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March 31, 2011 / jwaxo

Metal Gear Solid (Storytelling)

Really, the entire series is about boxes.

Time to jump ahead a few years from my last blog entry. That one happened in, what, probably 1994-ish? This centers around the year 1999 or thereabouts, probably. Walkmen were still in, terrorists weren’t nearly as big of a deal to us schoolkids, and having an entire video game plot happen with fully-voiced scenes and crazy, twisting plots was about the most crazy idea you could have.

My brother, a pretty common character for future blog posts, was the one who bought the Playstation. As I recall, it was from some friend of his, probably one of the millions of kids who owned one of every system that we always seemed to run into. The Sega that adorned our family room was probably gathering dust by now, although I would whip it out for some Sonic or Vectorman action every now and again, and in a year it would be replaced by an N64 that I would get for my birthday. In walks my big bro with this gray blocky machine (but then, so were most consoles back in those days) that played games, strangely enough, from CDs. The games he got it with were strange beings, with their glossy black bottoms and CD cases that could continue to hold, believe it or not, manuals.

Manuals. Now there are some soon-to-be-extinct creatures that had a very brief and awesome existence. None of the games for our first few consoles came with manuals, as they were all bought used. A few years ago I read the original Zelda guide and pretty much gaped in disbelief that such a thing had existed. It just never occurred to me; after all, cartridges didn’t need cases, as they were quite durable on their own, so where would one even keep the manual, if one were to buy them used? I have no idea. All of our PC games had manuals, and I read them quite frequently, and still have my Master of Orion II manual sitting on my desk (now that is a future blog post. Going on the list!). Now manuals are being pared down more and more, either to save on shipping or printing or writing or whatever. You only ever find them in console games, and more often than not they’re a few brief pages that explain the controls that are then duplicated in six different languages. You used to be able to judge the quality of a game by picking it off of the shelf and weighing it in your hands.

Oh yeah. That one has a lot of meat in it.

Where even was I? The Playstation. The dawn of a new kind of storytelling. 1999.

My bro’s PSX came with two games, used, from his friend, and both would introduce us to a world that had never existed before on our NES or Genesis. The first is the timeless, awesome Soul Reaver, itself almost a blatant ripoff of the now archtypical Zelda-style game, but featuring a kickass opening cinematic that sucked us in with a crazy premise and the mouth-wateringly talented voices of Tony Jay, Michael Bell and Simon Templeton. The Metroidvania collecting of souls, the twists and turns of the gigantic time-skip, the awesome graphics and animations absolutely blew our minds.

Just think about it for a moment. Up until this point in time, the only kinds of games that had existed were mostly formless, barely-there plots, using the gameplay to pull you in. But here, with the advent of actually flexible storage and processors fast enough to use them, we could finally see what interactive stories were like. We had never owned any kind of RPGs, so we missed that entire genre in the NES, never owned an SNES, so opportunities were lost there: the Playstation was really our first experience. And there we were, right in the middle of it.

I could probably draw a variation of this for every blog post.

The other game was some weird game that didn’t have voices and had some weird kind of “battle system” where you didn’t even see the enemy until you were fighting and you had to wait your turn to attack. Needless to say, my brother traded in Final Fantasy VII for some kind of racing game and I didn’t experience the epicness of JRPGs until Pokémon got big later that year.

And then he came home some day with tales of a game he had played at his best friend’s house, where you were on some kind of mission for the President and you hid in a cardboard box or something. It sounded fun, but weird.

It. Was. Awesome.

Let me backtrack a bit. I know, I’ve already gone off on a tangent about manuals before, but this is integral to understanding how I grew up on some of these games. When my brother and I played games on the Playstation, I didn’t actually play. I got the privilege of watching. I don’t even think I touched Soul Reaver, that classic of classics, until 2001 or so, when the Playstation was placed with care into my hands for watching over while my brother was away for an extended period of time. So when I first found how fun and awesome Metal Gear Solid was, I didn’t even play it. When my brother finally beat it, with Snake and Otacon driving epically away on a snowmobile while some Japanese lady sang about the best being yet to come, and we watched the credits in awe, I hadn’t touched the controller, ever. And it was instantly one of my favorite games ever. Heck, if my brother was going to play it, he would be sure to let me know.

See? You probably didn’t miss it from before. But that was how it was.

I’m not sure if MGS was the point at which games that are heavy on story began forgoing gameplay for story, but it was definitely a turning point. I highly encourage you to go back and replay it, with little messing around, and find out just how much of the game is purely traveling from one boss point to another. I’m not pointing out anything that hasn’t been said before, but really think about that. How many games nowadays, if they have story, have gameplay that is anything to really scoff at? Only the best ones.

Not that MGS didn’t have gameplay. I’m not sure how long it took “us” to beat it, but there was a heck of a lot of fun to be had. Sneaking, hiding, boxes, punching, flipping people as you ran past them, choking people, “Whose footprints are these?”, all of it. It’s funny, but even though I know the story affected me in a big way (we were pretty much disabled for the rest of the day when it was over due to sheer mind-blowingness), mostly I just remember watching my brother goof off for hours on end. One of the most historically cinematic games in video game history, and all I can remember is watching my brother not doing anything particularly cinematic about it, and the final cinematic.

For the record, I continued the tradition of always watching someone else play an MGS game before I got to play it up until MGS4 came out. And really, MGS4 pretty much played itself!

But seriously, even after four games and ten years the series managed to completely blow my mind, and ushered in a new kind of storytelling: one that wasn’t just an excuse to do cool things, and one that wasn’t just the story with you doing nothing, but a crazy mix of things.

Man, this post really went nowhere and was mostly covered by the title, wasn’t it?

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12 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Scott and Camber / Apr 1 2011 4:58 AM

    A couple of things

    -The amount of “meat” to quality ratio of FF VII was grossly misleading
    -I love the caption, “Oh yeah. That one has a lot of meat in it.” There is something strangely disturbing about that sentence. hahahaha
    -I love that we are both looking up in the picture it give the illusion that that we are playing on a tv larger than that 17 incher in my bedroom…a projection or something. Very nice.
    -You forgot to include the best line of that game. “My stomach!”

    Great post bro.

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