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When promoting Metal Gear Survive, Konami has largely kept its development team out of the spotlight
Ollie Hoff

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The people who made Metal Gear Survive

We dig through the credits to take a closer look at Konami’s development team

When Konami announced Metal Gear Survive, many were surprised. Somewhat, perhaps, because of the concept, which brought action and zombies to a series known for stealth and politics. But also because the future of the series had been unclear.

Following a public split between Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima and publisher Konami, as well as Konami restructuring its company and Kojima taking some of his staff with him to a new studio, it was hard to tell whether there was much of a Metal Gear team left.

For certain fans, the first question was, “Who’s making this?”

A year and a half later, it’s a question many still have trouble answering. While Konami has provided a few basic details on the team, it’s largely kept the staff out of the public eye, choosing to focus on the game itself.

The company has set up very few interviews to promote the game. It’s left staff credits out of trailers. It’s renamed the team internally to sound like part of an assembly line — Production Department 8 — and externally to go by the same name as the rest of the company: Konami Digital Entertainment. Even the press release announcing the game featured a quote from the president of Konami’s European division rather than a member of the development team.

The story everyone tells about Metal Gear Survive is that it’s the first Metal Gear game following Hideo Kojima’s departure, but we haven’t heard much about the other side of that equation: the group that’s taken his place.

And now that the game’s out, we have a list of staff credits. So we dug through them to see what we could learn.

The film

Before we get to the credits and what they show, it’s important to look at the context surrounding them.

Part of the reason Konami’s lack of promotion of the Survive team stands out, after all, is because its previous tenant is perhaps the single most visible development celebrity in the game industry, and has spent quite a bit of time promoting himself, his games and his team Kojima Productions (both in its original incarnation as an internal Konami studio and in its current incarnation as an independent studio).

Hideo Kojima is the rare game developer who can post a photo of his lunch and generate more traffic than most Twitter users see in their lifetime. And while he was at Konami, that fame went hand in hand with the power he held. Kojima’s Metal Gear games came with a personal touch and viewpoint that’s rare in the world of games made by hundreds of people. So when he left Konami, the impact landed harder than a single developer leaving may have elsewhere.

art of Hideo Kojima leaving a hole at Konami
When Konami and Hideo Kojima parted ways, it left a hole for the company to fill.
Ollie Hoff

In most other situations, players wouldn’t have blinked at a publisher continuing a series after the creator or studio moved on. When Jason Jones and Bungie left Microsoft, Halo kept going. Fans may not have been wild about the changes, but they didn’t question their existence to the degree that they have with Metal Gear. For a lot of fans, Kojima’s imprint was so closely connected to Metal Gear that it felt strange to see Konami continuing the series without him.

All of this has put Konami in a unique situation, where there’s a perception that the company is starting over with Metal Gear, even though — as it turns out — a significant portion of the team consists of Metal Gear veterans. It’s just not all veterans who used to hold the same roles that they do now.

Ryan Payton has been watching this unfold from the sidelines, with a history that has let him see this sort of situation from both sides. He worked with Kojima as as a producer on Metal Gear Solid 4, and then was part of the initial team that Microsoft hired to take over Halo after Bungie moved on. He says that what he learned from that experience is that it’s better to walk before you run, noting that he would have liked to see the rebuilt team at Konami start with a smaller project like a director’s cut version of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain (as he calls it, a “Substance or Subsistence” version), since the original Phantom Pain ended up shipping in an incomplete state.

But, he says, “I can understand the ambition. It brings me back to my early days on the Halo 4 project — we were a new team with something to prove, and in retrospect, may have benefited from remaking the first Halo game before taking on such a big endeavor as a sequel to Halo: Reach.”

We don’t know why Konami has chosen to downplay the staff this time around. Konami didn’t respond to Polygon’s request to comment for this story in time for publication, so we can only speculate.

Strategically, it could be to keep the messaging on the game itself rather than sit through interview after interview of questions about Kojima. It could be that the company sees more value in other types of promotion, or that the team doesn’t want the attention. It could be a hesitance on Konami’s part toward raising the profile of its other developers and seeing them gain the same sort of notoriety Kojima had.

Another potential factor in all this is Konami’s 2015 reorganization. Around the same time that reports surfaced about Kojima leaving, Konami restructured its staff into what it called a “headquarters-controlled” and “centralized production division” setup. As part of this, we know that Konami took management power away from creative leaders and internally renamed the Metal Gear team “Production Department 8.” One of the reasons behind doing so was to give Konami the ability to shift around its resources more easily, moving staff between projects as needed rather than having clearly designated silos. All these ideas seem to play into the idea of taking the focus off of individual developers and teams and putting everything under the broader Konami umbrella, but we don’t know to what degree this might have affected Survive’s team (and its credits).

Ben Judd is a partner at game talent agency DDM, and says he’s heard that Konami has shifted from one typical marketing tactic that studios often use to promote their games — particularly in Japan — which is to establish a highly visible spokesperson who can appear in photoshoots, on livestreams and at public events, essentially becoming an entertainer and giving players a face to associate with the product.

“Hideo Kojima leaving, or being made to leave Konami, kind of signaled [...] Konami had made a decision that the whole ’90s/2000s rockstar face-of-the-game person was no longer necessary,” says Judd. “Because they had already gone so far down the mobile revenue hole, and they had taken their business and they had diversified into sports clubs and [other businesses] to the point that they were just like, ‘We don’t need it. Having a Hideo Kojima actually is more dangerous than it is an advantage, because he’s gonna come back and want more money and expect to do all these things, and you have to put so much money in PR and all these extra things you’re gonna do, when you don’t need that for a mobile game. It’s wasted.’”

The credits

So, what can we learn about Survive’s development from its credits? Looking over the list, we came up with a handful of specific and broad observations.

To be clear, this is an inherently flawed exercise. Credits are often complicated and inconsistent, especially on games made by hundreds of people. People leave games midproject, run into disputes with management, agree to work that goes uncredited and disagree on their placement. “I still have nightmares about [the Metal Gear Solid 4] credits,” says Payton, referring to the challenge in representing everyone accurately.

But Survive’s credits offer our best look to date at Konami’s team, so we dove in knowing we’d need to remain cautious with any assumptions.

At first glance, a lot of the names appear familiar — or at least familiar to someone who’s been staring at The Phantom Pain’s credits for a week. Both internally at Konami and via outsourcing partners, it’s clear that this team retained quite a few people — though in a lot of cases they have different titles. Almost all the leadership roles have turned over, for instance, with a team member lower on the food chain from The Phantom Pain replacing a team member who left.

One oddity that shows up near the top of the list is that Kiefer Sutherland is listed as doing facial capture for the game. While Sutherland voiced and did facial capture for The Phantom Pain, it would be strange if he had worked on Survive and Konami had chosen not to use him in promoting the game. It seems likely that this credit covers a short flashback scene at the beginning of the game, reusing work done for The Phantom Pain, rather than new work done for Survive.

If that’s the case, it may make Konami’s crediting process difficult to decipher across the board, as Survive reuses countless parts of The Phantom Pain. It’s hard to know where Konami would have drawn the line.

Another high-profile name that pops up in the facial capture section is Yuri Lowenthal, known for hundreds of voice acting roles, perhaps most notably the prince in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Like Sutherland, he also has a facial capture credit in The Phantom Pain, so again it makes us skeptical that he did new work for Survive.

A rep for Sutherland tells Polygon they aren’t able to provide more information. Lowenthal tells Polygon that he doesn’t remember doing any work on Survive, but that he sometimes works on games under code names, so it’s possible something slipped through without him realizing it.

Scroll through the cast list and the game’s first development credit goes to Yota Tsutsumizaki. If the credits paint an accurate picture, he’s the closest figure Survive has to someone replacing Kojima (though seemingly without the same level of managerial control). He not only tops the overall list and gets the director credit, but appears in multiple places throughout the list, from being a contributing writer to working on user interface text. In The Phantom Pain’s credits, Kojima appears 14 times. In Survive’s, Tsutsumizaki appears 10 times.

According to credits from previous games, Tsutsumizaki joined the team on Metal Gear Solid 3, starting as a scripter and working his way up to lead planner for The Phantom Pain. He appeared in The Phantom Pain’s credits four times. As far as we can tell, he hasn’t done any English interviews yet in his career, and we weren’t able to find anyone who could speak to working with him for this story.

Other established names that pop up on the development team list include writer Gun Snark, who worked on the manga Attack on Titan: No Regrets; and creature designer Masahiro Ito, known for working a variety of roles on the Silent Hill series — and for designing its iconic villain Pyramid Head.

Perhaps the name most well-known to Metal Gear fans, though, doesn’t appear until the very bottom of the credits: the game’s producer, Yuji Korekado. Prior to Survive’s release, he was the one team member whom Konami occasionally put forward to speak publicly about the game, appearing on stage at the 2016 Tokyo Game Show and doing a handful of media interviews. He even appeared in a commentary video Konami released.

Korekado has been with the series since the original Metal Gear Solid was released in 1998. He started as a programmer, working his way up over the course of each game and serving as lead programmer on Metal Gear Solid 4. Around that time, he started branching out and taking on additional responsibilities. As part of a documentary released alongside Metal Gear Solid 4, he appeared as a rare staffer challenging Kojima, getting into an argument about whether to stabilize a build of the game and get rid of bugs versus tweaking the game to improve it. As the programmer, Korekado favored stabilizing it, but Kojima overruled him.

Following his work on Metal Gear Solid 4, Korekado took over as the producer for the action spinoff Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance — which put him in the public eye via dozens of interviews promoting the game, and gave him more creative input.

“That was a big surprise for me,” says Payton. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, he’s going for it.’ Based on my experience, it’s unusual for Japanese staff to make that sort of leap.”

Payton also says that one of the things that impressed him about Korekado while working on Metal Gear Solid 4 was Korekado’s eagerness to study Western games, since one of the team’s goals was to make the game appeal more to players outside of Japan.

“I will never forget the time he invited me and some other team members to go out late at night to play Counter-Strike at a random PC cafe,” Payton says. “I had to cancel because of jet lag from a recent trip and still regret not joining. That said, I was happy that he and his crew were making the effort to play non-Japanese games given how important Western sales were for Metal Gear Solid 4. I distinctly remember complaining about how many of our staffers would line up up early in the morning to buy Dragon Quest re-releases on Nintendo DS but wouldn’t pay much attention to the games I was bringing into the office, like Halo 3, BioShock, Gears of War and Assassin’s Creed. I was on a mission to help educate some of our team members, but I never worried about Korekado.”

Numbers to take with a heavy dose of salt

For the final part of our analysis, we moved beyond individuals and into aggregate data. We built a spreadsheet to compare the teams behind Survive and The Phantom Pain, looking to see what staff numbers could reveal.

We started with simple totals — the number of people credited on The Phantom Pain (794) versus the number on Survive (451). For this, we included everyone on each list, from the development staff to outsourcing partners to Konami’s regional offices, and in each case the development team seems to account for less than one-third of the total number. The disparity between games makes sense, considering that The Phantom Pain was an extravagant AAA release while Survive is a budget title that reuses a lot of the same technology and content.

art of TV showing credits with question marks scrolling by
Prior to Metal Gear Survive’s release, Konami only publicly named one member of the development team.
Ollie Hoff

Next, we attempted to whittle the numbers down to the staff that worked at Kojima Productions on The Phantom Pain, and see what fraction of them returned for Survive. Leading up to Survive’s release, quite a few fans asked how much of the former Kojima Productions staff remained at Konami following Kojima’s departure. This proved especially complicated to answer, as The Phantom Pain’s credits — in most cases — do not specifically list whether the person worked for Kojima Productions. We did background checks on everyone we were able to and ended up with too many gaps to be able to confidently post specific overall numbers, but our best approximation based on the data we have is that roughly one-fourth returned to work on Survive.

Again, it’s important to put that number in context. Just because approximately one-fourth of the team appears in Survive’s credits doesn’t mean that that’s the number that stayed at Konami, or that the rest went to the new Kojima Productions. Some may have shuffled around within Konami, and others may have moved to other companies. Also, staff may have left midproject, making things more complicated.

Finally, we sorted the numbers in reverse, identifying the people in Survive’s credits who held roles on the core development team, and seeing what fraction of them returned from The Phantom Pain. This way, we wouldn’t factor in the scale of the projects, and could simply look at the percentage of people who worked on Survive who had stuck around.

Similar to the previous tally, this total came in with a few too many anomalies to post accurate total numbers, but a rough count suggests that approximately two-thirds of the development team on Survive had previously worked on The Phantom Pain.

Hitting the ceiling

At a certain point when writing a story about a credits list, you hit a ceiling. There’s only so far you can take this sort of speculation without knowing what’s happening inside a company, and Konami is more secretive than most.

We know there are quite a few Metal Gear veterans still at Konami, though generally they’re people who weren’t in leadership roles prior to Survive. And we know the team didn’t make Survive from scratch, instead reusing a lot of the art and technology from The Phantom Pain. This is certainly a cheaper way to make a Metal Gear game, and it comes with a cheaper retail price to match.

But we don’t know a lot about most of the specific people, the value they bring, whether they’re in an environment where they can do high-quality work or whether they’ll stick together for the next game. Are these people eager young staff who saw an opportunity to take control over the series, or are they leftover folks who didn’t get picked for Kojima’s new studio? As with most things, the answer probably isn’t clear-cut.

Survive’s credits may offer a hint of an understanding in all this, but for now it seems that a hint is all we’ll get.

Additional research: Blake Hester

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