TOKYO — If you ever wanted to know what goes on inside Hideo Kojima's head, you need only go to his apartment.
The renowned game designer of the nearly two-decades-old "Metal Gear" series keeps a Spartan crash pad just down the street from the design studio where Kojima Productions is developing the PlayStation 3 installment of the adventures of Solid Snake. Against the wall, he keeps two dark, framed images, each featuring several MRI snapshots of his brain.
"I have always had a fascination about what's inside a human being," he said through a translator, as he settled into one of his dining room chairs. "I thought it would be quite nice for people to see this. And I thought it was really cool."
The MRI pictures were taken two years ago, because of a "little spine and neck problem" — an experience that no doubt influenced "Metal Gear," just as, Kojima says, everything in his 42 years of life has.
Kojima spoke to MTV News at a particularly busy time in his life, just two weeks before E3, the annual video game show in Los Angeles, where "Metal Gear Solid 4" is expected to be one of the hottest titles shown for PlayStation 3. He wouldn't say much about the game, offering only that "it's based on a new war, something that's totally different from the past. A lot of things that we never have done are in the game."
The apartment may not be Kojima's full-time home, but it's still unmistakably his. The few decorative objects include album covers from Joy Division, a few posters, a shelf full of awards won for the "Meal Gear" series, a one-of-a-kind foot-tall statue of an actual "Metal Gear" walking tank, and display boxes of his solar-powered game series, "Boktai." According to the machine on his desk, he's a Mac guy. And he has only a PS2 laid out on the floor to play. His Xbox? It's back in the office.
Settling in for a quick conversation, he talked about his life before video games. "One of my first dreams when I was a child was becoming a painter," he said. He also had tried writing novels — mysteries, sci-fi and adventure stories. "It wasn't really like something you see in 'Metal Gear Solid,' " he said. "It wasn't like a cartoon or anime. It was more kind of straightforward." He was never able to get them published.
He'd also dreamed of becoming a movie director, something that will come as no surprise to those who've marveled at the lengthy, stylish movie scenes that permeate his games. But ultimately he found his way to games publisher Konami and the eight-bit era of mid-'80s video games. "There wasn't any rule of what was a pure game at that time," he said. "Anything that we wanted to do and put passion into turned out to be a game." In 1987, Kojima's "anything" — the first "Metal Gear" — became a hit for the MSX console in Japan and the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Kojima clearly relishes the old days, and the challenges they presented fuel him even now. "We had to pick out what we really wanted to make in a game, because there were so many limitations," he said. The early consoles, for example, only gave designers a palette of 16 colors. "How can we give users a feeling of walking [by a] beautiful sunset with 16 colors? That was what we were trying to aim for as designers at that time."
Graphics have improved vastly, and so has the "Metal Gear" series, with "Metal Gear Solid" for the first PlayStation in 1998, "MGS2" for PS2 in 2001, and the first PS3 trailer for the next installment, which dropped jaws in September. But Kojima is still chasing that sunset. "A couple of years from now, maybe games will have an implementation of scent or touch or feeling. And then I'll want to probably implement that in to meet my final goal. So I think this will be a never-ending story. And, well, I think that's OK, because that's what creation is all about."
Kojima fans may also be familiar with his blog, at www.hideoblog.com, where he writes things like the following: "I always observe the people who pass by when I ride an escalator. I'll never see most of them again, so I imagine a lot of things about their lives ... about the day ahead of them. ... I emotionally react to my imagined stories, laughing or crying." (It's also the place where he wrote about the second Franz Ferdinand album: "It's so perfect that it almost disappoints me.")
Players of "Metal Gear" and another prominent series overseen by Kojima, the sci-fi war series "Zone of the Enders," have read and heard enough lines of dialogue in those games to know that Kojima is very interested in the politics of war, honor and mass destruction. The sensibility that informs his blog and emerges in the florid philosophizing expressed by the characters in his games make Kojima the closest his field has to a warrior/poet. His are games about soldiers who ponder big thoughts on the battlefield. And in Tokyo, Kojima thinks deeply about the way games might connect to those who play them.
Consider the response he gave when asked why he features a lot of political thought in his games: "I think there are two types of games," he said. "One game is a tool that you play to have fun. An example is like a bat or a glove — it's a tool to play baseball and have fun. It's a sport. The other is that it could be a novel or movie type, meaning that there is a message or there is an eye-opener to the people who actually see it or read it."
He said he feels he makes games of the second type, but that even those involve a bit of playing catch. "The user is playing catch with Snake. And sometimes, when you throw a ball to Snake, Snake will give you back the message — don't do this in life, or think twice, or maybe try to live in this way. And that's the kind of game I'd like to create, or I have been creating."
With one "MGS4" trailer already out and featuring a gray-haired Solid Snake along with tanks rumbling down a wrecked street, it's clear that Kojima has new ideas to express about the latter stages of war and life, but in his Tokyo apartment, Kojima wasn't ready to divulge more. That will come, at the latest, on Tuesday when Konami will showcase the game during a press conference in Los Angeles.
And does he hope gamers appreciate his efforts? "I don't really want to be a celebrity," he said. "I want the users or the people to watch what I do and touch or see or feel my work and then hear what I want to say." Never mind the limelight. He wants gamers to see inside his head.
For more E3 coverage from MTV News and MTV Games, check out e3.mtv.com.