With only two weeks until Death Stranding’s release, all eyes are on Hideo Kojima. While not consistently amazing, Kojima’s games have always been interesting, and love them or loathe them — they have always tried to push the envelope. Yet with his newest endeavour, it’s fair to say his most recent work has not been so much pushing the envelope, as chucking it brazenly into a shredder.
Despite Death Stranding looking utterly bizarre though, a plethora of Kojima’s fanbase is almost rabid with excitement. Take a cursory glance over social media and before they’ve even seen the title screen, you can witness many already proclaiming it as the greatest game ever made. No, we’re not being hyperbolic.
Thanks to what’s come before, it’s not hard to see why fans are getting themselves so worked up. So how did Kojima become the gaming industry’s golden boy?
Well, before you spoil yourself with unrealistic expectations, or if you missed the Metal Gear Solid hype train back in 1999 and cannot understand the buzz around Kojima, thankfully, there’s a great Twitch channel that can help — The Outer Heaven Network.
For over half a decade now, since back when Twitch was Justin.tv, the 3 man team at Outer Heaven Network have been conducting epic, multiple week-long deep dive marathon streams into everything Kojima, specifically Metal Gear.
Playing on the hardest difficulty, the guys at OHN somehow manage to make Kojima’s baffling world engaging both for newcomers and series veterans alike. Each stream, they endeavour to showcase Metal Gear’s biggest secrets and walk you through the series’ (sometimes) convoluted plot. TLDR? You’ll struggle to find anyone who has played Metal Gear as much as these guys — and they put on quite the show.
Meet the unofficial Metal Gear Loremasters
Whenever we jump in to catch an OHN marathon, we always learn something new. A testament not only to the depth of content and secrets that are hidden within the games themselves but also to the near singular dedication the OHN has towards critically analysing, discussing, and sharing what they know with everyone else.
The Outer Heaven Network was born organically out of a mutual taste in games between the three independent streamers, Drk29, ThreeDogg, and UKnightmare back during the Justin.tv days, when streamers were scarce and the idea of a raid or host function was nothing but a dream.
2009 really was a different time, eh? Due to the large loss in viewers every time they had to switch streams in a marathon, they soon decided to band together and turn the highest followed account into a singular, unified channel.
Ten years on, they’ve become one of the most beloved pillars of the MGS community. Curious as to how this all came about, we recently spoke to two of the most active streamers at Outer Heaven Network — Drk29 and ThreeDogg. The first thing we had to know was why on earth did they play Metal Gear so damn much? What exactly is it that makes this series so special?
Drk29: “These are all, if you forgive the pun, solid games. Solidly crafted with passion, detail and introspect. They are not really about being a badass action hero, going out rescuing the hostages and saving the world and being a cool tactical, soldier. That’s the context. But the real reason that these games exist is in large part because Kojima wants to put his thoughts, his feelings, and his experiences into something.”
“These are games that you can pick up, play once, and while you won’t understand everything, you can go back and find more hidden content,” he continues, “You will find more (codec) calls, more details, different ways of approaching the game. Playing these games over and over, you will almost always find something new. Now combine that with the experience of sharing it with people, having a different Twitch chat and different viewers each time. That is just absolutely amazing.”
The Kojima Factor
ThreeDogg: “Personally, I think one of the more interesting things that people are talking about more recently is how autobiographical the games can be. After MGS2 Kojima sort of had a complicated relationship with the series, he really wanted to pass it down to his team. He wanted to move on to other projects, but he sort of became chained to the series and I think he put a lot of those ideas into the games themselves after MGS2 doubled as metaphors for his own creative struggles.
“MGS4 was a big one in that regard. And that’s fairly well-documented, in interviews, he compares himself to Old-Snake,” ThreeDogg explains, “That the image of grandpa Snake is a reflection of this middle-aged game designer. Passing down the series to his team was something that he really wanted to accomplish and something that he failed to do with MGS2 and the games after kind of dealt with that struggle. I think part of that stuff is very underneath the surface.”
Hideo Kojima’s reputation, while well earned, has become, arguably, overblown. Many key members of the Metal Gear team have been seemingly forgotten by the general public – Tomokazu Fukushima, a key writer for the earlier Metal Gear Solid titles, being a prime example.
It’s a common name in the Outer Heaven Network Twitch chat, however. OHN understands that game development is a team effort, and are always discussing the oft-forgotten people who helped craft the experiences they love.
The Unsung heroes behind Metal Gear
ThreeDogg: “I think Kojima’s team over the course of his career have probably been highlighted more than a lot of other big development studios. There are also extensive documentaries about 2 and 4 with lots of interviews with team members. MGSV obviously opened each mission crediting each individual person who worked on that mission; level designers, writers etc.
..I think MGS1 was one of the first games to really make voice actors seem like a big deal too, with how the name of the voice actor was put on-screen along with the character’s name.”
Drk29: “People who repeatedly refer to Kojima as the masterpiece creator, the king, the God, all that stuff, he’s created a following purely using his name, and don’t get me wrong, putting “A Hideo Kojima Game” everywhere, it’s not a bad thing, it helps give these games identity. It makes you curious, “Who the hell is Hideo Kojima?” That’s also what prompted me a little bit to do some research back in the day.”
ThreeDogg: “Kojima approaching his games like an auteur filmmaker I think also will naturally make a lot of people curious regarding who else works on the games. Clearly it can have the opposite effect too though, where people go too far in their mindless love for the man. Being credited as the voice of God in MGS4 and the ‘Kojima is God’ tape in Peace Walker obviously created a sort of myth around him too. Even though the tape is obviously pretty tongue in cheek and played for laughs.”
“The industry’s godlike praise can certainly be a bit too much I think, but at the same time, I do strongly support auteur game makers, especially in this era of megacorp publishers who control and monetize everything in triple-A games.”
Telling it how it is
Even after all the hours they’ve poured into their streams, their passion for the series is still strong. They both eagerly jump to share their thoughts on any topic, and while they are undeniably fans, that doesn’t mean they look past the game’s faults, either. In fact, like most devoted fans, they can get incredibly critical when it comes to the franchise’s missteps.
Fans of the series will likely already guess where their frustrations lie. Metal Gear Solid 4, the audience splitting marmite, the game you either love or hate — and of course Kojima’s MGS swansong, 2015’s Metal Gear Solid V, which featured a large open-world that was a huge departure to the series’ traditional linear design.
ThreeDogg: “Kojima is well known for his exhausting dialogue. At times he gets very encyclopedic, rambles on and on and on and on. And I think in certain situations, I like that, I like the heavy exposition and the big dramatic monologues but sometimes it can be a bit much. MGSV and the infamous Code Talker tapes, for example, and the evolution of the vocal cord parasites.”
Finishing what Kojima Started
The fact that MGSV is unfinished, that the ending is still missing, coupled with the deafening silence around the game’s development itself (aside from the alleged reports of the awful working conditions at Konami) has left those at OHN deeply frustrated. Drk in particular unabashedly admits that he can get incredibly heated when playing it on stream.
This is of course, due to the very public falling out between Kojima and publisher Konami, the cause of Kojima leaving the company before he could fully complete Phantom Pain’s ending.
For people dedicated to analysing and understanding Kojima’s work, the conflicting messages of Metal Gear Solid V has left them lacking the closure they desired.
When they play, it’s as if they are trying to complete a picture puzzle without all the pieces. It’s fascinating to listen to ThreeDogg and Drk discuss the game on stream with their equally passionate community. Despite their exhausted disappointment, this group of friends is determined to get closure, to weave MGSV‘s final narrative strands into a satisfying tapestry.
Where do they stand on the Strand?
Speaking of strands, now its time OHN looks to the future. With this unofficial MGS community left severely burnt after Kojima’s last release, where does the Outer Heaven Network stand now? Should people be as excited as they are for Death Stranding? Or are they setting themselves up for the same fall again? What do these longterm fans expect?
ThreeDogg: “I’ll be fine if I don’t like it. Obviously I hope I do, I hope it’s interesting and different, and I hope it surprises me. I think like most people before, with Metal Gear, we’ve had other games to base our expectations off, but this time it’s a new IP and new world so it’s hard to really have any expectations.”
“For me Kojima’s last few games have been kind of hit or miss, I didn’t really like MGSV. There were things I appreciated about it, but overall I wasn’t the biggest fan. I guess I’m a bit concerned as well with the open world of Death Stranding, like MGSV it’s probably going to be another big long open-world game and I think those can be exhausting.”
Death Stranding release marathon starts Nov. 1st at 10am GMT+1/2am PST going for 7+ Days NON-STOP! Until Nov 8th release! All Kojima MGS games in CHRONOLOGICAL order+extra non-canon MGS/Kojima games, full story runs plus easter eggs, secrets, analysis etc. https://t.co/0ULDLDAVHb pic.twitter.com/9HPV7d5Zo7
— drk29 (@Drk29TTV) October 20, 2019
Drk29: “I don’t expect it to be a failure no matter what the game actually entails. The hype and the marketing behind it is so big that people will see what they want to see, and when they finally get their hands on it, I think they will enjoy it. It’s gonna sell like hotcakes, that’s for sure. Whether it’s going to be revolutionary? I really don’t think so.”
“Kojima has once again been able to try something new, which is amazing. I hope he has the resources, the time and the passion to do it correctly. It’s hard for me to be excited after what happened with MGSV, but it might have been just a bad one-time thing, a bad case due to the circumstance. It might be that Kojima still has it in him.”
In the run-up to Death Stranding’s release, the Outer Heaven Network has planned a 7+ day marathon, where they will walk you through everything there is to know about Kojima’s back catalogue. Every secret there is to discover: the game’s context at the time and the significance of each innovation, how marketing was used to surprise players, the critical response, the many easter eggs and so on.
It’s a crash course introduction that, short of playing them yourself with a guide in your lap, is the perfect entry point for both those curious to get acquainted with Kojima’s madness and for long-time MGS fans looking to re-experience an all too familiar journey.
The marathon starts November 1st, 10am GMT at Twitch.tv/outerheaven