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At last month's Tokyo Game Show, no game was more high profile than Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4. The flagship title for the PlayStation 3 made its playable debut on the show floor to the tune of over 50 kiosks -- but lines were still incredibly long for the title, which is one of the most awaited next-gen games.
But behind the hype, what design decisions and artistic sensibilities are going into the construction of the game? Gamasutra spoke to Ryan Payton, assistant producer at Kojima Productions in Tokyo, and discuss design and narrative decisions of the series has taken, the significance of the title, and just what an American developer can bring to the table in Japan.
We've heard that there has been some debate as to whether or not to do a tutorial in the game. With the new controls, you guys do a "briefing" before you let gamers play the TGS demo. So what do you think about that?
Ryan Payton: Yeah, obviously
it's a tough balance, because on the one hand we're expanding Snake's
skill set -- giving him new moves, giving him new weapons to mess with
-- but we're also trying to make the controls easier, and more user-friendly.
So on one hand we're adding to the skill set, but we're also trying
to make it easier. That's a tough balance to do.
So what we're doing here at Tokyo Game Show is: we've got the booth, and we're herding everybody into a briefing room where they have to sit down and listen to this guy go over this description of how the controls have changed since Metal Gear Solid 3. And, maybe, how the controls have changed since they played the first game. A lot of people have only played Metal Gear Solid, for example, and not been revisiting the series. So we're just making sure that everybody's on the same page before they pick up the controllers.
That's one of my jobs, that's why I'm doing these things here -- I'm talking to press, and doing a little bit of an explanation before I give them rein over the game. Because it's Metal Gear, you expect to play it a certain way. You expect for the camera to to be that bird's-eye view camera, you expect to shoot just from first person, without being able to move. But in MGS4, we have the auto-aim option, and we also have an over-the-shoulder camera where it's more like Gears of War style; where you can move around while shooting, and you can move around while in first-person view. So, there's a lot of changes, obviously, and we're trying our best to make sure everybody's on the same page before they pick up the game.
How do you communicate it, though, to the players who don't have the chance to come to TGS, or don't have the chance to read what the press is going to portray of this demo?
RP: That's a good question. At TGS we have the luxury of sitting people down and explaining it to them, but in the retail version of MGS4, that is not the beginning of where you play -- here on the Tokyo Game Show demo. It actually walks you through the controls a little bit more; it's more of a step-by-step process. There's a lot of gameplay from before this demo, that you've seen from the Tokyo Game Show presentation.
So, yeah, that's definitely a concern. We've taken a lot of what we're calling "Real Time Codec", where Otacon will -- like he just did [in the demo] while you're watching this -- without having to go into that Codec screen, he'll just talk into your earpiece and give you advice about "here, this where you can crawl under", and "times have changed, this is how the battlefield works now", basically how you're going to do your stealth mission this time. I've recorded a lot of lines with Otacon, explaining the controls. We're definitely aware at the studio that we need to get everybody on the same page about the gameplay. So everybody will have a really good time and get to the end, because it's pretty exciting.
Brandon Sheffield: I personally haven't played Metal Gear Solid 2. It was so complicated to me that my girlfriend made me turn off the PS2 because I was getting really frustrated. Because, you know, there are a lot of buttons that do different things contextually. Do you think there is a solution to that in the future?
RP: Absolutely. And, if MGS4 is the future, absolutely. One thing that we're doing with the game, that I talked about before, is that -- you know, with Metal Gear Solid 2, for example: if you're going to knock on the wall to attract guards, that's with the circle button, but if you want to go up a ladder, that's with triangle. And all that stuff doesn't make a lot of sense. So everything now is focused onto an action button, which is the triangle button on the PlayStation 3 controller, and it's all contextualized. If you walk up to a ladder, an icon with the triangle button appears, obviously telling you that you can go up the ladder with the triangle button.