The Phantom Pain's a Metal Gear game. No question.
The big shock at Hideo Kojima's GDC 2013 presentation this evening at 6pm GMT (2pm Eastern) might be the revelation that The Phantom Pain's creator, Joakim Mogren, is made entirely of computer graphics. If true, you'll be witnessing an important landmark in the history of video games - the day we were fooled into thinking that something made by computers was completely real.
Confused? On March 14, games journalist Geoff Keighley conducted a frankly bizarre televised interview with Joakim Mogren, sparking a fierce 130 page+ debate on gaming forum NeoGAF about whether the bandaged Moby Dick Studios CEO was a CG creation rendered in FOX Engine - as opposed to a bad actor with unusual mannerisms. The forum split into two camps: #teamcg vs #teamreal, with the losers vowing to leave the forum forever.
In a few hours, somebody is going to be very wrong - and for the sake of all that is magical about videogames, in an industry that's rapidly losing is ability to surprise an increasingly jaded audience, even #teamreal must be hoping Joakim is a masterfully conducted CG invention.
Either way, there's a lot to be excited about. Hideo Kojima's GDC presentation is called 'Photorealism Through the Eyes of a FOX: The Core of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes'.
It already sounds like a pretty big hint that we're going to be treated to some spectacular visuals, with the core of the talk dedicated to Kojima's new FOX Engine technology. FOX Engine's key strength is applying ultra-realistic texturing and lighting to relatively low polygon models, plus providing a more efficient way to work as we approach next-gen.
Ever the troll, as the #teamcg debate raged, Kojima was tweeting images from Madame Tussauds, suggesting that making the leap from 'almost real' to 'lifelike' was his key challenge.
"Challenge of... making the artificial waxwork look real or lively and making real person's expression ASAP over CG share much of common"
Currently I'm working on the challenge (which I'm going to announce at GDC)on the production tl.gd/lbf370— HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) March 18, 2013
Don't be too surprised if Kojima's presentation makes some reference to cloud gaming, as this not-so-cryptic tweet suggests. Kojima recalls how he pioneered the use of in-game models, rather than CG cut scenes, in MGS on PSOne. 15 years later, even movies are made using high-polygon models. He hints that he might be about to do the same for cloud gaming.
"The day movie become vanished", The quaternary I made on release date of MGS back in tl.gd/lc384c— HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) March 21, 2013
Most tantalisingly, the Joakim Mogren debate should tie up all the loose ends about The Phantom Pain, plus how it links to the wider MGS canon - and MGS Ground Zeroes. Hideo Kojima has already tweeted that he'll make an 'announcement' at GDC, and it'd be fairly astonishing if it somehow didn't involve MGS5.
Kojima Productions producer Ken Imaizumi tweeted only days ago that "You'll see a brand new MGS".
Ready for GDC? KJP session 27th 11:00 West Hall #2014, if you can't make it, check out Gamespot live streaming! You'll see a brand new MGS!— Ken-ichiro Imaizumi (@Ken1555) March 23, 2013
Kojima confirmed that, while the bulk of the presentation will be FOX Engine tech demo, the final section will "Introduce gameplay for a sneak preview".
I'll make presentation of FOX Engine at GDC in SF next week. Mainly will talk about technical tl.gd/lc31p3— HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) March 21, 2013
Another tweet from the presentation hall shows an on-screen image of the 'burned man' from MGS: Ground Zeroes, next to the FOX Engine logo. Note the soldiers from MGS: GZ in the background, who also appear in the The Phantom Pain trailer - the words 'Combat Body Armour' appear on their suits in both videos.
Still rehearsing. twitter.com/Kojima_Hideo/s...— HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) March 26, 2013
Bottom line: we don't expect to be disappointed. Konami UK's official twitter account has already seen the rehearsal, and was very impressed:
Just seen the rehearsal for Mr. Kojima's Fox Engine presentation tomorrow. You HAVE to watch. #goosebumps #gdc l.gamespot.com/ZHzucQ— Konami UK (@KonamiUK) March 26, 2013
My prediction? I've already outlined my core thoughts in "The Phantom Pain: The Unifying Theory", but here's my speculation:
The Phantom Pain and MGS: Ground Zeroes are both chapters in a wider MGS game, most likely MGS5. Kojima recently revealed his intention to produce 'pilot episodes', and it's likely one of the titles acts as a prologue. At a push, MGS: Ground Zeroes is the more likely, since it's more fully formed, and there are structural hints in the trailer released so far that lends itself to an episodic structure, like the way the chopper door shutter themselves (as if they're hiding something) and the mysterious 'mother base' hub. It could be that mother base is your virtual home to purchase new 'levels' or stages like we saw in the initial unveiling. Kojima has already said you can tailor your mother base using your phone or tablet, so this could be the 'cloud gaming' link he discussed.
The Phantom Pain seems to show Big Boss in a coma / undergoing VR training and, again, this is a great structure for a time-hopping narrative - and could be neatly linked to the events of Les Enfants Terrible; a major unexplored arc in the MGS back story.
In terms of themes, the blurring of fantasy and reality feels quite deliberate, almost as if Kojima is primed to make a point about our 'always on' existence, and how we split our lives between real life and false lives on the internet, social media, or in games etc
Or, I could be spectacularly wrong. It'd be a *slight* kick in the teeth after 18 months of chasing my great white whale, but if that's the cost of crossing the uncanny valley - so be it.
You can watch it all unfold at 6pm GMT here. I'll be crowing / eating humble pie on @DanDawkins at the same time:
Bookmark it! @hideo_kojima_en #GDC2013 demo of FOX Engine / MGS Ground Zeroes will be streamed here at Weds 6pm GMT uk.gamespot.com/shows/gamespot...— Daniel Dawkins (@DanDawkins) March 25, 2013