How to make Metal Gear without Kojima

Warning: Post is long as all hell.

Since MGSF died, one thing I’ve gotten into is game development with Gamemaker Studio 2. I saw more and more that indie games were scratching the itch that ‘AAA’ gaming wasn’t, and decided, “Hey, why don’t I try to learn myself?” As such, I’ve started making my own top down stealth action game in the vein of the earliest Metal Gear games. And the entire premise behind this game, really, has been, “What is my ideal Metal Gear game?”

Expanding on that idea, I’ve never agreed with the consensus from MGS fans that the series can’t exist without Kojima. I truly believe that, not only can Metal Gear exist just fine without him, but it can thrive.

Most of this is post is gameplay-centric, but for the story, here’s what I genuinely think should be the route going forward:

Ditch MGS.

The fact is that Metal Gear Solid was Kojimbo’s baby, and no one can really steer that ship beyond Kojimbo. But more than that, MGS already ended twice. Snake’s journey ended with MGS4. Biggie’s journey ended with MGSV. There’s not really any more story left because everything else is either remakes of the original games or filling in cracks that don’t need to be filled because we already know where the journey for most characters ends. It’s hard to really get invested in a Gray Fox game, for example, knowing his story ends with him as a red smear in the REX Hangar.

Every story has its natural conclusion, and it’s best to end when you reach that point. Continuing beyond that isn’t likely to go anywhere but downhill, far as quality goes.

So, instead of continuing with MGS6 or the lore itself, go full clean slate. By which, I don’t mean start a brand new storyline, but tell isolated, one-n-done stories. Maybe some of the canon happened, maybe it didn’t, none of it matters because none of it would have any bearing on this story at hand. Metal Gear Ac!d took that approach and the end result was a story that I genuinely believe was the strongest in the series. You didn’t need to be familiar with MGS to get what was going on, and the characters were very well developed because every single character had tons of screentime. So much so that, by the ending, the surface level villain didn’t need any big monologue because we already knew what he was about. The story was unique and had an interesting mystery angle to it, but still felt very decidedly “Metal Gear” as well.

The problem with continuing a now 34 year old storyline is there’s just too much for any newcomers to ever wanna dare jump in. And I don’t really think it’s a positive when you gotta do homework before you can play a game.

Practically speaking, by keeping a story self-contained, you don’t end with all these loose ends or characters who don’t get any payoff. They have to all be resolved then and there, which forces a story to consolidate, and tighter, often times, makes something that much stronger.

But really, character is the big selling point of MGS. So naturally, you’d need to bring Snake back to his 40-something self, less of the MGS Snake and more the “image” of Snake we all just naturally get when we think of the character. You’d also need colorful villains to act as the memorable boss battles because, while functionality is what matters most, for MGS, you also want the characters themselves to stand out as fun, schlocky lunatics. You can afford to go the same route as MGS3; have three real main villains in their little cool kids club running the show before you take them on, and four or five underlings to act as obstacles for Snake (boss battles).

There just isn’t gonna be the screentime needed to make the entire unit feel like fully fleshed out characters with actual development. That’s kinda why all the major death scenes of MGS bosses usually fell flat for me, looking back. Maybe it’s just me, but something always rings artificial when a character who only has 3 or 4 cutscenes gets a huge anime villain death scene, y’know?

And far as tone goes, honestly, I think something like MGA2 is perfect for Metal Gear. The story is serious, but the characters can afford to have a genuine sense of humor. Not joke-y but also not overly serious. Like having Snake be something of a socially inept dope has always had appeal with MGS. He can meet the main villain and say, “I recognized you straight away. You got a great butt!”

And far as gameplay, I dunno if they can continue working with MGSV’s gameplay model anymore because Konami traded in the FOX Engine two or so years ago in favor of UE5 and has been building all its games off of that ever since. I dunno if they can transplant the gameplay model of MGSV and Surviveance onto a new engine or if they’d have to rebuild it from scratch. If the latter, that would be genuinely heartbreaking because MGSV’s gameplay was near-perfect, and Surviveance proved that you can actually build off of that and make it even better.

Like, I know Surviveance is a very easy target, given its soulless nature, but mechanically speaking, that game had some really brilliant ideas which, if implemented in a proper Metal Gear experience, could be game changers. For example, when aiming a weapon, if you pressed X, you did a backwards leap, which had you aiming soon as you landed. You could kick grenades. Med Sprays were a proper middle ground between MGSV’s health regeneration and classic MGS’s need for rations. And of course, customization was baller as hell too.

The biggest one is the skill tree. Usually, that stuff is just chaff, but with Surviveance, it genuinely changed the way your character played, and changed for the better. The trick would be to ditch that stupid class system and the initial survival tree. Have everything that you unlock in that game up to level 40 be the way the player functions by default, then take all the subclass skills as one giant skill tree and add a whole bunch more.

For instance, in Surviveance, you could change the running punch to a running tackle which launched those twizzler head zombies backwards into other zombies instead of knocking them out. Imagine if you could swap between various CQC moves, trade in the MGSV swan dive for the classic MGS dodge roll, or add new skills entirely.

With the actual core gameplay loop, MGS shouldn’t do open world. I’m glad MGSV was open world because I adored its core gameplay loop more than any open world game I’ve ever played. And it was refreshingly unique for Metal Gear, but now that we’ve had that one open world game, I think it would be best to return to linear MGS gameplay, but not like the first four MGS games. Because MGSV’s mechanics have you trailblazing when you move. It’s way too fast paced and mechanically robust for such small-scale levels.

So, I think the best approach, going forward, is a cross between Ground Zeroes and Portable Ops. Ground Zeroes was a terrible, cynical product, but it was an amazing mission and game model. You just have one giant outpost which covers a large stretch of different corridors and mission areas, where you have to carry out an open-ended objective.

Keep that, but have way more levels the way Portable Ops did. See, in MPO, you had about 15 or so really big levels you infiltrated, varying in size, scope and locale. Imagine if you had a game with GZ’s outpost scale, but with ten or so wholly unique maps in different settings, different atmospheres, yet all containing that same tight level design and open-endedness. That way, each mission area has the room to let you go all in with MGSV’s mechanics but enough variety and scope to actually feel like a worthwhile product.

You could have about twelve “episodes” the way Ghost Babel did, each one covering a large scope as opposed to a singular objective. Like one level basically equating to 2-3 different missions within each sector of the map.

You could have wholly different enemy types for each level, different weapons, environmental obstacles, all that good stuff. That way, you keep things from getting stale, and if you do what MPO did, you have enough variety in each level that you end up getting a lot of mileage outta wholly different settings. One level could be a Tanker-sized ship. Another could be a research base atop a snowy mountain. A secret facility deep within a jungle. A desert outpost. An airport. A giant mansion, etc.

And in each level, you could have tons of different secrets to warrant jumping back to replay. Things as simple as classic MGS music to listen to on your music player whenever you want or cosmetics to mix and match. Or more extensive things like secret side ops that reuse levels with different mission objectives.

Finally, for arguably one of the most important features of Metal Gear, you got the boss fights. I will forever maintain that MGS3 did this perfectly by providing a ton of entirely different bosses, but each one was wholly open ended with tons of ways to fight or neutralize them. What you need is a good number of bosses, like ten, including Metal Gear itself, and not a single one limiting you to just one method of beating them. Boss fights should complement the core gamplay. So if you have a wide assortment of toys you can use in-game, it makes no sense to restrict those against enemies that should serve as really fun and unique “midterms”.

Each boss would need their own unique mechanics. Like, you could have one that frequently lobs smoke grenades to obstruct vision and attacks you from within the smoke. Or rigs traps in the arena for the player to look out for. Or a boss that actively uses as many gadgets as the player themselves, forcing you to really use everything in your arsenal to take them down. It’s perfectly doable, and if each boss is mechanically robust, having a fair amount of attacks, but giving the player a ton of methods for approach, then that way, they don’t ever grow stale. Because the boss fight does enough to constantly keep you on your toes, but each time you replay said boss, you can always come up with a whole of methods for combating them, and have a ton of different bosses to jump back into as opposed to a more limited amount, which, regardless of mechanics, does eventually grow stale if you don’t have as many different boss enemies to go up against.

None of this is out of the realm of realism for Konami. They don’t need to invest $80 million the way they did with MGSV. Hell, they don’t even really need to use wholly new assets. Many of the team members who made all the games we know’n love are still with Konami. With a director at the helm who knows what works about MGS, and a writer with a clear cut vision for what kinda story they wanna tell, you have everything you need for a new game to sink our teeth into. I don’t believe the series is dead without Kojima.

It all ultimately depends on whether Konami has any real interest in properly budgeted, single player games anymore. And I suppose the next year will determine that, since they’re jumping back into an old IP for the Switch, and we still got rumblings of something happening with Metal Gear. Time will tell.

I once thought too that there could be no MGS game without Kojima. I think the team that worked with him is often left uncredited and not recognized for the things they did for the series. Kojima was really tired with MGS4, it was like his mid life crisis. Since MGS2 he said that this would be his last MGS -game and he was ready to pass the torch to his team when they planned MGS3. I wonder how many of the titles do suffer from him being tired with his work.

Death Stranding got some very mixed reviews and I think it shows that he really needs a team to help with editing, he had more control than ever of how the game would end up. Tomokazu Fukushima was probably not the only person to help direct his creativity with the earlier MGS games.

I wonder who would be the group that makes the new MGS game. Would it be the people who worked with earlier MGS titles or a totally different group? I hope that the quality of the game would be well polished, so that it would not be another cash grab. Silent Hill seems to be a another game series that is left in the limbo of Konami’s future in regard of video games.

The last thing that comes to mind would be time, and when the game would be supposedly released. I think of Half Life 3, there is too much hype and uncertainty about it. I think HL3 will never be released, and it would not be easy to make it happen. Could a future MGS -title get the same treatment? Is it too risky to make a new MGS -game since so much would be expected from it?

Edit: I also once thought that a new MGS game could be about the activities of Philanthrophy between MGS1 and 2 or about the Boss in WW2. But that would mean that the games would need to have even more twists and turns that would make the canon and lore even more convoluted. The plot should be a fresh start for example with a spinoff.