How Hideo Kojima became gaming's most beloved auteur

Japanese designer behind Metal Gear Solid has innovated the medium and plans to push it further

Hideo Kojima is a pioneer of gaming design, credited with integrating game mechanics that were once thought impossible. AFP
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Japanese game designer Hideo Kojima has long been one of the biggest names in the industry, but in 2024, he's elevated himself to a level that none of his contemporaries have reached before.

A pioneer of video game design, he’s credited with implementing and integrating game mechanics that were once thought of as impossible or inconceivable.

Best known for his Metal Gear Solid series, the imaginative and sometimes eccentric video game director now has his own production company after leaving Konami in 2015.

The company, Kojima Productions, is now considered one of the most important and exciting video game studios.

After the release of the company’s first game, Death Stranding, a sequel has just been announced recently with multiple other projects in the works too.

A new documentary, titled Hideo Kojima: Connecting Worlds, about the video game auteur's process and creativity is coming to Disney+ on February 23.

Here we chart the journey of Hideo Kojima, the mark he's made on the video game industry and what’s to come next.

The beginning

Kojima's early ambitions were to become a film director – he thought that if he wrote stories that won him awards, he would be offered work as a director.

The dream didn’t materialise, so the young creative turned to the burgeoning video game industry. Kojima applied to work for Konami, which in the late 1980s were angling themselves to become a leading company in video game production.

Kojima’s first project was a game called Penguin Adventure, a fun but simple game that allowed the young designer to showcase his abilities. The game was well received, and Konami wanted to see more from Kojima, giving him the reins of a new game.

That new game was Metal Gear, the first in a long-running series that became synonymous with Kojima and would grow to become some of the most beloved games around the world.

Despite the first game’s humble beginnings, Kojima was able to take a straightforward top-down action game and inject elements of stealth and combat never seen before in gaming.

His next project was Snatcher, a text-based cyberpunk adventure game that drew heavily from science fiction literature and cinema, especially the works of Philip K Dick. The game reminded those who played it of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Metal Gear focus

Kojima returned to the Metal Gear series, expanding upon it with several sequels. The game’s global popularity exploded in 1998 with the release of Metal Gear Solid on the first PlayStation console.

It is one of the first PlayStation cornerstones, becoming one of the best-selling games on the console.

In 2001, Kojima followed up with a sequel named Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, which sold even better than the first game, ultimately becoming the highest-selling game in the series.

The successful series would continue in stride, with each game release cementing the legacy of Kojima as an innovative and ingenious game designer who is advancing the medium.

Fallout with Konami and dismissal

Having overseen the Metal Gear series of games for years, Kojima decided he wanted to try his hand at a new game genre. He set his sights on the long-running Silent Hill series, which had been dormant and desperately needed a revival.

Kojima recruited the help of Mexican film director Guillermo Del Toro and horror manga icon Junji Ito to help him kick-start a new Silent Hill game.

It was to be fronted by The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus, and after a successful demo game release named PT, fans couldn’t wait to experience the game in full.

Unfortunately, behind the scenes, the relationship between Kojima and his employer Konami had worsened due to disagreements about the direction the company should take in regard to investing money and resources.

Kojima wanted the focus to be on games like his, sprawling single player games that give gamers a full-fledged storied experience. Konami on the other hand wanted to divert resources towards mobile gaming, allowing them to make games on the cheap and reap profits from microtransactions.

Ahead of the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the last game he would work on at Konami, Kojima was dismissed from the company. The dismissal also meant that the Silent Hill game was cancelled before completion.

The news was a surprise to video game fans around the world, sending most on a quest to find out what happened exactly, and what it would mean to the beloved long-running Metal Gear Solid series.

New beginnings

After his dismissal, Kojima announced he would start an independent game studio named Kojima Productions working on a new franchise for PlayStation.

The first game in the franchise, Death Standing, was released on the PlayStation 4 in 2019 and featured Norman Reedus as a porter who delivers goods in a world ravaged by supernatural forces.

Death Stranding received mixed reviews, but most critics and fans agreed that it offered a different gaming experience. Its sequel was announced last week during PlayStation’s State of Plays showcase and is set to be carry the subtitle On the Beach.

During the showcase, it was also announced that Kojima will be developing a new stealth game for PlayStation which should excite fans of the Metal Gear Solid series. The game’s working title is Physint.

The studio is also working on a horror game called OD which is being developed for Xbox. The game is set to star Sophia Lillis, Hunter Schafer and Udo Kier and will be co-written by horror film director Jordan Peele.

Film production company A24 announced last year that they will be producing a film adaptation of Death Stranding. Little is known yet about the planned release date of the film and whether the actors in the game will be returning for the project.

The future

Kojima has proved time and again that he has an unmatched talent for designing and writing video games. His work has been an influence on many new generations of game designers around the world.

He also has a unique ability to attract some of the most sought-after actors and creatives in the video game and film industries.

His dismissal from Konami has robbed fans of a new Metal Gear Solid game, the last of which was labelled “unfinished” by his fans due to the clear change in quality halfway through.

Kojima’s multidisciplinary approach to his projects ensures that gaming will continue to evolve and include talents from all industries. Whether its horror, fantasy or stealth, he keeps pushing the envelope on what is expected from a gaming experience.

The pantheon of gaming pioneers carries many names. From Shigeru Miyamoto to Sam Lake, video games have come a long way from the days of Pong. Kojima’s name is already etched in that pantheon, and he's far from done writing his legacy.

Updated: February 13, 2024, 3:04 AM