With Death Stranding, developer Hideo Kojima has been given the freedom to tell a story and deliver a game unlike anything players have seen before. But while Death Stranding may not be part of an established IP, Kojima is still taking lessons learned from his prior work, especially on the Metal Gear Solid franchise, and using them to inform this game’s development.
While speaking to 4Players, Hideo Kojima discussed the open world of Death Stranding and how his work on Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain convinced him that non-linear games are the way to go. In his words, after experiencing what it is like to design an open world game it’s almost impossible to go back.
"Well, after experiencing an action game in an open world, you can not just go back to other things. That's what I thought. Because of the interactivity."
At the same time, Kojima acknowledges that an open world game like Death Stranding is more demanding of the technology than a linear one. Luckily, Kojima Productions worked with Horizon Zero Dawn developer Guerrilla Games to create a modified version of the latter’s Decima graphics engine. Essentially, Kojima had a strong backbone to work with on an engine that had already proven itself capable of delivering an impressive open world.
"The problem, however, is the technology. Of course it is technically difficult to create an open world. The player has the greatest possible freedom in an open world. Therefore, you are never really sure what the player will do. In this context, storytelling in an open-world game is the biggest challenge. As there is more and more freedom, it means that the story sometimes gets in the way of a distraction."
However, that is only one part of the challenge when it comes to designing Death Stranding’s open world, according to Kojima. See, with Metal Gear Solid 5, the game put its focus on open world and let story take a back seat. For a game from Kojima that was a surprise to fans and the developer even acknowledges that it turned some off. Tons of cutscenes, crazy characters, and impressive action sequences have always been signature components of the “Kojima style,” but MGS 5 was lacking in all three areas despite being a well-reviewed game overall.
So Kojima’s challenge is being able to deliver an open world game where the story is still important and players can look forward to those moments that make his games unique. He doesn’t want to disappoint his fans again.
"This time was the biggest challenge and the biggest obstacle: It's an open world, but at the same time we do not want to reduce the importance of the story, so fans of Hideo Kojima games will not be disappointed."
To Kojima’s credit, the fact that he is willing to acknowledge where Metal Gear Solid 5 might have gone wrong speaks volumes. His well-publicized split from Konami put a lot of attention on Kojima’s next move and then he surprised fans with the announcement of Death Stranding and a partnership with Sony. Now there is a lot riding on Death Stranding and while Kojima is still doing is usual confusing marketing act, he is seemingly also trying to assure fans about the experience his team is delivering. Open world games are difficult in their own right, but ones that are remembered for their story are usually even more challenging.
Death Stranding releases November 8, 2019 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.