As I watched this week’s trailer for Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding 2: On the Beach, I had to wonder again if Kojima is a genius or a madman. And I wonder whether Sony is ingenious or crazy to bankroll his next big visions.
I don’t know if we’ll answer those questions. But one thing is clear. It the crazy world of games, it’s good to be Kojima. I sometimes wonder if we’re in a simulated universe, one where Kojima is looking down laughing at the comedy while we admire some of the craziest things that he can serve to us. Like the WandaVision TV show, we’re stuck on the Kojima channel.
When I first saw Hideo Kojima’s first trailer for Death Stranding at the E3 trade show in 2018, it was so bizarre. I turned to then-GamesBeat writer Jeff Grubb after we saw the befuddling trailer together in a crowded theater, and we just laughed out loud because we had no clue what we watched.
It was a spectacle, and the game lived up to its mysterious and wacky billing. After I finished playing Death Stranding in 2019 (and 2020), I had the same nagging question. Was this a genius work of art, or was it simply the disconnected mutterings of an insane person? I mean, after I watched hours-long cutscenes and had no clue what was happening at the end, I nearly went wacky myself.
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But like many players, I’ve been enthralled by the games and played along. And I realize that Kojima has been at the heart of so many great moments in video game culture. Kojima was the creator behind the Metal Gear series at Konami, coming up with stealth gameplay when the notion was foreign. He was booted out of Konami (and unceremoniously made to work in an empty office for a time).
But it was truly sad to witness the conflict between a venerable game publisher like Konami and an auteur who had delighted so many fans and had a cult following. At The Game Awards in December 2015, Keighley skewered Konami for not allowing Kojima to travel to Los Angeles accept an award for his big Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain game, opening the way for more hero worship of Kojima. That prompted many jokes about Kojima’s “bromance” with Keighley and what a power couple they made. Kojima notably got a lot of air time at the most recent awards show, while others had to get off the stage quickly.
In 2015 at E3, Sony welcomed him into its fold and Kojima walked down a giant regal staircase to the adoring crowd. He announced Kojima Productions as a new studio, supported by Sony. And I recall a high-level game executive said derisively and privately (probably a little jealously) that it was like a “coronation.” That made me realize there were Kojima haters in the world. Was the man really as good as people thought?
Despite my befuddlement, Death Stranding was one of my favorite games of 2019. The wild delivery simulator of a game, played so well by Norman Reedus, was just coherent enough to make me think about issues likes human loneliness, disconnection of people, and bonds that can bridge both life and death. It had such great acting and high production values, how could I not like it? And people like Guillermo del Toro said Kojima was a creative genius. It had to be art, even if I didn’t get to push a button for hours at a time.
Well now we’re on the same train of uncertainty and ambiguity again. Sony showed off that awesome but befuddling Death Stranding 2 trailer which showed that no one puts a check on the creativity of Kojima at all. He gets to do anything he wants because it kind of looks so awesome. Like putting the shoulder puppet guy into the game as a lovable character, alongside the baby Lou.
Then Hermen Hulst, head of PlayStation Studios, referred to him as Kojima, assuming everyone knew his first name. And he brought him out to announce that Kojima was going to finish Death Stranding 2 in a couple of years and then go to work on an action espionage game again that is the culmination of his learning.
It’s kind of like a spiritual successor to Metal Gear. Take that Konami. Let’s not also forget he’s working on a crazy game for Xbox, dubbed OD, too. Apple got him to bring his games to the Mac. People are rolling our barrels of money to Kojima, whose Death Stranding sold at least five million copies. And there’s a Death Stranding movie coming out and a documentary about Kojima himself.
This week was like another coronation. When you have the reputation that Kojima has, you can do anything you want. Many game companies are afraid to commit to brand new ideas and franchises. They will only greenlight sequels or franchises from other media. But Kojima can do anything he wants because he is the brand.
Fair or not, that’s how fame works. Your fans will be too afraid to criticize you. They will love your work unconditionally, and they will let you get away with zany creations. You’ll be allowed unlimited budgets and completed creative freedom. It’s all crazy. Crazy like a fox. All you have to have is the magic touch. It’s good to be Kojima.
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