Want to know the truth behind one of the most elaborate game unveilings in history? The Phantom Pain might be confusing, but its blurring of reality and fantasy is not only deliberate, but likely a key theme.
The question isn't whether The Phantom Pain is an MGS game, but what the elaborate marketing campaign says about the game's structure, key themes - and our role in an 'always on' society.
A new teaser trailer for The Phantom Trailer appeared on Gametrailers over the weekend, fuelling fresh debate on internet message boards. It shows grainy footage of a reactor core, with a mysterious flash frame that links directly to The Phantom Pain.
The footage sparked a fresh round of questions. Is The Phantom Pain an elaborate VR mission? Is Joakim Mogren a CG creation rendered in FOX Engine? Is The Phantom Pain a prologue to MGS: Ground Zeroes - or vice versa?
A Deliberate Fake?
The video may - or may not - be a fake. It might even be a deliberately fake but actually official 'fake'. In fact, this blurring between reality and fantasy might be the key to understanding MGS: Ground Zeroes, The Phantom Pain and MGS5; plus the maddest ARG marketing push in recent videogame history.
The hardly subtle flash frame at 0.40 is the most revealing bit, if true.
The slide reads:
AI MATRIX: SECTOR07-A942
VR PROGRAM: PHANTOM_PAIN.MME
CONTRACTOR: MOBY DICK STUDIOS
TREATMENT OF NEUROLOGICAL DAMAGE SUSTAINED IN COMBAT SITUATIONS
TREATMENT OF COMBAT RELATED PSYCHOLOGICAL STRESS
ENHANCEMENT OF COMBAT ABILITIES FOLLOWING IMPAIRMENT
IMPLEMENTATION OF ..::.|>..::.:
The implication is that The Phantom Pain is linked to some form of Virtual Reality (VR) training, a staple of the MGS series. In this context, it's most likely being administered to a psychologically damaged Big Boss, who's recovering from a coma.
The trailer is accompanied by Morse code, which reads:
"GENERATING IMAGE HOLD SCENARIO - LOADING HOLD - ACTIVATING PHANTOM PAIN DOT MEME HOLD - ERROR ERROR ERROR ERROR"
If you take this at face value, it seems probable that Big Boss is in a coma, undergoing VR 'therapy'. It might explain a lot of questions about MGS: Ground Zeroes, like why we saw images of Old and Young Snake, the presence of the high-tech iDroid map device in the game's mooted 1970s setting and those mysterious flashing lights - best explained in 'The Swoosh Code Conspiracy', where we previously made the link to a form of VR training, or some device that allows you to skip between time periods.
However, this blurry video has been taken from another source: an eight-minute video called 'Inside the Fusion Reactor DIII D tokamak' from 2008. Take a look from 2.19 onwards.
The teaser video might have appeared on Gametrailers, but was user-uploaded by 'Joakim Mogren'. It might be the 'real' Joakim Mogren (who is, er, likely a fake CEO and game creator), or a 'fake' Joakim Mogren. A fake fake. In fact, there's a highly popular fake Mogren on Twitter, who recently tweeted (and possibly duped) Geoff Keighley and enjoyed banter with Cliffy B.
It might even be an official video from Kojima Productions, but made to look fake to deliberately confuse matters. It barely matters, as we'll explain.
Mogren is made of CGI?
Confused? Good. Now it gets really insane.
Hardcore gaming forum NeoGAF - responsible for some of the best detective work on The Phantom Pain so far, including finding the negative space on The Phantom Pain that spelt 'Metal Gear Solid V' - spent the weekend debating whether the bandaged Joakim Mogren we saw in the GTTV interview was real, or a CG fake created with FOX Engine.
It sounds mad, but the debate spans 86 pages, with users splitting into factions: Team Real vs Team CG.
The argument is better made on NeoGAF, but revolves around the fact that Mogren never appears in the same frame with Geoff Keighley, and a series of quibbles about lighting. Another theory revolves around the iPad Mogren shows to Keighley with images from The Phantom Pain. The slide show clearly shows six frames, but the interview stops with the revelation that the game is running on FOX Engine at slide 5/6. The speculation is that slide 6 is an image of CG Joakim Mogren, rendered in FOX Engine.
Yes. It's insane, but indulge the argument. What better way to demo the photorealism of your new graphics engine than an astonishing 'live' demo? If it was CG, it'd mark the first console game to break the 'uncanny valley', genuinely tricking people into believing it was real. Imagine if Kojima's big reveal at GDC on the 27th was Joakim Mogren's head manipulated in real time? Not a bad way to announce your new engine.
An early render from Pro Evolution Soccer's new engine - which is based on FOX Engine - lends some weight to the theory. Edge magazine's cover splits an image of PES producer Kei Masuda in half, between CG and a real photo. It's genuinely hard to tell the two apart. I saw the render 'live' on a workstation in Japan, and it does look astonishing. It's hard to recall my exact reaction, but I thought it looked 'incredibly good', as opposed to 'OMG! That's real', but it's a fine line.
Kojima's GDC session on March 27th is called: 'Photorealism Through the Eyes of a FOX: The Core of Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes'. Ever the tease, at the same time that Neogaf was debating the 'CG vs real' issue, Kojima tweeted a series of images from Madame Tussauds, saying that bridging the gap between 'almost' and 'actually' real was a big challenge FOX engine faced.