Creating an all-new Entertainment Experienced by Connecting People Throughout the World and Technology
-- 'DEATH STRANDING' Director/Game Creator Hideo Kojima Interview (Part 1)
Game creator Hideo Kojima is renowned for continually creating awe-inspiring video games. After his departure from his former company, he established Kojima Productions Co., Ltd., and immediately began work on a new PlayStation®4 game 'DEATH STRANDING' that is yet again poised to take the world by surprise. He is a man who surpasses the boundaries of game developers, and is often referred to as “Kantoku” or Director out of respect. If the objective of SUGOI JAPAN is to share awesome Japanese content abroad, then Kojima Kantoku - who has already won countless hearts all over the world - is the best creator to speak to. We asked him about his new game and what it’s like to be an artist who faces off with the world. All creators, and fans, pay close attention to what Kojima Kantoku has to say!
©Sony Interactive Entertainment America LLC.
DEATH STRANDING is a trademark of Sony Interactive Entertainment America LLC.
Why top tier celebrities and creators are eager to join Hideo Kojima’s creations.
From Norman Reedus to Mads Mikkelsen; internationally known actors are clad in never before seen attire.
-- 'DEATH STRANDING' will be Hideo Kojima’s first work as an independent creator. The first trailer, released at E3 June 2016, shocked the world by featuring Norman Reedus in the nude (hereinafter Norman). The second trailer, released in December, unveiled Mads Mikkelsen (hereinafter Mads) in military uniform. The world is utterly thrilled with Director Kojima’s return.
Kojima - With the very first trailer, I wanted to show a different side of Norman than we’re used to seeing, by having him in tears and hugging an infant. Most people only know him as Daryl from 'The Walking Dead'. However, this time, Norman… is butt naked! [laughs]. Don’t you think Mads Mikkelsen look cool in the second trailer [slyly smiling]? I’m absolutely in love with Mads, to the point where I watch one of his films every day.
The first 'DEATH STRANDING' teaser trailer revealed in June 2016, starring Norman Reedus.
-- You’re already messing with our minds! [sobs]
There’s a strong impression that you strive to incorporate actors and creators you are a fan of in your work. I recall you repeatedly saying “Norman’s great!” while watching 'The Walking Dead' way back in 2010. Around what time did you start aiming to involve Mads in 'DEATH STRANDING', who now plays a villain-like role?
Kojima - I think It was around the time of 'Valhalla Rising' (2009) and 'Casino Royale' (2006). After seeing his past featured films, I found out that he was in Nicolas Winding Refn’s 'Pusher' Trilogy (1996-2005), so I got ahold of Mads through Nicolas.
'Valhalla Rising' was recommended to me by Hollywood film director Ryuhei Kitamura who insisted, “There’s this incredible movie, you have to watch it now”. Of course, I immediately purchased the imported Blu-ray. Nicolas’ 'Drive' (2001) was released in Japan right after that. I really enjoyed the film, and wrote a commentary about it. I couldn’t meet Nicolas in Japan, so I contacted him while in London. To my surprise he came all the way from Copenhagen to meet me.
Director Guillermo del Toro introduced me to Norman. He was the one who discovered Norman’s talent, so I asked him for Norman’s home address. He said “sure!” and sent an email right then and there to Norman saying, “Hideo Kojima wants to work with you”. Norman quickly replied “Oh Great! O.K.” [laughs]. And then I went off to meet him.
The second teaser trailer released in December 2016, starring film director Guillermo del Toro and actor Mads Mikkelsen.
-- It seems like the Kojima-way of creation is all about connections without borders. I hear that you have a great friendship with Norman.
Kojima - Norman showed concern and supported me during my previous situation, so when I went independent I went to ask him to appear in my first project. When I offered him a role in my next game, he replied: “Of course, that would be cool! Yes! I would be a fool not to take this!”.
It’s a similar story with title sequence designer Kyle Cooper. We’ve been friends since 1999, he’s a very special person to me. He also worried for me when I decided to go independent, and wrote to me saying, “I understand your decision, and I’ve always got your back.”, which made me cry. For Kyle, and Nicolas and Guillermo as well, even if there are differences in what we create, what language we use, what kind of hardware we use, and which methods we employ, all creators have a way of connecting with one another. We can share in each other’s joys and sorrows regardless of language. Therefore our lingua franca isn’t English, but “creating”. As long as we have this connection, we can become great friends. Even if I can only meet them a few times a year, actors and creators who’ve I’ve known for a long time are always willing to lend a hand.
I have the world’s best people and technology, and am able to use them in my games.
-- Your Twitter account shows that you’ve been actively meeting the world’s best Film directors, creators, and actors. Do you think that meeting those people enables you to create whole new forms of entertainment that surpass former game concepts?
Kojima - As long as there’s the urge to work together and to create, I can connect with people and most of them will be willing to meet me. With the internet, we’re in an age that enables us to easily watch the world’s best entertainment. Similarly, people, technology, almost anything is within reach, so there’s always some way to incorporate them into my games.
I regularly go to meet all kinds of people, and many people come to meet me. I think it’s best to talk to people face-to-face. I meet them in person, persuade them, and share my vision with them. They respond with “yeah, let’s do this!”, our agents agree on a fee, and we start creating.
-- Is it really that important for you to meet people in person?
Kojima - Whether actors or staff, it’s difficult to collaborate if you don’t like the person. For example, if you want to film Mads or Norman in a cool way, you’ll have to like their personalities, think about what shot will make them look the coolest, think about different shooting methods, etc. You have to have this kind of mindset.
-- I heard that you travelled across the globe to find an engine for the game, and that would have the power to bring Norman and Mad’s performances to life.
Kojima - I went on a tour with Sony Interactive Entertainment from January to visit studios around the world. Wherever we went, every studio openly showed us their facilities, technology and creative work, despite the fact that we're competitors. I don’t think I’m a special case, I think they’ll let anyone have a look; they were very open.
-- Which studio’s game engine did you end up choosing?
Kojima - We chose the engine from Guerrilla Games based in the Netherlands. They’re known for creating the 'KILLZONE' series, and will release a new game 'Horizon Zero Dawn' in March of next year.
-- I saw the 'Horizon Zero Dawn' poster in the newly assembled Kojima Productions (hereinafter KojiPro) office.
Kojima - Yes. Even though they’re incredibly busy with their upcoming game 'Horizon Zero Dawn', they took the trouble to send us a poster signed by the team with the message “Congratulations on your new studio!”. They’re really nice people.
The latest teaser trailer runs on the Guerrilla Games engine, but we’re aiming for a different visual style than 'Horizon Zero Dawn', so many modifications have been made. It’s also not just a simple case of borrowing the engine from Guerrilla Games; they said that they want to collaborate with KojiPro.
-- Why do you think Guerrilla Games let you use their game engine without putting their logo on it?
The DECIMA Logo
Kojima - I believe it was their sense of chivalry. The name of the game engine was announced on December 1st as the DECIMA engine. KojiPro is now also involved with engine tuning, so we gave it a new name. The name actually comes from Nagasaki’s “Dejima”, but we were told that the Japanese “JI” sound is hard to pronounce, so we went with DECIMA instead. Another reason is that DECIMA is one of the goddesses of fate, who is said to allot human lifespans, and we thought that this name was appropriate for us as game creators.
The landscape used in the teaser trailer rendered on the DECIMA engine.
A meeting room in KojiPro rendered in the DECIMA engine. Objects are placed in the realistically rendered room to check for lighting consistency and photorealism.
Guerrilla Games is a studio from the Netherlands and “Dejima” was the only district during the Edo period where trade with the Netherlands was allowed. On top of that KojiPro’s motto, “From Sapiens to Ludens” originates from the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, so with all these coincidences and meanings we feel a surreal connection.
Video games allow the player to control the protagonist and experience another life, providing different entertainment opportunities than film.
-- Will the distance between the Netherlands and Japan negatively affect your work?
Kojima - As for technology, Europeans - especially Northern Europeans - are the best people when it comes to video games. So, we’ve set up a KojiPro “Dejima” or a satellite office within Guerilla Games. They are completely fine with us having this office, and we plan on hiring technicians there. We’re currently hiring from the KojiPro website, but 90% of the applicants received from around the world are from non-Japanese natives. One of the requirements to work in the Japan KojiPro office is to be fluent in Japanese, so most of them aren’t accepted. However, our satellite office in Amsterdam offers a chance for Europeans, and other non-Japanese talent to work at KojiPro. In this way each side of team will cooperate on the project through their own DECIMA. It should be possible to gather talented technicians in Amsterdam, and that benefit outweighs the demerits of physical distance.
-- What do actors like Norman, collaborators like Guerilla Games, and other partners working on your projects mean to you?
Kojima - I took a six-month tour of various studios around the world, but in the end I felt that Guerrilla Games was the best match for our studio. It takes a partner that is a good studio with good staff and good technology to create something great. It’s the same with Norman and Mads; good acting skills, great popularity and good personalities; without these three aspects I can’t take the plunge.
We announced that we’re going to use Guerrilla Games’ engine. If we mess up, we’ll be embarrassing them. It’s sort of a “When we die, we die together” relationship. One thing that I was grateful for during my tour around the world, and when I went to E3 for the first time in two years, numerous people greeted me and told me that they joined the industry because of me. Even people in the movie world, such as 'Game of Thrones' screenwriter and executive producer D.B. Weiss, were influenced by my work. So, it’s extremely important that I don’t let any of them down.
The games I make require an incredible amount of work. Many say that my work is often film-like, but the production processes are completely different. The definitive difference being that there are players in video games, each with their own playstyle. As creators, we need to take into consideration the infinite number of actions any player might perform, and build the game around them. This is why many movie creators can’t make the move to game creation. They don’t understand this fundamental difference, and think that making a game is a simple task.
To further illustrate the point, in a movie it is impossible for the audience to not view the protagonist or heroine, but a game player can make this choice. A cup placed in a scene is another example. In a movie it’s just a simple prop, but in a videogame, there may be players who want to see the bottom of it, so all the systems and assets required to allow the player to pick it up and examine it must be created. Movies, of course, don’t require this aspect at all.
'DEATH STRANDING' uses Photogrammetry scans made from 360° photographic data, and performance capture technology to record actor/actress performances. These are then integrated and rebuilt in the game engine. These methods are completely different from those used in movies, so performers need to first think “This sounds interesting, I’d like to try this new stuff”, or they won’t take part in the project. Another distinct aspect is that the player moves Norman with their own hands, seeing, experiencing the game through them, it’s akin to living through another person. I believe Norman and Mads were excited by these aspects, and that’s why they agreed to join the project.
For the past 30 years I’ve created video games, and though it’s a grueling task, I just can’t stop. I thought that working alone may give me a way out, but I just can’t seem to run away from it. Even when I am cornered, there’s an urge in me to keep creating something more exciting, new and something the world has never seen before. This is probably the reason I’m still doing this at the age of 53.
Interview conducted at Shinagawa November 18th, 2016
Text by Sayuru Tokai (SCRIVA)
Photography by Toru Fujii
Translated by Tokyo Otaku Mode Inc.
Born 1963 in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, raised in Osaka and Hyogo Prefecture. Video game creator, CEO of Kojima Productions Co., Ltd. After entering Konami in 1986 as a game planner, Hideo Kojima released his directorial debut work, 'Metal Gear', which marked the beginning of the stealth action genre. In December 2015, he assembled Kojima Productions. At E3 2016, he announced his first independent project 'DEATH STRANDING'. He also recently entered the Hall of Fame at D.I.C.E. Summit 2016, which is considered the gaming Academy Awards, and was also granted with the Industry Icon award at The Game Awards 2016.