The Thursday evening conversation between game-making auteur Hideo Kojima and “Walking Dead” actor Norman Reedus about highly-anticipated PlayStation 4 game “Death Stranding” was filled with interesting anecdotes, but little in the way of hard fact.
Instead, Kojima made a promise of sorts to the audience and seemingly fans everywhere waiting for more news on the game.
“Maybe in a month or so, maybe.”
While the hour-long talk Tribeca Games talk moderated by Geoff Keighley didn’t feature many new facts, it was riddled with clues, hints, and a bit of philosophy about the game and what making it felt like and playing it will feel like.
Kojima said early on that when he designs a game he does everything in his head initially.
“But it’s kind of like I’m daydreaming,” he said. “I’m kind of brushing in the details as I make it, adding layers and layers to fill out an idea.”
He added that he tries to stick to the kernel of his story. “I want to make sure the first idea works.”
Kojima did, at one point in the conversation, describe the game, or at least his best attempt at describing it without giving anything away.
“It’s an action game, an open world action game, but it’s really new, it’s something new,” he said. “There are so many things happening in the real world, in America, in Europe, Everything is connected by the Internet but we’re not connected in the real world these days. I’m kind of putting that as a metaphor in the game. So players will have to reconnect the world in the game. You feel very alone, in solitude as well, but you’re trying to connect. The keyword for the story and the gameplay is connection. There are so many things in between of course, but the key is connection. I’ll also throw in a really new idea: you’re connected with the game and everyone is playing it together and everyone will be connected as well.
“I can’t say anymore because Sony will be very unhappy.”
He later explained that while players will have the ability to roam the world of “Death Stranding,” the game is still a narratively-driven linear game.
“It’s really difficult, to be honest, to tell a story in an open world game,” he said. “If it’s a linear game it’s much easier. I want the player to play freely, but at the same time, there is more dramatic story-telling. So it’s really difficult.
“You can move freely in the game — that means you can go anywhere you want in the game — so then what happens to my story? Sometimes I leave them to do what they want but they can’t proceed in the story. If they want to know more about the story, they have to fo this way or that then. I do want people to feel they are making the decision.”
Kojima said it’s a different way of connecting the game and the story, but that the game’s form of player choice isn’t like giving them a chance to find the “good ending or the bad ending.”
Kojima also said that the game is meant to be an emotional, evocative, affecting experience for players that won’t just make them cry, but experience an entire range of emotions.
“I think people will cry, yeah,” he said. “Our staff cries.”
The game is set “a little bit into the future” and is about something that would “tend to happen in a couple of years,” he said.
Reedus was cagey in his description of the game’s story and setting too, only noting that the experience of acting in “Death Stranding” was a collaborative one, in which he felt he was part of the process of creating the game.
Reedus said he got a sense of the story early on, but that it took him a few times to figure out what Kojima was talking about.
“It’s like what Salvidor Dali says, ‘I don’t do drugs, I am drugs,” he said. “It started to piece itself together, it’s inspirational, it’s a different way of thinking.”
Reedus added that he’s played games before, but it’s not like any of those.
“There’s violent elements to it, but it’s also different, way, completely different. It goes way deep.”
Reedus joined the project incredibly early in the process before there was a pitch document, concept images or really much more than an idea in Kojima’s head.
Kojima first met Reedus after asking him to be in a “Silent Hill” game he was making for Konami with Guillermo del Toro.
Reedus said that he got a call from del Toro telling him he should work with Kojima on the game.
“He said, ‘Do whatever he says,’” Reedus said.
Reedus met with Kojima about that project during a San Diego Comic-Con. He said was blown away by the art he was shown on an iPad.
So when Kojima started thinking about his first game after splitting with Konami, one of the first people he called was Reedus.
“It was 2016 and I only had a small office set-up and no staff hardly, and I didn’t have a game, it was ll in my head,” Kojima said. “I went to eat sushi with Norman and explained the concept without any visual or a concept sheet. I talked about two hours and then said, ‘Would you be in my game?’ and Norman said, ‘Yeah.’”
Ever since then, the experience of creating the game with Reedus — who is Sam Bridges in “Death Stranding” — has been an extremely collaborative one.
There is even a bit of a blurring of the line between Reedus’ character, Sam, and Reedus himself in the game.
Reedus said that when he asked Kojima if players would be playing as him, the game maker replied, “No, they will be you.”
Kojima explained that to deliver the sort of character he wanted in the game, he couldn’t simply fashion one out of digital art, nor could he separate the real-life Reedus from the character he plays in the game. That’s why, for instance, they did a full body scan of Reedus, making sure to capture even his tattoos to include in the game.
During Thursday night’s talk, Kojima simply said that players will be “Norman and Sam” at the same time.
The process of making the game has involved a lot of capture work with Reedus, and both Kojima and Reedus say that the actor contributes a lot to the game in those sessions.
“During recording sessions, Norman gives a lot of ideas to me,” Kojima said. “I have an image at the start — everyone thinks im a perfectionist, but no I like to do a lot of things live. I want to do a real collaboration. I do collaborate. When Norman has an idea, I give an idea back and we kind of go back and forth.
“It was a great experience.”
Reedus said that Kojima reminds him a lot of del Torro.
“He’s very much like Guillermo in a lot of ways, you can understand why they are good friends,” he said. “His attitude and vision are just infectious, you want to soak it up. Hideo is like that too.
You want to get inside his head and understand it, it’s super fascinating.”
Reedus’ own time with the game left him blown away. He called it a “playground of possibilities.” He added that he too thinks that players will cry when they play it.
“It’s a game that can go in any direction and do all of these different things, there’s a 360 of possibilities,” he said. “It will get you emotionally involved in so many different ways.”