Metal Gear and Me

Not many game franchises mean much to me. I blow through games quickly and tend to forget them. As I’ve grown older, my skill has gotten better and I just have a natural tendency to blitz through games.

Some games buck that trend. Zelda, Mario, Souls, Yakuza; these games are so well made and intriguing that I actively look for each facet of them. I want to experience every minute detail they contain.

Then, there is Metal Gear Solid. There hasn’t been many other games that have echoed different areas of my life. My first taste of MGS was with a PS1 demo disc, but I didn’t get into the games until the PS2 and MGS2.

I do still remember playing the living hell out of the MGS demo with my sister. We thought it was so expansive and daunting. We were scared to proceed, but interested in what the game held. The graphics were gorgeous and the atmosphere was second to none.

Still, I never did get MGS on PS1. I either was too disinterested in the PS1 (being raised a Nintendo kid) or just plain forgot about it. Whatever the case, when I entered middle school, I found myself without many a friend.

I’m Otacon in this picture. Dave was in love with Snake’s name being David.

I met a kid named Dave would introduced me to a lot of great games. Unreal Tournament, Neverwinter Nights and Metal Gear Solid. The first time I hung out with him, he beat MGS in an hour. He knew every inch of Shadow Moses and was able to show me exactly what was so special about the game.

It looked absolutely incredible. I didn’t realize that action games could be so in-depth and cinematic. While I didn’t actually catch any of the story (since he skipped every scene), I loved the way the bosses were set up and how the game focused on an espionage story.

At that point, I did finally want the game. What prevented me from taking the plunge was the announcement of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I was a bit of a graphics whore back in the day and that game was easily the best looking game on the market.

I was determined to get it. I tried buffering as many videos as I could online (I had dial-up!!!), but I mostly fell in love with the sound effects. I remember finding a theme for Windows 98 that augmented the task bar to look like MGS font and included every codec sound effect.

Anyway, this was around the time I started to get into reading reviews. I had found IGN64 when I was younger, but my internet access was so limited that I didn’t really frequent the site. In 2001, things were picking up a bit, speed-wise.

I favorited IGN and Gamespy and looked to them for coverage on every game. MGS 2 just happened to be the biggest damn thing in the world, so I was ingesting every bit of info I could. When it was announced that a demo would come with Zone of the Enders, I waited patiently to get that game.

While it wasn’t a bad game (not great, either), I spent more time with the MGS 2 demo then any human should. I had beaten every difficulty level and found every stupid little secret. I was so blown away by how detailed the “Tanker” was. I needed to know what came next.

At that age, I wasn’t ready for the bombshell Kojima would drop on us. I never had an issue with Raiden (seeing as how MGS 2 was my first Metal Gear), but I couldn’t understand what the plotline was about. I thought the ending was anti-climactic (it was written in the IGN review!!!) and I was angered that the plotline was mostly mumbo jumbo.

Still, I had enjoyed the gameplay enough to get interested in the series. While I still didn’t end up grabbing MGS on PS1, I did catch wind of Nintendo doing a remake of the first game. Since I liked the improved AI and mechanics from MGS 2, I figured getting the first game on the same engine would be for me.

You really didn’t mind me? Huh…

While it took a few years to come out, I had spent time online playing Unreal Tournament 2003 and meeting some nice people. The best of those were two younger girls named Mai and Kim. I grew attached to them, despite our distance, and I spent a lot of my time fantasizing about them.

Flash to when Twin Snakes was released and I was now in high school. During my biology class, we began to learn about the human Genome project. Much to my surprised, a lot of the plotline in Metal Gear Solid tackles ideas about how the human Genome can be manipulated.

There was also the curious case of a voice actress having the name Kim Mai Guest. I saw these things as fate giving me hints. There was no way this was purely coincidence. Metal Gear knew exactly who I was and what I was doing.

Hyperbole aside, I really fell in love with the characterization of Snake and his struggles against FOXHOUND. I loved the cutscenes as a child and my growing fascination with Japanese culture and Eastern philosophy seemed to hit a fever pitch.

After completing Twin Snakes, I was dedicated to the series. I didn’t want to miss anything else that came out. I wanted more Solid Snake. Learning that Metal Gear Solid 3 was just around the corner, I was ecstatic. How lucky was I to have 2 Metal Gear games in one year?

Oddly, though, that Winter didn’t go like I had originally thought. I had been a pretty bad kid in high school. I was falling in with a bad crowd and doing really idiotic things. I had become a thief and was constantly getting suspended. I was treating my own family like shit and manipulating teachers into letting me escape class.

So at the end of sophomore year (in 2004), I had changed schools. I had a growing depression that I was unaware of and ignored. I just felt miserable when I walked into this new school. I spent the first few months before winter break basically alone.

People were interested as hell on my first day and then quickly brushed me under the rug. It was hard to me to come to terms with being an “outcast” and not bonding with anyone. So when Christmas came along, I was gifted two games; Metal Gear Solid 3 and Metroid Prime 2.

Returning after New Years is where my life changed a bit. I had met my current best friend, Jim, at lunch. I’m not quite sure how we managed to get in touch, but our chance meeting was met with lots of discussion about games and music.

Jim’s favorite series of all time happened to be Metal Gear Solid. When I told him I had yet to play 3, despite owning it, he told me to immediately do it. He was so infatuated with the game that he didn’t understand how I let it slide past me.

Ch-chow!

I still tell him to this day that if he were a Metroid fan, I would have been more inclined to play that series. I didn’t want to let my new friend down, so I dove into MGS 3. At first, I hated the game damn. Kojima’s decision to stick with the old camera style didn’t mesh with how much more expanded the game was.

After breaking a controller in rage and screaming a lot, I kept playing. I forced myself through those opening hours. I wanted to make sure I had something to bond with this kid over. Sure enough, after about an hour and a half, I was enjoying myself.

I also found myself bonding immensely with Naked Snake. The story of the birth of Big Boss seemed to resonate more with me. While Solid Snake was cool, Big Boss had actual emotion. He had talent, skill and passion. He was also a bit of a klutz.

Instead of following in the footsteps of Solid Snake, Kojima decided to flesh Big Boss out more as a human. I understand, now, that this was all deliberate, but at that point, I had never seen a protagonist like this.

My own sadness and misery were paralleled by Big Boss. He had lost everything he ever loved in the world. Worse still, he was put in charge of ending it. The Boss was so brave in the face of absolute death; I wondered why I couldn’t be the same way.

After finishing MGS 3, I was in love. I loved the entire experience. It quickly became one of my favorite games ever. It also cemented a friendship that still exists. Metal Gear grew from being the cool, new, flashy series to something more personal for me.

I could just cry right now…

Ever since 2004, I began to take gaming more seriously. I was no longer playing solely for joy. Now I got into how reviewers processed information and what qualities of game design I enjoyed.

I dug deeper into why I played so much and why I felt more attached to Japanese style narratives then American ones. This brought about a new found interest in Martial Arts cinema. This also brought me closer to Jim, who was a bring proponent of kung fu.

While college would see us part for a few years, we stayed in touch and kept similar interested. Music, films and games were what we loved. Every time we hung out, we’d talk about one or all of those.

College sort of mirrored my high school life. While I wasn’t committing petty crimes, I was pretty alone. I had made some friends who seemed to bully me more then I liked, so after 2 years, I came back home.

This was in 2008 around the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. If anyone knows the history of Metal Gear, you should know that Metal Gear Solid 4 was on the horizon. Since I was back home and could hang out with Jim, I got to finally get a taste of what the PS3 had offered.

He obviously bought the game and invited me over to play it. Even though he had already finished it, he watched while I played. Under such close supervision, I made a bunch of mistakes, but I was floored with the quality that Kojima had on display.

Quality like a guy taking a dump in a garbage can.

Never had a game looked so damn realistic. The cutscenes were so flashy and over the top and the action was more manageable then previous entries; Metal Gear Solid 4 was everything a fan could have hoped for.

While I don’t really care for the game, presently, that experience of playing it with Jim and seeing this whole new world of PS3 opened my mind to the possibilities of the next generation. I figured things could only get better from there.

In a lot of ways, they did. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was the next major installment in the series. When I learned it had co-op, I nearly cried. Jim and I could finally play the game together. We both loved Metal Gear and to be able to help each other made me overjoyed

The only problem was that I didn’t own a PSP. Jim has a big problem with spending, so he actually had ended up with multiple PSPs after his trip to Japan. He also really loves collector’s edition consoles, so the unveiling of a camo-themed PSP piqued his interest.

In addition to getting the collector’s edition of the main game, Jim also got the camo-themed console. It came with Peace Walker, so we were set to play the game. I don’t think I ever had as much fun playing co-op with him or anyone.

You guys ready to limbo?

I loved the increased emphasis on gameplay over story. I liked the neat comic panels that took the place of full motion cutscenes. I also loved the ridiculous extras and Monster Hunter missions. Peace Walker was a great game.

When the HD version came out, we beat it a second time. We even made sure to S Rank every mission. Our love of Metal Gear needed to be reflected in that Platinum trophy. I didn’t want to stop until every small bit was vanquished.

Now we can skip ahead to the present. While Jim and I were super excited for Metal Gear Solid V, we didn’t really play into the idea of Konami splitting the game up. When Ground Zeroes was released last year, we both took a pass on it. While we wanted to play it, we figured it would be better to just wait and get the entire experience.

Neither of us owned a PS4, either. We weren’t about to shell out to get a single game (even if Ground Zeroes was on PS3), so we played the waiting game. This paid off as Konami announced a PC port for MGS V.

PC has always been our preferred platform, even if Metal Gear has had a terrible past on it. Seeing Ground Zeroes running on PC was incredibly tempting. We nearly plunged during the 2014 Steam Winter Sale, but the $20 price tag was still a bit high.

Earlier this year, a random sale saw Ground Zeroes dropped to $10. Without thinking, both of us quickly bought the game. We were both amazed at how many touches Kojima thought to add.

Games have had a huge problem escorting people and allowing you to shoot. MGS V not only lets you aim and crouch, but you can flat out sprint with hostages. You can lay on your back and fire any weapon you desire. There is a neat “reflex” mechanic that allows you to silence foes before an alarm goes off.

The control scheme is just so smooth. The scale of the island is massive. Ground Zeroes may not be long, but it is incredibly dense. It opens up so many possibilities that I can’t believe other developers didn’t tackle first.

In an industry going towards more linearity and scripted sequences, it’s refreshing to see a game with near limitless freedom. You are basically put in a map, given a target and told to go. It’s intimidating and exhilarating. It makes you feel like you are Big Boss.

Or like Solid Snake being Big Boss; either one.

Our memories or too fresh to really say if Ground Zeroes will stick with us, but we are both waiting with bated breath for Phantom Pain. Since this is going to be Kojima’s last Metal Gear, both of us need to experience it.

Jim has even gone overboard and purchased both the Japanese and English collector’s editions along with the Japanese themed console and a CE of Ground Zeroes. He is making sure that he does not miss the monumental conclusion to the Metal Gear saga.

And for me; I just want to know how the whole thing ends. What other facet of my current life will Metal Gear reflect? Each game has seen me create incredible friendships or strengthen my inner acceptance.

Without Metal Gear in my life, I wouldn’t be half as engaged with gaming as I am. I wouldn’t have found my best friend and I definitely wouldn’t be a better person. I have Kojima to thank for that.

It will be sad to know that a true Metal Gear won’t exist after V, but I’m ready to accept reality. All good things must come to an end and while I really hope MGS V doesn’t echo the end of my life, I can guarantee it will be the end of a certain chapter of my life.

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Critical Retrospect

Throughout my middle school years, I was known as a bit of a divisive person. My opinions were very binary and I often described things in short terms. This things sucks or that thing is sweet; it was very basic.

I still knew what I liked and what made things work, but I suppose I lacked the vocabulary to do justice to my critiques. As I grew older, I worked tirelessly to amend that, but I still don’t forget the analysis I gave to older games.

I never saw a real desire to go back and play those games. With the internet taking off and a vast array of gamers bringing hidden gems to light, there was hardly a need to look back and re-think my position on previously detested software.

Then recently, I saw ProJared’s video on Sonic Adventure 2. I’ve long held the opinion that the game was the final nail in the coffin for Sonic, but most gamers disagreed. When the title initially launched, I didn’t own a Dreamcast. My first foray into 3D Sonic was with the Gamecube release.

Y u no start sooner?!

While I was beyond excited to finally get to play this lost treasure, even at the young age of 15 I knew something was awry. I could never quite put my finger on what, but I didn’t hesitate to tell my friends that the game was garbage.

This led to my pals saying that I “hated everything.” Nearly every massively popular game that people were clamoring about I disliked. This misconception about what I found good just didn’t make sense to people around my age.

When you’re young, pretty much anything is exceptional. You look at the world with bright eyes and zero expectations. Everything you encounter is brand new and joyous. For me to rain on people’s parades must have been a total shock.

Seeing ProJared bash that game, though, I felt vindicated. With his more mature eye, he was able to explain exactly what I found so troublesome about Sonic’s 3D forays. Pacing issues, sloppy controls and meaningless character fluff were all mentioned.

When I read the name Sonic, I expect a Sonic game. I didn’t want to bother with Tails, Knuckles, Robotnik or Rouge. Shadow I was willing to accept as he stuck to a similar pattern with Sonic, but even he lacked a lot of imagination.

I smolder with generic rage.

The adventure games focused on being so much more than what fans expected that, in hindsight, they are pretty terrible games. Where as Mario made a successful jump to the third dimension by embracing the spirit of Mario’s character, Sonic failed to take notice of why fans enjoyed the Genesis classics.

Everything was now attitude, pure speed, flashy graphics, warped camera angles and exterior characters. The size of the cast in the first Sonic Adventure is insane. Why would I want to play as 4 other characters who are not Sonic?

As a more mature critic, even I will admit that certain areas of Sonic Adventure 2 aren’t that bad. There is a particular reason everyone remembers the intro to that game and it has nothing to do with it being 3D or novel. That level is exceptionally well made.

Then the rest of the levels try to through new ideas with mechanics that don’t change. Sonic is built for speed, whether his character relies on that or not. Sega didn’t think to give Sonic a speed other than balls to the wall fast.

Even the secondary characters blitz around the maps with reckless abandon. This makes otherwise simple arenas take upwards of half an hour to complete. Couple that with the random elements contained in the Knuckles/Rouge sections and you’ve got a recipe for nonsensical padding.

JUST ONE MORE!

I have no qualms with long games (I often enjoy them), but to needlessly extend the life of a Sonic game doesn’t make sense. If everything really loves the speed aspect of Sonic, why should his game take around 12 hours to finish?

This all started with the Dreamcast adventure games. I love that system, but holy cow did Sega lose their mind. In a last ditch effort to save the company’s console market, they took far too many risks with their beloved franchise. Sonic has never recovered.

I couldn’t voice all of that as a youngster. I don’t even think ProJared was capable back then. As we grow older, it becomes far easier to discern why we gravitate towards certain things. Trends become standard and expectations keep rising. You never want anything in your life to become a lifeless husk.

I just wish I could go back in time and use my knowledge to properly show my friends what I meant. I have that ability now, but being able to really explain my mind would have worked wonders for my depression in high school.

Then again, Sonic is still getting made and crappy movies still exist. Maybe people just won’t listen to someone who doesn’t share similar interests. There is always someone, but the masses eventually win.

Even if that realization is bleak, I mostly was concerned with how my mind has changed. It was fascinating to see ProJared come to the realization that Sonic Adventure 2 is a pretty awful game. It made me feel vindicated.

SUCKAS!

It was also quite a trip to think of how I missed so many obvious flaws. Things I take for granted now were lost on me in my youth. I suppose that is all just a darkly beautiful part of life.

Older and Older

“But time makes you bolder; Even children get older; And I’m getting older too.” – Fleetwood Mac

Birthdays are an event that I’ve never had a strong connection to. As a small child, I obviously loved getting new toys and goofing around, but somewhere in my teen years I began to question the practice of celebrating my day of birth.

Why was everything supposed to be dedicated to me? There are other people in the world who were born on the same day, yet I am supposed to throw that thought away and focus on myself? Even with my self-righteous teenage attitude, I felt that I shouldn’t draw attention to an event that wasn’t of my choosing.

I never asked for April 12th to be my birthday. I didn’t even have a say in when I would be born, let alone at all. This isn’t to say that I’m not thankful for life (ask me two years prior and I would say otherwise); I just don’t think a birthday is something one should take pride in.

Yeah; quiet, Jensen!

Everyone in the world has a birthday. Everyone in the world shares their birthday with someone else. For people to make such a commotion over what is a pretty common event just makes no sense to me.

As I grow older, I begin to see how different I’ve become. While I still do not care for any celebrations, I’m not so afraid of revealing when I was born. If someone wants to know for any conceivable reason, then why not tell them? I don’t have anything to hide.

Most importantly, this makes me think of how little gaming has changed for Nintendo. Their games are firmly rooted in tradition and formula. When was the last time we saw a 100% original Mario or Zelda title?

Even with the prospect of a new StarFox on the horizon, I’m wondering if it will end up being so similar to StarFox 64 that people won’t care. Nintendo doesn’t seem to mind. Even Metroid has gone into hibernation, despite being a big deal in the Gamecube era.

While Nintendo has finally branched out into some new IPs, both Codename S.T.E.A.M. and Splatoon are based on ideas that already exist. Nintendo isn’t so much breaking new ground as they are throwing their own flair into established formulas.

At least “artistically” it’s different.

I suppose that could be said of most “new” games, but I’m just curious if Nintendo will ever change. As time slithers by and we all grow into half-way functional adults, will Nintendo manage to provide a better flair and vest for future generations?

I don’t mean to say that Nintendo should only focus their marketing and development on former children. Newer kids are growing up with a lot of conveniences that I never had. The internet is a prevalent entity in the modern era and instantaneous access is almost the norm.

Nintendo doesn’t seem to embrace that. Putting games on the eShop day and date with their retail release is a start, but their lack of connectivity in certain titles (Mario 3D World) just makes me wonder how much longer their fire will burn.

For that matter, why are Sony and Microsoft practically indistinguishable from each other? While both of those companies have managed to change with the times, their game catalogs overlap in so many ways. Even exclusives for each platform are hard to differentiate.

They’ve changed in ways that appeal less to me as an adult. I see fat-cat executives making calculated decisions on how to extract the most profit from a potential idea. Nothing seems to be made with bold artistic vision anymore.

Now, this could mostly be cynicism from years of being depressed, but I just want a change. I want the industry I love and the hobby I can never put aside to do something different. Excite me with a concept that isn’t a gimmick. Thrill me with a totally unique gametype.

As we travel into the future, I just want gaming to travel with us. The past isn’t the only thing that matters. We need to make time for the future.