A story befitting the man himself.
That Death Stranding is a divisive game goes without saying. While we at GamingBolt liked it a lot, it’s undeniable that the game’s aesthetic, storytelling style and matter, and gameplay structure and mechanics all combine for a package that fewer people find appealing than Kojima’s Metal Gear series. We acknowledge that – and this isn’t meant to be us ignoring all of that, either. Death Stranding, like most great works of art that try something new, has alienated a fair few people. But so did The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and those are among the greatest games ever made, so Death Stranding finds itself in good company on that front.
This piece isn’t meant to be an examination of Death Stranding itself, however. Rather, this is more meant to be a felicitation of developer Hideo Kojima, whom we are awarding personality of the year this year.
Much like Death Stranding, Kojima, too, ends up alienating a fair few people with his auteur approach, and that’s fine. The key point to remember, though, is that Kojima backs up the flash with a lot of substance. The celebrity gossip and paparazzi pictures are backed up by him actually putting out a substantively great game. And in the case of Death Stranding, I feel like his achievement stands out more than before.
Hideo Kojima split from publisher Konami, with whom he worked his entire career, after an acrimonious exit in 2015. Without getting into the specifics of who was at fault (they both were, almost assuredly; conflicts like this are rarely driven by just one side), we can recognize that Kojima found himself without a development team, development pipeline, any IP, or a publisher. So the fact that between 2016 and 2019 – a period of three years – Kojima was able to a) create a new development studio; b) attract talent to this studio and build it up; c) establish a development pipeline; d) create a new IP, and e) complete the development of a brand new open world game, is truly staggering.
The context to this is that modern game development takes an incredible amount of time. Horizon was in development for the better part of 5 years. As was God of War. As was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Red Dead Redemption 2 was in development for the better part of a decade. Even Metal Gear Solid V was in development for almost 5 years. A turnaround time of 3 years, while starting from scratch, is incredible.
Now, to be fair, Kojima had a lot of help on this – not only did he have colleagues willing to take the plunge with him as he founded his new studio, but Sony gave him the financial backing to establish his studio, as well as the technology to develop his new game with the Decima Engine. In fact, Guerrilla Games (the purveyor of Decima) even assisted Kojima and his team on the development of the project. Not having to develop an all new engine from scratch, and having the backing of one of the best and most prestigious publishers in the world, almost assuredly helped Kojima in pulling this off.
But even there, just consider – what other developer would have been able to publish a big name publisher to push out something so weird and hard to market as Death Stranding? What other developer would have been able to get funding and technological support from a platform holder, while also not keeping the game exclusive to their platform (remember, Death Stranding is coming to PC, too)? What other developer would have been able to push a game so weird and gotten so much financial backing for it that the cast of Death Stranding reads like a Hollywood Who’s Who? What developer, to put it simply, could have gotten carte blanche on what in the end amounts to a glorified passion project?
The reason Kojima had the support necessary to be able to push out Death Stranding on time is that he has already proven his remarkable talent as a developer and as an artist. Sony was willing to bend over backward to accommodate Kojima and his requests because he is Kojima. It’s a self-fulfilling argument, but it took Kojima decades of hard work and of putting out incredible games for him to reach the point where the argument would be self-fulfilling to begin with.
So it’s easy to see why we are in awe of Kojima’s accomplishment here: because it’s remarkable no matter how you slice or dice it. The fact that one man was able to strike out on his own and deliver an open world AAA game in three years when starting from nothing is something that deserves far more recognition and plaudits than it is currently getting.
This isn’t necessarily to say Death Stranding is our favorite game of the year, mind you (the GamingBolt Game of the Year is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice); but it is us saying that of all the major personalities associated with video games, it’s Hideo Kojima who stands out the most this year, for just how many odds he overcame to deliver Death Stranding to us.
Was it worth it? I say yes, but again, you’re free to disagree. I won’t go around pretending Death Stranding doesn’t split people down the middle. Whatever your take on the game’s ultimate quality, though, it’s hard to deny that the story of how it came to be is almost as engaging in the end as the game itself is – fitting, when it is A Hideo Kojima Story.