Hello my name’s Matt and this is another single-topic episode Pixel Burn. Instead of taking a sarcastic look at some of the more important, interesting or irritating things that happened in this week’s gaming news, I dived headfirst into a videogame conspiracy theory rabbit hole.
This whole story might’ve likely slipped under your radar if, unlike 3 million other people, you haven’t been either playing or following up on any tiny shred of news about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Various snippets of cut content have been filtering out onto the internet since it’s release on September 1st, including a lot of spoken lines from Kiefer Sutherland that were curiously omitted from the finished game.
Although calling MGS V “finished” seems to be a misnomer, as it turns out an entire mission tying-up a significant plot thread was also left on the cutting room floor. Well, not the cutting room floor as such. A presentation of this missing episode, comprised of concept art and cutscenes, was included with a bonus Blu-Ray disc bundled with the collector’s edition of the game. I won’t spoil any important details as I’m not a complete monster, but it ends with a shot of the New York skyline that includes the Statue of Liberty along with the Twin towers of the World Trade Centre, and the caption “Not yet. It’s not over yet.” Keep that little detail under your tinfoil hat for the moment. It’ll come up again later.
This along with rumours that another entire open-world map had been cut from the game, as well as an whole chapter, have contributed to a growing feeling among fans that Kojima’s swan song for the Metal Gear series was somehow compromised by budget cuts and executive demands. The end result being a game that, by its final conclusion, left a large number of vocal Metal Gear Solid fans with a phantom pain of their own: craving a greater sense of closure.
And while I may not be a hard-core Metal Gear fan, I can understand why some of them feel the way they do about the whole closure thing. Believe me, as a Mass Effect fan, I know all too fucking well.
Fortunately the ending to Metal Gear Solid V is nowhere near as bloody awful as the ending to Mass Effect 3, but it has left Metal Gear fans wanting more. Unable to rest until they get the game they believe Hideo Kojima would’ve given them if he’d only had more time, or money, or if he weren’t such a bloody perfectionist, or if Konami weren’t a pack of pachinko-peddling bastards, or any number of other reasons.
So when a mysterious site dating back to March of this year was discovered, referencing Hideo Kojima and Metal Gear, fans got a little bit overexcited. The site in question was called Ingsoc.org, a reference to the regime in George Orwell’s 1984. Metal Gear Solid V is set in the year 1984. One of the themes of Orwell’s novel is the use of language as a tool of control: similar themes are explored in Metal Gear Solid V. The interrogation room on Mother Base in Metal Gear Solid V is also called Room 101, exactly like the dreaded room of the same name in Orwell’s 1984.
And if those connections were a bit too tenuous for you, consider also these posters that pop up around your in-game Mother Base later on in the game.
By the time the site was rediscovered by Metal Gear fans, after The Phantom Pain’s release, it had changed from the Kojima Productions Logo and the byline “Kojima Lives” to a page with the title “Black Hound” and a timer counting down to September 11th. Since the name “Black Hound” was also a randomly-generated codename that could be assigned to any soldier you might recruit in MGS V, it was also taken as another hint that something was forthcoming.
Now remember that New York skyline picture from the mission that got cut? The one featuring the intact Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre? Some fans took that, along with the countdown on the website, to mean the cut content would be reinstated into the game on September 11th by way of a patch. The fact the Ingsoc website was first set up back in March of this year, when reports of strife between Kojima Productions and Konami started making headlines, only made it seem more legitimate in the eyes of fans.
Soon almost anything and everything was potentially a secret clue that Kojima would either announce something, or that new content would be added to the game, on September 11th.
Previous statements from Kojima in which he said he wanted to do “something you can only do with videogames” were interpreted to mean a second part to the game had been held-back to prevent spoilers, and would soon be added. Like the game wasn’t long enough already. The 9/11 theory was strengthened in fans’ minds by a statement Kojima made far back in 2010, before MGS V was even announced, in which he said: “The next project will challenge a certain type of taboo. If I mess up, I’ll probably have to leave the industry.” And what could be more taboo than a game critical of United States foreign policy receiving a content update on September 11th? At least, that was the thought going through the minds of certain fans.
Meanwhile fans had interpreted their feelings of loss and a lack-of-closure as a “Phantom Pain” of their own: the deep sensation of feeling something like a missing limb, or cut content in this case, is still there even though it isn’t. Taking Kojima’s earlier statement about wanting to do “something you can only do with videogames”, some fans theorised that Kojima had deliberately set-out to instill this same feeling of a phantom pain in his own audience by withholding important story content from them until a later date.
Even innocent tweets from Kojima about what music he was listening to were pored-over and scrutinised, like this one of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album. Diamond Dogs of course being the name of the paramilitary group the player controls in Metal Gear Solid V. The name of the song in question was “1984”, the year the game is set, and it is the ninth track on the Diamond Dogs album. Nine of eleven…or rather, 9/11!
As the 11th of September approached and the timer wound ever downwards, Metal Gear fans around the world waited with all the excited anticipation of a Doomsday Cult waiting for the Mothership. Not everyone was convinced of course, and even the most hardcore Metal Gear fans speculating wildly in forums across the internet still tempered their enthusiasm with a small dollop of skepticism. It was all in good fun though, even for those who dared to dream the impossible. And so when September 11th finally came round and the timer wound down, the truth was finally revealed to Metal Gear fans.
It turned out to be absolutely fuck-all of course. There was no announcement, the whole thing was one giant hoax and Hideo Kojima cannot melt steel beams. What he can do however, and has done in the past, is fuck with his audience. Which is the only reason this barmy conspiracy theory ever got off the ground at all.
Kojima’s track record of fucking with his audience goes all the way back to the original Metal Gear on the MSX2 home computer. Throughout the game the player character, Solid Snake, charged with infiltrating a mercenary nation called “Outer Heaven”, receives radio calls from his commanding officer, Big Boss, with advice on how to proceed through the game. Towards the end of the game however Big Boss begins giving the player misleading advice, steering them into traps and enemies, and at one point even breaks the fourth wall, telling the player to abort the mission by turning off their computer. It’s eventually revealed that Big Boss is the secret ruler of Outer Heaven and the entire mission was supposed to end in failure.
Further on in Metal Gear Solid, you couldn’t continue past a specific point in the game unless you acquired a certain Codec frequency. Yet the frequency wasn’t anywhere inside the game itself: you could scour the Shadow Moses facility from top to bottom and not find a single digit of it anywhere. To get it you had to look at the screenshots on the back of the game’s CD case.
Metal Gear Solid also has one of the most memorable boss fights ever, where you fight a psychic Russian in a gimp outfit who dodges all your attacks unless you swap your controller from port 1 to port 2.
Metal Gear Solid 2 however is where Kojima fully cemented his reputation for fucking with people, so much so that some Metal Gear Solid fans are still pissed-off about it to this day. Almost every piece of promotional material released for Metal Gear Solid 2 suggested fans would, once again, step into the sneaking-shoes of Solid Snake. Which was true…for about the first hour of the game.
For the rest of the game players controlled Raiden, a long-haired pretty boy trained by videogames and supposedly designed to appeal to women players. Snake meanwhile was relegated to the role of a supporting character. Nobody knew about this until after the game came out and people had played it: even reviewers kept their lips tightly sealed about the game’s devious bait-and-switch.
On top of that the ending predicts the rise of social media, deconstructs the nature of videogames and – for the cherry on top – blatantly takes the piss out of every gamer who was looking forward to playing as Solid Snake again. Seriously, the ending is practically Kojima himself mocking the player directly. Metal Gear Solid 3 was a prequel that put players in the shoes of the first game’s main villain, Big Boss, back in the 1960s when he was called Naked Snake and kept getting the crap beaten out of him. While Metal Gear Solid 4 once more gave players control of Solid Snake but made him a crusty old man.
Even the run-up to the announcement of Metal Gear Solid V was rife with Kojima’s mad brand of trickery and rusecraft. It was originally announced as simply “The Phantom Pain” and supposedly from a new developer called Moby Dick Studios, whose CEO was supposedly a Swedish man with a bandaged face called “Joakim Mogren.”
Although this particular ruse only lasted about as long as it took people to rearrange the name “Joakim” to spell “Kojima.”
Kojima’s last great ploy was P.T, released suddenly and with nary a hint of Kojima being involved whatsoever. Upon completing it, which happened quicker than Kojima expected, players were rewarded with a teaser trailer for Silent Hills featuring a digitised Norman Reedus, and the promise of a collaboration between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro. Speaking of P.T., the Ingsoc site from earlier now links to a petition on Change.org asking Del Toro and Kojima to make a new Silent Hill-esque game, with or without Konami. So not only has the hoaxer pissed-off Metal Gear fans, they’ve also pissed-off fans of Silent Hill.
So with all that trickery in mind it’s understandable some Metal Gear fans, who didn’t get all they wanted from Metal Gear Solid V, might’ve been holding out hope of one last joke from Kojima. Sure, they were clutching at more straws than a farmer getting buggered in a barn, but there’s nothing wrong with expecting more.
As I mentioned earlier, Mass Effect fans had a similar response to the ending for Mass Effect 3, a pretentious attempt at being deep and philosophical that clashed horribly with the series’ campy space opera dramatics. A bit like someone awkwardly replacing the ending to Return of the Jedi with the ending to 2001: A Space Oddysey. And in what may be more unnecessary fuel for the fire of Metal Gear fan speculation, Mass Effect 3 eventually got a free piece of DLC that expanded on the ending. It didn’t completely change the ending, which is still pants, but it did make it more tolerable.
Konami are not BioWare however, so the chances of getting anything out of them for free are so astronomical you’d have better luck trying to get a handjob from The Queen.
Although that’s not to say Metal Gear fans can’t look forward to more content for MGS V: indeed the game’s free team-based multiplayer mode, Metal Gear Online, is still forthcoming. Konami will also want to recoup as much of the money they poured into MGS V as possible, if only out of spite, and could feasibly make Kojima and his team squeeze out a truckload of DLC before their contracts expire in December.
In the meantime Metal Gear fans are making do with what they have and, like Mass Effect fans before them, concocting their own interpretations and theories. One especially popular one being the so-called “Sixth Man theory” which…well, I won’t go into that here. Spoilers and all that.
Besides, it’s not like the game itself is terrible or anything. Far from it. The stealth gameplay is bloody marvelous and has had me hooked for hours upon hours. I’m still aiming for S-ranks in main story missions, unlocking customisation options, expanding my mother base and strapping balloons to goats. I am however also left wondering about the Metal Gear Solid V that could’ve been, with extra maps and story missions to play around in. Still, at the very least Metal Gear Solid V has got people avidly dissecting it, playing with its systems and – most importantly of all for any artistic work – talking about it. So whatever regrets Kojima and his crew might have, they can at least take some comfort in that.
As for whether we’ll ever know the truth about the last days of Metal Gear Solid V’s development, well, if we do it’ll be a long time coming. On the bright side, we can always have some fun speculating crazily while we wait.
That’s all for this episode of Pixel Burn. If you still liked it then please let me know by clicking the button down below, and let your friends, family and The Kojima World Order know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. Until next week, as mostly always, you can go now.