In the spirit of Kojima abandoning the career defining exposition and embracing brevity, I will endeavour to deliver a “review” that surmises my experience playing Metal Gear Solid 5 The Phantom Pain (MGSVTPP) in a concise manner.
The game picks up straight after the events of Ground Zeroes (GZ), delivering a beautiful, cinematic experience with the most fluid control ever seen in an Metal Gear Solid game, period. But much like GZ, this experience is sort lived. The broader experience of MGSVTPP is that of an incomplete, incoherent mess.
Konami have come in for criticism for allegations of mistreatment of employees, apparently firing Kojima and his team and blatant mishandling of their franchises; Castlevania, Silent Hill(s) and now Metal Gear. They are deserving of criticism but so too is Kojima. Having played The Phantom Pain (TPP) for over 80 hours I can honestly say that Kojima did drop the ball. The shear volume of repetition, vast open worlds with little content or variety and a story so ill structured and poorly told, it is clear that Hideo was out of his depth on TPP.
He clearly mismanaged his teams time and the budget. While I don’t love Konami, you can understand their reasons for stepping in and setting a September 1st 2015 realese date, much to the detriment of the end product. Since the release of MGS2 back in 2001 sales of the series have fallen, from an estimated 6 million for Metal Gear Solid 2 (MGS2) falling to an estimated 2 million for 2010’s Peace Walker. After 5 years and a budget said to be in the region of $80 million, Konami decided time was up on Kojima’s oft mooted opus.
Konami’s decision to release earlier than Kojima most likely desired, is evidence that Kojima spent too much time building the game up on social media and not enough time delivering on his earlier promises. Promises on “the ultimate Metal Gear”, dealing with controversial topics, taboo subjects and delivering something that had never been done before in video games. All of this is absent from TPP.
Many clamber online for clues to missing content, an illusive Chapter 3 hidden somewhere in game file awaiting to be woken from a coma akin to Big Boss himself. As much as I hope the efforts of the dataminers and theorists on the NeverBeGameOver thread on Reddit yield results, I fear their efforts are in vain. The game is missing parts like the protagonist, and as Kojima walks away from the Metal Gear universe, we must move on too.
It is clear now looking back at the first few reveal trailers that the story was resolved at an early stage. With principle cinematic and narrative cutscene work complete, it begs the question what was he doing for the last few years? I am a fanboy for the series, I love all the games for various reasons, and while I am not unaware of the imperfections of past titles, I am far from a Kojima apologist.
MGSV’s gameplay, presentation and scope of ambition are excellent and admirable, but the game is unbalanced and it is clearly incomplete. The open world (two areas in total) are beautiful to look at but are barren in terms of content and variety of things to do. Where are the set pieces and beautifully detailed environments that made past titles so captivating and tense? I am tired of finding wandering Mother Base soldiers, clearing mines and extracting prisoners. Quantity does not equal quality.
In the clamber for open world mass market appeal Kojima fultoned his expertise in linear prefection. The side ops are repetitive, the story is poorly structured with the final truth (which I loved) came out of nowhere with no build up. For all the heat that the demo Ground Zeroes garnered it is a more structured, composed and complete package. I don’t condone derision of artistic endeavours but The Phantom Pain is an unmitigated mess and is more devisive than MGS2, but this time for all the wrong reasons. A case of quantity over quality.
The early promise tastes sweet, but the flavour soon dissolves into a bitter taste that will linger long. A sad not to end 28 years of Metal Gear. I’m off to play Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater, who is coming to join me?
“First of all when it comes to female characters I myself am male, so in a way you can say the female characters I create are my ideal. It’s kind of my fantasy, these are the type of female characters that I like, so that’s what I make.”
Hideo Kojima, BAFTA Annual Games Lecture 2012
Back in December of 2013 I raised the issue of the portrayal of some female characters in the Metal Gear Solid (MGS) franchise. My starting point for the article grew from Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain’s trailer at 2013’s E3 event in L.A, and subsequent comments made by Hideo Kojima (creator of MGS) thereafter.
Kojima later tweeted about how he wished for “more erotic” character design, for both cosplaying and commercial reasons. There appeared to be no artistic or narrative merit to his latest creation.
In a video interview with IGN in December of 2013, Kojima did try to clarify that perhaps how he introduced Quiet to the world was not the best way to do so. A “mistake” in fact.
He further tried to justify his actions by stating Quiet’s reveal was only done to appease curious cosplayers. These same cosplayers have not been slow in dressing up in Quiet’s minimal outfit (google search if curious I won’t be showing that here) post reveal. Again this appeasement of fans proved to have no artistic or narrative value. Those who question or criticise Quiet’s portrayal Kojima states “will feel ashamed of your words and deeds”. This conclusion we will arrive at once we get to know Quiet and understand her appearance.
Based on what we have seen thusfar and the omission by Kojima that this is his portrayal of the “ideal” female, I look forward getting to know Quiet. I look forward to discovering why in the middle of the desert we have a relatively young, attractive, well endowed and curvaceous woman, parading around in her underwear, a pair of ripped tights with only a sniper riffle for protection. I look forward to discovering her raison d’être, for what I can only deduce is an odd fashion sense, the love of a powerful gun and an insatiable appetite for vitamin D.
While Kojima has made attempts to backtrack on the reveal of Quiet and clarify her appearance, he doesn’t condemn his earlier comments or tweets; “The initial target is to make you want to do cosplay or it’s figurine to sell well”.
While a tweet is restricted to 140 characters and things can not always be fully fleshed out in a tweet, it is the 2012 BAFTA Lecture comments that are hard to escape. As much as I admire the MGS series, and Kojima, it is the disturbing reality of his perception of the “ideal” I struggle with. He has fired this bullet and it is not coming back, there is no opportunity to reload it now. So what other conclusion does one arrive at? Quiet’s portrayal is purely for “fantasy” reasons, commercial reasons and has no artistic merit whatsoever.
In the wake of Quiet’s reveal Kojima drew criticism from fellow industry creatives. 343 Industries designer David Ellis commented on twitter “Don’t care if this gets me in trouble. This character design is disgusting. Our industry should be better than this. Industry full of man babies. Ugh.”
The consequences of Kojima’s actions have been far reaching. In the ensuing months a myriad of articles have appeared online discussing the portrayal of Quiet from various online outlets.
The portrayal of Kojima’s “ideal” women have resulted in critique from many journalists. Most recently in relation to the ending of Metal Gear Solid 5 Ground Zeroes (MGSVGZ) and Paz’s portrayal by IGN’s Lucy O’Brien:
Budding games journalist Ria Jenkins chimes in too, focusing on the heavy handed and misplaced nature of the sexual violence that exists in the MGSVGZ experience. The unsettling content is presented to the audience in the form of tapes entitled “rewards” for fully completing side quests and exploration in MGSVGZ:
I have extended the critique to look at the worrying portrayal of not only Quiet, but of other female characters in the MGS universe over the years. A worrying pattern is at play here:
In January and February of this year, Kojima shared images of the impending Quiet figurine via Twitter. The images made no attempt to further clarify what Kojima had referred to as a mistake previously. They didn’t alleviate fears or distance Kojima from the allegations of sexism lobbied at him. The images showed a figure based on the portrayal of Quiet from 2013’s E3 and reinforced the “more erotic” tone he was looking to capture. One might argue that erotic term he speaks of is a more palatable term for pornographic.
A recent Kojima Station episode featured a sizeable content on Stefanie Joosten (the actor portraying Quiet) who is on a “mission” to infiltrate Kojima headquarters to gather intel on The Phantom Pain (TPP) project.
In addition to this a discussion thread on Reddit (via user called “winches”) suggests that Quiet might be a playable character in TPP. In an interview with Famitsu, Kojima stated that “In the game, Quiet is the main heroine. Whether she is friend or foe has yet to be revealed so I had to be careful when casting her role.”
The image highlights how in previous games a playable character is often tortured. Could Quiet be a playable character in TPP? The advent of the power of Kojima’s “Fox Engine”, an openworld setting, refined gameplay and a Hayter free Snake, are undoubtedly large changes for the MGS series. The possible presence of a female playable character would be a seismic change in the franchise.
Since the release of MGSVGZ in March little has been shown of TPP. In recent days Kojima has been tweeting that he is currently working on a new trailer for TPP. Could new trailer shed new information on the role that Quiet will play? WIll a new reveal of her be one that changes the publics opinion on her and Kojima’s portrayal of the “ideal” female? Only time will tell, for now Kojima remains quiet on Quiet. Never has silence been so deafening.
When Michel Hazanavicius’ mutli award winning black-and-white silent film The Artist (2011) arrived in cinemas, audiences were captivated by this wordless wonder. Our protagonist, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) the leading light in the silent film era, finds his career and life unravelling with the arrival of the “talkie” era of Hollywood. The films emphasis on score and gesture were more than sufficient to tell this compelling story of loss, pride and transition without a single spoken word.
In Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013) a similar impact is achieved. Opening with one of our two protagonists Naiee grieving at his mother’s grave, tormented with memories of her drowning and his inability to save her, his elder brother Nyaa informs him that their father has taken ill. The brothers must journey to the Tree of Life to collect water in order to save him. Our heroes travel through towns, hills, and mountains, reuniting friendly trolls, saving a man from suicide, evading terrifying wolves and rescuing a girl from sacrificial offering. These events bring the brothers closer together. The gameplay requires you to use your controller to full effect; both analogue sticks and shoulder buttons are used in perfect symmetry to guide the brothers on their quest. In this dialogue free universe, events are emotionally charged through score and gesture alone. One particular setpiece unsettled me so much, that completing the ensuing gameplay event was a palpable experience. Through simple gesture alone, I was taken on an emotional journey far surpassing the geographical journey I embarked on with our protagonists. In no other game have I experienced a truer breaking of the fourth wall between player and protagonist. Through the duality of gesture and emotional mindset I was transported to a tangible reality. Brothers is a masterpiece, it left me ruminating on the preciousness of life and the inevitability of dealing with mortality.
In an industry of maturing storytelling and graphical fidelity, the sound of silence never seemed to offer so much.
words by david rushe
A-Typical Plan: Projects and Essays on Identity, Flexibility and Atmosphere in the Office
By Jeannette Kuo
Jeannette Kuo’s book A-Typical Plan: Projects and Essays on Identity, Flexibility and Atmosphere in the Office is an analysis of the evolution and architectural complexity in the design of the office typology from the 1880s to 2012.
Kuo’s book on the condition of office design and why it requires study is best summarised in her opening salvo: What is the nature of work today? How can architecture inspire and enable new exchanges in the workplace? Can architecture make work pleasurable? Can architecture also anticipate new possibilities and definitions of work?
The book makes a bold attempt to address these issues succinctly in 202 pages with 20 case studies by the likes of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Smithsons, Richard Rogers, MVRDV and Toyo Ito, to argue her cause. The selected projects are illustrated with sections, floorplans and photographs focusing mainly on the interior environment of the office typology.
Kuo attacks the repetition and sameness of the blighted office buildings in the second half of the 20th century, but her method of illustration, often thumbnail style plans and sections does nothing to engage the reader as the format is the same exercise in repetition and sameness she admonishes.
Larkin Building (1904-06) Frank Lloyd Wright
In addition to the 20 case studies, the book’s nine essays, an interview, and a comic strip Stewart Lee would be proud of shed light on various aspects of the office building throughout its history.
The book culminates with the work of students at Ecole Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne’s (EPFL) school of architecture, showing how such research is transformed into new projects. An essay by Freek Persyn entitled “Office +; Climate-sensitive workspace” is the highlight of the publication.
The book was named as one of 2013’s Most Beautiful Swiss Books at the Swiss Design Awards, and rightly so. Much like its attempt at concise conversation, the presentation and layout is clean, clear, simple and well illustrated to make accessible a sector that not all architects and designers might have an understanding of.
But often rewarding beauty acknowledges a lack of substance, and while the book is engaging, it feels contrived, its raison d’etre is simply to be anti-Koolhaas. Kuo freely admits the book was spurred into life to address Rem Koolhaas’ “Typical Plan” essay.
Given the plethora of books available on residential typologies, it is refreshing that a book begins to examine the design of office spaces where many of us find ourselves spending the best part of our lives.
Geller Big Font: style over substance or an exercise in key selection?
The book is ultimately a piece of research; it doesn’t answer all the questions it brings up but creates more. It does begin to broaden the conversation on how we design office space for a new world, with new climatic and lifestyle challenges we face, and one should commend Kuo for this. If future conversations are to take place, they should focus on the core issues of office design and this might yield more positive outcomes.
The superfluous architectural stance of pro-Koolhaas or pro-Kuo is the thing that restricts true flexibility in the conversation. But then, when has ego ever affected an architect’s judgment?
words by david rushe