Joystiq interview: MGS4's Ryan Payton

While E For All may have been sparsely attended, we did manage to catch up with a few notables while we dodged tumbleweeds and worked our way through the cavernous South Hall. Konami's booth with its Metal Gear Solid 4 demo easily had the longest line, which kept some of the attendees behind barbed wire fences until they were treated to a lucky 15 minutes of glory.

So, we decided to sit down with one of the men behind the game. Namely, Konami's Ryan Payton, who has the enviable position of being one of the Assistant Producers on MGS4. He is also one of the extremely few Westerners working on this title. Mind you, he is fluent in Japanese and is currently living over there, which certainly makes things a bit easier. Check out our interview with him about the game after the break.


So, have you guys felt the pressure of releasing basically the first "system seller" for the PlayStation 3?

Absolutely. You know, we've felt that from day one since we first announced the game and showed it off at TGS 2005. There's a lot of pressure to succeed. If this game is a lemon, it will not only be a problem for Konami, but it will be a problem for Sony, and Japanese gaming as a whole. With that said, I'm not worried, at all. Obviously, working on the game every day allows me a little bit more perspective on how the game is turning out. I'm very bullish on what we're going to be able to accomplish with the title. It already feels good, and we're here at E For All with a demo that is pretty "solid." Solid, in quotes by the way (zing!). Although the game we have running at the studio is very actually quite different. The gameplay is different, the menus look different ... so we're still moving ahead and moving beyond this demo. If you think this is solid, this is really only an 80% glimpse into the game.

Has the ending for the game been completed, and as a fan of the series and an employee, are you satisfied?

Oh absolutely. I mean, what can I say about the ending ... it's the final chapter of Solid Snake, no joke about it. There's no smoke and mirrors, no jack-in-the-box trick, this is the final chapter in his life, and in his story. With that said, we give him proper homage at the ending. It's epic and it's long. It will take two days after the game is released for people to start talking about the ending, because it will take awhile for people to get through it, but I think that's going to be one of the biggest topics. We have a couple of cool things in the game that will hit the blogs and the message boards, and people will be saying "Can you believe this!?" and I think that the ending will be one of those kinds of things as well. It will be talked about for a long time.

So, when a hardcore gamer buys this game, goes home, takes it out of the shrinkwrap and puts it in, how long will it take them to run through the whole game?

That's tough. We haven't been able to gauge it yet because we're still implementing the A.I., tweaking the stages and all that. The stages are there, but as far as the scripting of the enemies and all that, it hasn't been completed yet, so I can't really say. There are also other gameplay modes that aren't just stealth/action. We're pulling from other genres as well, and those bits are like 20 to 30 minutes long. Those haven't been completed yet, they'll probably be completed at the end of the game. Once all those pieces are in place, I think it'll be longer than Snake Eater but I can't say for sure right now (pauses) ... yeah, it's gotta be longer than Snake Eater.

Can you tell us what those other gameplay modes are? Do you mean some vehicle-based stuff?

I wish I could say, but I'd be killed. Plus I kind of want it to be a surprise. I don't think we'll even be talking about it until like a week before launch, and we'll have it on the back of the box so people can go "Oh wait, I can do this?! It's not just shooting people?"

In regards to the control scheme for the game, there are two, right? One for more traditional Western gamers, and one that is aimed at Japanese gamers. When did you guys know that was going to be the case? When was that decision made?

About a week ago! Mr. Kojima came to me and said, "Ryan, you're in charge of European and American versions of the game, and that not only means on the production level, but from a gameplay standpoint as well. Balance, default control scheme, difficulty ... all of those things are going to be tweaked with the Western gamer in mind."

It's going to be harder than the Japanese version, I can say that right now. That over the shoulder view is going to be, I hope, the focal point. I want to make that the default setting, and then people can turn on auto-aim later if they want to. I think that auto-aim takes away from the intimacy of the battle. The reason we put that in there was because at TGS I noticed that when Japanese gamers would play, they would pick up the PS3 controller, and their right thumb would never go even go close to the right stick. They would never manipulate the camera. It's still something that they need to learn about this full 3D camera system. Games like Onimusha and Resident Evil have always kind of held their hands through games with fixed cameras and things like that.

This really is the next step. Final Fantasy XII experimented with it too, and I think that this is where the industry is going, but we also need to be conscientious of the Japanese gamers that maybe have played FFXII or Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. This really is where the industry is moving, there's a reason for having that right analog stick on the PS3 controller.

Speaking about the controller itself, how long ago did you learn the Dual Shock was heading back to the PS3?

Totally last minute. I think it was a week and a half or two weeks before TGS. We finally got word and we got the drivers so that we could start implementing it back into the game. We know that Sony was working really hard to get that back in the system, and back into the controls. We went into development thinking that it wasn't going to have rumble, and it's been a nice surprise.

Rumble has been so unique to the whole Metal Gear series. Do you think it would have suffered if it hadn't been in?

A little bit, yeah. I mean, it does bring more to the game, and you miss it when you don't have it. There's also been some parts of the game that we've been able to kind of expand upon because of rumble. Again, I don't want to ruin the surprise but ... I just hope that everyone who picks up the game also has a Dual Shock controller, because it's going to be a lot of fun. And it's not going to just be shaking when you're shooting.

In the demo, the characters name bar says "Old Snake", now are we going to be playing a younger Snake during some parts of the game?

All I can say is that it's more of a joke, really. It's a Hideo Kojima joke; this is Solid Snake, but he's old. It's part of the charm of Metal Gear, I think in a way.

Was the Threat Ring in the demo at TGS?

It was, although we've tweaked it for E For All and made it more visible. That's something that I think is a really important part of MGS4. Getting rid of the radar and adding that milky-white ring to give you really a 360 perspective on where every enemy is coming from. That's something that I'm surprised other games haven't implemented up to this point.

In other way, if you're going to go around a corner, you'd have to sort of cheat by using the right stick to adjust your view. But if you crouch down and let the Threat Ring appear and you notice no bumps in that direction, then you know you're cool and you can head out.

Konami is releasing Metal Gear Solid: Online, and Metal Gear Solid 4 as two separate games, are there any plans to release them as a bundle?

I don't know what the current plan for North America is, I think the North American office is still figuring that out. But as far as Japan is concerned, we'll have a starter pack of MGO included with MGS4 for free. That's part of the pressure we've been under ... to not only provide a full-scale single player mode, but to include a multiplayer mode as well. I don't know the plans for the U.S. release yet. But, as of right now we want to make sure that starter pack is in the U.S. version as well.

One thing is for sure, we're not going to gouge customers. People are not going to pay like two $60 packaging prices, it's not going to be like $120 for both. We want to give people a taste of MGO with MGS4 because we know that people are excited about the story mode, but are still kind of on the fence about MGO. The online team is working really hard to make it a really cool and unique experience. It's not just MGS4 with other humans in it that you can shoot. In that sense, we're pretty excited about blowing away people's expectations. I think that if people buy MGS4 and try out MGO, they're going to want to continue that experience.

Konami recently said that there would be no demo for MGS4. Why is that? The demo is really the hit of E For All, and it's the longest line at the show, so why did you make that decision?

As of right now, there are no plans for a demo. Could that change in the future? Maybe. We made this demo for E For All really, to be completely honest. We wanted people to come out to the show and check it out. We were excited by the idea of this consumer-based version of E3. Also, we don't want to give people a taste or a sample of a game that's only 80% complete. That section in the single-player mode that we're pulling from isn't even complete in our version yet. This isn't a beta test, and I talked with Hideo about this last week, but this isn't the version that we want people to play with in their own homes and break, because the A.I is not done yet. We want to make it perfect, and we don't feel like this is perfect yet.

Last question, which we're sure you can guess what it is ...

When is the Xbox 360 version coming out? *Laughter* No, it's PlayStation 3 exclusive, that's all I can say.

Well, how are you handling the speculation at this point? There's been a lot of discussion about MGS4 appearing on the Xbox 360.

We like the console, it's fun and there are a lot of great titles for it. But, we're committed to the PS3. We want the PS3 to be successful, and we've had a great history with the PlayStation. So it's a PS3 exclusive title, now having said that ... questions like this don't bother me. The questions that bother me are ones like, "Are you worried that the Xbox 360 is stealing exclusives from the PS3" or whatever. I think that the industry really needs to grow up and get away from this Xbox vs. PlayStation mentality.

I really want to get my point across that the industry is mature enough so that we can get past this. There is space for three consoles, as Nintendo has proven. There are more important things in life than the Xbox 360 or the PS3 getting exclusive titles from one another. Life goes on. But, with that said ... if you want to play MGS4 next year, you're going to need a PlayStation 3. So that's the way it works ... is it something to cry about? No.

So what's next for you? When do you head back to Japan?

I have about another week of production work here in Los Angeles, we're working with a studio who is producing the opening movie for the game. We're doing it with a very untraditional studio here in LA. I think that the opening movie and the ending of the game are going to be the two talks of the town. The opening movie is something that has never been attempted, and will never be attempted again. It's something that could only come out of Hideo's mind.

Now we're really buckling down and focusing on the game. This really is the last trade show for us. We have to finish the game, so we're going into lockdown/blackout mode.

Thanks for sitting down with us, we really appreciate the time.

No problem! It's always great to sit down with people who enjoy the series. Thanks very much.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.