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MGP: Metal Gear (1987, MSX2)

Day 1 

I’ve actually taken a quick run at this before when I saw it was included in the Vita version of MGS3.  For reference, I bought that in 2017, so it’s been five years since then.  I got frustrated pretty quickly and put it down, but now I’m back for revenge – Snake’s Revenge.  I’m also using a guide so I don’t just wander around dying and losing all my progress repeatedly.  Ain’t nobody got time for that, I have a franchise to tackle!

Things start out pretty solid (snake) with a cutscene approach from the river.  I’ve absorbed enough about these characters via osmosis to know who the major players are, so I’m familiar with Snake, Big Boss, etc, and it’s good to see these names up front. The mission is to destroy(?) Metal Gear, a nuclear weapon of some sort. I pretty quickly pick up the gasmask and keycard 1.  I dunno whose idea it was to only let you equip one item at a time but it means that you have to use Keycard 1 to open the door to the gas room, put on the gasmask, enter the gas room, take off the mask so you can unlock the exit (and thus take poison damage) and then put the gas mask back on before exiting the gas room.  Come on, surely they could just auto-detect whether you have a card in your inventory and open doors accordingly?  Why the inventory shuffle?

I got incredibly frustrated and had to redo this one sequence like eight times because the combat in this game is very clunky.  Early in Building 1, when you take the first elevator, you get Keycard 2, use it to get remote missiles and then slightly past an electrified floor where you use missiles to disable the power, there’s a forced combat sequence with four guards in a single room.  Defeating them is how you get the silencer for your pistol.  The first time I forgot I had a gun and tried to punch my way out, and that’s on me, but the handgun in this game has truly abysmal range.  You need to be perfectly aligned with a target to hit it, and the shots only go a few feet.  Meanwhile foes can shoot diagonally, and their shots travel the full range of the screen.  What gives?  I actually almost quit again here, since I hadn’t made this thread yet, but I went and did something else for a while and came back and cleared it.  Awful.  This is the room:

I inadvertently figured out later that checkpointing happens at the elevators, but since this entire exploration sequence takes place on the third floor of Building 1 there was no elevator involved and I had to re-do the whole thing over and over and over…

Anyway after getting purposely captured by the guards (why can you only do this in a single scripted sequence?  Missed opportunity) I rescued Grey Fox, whom I recognize as an assist trophy from Smash Bros.  He looks like all of the other generic POWs in this game so I guess he’ll get more fleshed out in a future title.  I think Snake having to punch his way out of prison through the walls is very funny.  The first boss was here too, a shotgun guy who couldn’t hang with remote missiles. 

Look at this guy.  His name is “Shoot Gunner.”  He does not shoot guns, sadly.

There was a spiral maze thing after the fight where you have to use plastic explosive to blow holes in the walls because once you get your gear back Snake suddenly can’t punch through concrete anymore.  This sequence would have been fun if not for the dumb dogs that chase you from screen to screen.  They do very little damage, thankfully, but their hitboxes are so slim.  I hate the combat in this game!  The only good part is being able to punch dudes from around corners because of the wonky fist hurtboxes being so large.

I encountered the second boss and my guide told me to use remote missiles on him again, but I didn’t have any!  I used them all on Shoot Gunner!  Thankfully this guy, “Machine Gun Kid” (lol) does very, very little damage so it was actually pretty easy to just pop out of cover, launch a grenade at him, take a single hit for almost zero damage, and then hide again.  Thankfully he had very little health.

I dunno why he’s called Kid because he seems to be an adult.  Maybe it’s a cowboy reference type thing.

I ended my session when I got to the roof and Big Boss called me to tell me I needed a bomb suit.  Thankfully I already have one of these since guides know these things in advance.  I also have a parachute that I’ll use to get down into the courtyard, based on what one of the POWs told me.  Right now the mission is to find the creator of Metal Gear (I think?) and have him explain to me how to destroy it (I think?) but that could be totally wrong because the story isn’t very fleshed out.  I haven’t spent a lot of time messing with the in-game radio either.  I know that a character named Diane can be called but the one time I tried I was told she had gone out and wasn’t back yet and I haven’t had a reason to call her back.  Maybe I should just to see but it hasn’t really occurred to me during moment-to-moment play.

All in all this game has aged very poorly but thankfully it seems to be very short.  I could see a remake doing very well though, especially with some fine modern pixel art, expanded complex and vastly improved combat.  It’s very metroidvania-y at its core, but the actual play is rough.  I can see this being super cool in 1987, but I cannot fathom spending the time to solve it without a guide today because it’s just not compelling enough on its own merits to deserve that.  I’ll happily play the original Metroid, or Zelda II, but this feels far rougher than either of them.

Anyway I hope that I’ll close this out in the next two days or so and move on to Metal Gear 2.

Day 2

So I ended yesterday on the roof of Building 1. There’s not a lot of note here except the swaying bridge challenge, where the floor moves beneath you and if you fall off it’s an instant death. Luckily I never failed this but I feel like it would be really frustrating for somebody with slightly worse timing.

Metal_Gear_MSX_Screen_27.png

I can’t decide if I like this as a change of pace or dislike it for being a one-hit kill.

There’s a boss up here too, a helicopter named Hind-D (I guess this is a recurring franchise enemy?) and it’s a really goofy boss. You just stand next to it behind a crate and use grenades over the crate until it dies. I feel like all of the bosses in this game are designed around some sort of cheesy strategy like this.

Metal_Gear_MSX_Screen_29.png

Hilariously the image on the strategywiki for this boss shows exactly where I stood when fighting this thing. Why is it called Hind-D?

Jumping off the roof with a parachute is kind of cool but it really makes me question the layout of this building, that there is an entire region only accessible via a roofdive. Surely the architects of Outer Heaven didn’t build it this way. They’d need to be crazy. Anyway in the courtyard I picked up the mine detector and headed to the desert I encountered another boss, the Tank.

Metal_Gear_MSX_Screen_34.png

Tanks for the memories.

This thing sucks! It’s only susceptible to mines, and it takes 11 mines to kill. I only learned this after using 10 mines on it, realizing no other weapon worked and having to backtrack all the way through most of Building 1 again to get an extra set of mines. The fight itself is really easy, but why would you do this to me?? What’s the point?? If you’re under 3* rank you can’t even carry 11 mines, but thankfully I’ve saved all of the POWs so far, I think. If I hadn’t this would have been even more infuriating. Why is carry capacity and health tied to your rank, which goes up mid-mission? The FOXHOUND logistics book needs a rewrite, this is some Metroid Other M “don’t turn on your varia suit” crap.

Past the tank is Building 2. There’s another boss right inside too, a bulldozer. This segment feels a bit like a boss rush at this point.

Metal_Gear_MSX_Screen_37.png

Why is this here? How did they get it into the room through those tiny doors?

This fight is really short because the dozer charges you immediately and it’s a game over if it touches you. The only reason that this isn’t an egregious example of terrible design is because your checkpoint is immediately before the boss, so it feels more like a joke gotcha than a real death. Hammer grenades as fast as possible and it’ll die, but even then it took me a few tries.

From here I went to the roof of Building 2 and this was also a pretty bad segment. Enemies spot you immediately and it seems like they spawn infinitely. You just need to dash through and not die. I spent too long fighting, expecting that I could clear the room out eventually, and that was just a waste of resources. I wish the game had indicated that it was changing the rules on me arbitrarily.

In the basement of Building 2 there’s another gas room which I was honestly glad to see just because it meant the gas room in the game’s opening wasn’t just a one-shot gimmick. I had been wondering if they’d just forgotten gas was a thing in this game. Dr. Madnar is here but it’s a fake. There are more fake walls down here and I really wonder how they expected you to know when a fake wall would be in play, since it seems totally arbitrary. The pitfall traps are another “come onnnn” instant kill. Anyway the boss down here is Fire Trooper. It is incredibly silly that you can just run up next to him and shoot him and he won’t do anything about it, but that’s par for the course with the bosses in this game.

Metal_Gear_MSX_Screen_45.png

Burn baby burn?

Anyway up to the first floor. I pick up a flashlight and an antenna and go up to floor 2. A POW tells me I can contact Jennifer on frequency 120.48, so I do. Nobody is there! I’m 4* ranking and the guy said that I had to be a high rank for her to pick up, but… nothing. Turns out she’ll only answer me if I’m in the room directly south of where I got her contact. OKAY. Anyway she said she’ll prep a rocket launcher for me. Sidebar: getting seen at this point sucks. Like 20 dudes file in and it’s a huge hassle, and I had to replay this bit a few times. Anyway I find the real Dr. Madnar who says his daughter Ellen is being held hostage and he won’t give me the deets on Metal Gear until I rescue her from the basement of Building 1. Oooookay fine. Anyway now it’s time for a boss fight against Arnold and Arnold, the Arnolds.

Metal_Gear_MSX_Screen_53.png

They’re here to pump you up.

Apparently just touching these guys hurts you but they die pretty quickly and don’t do much damage. It’s weird that they are a boss because they don’t feel like one except that you need a specific weapon to hurt them. Jennifer opens a door for me and there’s a compass behind it. Apparently Snake can’t tell north without one. Also WHO PUT TWO INSTANT DEATH TRAPS AFTER THESE GUYS WITHOUT A CHECKPOINT? Jesus. How many deaths am I going to suffer in this zone?? I actually walked all the way back to the elevator just to use the checkpoint after a while.

Anyway back to the basement to the dark room now that I have the flashlight. This place is full of pitfall traps which is pretty trial and error but it’s not awful because there is a very friendly checkpoint at the start of this section. Ellen Madnar is down here (I thought he said she was in the basement of Building 1? Did I misread?) and now she’s free. I’m actually back at where I punched my way out of jail at this point which is cool. The zone design of these complexes is fairly solid as internally looping rats nests. There’s some Body Armor down here which is cool. Oh wait, I guess Building 1 and Building 2 have… connected basements? I’m a bit confused about the layout of this whole place honestly, but it works. Anyway, back through the pitfall rooms I go to tell Dr. Madner that Ellen is safe. He’s tied up again which is really funny, I know that it’s just default sprite usage but it’s funnier to imagine that while I was gone somebody came to check on him and tied him up again. He tells me that Metal Gear is located 20km north of Building 2, 100 floors underground Building 3. Time to go underground I guess. The only way to destroy Metal Gear is with plastic explosives in the following leg order: R R L R L L R L L R R L R L R (he can’t remember the last one). Okay well it’s a 50/50 shot at best but thankfully a guide knows the last one is R so I don’t waste my time on a coin flip. He also tells me the Arnolds name is actually Bloody Brad. Curse you ancient walkthroughs!

Anyway now I’m fit to cross the scorpion desert and find Building 3 which I do. Big Boss is at this point giving me blatantly unhelpful and wrong info so it’s only a matter of time until his sudden and unexpected betrayal. Elevator down down down down down to floor negative 100, where Jennifer tells me I can get an oxygen cylinder. Now I can finally infiltrate Outer Heaven from the river! For some reason though I have to head back to Building 2 so I can get to Metal Gear. Again, the layout is wonky… the doctor said it was in Building 3! Why… Oh, it’s because there’s a boss back there and I need his ID card to get to Metal Gear I guess. A little too backtracky for me but at least there’s a reason. Anyway, that boss is Dirty Duck.

Metal_Gear_MSX_Screen_69.png

If it looks like a duck…

I guess he’s called Dirty Duck because he is surrounded by hostages who act as a human shield. Jennifer called me and said one of the POWs was her brother so I better not get him killed! Duck throws boomerangs which REALLY HURT! More than bullets! Wow! Anyway I ran behind him and then he couldn’t hit me and he died. I thought ducks quacked, but this one croaked. Afterwards Jennifer’s brother told me to use the left ladder when escaping. Okay buddy. In any case now I have Key Card 8 so I have the run of Outer Heaven and all that’s left is to gear up and kill Metal Gear, right? So it’s time to do that. Big Boss calling me right before the fight and telling me to abort mission by turning off my Vita was pretty funny. God knows this game could have used more humor. Less amusing was a trap gauntlet full of one-shots. The mandatory electric floor at the end is pretty mean too. At this point what’s the point? To waste my time? Anyway, finally Big Boss reveals he’s betrayed you and I fight Metal Gear. I had exactly enough plastic explosives to kill it due to my own errors and bad hitboxes.

Metal_Gear_MSX_Screen_74.png

Ugh, Metal Gear…

Oh wow, TIME BOMB SET – GET OUT FAST! This game really does like Metroid, huh? Anyway time for a Big Boss fight. I started with 30 rockets and ended with 5… this guy is incredibly annoying to hit.

Metal_Gear_MSX_Screen_75.png

I’m the Biggest Boss!

Anyway Jennifer’s brother told me which ladder to take on my way out, so that’s the end of the game. Outer Heaven explodes in a demonstrative mushroom cloud. Operation Intrude 1313 was a success. Roll Credits.

…but somehow, Big Boss returned…

Final Thoughts

I really didn’t love this game. It’s not awful but it has not aged well. I don’t think it’s nearly as good as the games that it seems to be taking inspiration from – a combination of Metroid and Zelda, both of which came out the prior year. The innovation is the stealth twist, but I don’t think the game’s combat is tight enough to support the stealth. That said, if I had played this when I was either much younger and less experienced with games or when it was new, I think I would have been way more into it. I wouldn’t have known better. And back then, nobody did! Also, what happened to the doctor and his daughter? Did they make it out? I guess they must have to survive into the sequel but that entire place blew up real good. Anyway given how poor the signaling is, how dull the combat and exploration are, and how obtuse some of the things you have to do are, this feels nearly unplayable by modern standards if you’re not going to use a guide. Cruel checkpointing and too many “gotcha” one-shot deaths exist for this to be fun. With a guide though it’s pretty doable. At that point it’s about execution, which is still kind of rough… That all said, this game is ripe for a remake. With some smoothing it could hang with the crowd even today. I’m shocked that there’s no Metal Gear 1+2 Remake project but this is Konami so “lol” to that I suppose.

Statistics:
Casualties: 173 Outer Haven guard corpses, probably 28 dogs, 2 cyborgs, 1 nuclear powered robot, very nearly 1 playstation vita after dying on the Arnolds section for the 15th time.
Inventory: Eight key cards, one antidote, zero rations, one oxygen tank, one binoculars (what were these for?), one suit of body armor, one bomb blast suit, one enemy uniform, a cardboard box, an antenna, a flashlight, a gas mask, a mine detector, a small nation’s weapon arsenal and a pack of cigarettes. The surgeon general recommends you refrain from smoking and Snake values his health.
Difficulty: Original
Play time: 2:31:47 (yeah right, this isn’t counting deaths!)
Save: 2
Continue: 29
Alert Mode: 66
Humans Killed: 173
Ration Used: 48
Special Item: Not Used
Code Name: Deer

Final Rating: 4/10 – LordHuffnPuff says “for serious fans only – check it out”

Next Time: Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake

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Translation: “Parallel Worlds” [Interview with Hiroyuki Kanno, Sega Saturn Magazine, Vol. 24, 18 July 1997]

tl note: In this interview, Kanno is referred to as Kenno, as he was sometimes credited as “Yukihiro Kenno”.

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Full Translation of 並 列世界 [“Parallel Worlds”]
Interview With Kanno Hiroyuki
Sega Saturn Magazine, Vol. 24, July 18-24 1997

Aiming for a system that doesn’t blindfold you

―I know that some of our readers have never played YU-NO before. First of all, please tell us about the key aspects in YU-NO.

Kenno: A.D.M.S (Adams), a new multi-system, will be the key element. It stands for “Auto Diverge Mapping System,” which directly translates to “automatic branch mapping function.” In conventional games with branching narratives, it is difficult to identify the branching points in the story. It can be fun to look for branches, but at the same time, there are times when you have to look at the same scene over and over again, and you have to go through a sometimes annoying trial and error process. A.D.M.S. was created to solve this problem.

Depending on the player’s actions and decisions, the story will branch out and be created in a variety of ways. A.D.M.S. is a visual map that displays the branching situation in a tree (see previous page), and a chime (sound effects) is sounded when a branching point approaches, allowing players to grasp the situation with their eyes and ears. Checking your position on the map, collecting various items and information, and navigating various branching worlds…… This is [A.D.M.S].

Continue reading “Translation: “Parallel Worlds” [Interview with Hiroyuki Kanno, Sega Saturn Magazine, Vol. 24, 18 July 1997]”

Why NarraScope? Motivations for Organizing a Game Narrative Conference

At GDC 2018, I was hurrying through the convention center (frazzled, no doubt, about my upcoming talk about designing Frog Fractions 2’s narrative and alternate reality game) when an unobtrusive flyer on a table caught my attention.  “Get on board the early hype train for the new Narrative Interactive Fiction Adventure Games Convention” it read, and I was intrigued.

Continue reading “Why NarraScope? Motivations for Organizing a Game Narrative Conference”

Interview: Johnnemann Nordhagen

On February 9, 2019, I interviewed Johnnemann Nordhagen of Dim Bulb Games about his game Where The Water Tastes Like Wine, the role of storytelling and narrative in interactive media, the politics of representation in video games and America as a national myth.  The interview was conducted as part of my doctoral dissertation research at the University of Southern California, and can be heard at the Red Pages Podcast website.

Emergent Meaning and Narrative in the Digital Space

Emergent Meaning and Narrative in the Digital Space
Addressing Tensions in Games and Game-like Media

 “Most people want to be told a story.  Leaving it up to a random number generator is dicey.” – Ed Del Castillo, Producer, Command & Conquer

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of entertainment in human culture.  Throughout the centuries we as a species have invented many ways to tell ourselves stories, and continue to do so.  In recent years, games have become one of the most popular formats for delivering narrative, but as a new form of storytelling, narrative games face several critical issues.[1]  Although the problems facing this burgeoning medium are not insurmountable, they are uniquely twisted by the fact that games are, by their nature, a participatory endeavor – a transaction between the designers and players where the contact is far more direct than it is in other forms of popular storytelling.  Although as an industry games are growing and are doing much better than older, more established mediums in the marketplace, critical thinking about games, and especially how narratives in games are constructed, is still in its infancy.  There are at least two fundamental unresolved questions in games criticism –, “how do games mean?” and “how do games tell compelling stories?” Answering both of these questions is a much larger task than I am capable of achieving in this essay, but by the end I hope to provide a potential framework for how games mean and from there briefly propose a solution to the narrative question.

Continue reading “Emergent Meaning and Narrative in the Digital Space”

Ludic Epistolary or, Where Have All The Letters Gone?

In this essay, I discuss the evolution of epistolary fiction from its early days in novels through modern incarnations in video games.

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or, Where Have All The Letters Gone?”

Vaccines and Validity

“The human mind seldom arrives at truth upon any subject, till it has first reached the extremity of error.”  – Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral & Philosophical (147)

The above quote was written in 1798 by one of the newly-founded United States’ leading citizens.  Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician, educator, politician and reformer was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and founded Dickinson College.  I cite him now for his medical reputation.  One of the premier physicians of his day, he founded the American psychiatry tradition, publishing the first textbook on the subject.  His contributions to the field of medical science are still influential to this day.

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