Hideo Kojima talks life, influences at USC presentation

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Hideo Kojima talks life, influences at USC presentation
Hideo Kojima (and young Kojima) in a presentation at USC.
Legendary game developer Hideo Kojima took the stage at the University of Southern California last night to talk about his life as a game developer, and give a few thoughts on the current state of gaming and game development. During an interview moderated by Geoff Keighley, the creator of Metal Gear Solid spoke honestly about his past as the son of two pharmaceutical executives, his current work/life balance, and what he thinks the future of gaming looks like.

Kojima told a few cute stories from his past -- he said that he started writing as a young man, and early on wrote a long story called "Survival Battle" that had everyone in its world fight at the age of 14, earning extra time in their lifespan for each victory. He said that in college, he was an economics major, and thus the "only oddball in my class that wanted to make movies or novels." His economics thesis even included a short story "to surprise my professor, and he was very surprised," said Kojima through a translator, "but it didn't help my grade much."

Kojima also talked about his gaming influences, starting with the original Famicom, and mentioned titles like Super Mario Brothers, Xevious, and the Japanese text adventure Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken as early influences on his work. "I felt great potential in the medium," Kojima said about discovering video games, adding that the interactivity was what really drew him in early on.

He talked a little bit about his philosophy on game development -- he often feels that he must do everything while making a game, including the script, the art, the story, and the gameplay. "To me," he said, having one auteur overseeing everything is "true game design," and likened the process to being a head chef at a restaurant, saying that if the restaurant ever changes the head chef, it's likely going to change how the whole meal works. Still, Kojima said that actually creating a game can be very collaborative: "First, come up with something you like," he told the game design students in the audience, "and then show it to as many people as you can. Tweak it, and get their opinions."

Kojima was very honest about his work/life balance -- he gave his schedule during the week as sleeping for only four hours a night, and working or in meetings the rest of the day. He said that even he regrets being away from his family so much, but that he tries to keep weekends free just to spend with them. He also told the story of his son coming into the office with him while designing Metal Gear Solid, when the designers sometimes used Lego pieces to put the levels together. His son returned to his wife, who was already unhappy with the amount of time Kojima was spending away, only to report that his Dad "plays with Legos all day."

After asking journalists to turn off their cameras, Kojima showed a quick video demo of his new Fox Engine in action -- not an actual game demo, but a behind the scenes video of what was possible when designing games with Fox. In a sequence he said took only about 30 minutes in real time, a designer was able to layout and play with the design of a Metal Gear Solid 4-style jungle level, with all of the collision and AI already built in to the product. Kojima said that the Fox engine had been iterated on a lot even since this demo, so what the USC audience saw still didn't show the full potential of what it can do these days.

Finally, Kojima answered some students' questions, and talked about the future of gaming. He said that augmented reality and cloud computing would likely be the way of the future, though he wasn't sure what path that would take. He also spoke a little bit about how game design differs in the East and West: in Japan, players are often placed in a room with one door at the beginning of a game, which opens up into a room with two doors, and so on. The game has to open up gradually, piece by piece. But in the West, gamers can be placed in a jungle early on, and they often value, said Kojima, that freedom, enjoying the exploration offered to them.

The evening ended with a short statment by Satoshi Sakamoto, President of Konami America, who thanked the audience for welcoming Kojima, and promised more events at USC like this in the future (including, possibly, the chance for USC's game design students to actually create some work with the Fox Engine in the future).
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