worked on so many games; King Kong 2, and the MSX versions of Nemesis 2 and Castlevania.”
Thankfully, reports that Oka worked as a programmer on Metal Gear 2 are entirely correct. “Ah, yes, I was. When the project was launched, I was Kojima-san’s co-worker at Konami. We joined Konami the same year, at the same time. At that time we were friends, and when the manager of R&D decided to launch the project, I was chosen as the programmer.”
MG2 was filled with numerous great ideas, such as capturing a messenger pigeon, deciphering a tap-code to learn a radio frequency, plus different types of rations needed for specific tasks. Some of the best ideas were later re-used in Metal Gear Solid, such as a key that changed shape depending on temperature, a mysterious ‘fan’ who informs you of mines, an alert countdown, plus the now-iconic RADAR system which shows enemy movement. “I don’t remember the idea about the pigeon,” says Oka. “But we had team meetings many times. In these meetings we talked about what kind of ideas should go in, and some of the members popped up with suggestions. I can’t specifically remember which idea came from whom, but some of the ideas from the meetings were included in the game. But mostly, the main portion of design came from Kojima-san.”
Did anything have to be cut? “I think Kojima-san probably had more things that he wanted to include, but because of the hardware specifications, the limitations of the MSX2, not everything could be.” Which leads us on to the technical side of creating MG2. “The programming language was Assembler. The computer we used was Hewlett Packard 64000 hardware. An old machine,” laughs Oka, thinking back. “I liked being creative, and wanted to create something really impressive, so I enjoyed programming these games, although the work itself was really hard. It was a great experience.”
Were any difficulties encountered? “As a matter of fact, some of the portions of the programming were very difficult. But I wanted to realise the image that Kojima-san had tried to create. I did not want to say, ‘No, I cannot do it’ – I always tried to cope with a challenge. I thought that if I couldn’t realise all of the game ideas from Kojima-san, probably the game wouldn’t be so great, so I wanted to make everything possible.” Oka elaborates on his involvement: “I did all of the movement for the player, like the crawling scenes and crawling movement. I also programmed the transceiver sections, some of the movement of the enemies, and probably the RADAR too. It was a long time ago!”
Playing the game today, the attention to detail is astounding, with aspects such as Snake accurately holding a gun in his right hand whether facing left or right, and other graphical touches. “I really liked the transceiver sections,” says Oka. “You know where the character faces are shown on screen? I created the line, that little horizontal line which was moving, because I wanted it to feel realistic for the player.”
Interestingly, some things came about by accident. “I cannot say which specific part, because it’s a secret. But I made a mistake in the programming – it actually had an error, and some of the movement was wrong. Snake wasn’t supposed to make that kind of movement by himself. But another team member saw this movement and said, ‘That’s good!’ So eventually this way of programming the movement was used in the game. “I still have one of the first versions off the production line from right after the game was developed,” says Oka enthusiastically. “Each team member was so excited to buy a copy. It’s one of my treasured memories.”
Despite its quality, Metal Gear 2 originally missed out on a worldwide release due to the declining popularity of the MSX computer. It was finally translated into English, however, when Konami included it in 2006’s Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence on PS2, and it has since been recognised as a game that deserves to stand alongside any other Metal Gear in the series. “I’m really glad to hear something like that, because there isn’t much information about our English-speaking fans in Japan,” says Oka. “I feel honoured to have been a member of a development team for the Metal Gear series, and really honoured that I could be a part of something that people were impressed by, not only in Japan but also Europe. It’s an old game, but I’m happy there are still fans playing it. I can’t believe it – I’m so pleased.”
If you’ve not played Metal Gear 2 yet, it’s well worth digging out, and is also soon to be included once again in February’s MGS HD Collection. It had a major influence on the entire series and, we’d argue, is one of the finest 8-bit games ever developed.