The 25th anniversary of Metal Gear Solid: “It significantly contributed to the maturation of the gaming industry.”
In my opinion, there are only a few games that represent the turn of the millennium as well as Metal Gear Solid. This month marks its 25th anniversary since its release on PlayStation in Japan, but it was released in the UK a few months later in 1999, the same year as the first Matrix movie. While my classmates were imitating Keanu Reeves and avoiding imaginary bullets, there were rumors spreading around the playground about a PlayStation game that was even cooler. You played as a tough spy who spoke to you through the speakers. You fought helicopters, battled cyborg ninjas, and spent a lot of time hiding under cardboard boxes. It was all incredibly strange and exciting, and the anticipation seemed almost impossible to fulfill.
Starting up the game after 25 years, and yet it still evokes a sense of wonder. The voice acting, delivered wonderfully and a technical feat on PlayStation 1, along with the unique character design, creates a charmingly eccentric narrative that stands apart from any other. It had a significant impact on game designers of its generation, played a crucial role in the development and popularization of the stealth genre, and propelled its idiosyncratic creator Hideo Kojima to celebrity status, making him one of the most recognizable figures in game design.
“I remember back when I was a teenager, one of my dad’s friends mentioned a game about being a spy,” recalls Mike Bithell, the main creator of Thomas Was Alone, Tron: Identity, and Subsurface Circular. “He gave me the PC version and I was blown away. I hadn’t really experienced much Japanese culture before, so it was a huge shock to me. Kojima became an instant idol for me – and I became a huge fan from then on.”
“I must admit, my game Volume bears a striking resemblance to Metal Gear Solid VR Missions. However, it has been quite some time since then, so I feel comfortable acknowledging it now. Could one call it a loving tribute instead? That sounds more positive, doesn’t it? As a side note, I made a mistake on one of my GCSE exams because I stayed up all night playing Metal Gear Solid 2 the night before.”
Ulf Andersson, the CEO and game designer at 10 Chambers, as well as a major contributor to games such as Bionic Commando, GTFO, and the Payday series, was introduced to Metal Gear Solid through a demo disc from a magazine. The demo was incredibly comprehensive, featuring cinematics, music, and the entire opening sequence of the game. It left a strong impression on Andersson and has had a significant influence on his work and the team as a whole. He has watched the MGS2 bridge scene countless times and draws inspiration from the game in areas such as game design, rendering, level design, and storytelling.
At the time, Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, the art director for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, was among the few western gamers who had firsthand experience playing Metal Gear, the 8-bit precursor to MGS, on the NES in 1989. He admitted that the game had a significant influence on Deus Ex, particularly in the design of Adam Jensen. In 2007, when creating the character designs for the game, the team focused heavily on costumes. However, Jacques-Belletête strongly believed that a hero should be recognizable just by their face, similar to a cartoon. This was precisely what Solid Snake achieved.
Similar to its deceptive main character, Metal Gear Solid (MGS) has covertly made its way into various aspects of popular culture. MGS2 was incorporated into Burial’s song “Archangel” and the Bring Me the Horizon track “Shadow Moses” is named after one of the game’s locations. Even rappers such as J Cole and Lupe Fiasco pay tribute to MGS in their lyrics. This is not surprising considering the impact it has had since its release in 1999. MGS was one of the first games to feature fully voiced dialogue, making it seem like a technological marvel from another world. Unlike other PlayStation games that had limited sound effects and repetitive character dialogue, MGS seamlessly blended 3D cutscenes with voice-acted conversations, creating a Hollywood-esque experience.
The sound design of the game greatly impacted John Famiglietti, who is both a bass player and producer for the industrial noise band Health. Famiglietti specifically mentions the alarm sound, which has become popular in numerous TikTok videos. He praises the sound for its clarity and directness, and notes that the harshness of the PS1’s bitcrushing has always been a major inspiration for Health’s music. This influence extends beyond just Metal Gear Solid, but also includes games like Silent Hill from the same time period. Famiglietti has always strived to replicate the cutting quality of these sounds in his own music.
According to Gabriela Queiroz, senior system designer for Eve Online, the MGS alert sound is one of the most recognizable sound effects. The radio conversations are also memorable for their combination of serious topics, tough characters, and comedic moments. This blend creates a unique and unforgettable tone for MGS.
The unique character designs of Yoji Shinkawa, influenced by western graphic novel legend Frank Miller and beloved Gundam artist Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, bring the eerie and tense near future of MGS to life, just as memorable as the widely-shared audio.
Jacques-Belletête expresses his admiration for Yoji Shinkawa’s approach to mechanical design, stating that he was obsessed with it. When developing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, he wanted the artists to pay close attention to detail and incorporate a proper mechanical design aesthetic into everything from environments to weapons and characters. This level of precision was not common in western sci-fi games at the time, and it was a challenging task to get the concept and in-game artists to understand it. However, the effort paid off, and the resulting aesthetic was among the best of its time, though still not quite on par with Shinkawa’s work. Nevertheless, it was heavily inspired by him.
Metal Gear Solid revolutionized the world of video games by introducing a unique style of storytelling that utilized the interactive nature of the medium. This included notable instances of breaking the fourth wall. As a 10-year-old, I was drawn to the game’s elements of cowboys twirling revolvers, invisible cyborg ninjas, and men laughing maniacally in tanks. However, underneath all the over-the-top anime-inspired drama, there was a surprisingly mature exploration of the dangers of nuclear warfare and the pervasive influence of the military-industrial complex. Through its exploration of themes such as global corporate corruption, illegal nuclear trade, and shady government contracts, Metal Gear Solid stood in stark contrast to more light-hearted games like Spyro the Dragon.
Bithell credits Metal Gear for allowing game developers to approach storytelling more like screenwriting. As a result, he personally writes most of their games as screenplays. The cinematic aspect of Metal Gear also opened up the idea of considering video games in the broader context of entertainment, rather than just a standalone medium. It was one of the pioneering games to prioritize cinematography.
Jacques-Belletête explains that while Kojima is focused on creating cinematic cutscenes that rival those of Hollywood, he recognizes that at their core, his creations are games. The controls may be unconventional and challenging, with characters even instructing players to press buttons during pivotal dialogue scenes. The concept of fully embracing the unique features of the gaming medium while also delving into mature narratives and themes is not commonly seen in mainstream AAA games, particularly in Western culture.
Metal Gear Solid has stood the test of time because it is entirely its own beast. Like the PlayStation console that hosted it, Solid Snake’s seminal adventure played an integral part in establishing video games a credible art form for a more adult audience.
“PlayStation as a console played a big part in making games grow up,” says Andersson. “People still considered gaming to be for kids, and then comes this game with its cinematic cutscenes and a political thriller theme. This was completely new and it had a huge impact not only on me but also the entire gaming community.”
Due to Kojima’s controversial split from Konami in 2015, it is uncertain if the Metal Gear Solid series will continue to produce new installments. Despite its release in the 90s, this iconic Japanese creation remains a unique and unparalleled work of fiction. While the controls may feel outdated, the impact of this PS1 sensation is still just as significant today as it was in 1999. In their initial venture into 3D game development, Kojima and his team shattered the notion that video games could not tell complex and ambitious stories comparable to those seen in Hollywood. Its success and subsequent sequels have paved the way for creators to continuously push the limits of interactivity in gaming.
The first volume of the Metal Gear Solid Master Collection is currently obtainable.