Kojima Productions, the studio headed by director Hideo Kojima, celebrated its seventh anniversary on December 16, 2022. It used this opportunity to move its office to a larger floor in the same building, marking a new beginning. In a previous interview with IGN Japan, Kojima compared his previous office to Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, and that concept has been carried over to this new location as well. The studio boasts an even bigger white room to house a new 1:1 scale Ludens statue, and you can sense Kojima’s desire to set off into new creative waters in its spacious studio, photogrammetry room, and kitchen-lounge area that allows for large-scale socializing.
The studio is only gaining more momentum, releasing a teaser video for Death Stranding 2 [DS2] to the world at The Game Awards 2022 [TGA], the first one held in person in three years, and announcing a film adaptation of Death Stranding. Kojima Productions has been using its connections as it tirelessly runs forward, but where is it heading next? IGN Japan spoke to Kojima about the path taken by Kojima Productions so far and where it will be going from here.
IGN: Congratulations on seven years since the founding of Kojima Productions.
Hideo Kojima: Thanks. Actually, December 16 seven years ago was only the day that we officially registered the company. We started with nothing, no office and no equipment. I first borrowed a small room to use as a temporary office and put together proposals on my PC and smartphone. We moved into this building in May 2016.
IGN: It seems like you were working on making Death Stranding while putting together your studio.
Kojima: I wanted to get the word out quickly that I was making something, so I explained the project to Norman Reedus at a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles in February 2016, and then we created scans and performance capture, to release the first teaser at the beginning of June. That whole process happened at such an incredible speed.
We were able to rent space in this building a week before the teaser’s release, but we didn’t even have a room for meetings yet. Until December of that year, our daily morning meetings were held inside a small room at a cafe in this building, which we could use so long as we all ordered coffees.
Even for the Ludens logo, we didn’t have computers, so I talked it over with Shin [Yoji Shinkawa], then we drew the concept on paper by hand and finished it at an acquaintance’s design studio.
Generally speaking, only publicly traded companies are able to rent offices in this building, so we were turned down at first. We were only able to get in because one of the owners was a fan of my games. Even when it came to getting a bank loan, it was only possible because an executive at a major bank had played my games. We had absolutely nothing when we founded the company, and we’ve been able to come this far by way of our connections.
IGN: Do you remember any struggles you had or distress you experienced during that process?
Kojima: I don’t recall ever feeling distressed. I was constantly anxious about whether people would really come to work with us, or if we’d be able to complete our game, but I had a sense of duty. Ultimately, I just had to do what I’ve always done, which is make games. I may not have had money or equipment, but I did things as I’d always done when making things at Konami. I stayed quick on my feet and looked for solutions on my own. It’s a bit like making an independent movie.
For example, I made the handprints left in the beach in the first Death Stranding trailer out of wire, filming the previsualization in the shared hallway of the office we used before moving here. Other companies also used that hallway, though, so people would wonder what I could possibly be doing when they saw me.
It was the same when I first entered the games industry. When making the effect in Metal Gear Solid 2 where bird poop falls onto the lens, I went to the parking lot, took lots of pictures of pigeon droppings, and used them as reference. I also went out with a camera in a typhoon to record what the rain looked like. While I may have been in a new place, what I was doing was the same. In addition to the methodology of making games as a creator, I also had the management [production] knowhow of gathering people, funds, and technology to create a place for making things, which made it possible to start again from scratch. I think this is all thanks to the time I spent at Konami.
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Lessons learned at Konami
IGN: Did your experiences at Konami play a big role in your path from the founding of Kojima Productions to today?
Kojima: I learned so many things at Konami. It was rare for a creator to work on both development and business, but I even worked as an executive there, and they thoroughly taught me everything down to how to run a business. Before I ever became a manager, I was in a department that developed MSX2 titles and came up with a proposal for a game called Snatcher. I didn’t just want to make it for the MSX2, though. I also wanted to make an adventure game for the PC-8800 series, which allowed you to make more detailed graphics, and so I gave the proposal to my superior. We were the MSX2 department, of course, which meant we had no development tools for the PC-8800 series and no outlets we could sell to, but somehow I received approval. When I told the development staff, they asked me, “So how exactly are we going to make this, Kojima?” I went to the electronics district and looked for development tools. It was a company willing to leave things to people who took action themselves and under their own risk.
Originally, I was just coming up with projects as a director, but that meant I never got to know what my budget was, I couldn’t choose the release dates or become involved in promotion, and even if I said I needed more help I wouldn’t get more people assigned to me. I didn’t even have a say in what my staff were being paid. I knew things couldn’t keep going this way, and that’s when Mr [Kagemasa] Kozuki [Chairman of Konami] allowed me to run a company. In 1996 we rented a floor in Yebisu Garden Place and formed a group company called KCE Japan, where I was able to be a manager and a producer as well. Up until that point, even if I said I wanted to work with [designer] Kyle Cooper, nobody else in the company would know who he was and I’d simply be told no. If you’re producing your own games, though, you get budgeted money so long as you’re able to provide numbers and predict what sales will be. It gave me an incredible amount of freedom when creating games.
IGN: Was Mr Kozuki’s presence a major factor for you, then?
Kojima: I even have Mr. Kozuki to thank for me being able to create here at Kojima Productions. 9/11 took place in 2001 right before the release of Metal Gear Solid 2. We’d just sent off the master, but the game featured both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It seemed impossible to release the game. I was called to the board of directors and they all turned pale when I explained the situation. Nobody would tell me what to do, with the exception of Mr. Kozuki, who tackled the issue.
As I thought about what to do, I went to speak with Mr. Kozuki about possibly quitting the company. That’s when he told me: ‘When this game comes out and society has their say about it, they’ll be talking about you, its creator, and me, the person who sold it. I doubt they’ll say anything about anyone else. What will you do? I’m ready for whatever happens.’
When I heard how far he was willing to go, I made the firm decision that we’d release it together. The rest is history.
I become completely exhausted, and I always end up in an awful state when I finish making a game. After the first Metal Gear Solid, even after it was done I wasn’t recovering at all and ended up being passed from one hospital to the next. Mr. Kozuki was the only one who worried about me then. Looking back, I feel like he showed more concern for me than anyone whenever I was having trouble.
IGN: Your style of promoting, producing and creating games on your own seems like something born from the people you met at Konami and your time at the company.
Kojima: In my experience, I always end up telling creators I meet to be their own producer. You can’t make what you want otherwise. Directors I know in the film business, such as Nicholas Winding Refn and Guillermo del Toro, they both produce their own movies. Yes, you should of course find a good producer who understands your proposals, but it’s not that easy. When I create in particular, I think it’s best for me to manage the business side of things too, including promotion. I think there aren’t many people like that in the Japanese games industry these days, although I’d say Mr. Miyazaki [of FromSoftware] is out there working hard.
Of course, my company will get bloated if I tried to do sales on my own too, so I’m not able to expand into publishing, and I have no intentions of doing so. In that sense, I think Kojima Productions is an indie studio that focuses on creating things.
IGN: You appeared in front of a public audience for the first time in three years a little while ago at TGA. How did you feel then?
Kojima: It was a spectacular experience. After three years of being behind a screen, unable to see the audience’s reaction directly, getting to go there myself and interact with people I hadn’t seen for that long made me think that maybe this is what humans were meant to do.
The internet is convenient, of course, but breathing the same air, seeing the same things in the same places, and sharing the same emotions really is something important to me. It was the first time in three years I got to meet Geoff Keighley in person, too. He was exhausted, though, since it seems he hadn’t slept for about three days getting ready for TGA.
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Kojima’s cancelled short film, and rewriting the themes behind DS2
IGN: Did the pandemic affect the process of creation at Kojima Productions?
Kojima: It was really tough! Almost all of our meetings were via video calls from the start of the pandemic, and we even did performance-capture work remotely. Before Covid, we would always come to the studio and motivate one another to do our best work, but then it was like all the studio’s members became external staff.
Phase 2 of Kojima Productions was originally supposed to start in 2020, but the pandemic meant that all the casting and shooting we’d planned to do at the time was no longer possible. The PC version and Director’s Cut for Death Stranding were difficult too, in that we had to figure out how to make them remotely. We managed to make it work, since these weren’t new titles, but a lot of plans are behind schedule because of Covid. There was even talk of a short film, but that got shelved due to Covid.
IGN: When you say a short film, do you mean an original one by you?
Kojima: It was a screenplay I wrote that we planned to put out as a video. I had been thinking of making this as a short film as a first dip into Hollywood, and the script still exists, but we don’t intend on making it anymore, at least right now.
IGN: That’s… very unfortunate. You also mentioned this during the DS2 reveal, but it seems that the pandemic had a major effect on your creative output as well.
Kojima: It was the same with 9/11. Fiction changes when something that big happens. When something takes place that nobody thought was possible, works of fiction written before it become less effective as entertainment.
That’s why I completely rewrote DS2 from its themes up as well. You can’t pretend that something this big never happened. While the games themselves are based on characters who are not bound by our reality, the players themselves have gone through the pandemic, and a story written before that experience just wouldn’t resonate with them in the same way, whether it was a fantasy story or a sci-fi one.
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Effects of the pandemic on Kojima and entertainment in general
IGN: Could you tell us more about how you think the pandemic changed your state of mind?
Kojima: I personally feel a sense of danger regarding the continued movement toward promoting remote work, leaving Tokyo, and minimizing the amount of face-to-face contact required because of the pandemic.
Humans exist in a physical reality. When I went to America and finally got to hug people again, that feeling (of directly meeting people and coming in contact with them) was just so different. Death Stranding was a story of connecting two distant places, A and B. Like the internet, right? I could have a video call with America, and our two points would connect for that period only. That isn’t something negative on its own, but the truth is that humans aren’t stationary animals. We move, and in that process we meet unexpected people, see new things, or even fall over at times. I think that what causes us to evolve as humans is the accumulation of these kinds of unpredictable, happenstance experiences. That’s why I think it’s a little misguided to haphazardly rush into the metaverse or Doraemon’s Anywhere Door just because Covid happened.
Creating connections was the right thing to do in Death Stranding, and there are a lot of isolated people who were able to survive because of connections once the pandemic really happened. I just wonder if we should be doing that via the internet alone.
IGN: So much has changed since the release of Death Stranding, world affairs included.
Kojima: Isolation and division are taking place as we speak. The world is changing so much, not just because of Covid, and we won’t be able to go back to how things were. I’ve been thinking about what kind of power entertainment has in that situation. Entertainment can’t intervene in politics, nor can it be used as a weapon. The existence of entertainment can change the world, though, and I want to help put life into people by providing them with entertainment. That’s another way in which I can’t go back to my old view of the world, or the way I used to make my work.”
IGN: I think many fans have been able to get a new understanding of the world through your work.
Kojima: Videogames were not common when I was little, so I was raised on films and novels. Times have changed to the point where now you might be in the minority if you don’t play games. Now that people aren’t reading books or watching movies as much as they used to, I want to put what I got from those mediums out into the world as games. I hope I can always keep creating with that in mind, even if the times change.
IGN: There have been drastic changes in the situation that entertainment finds itself in as well. Do you have any thoughts on the current environment?
Kojima: I think that gaming hardware platforms will ultimately vanish, and it will all be sharable anytime, anywhere and with anyone, on devices like smartphones, tablets and PCs. My concern, though, is that the world might become one where entertainment is brought down to us from above. Even now, AI will recommend what it thinks you’ll like, and I think we’ll end in a place where individual videos change depending on who is watching them.
The sound of music changed once it started being released on CD instead of vinyl records. You’re able to instantly skip tracks on a CD, so the order of the verses, bridges and choruses in a song began to shift [to engage the listener from the start of the song]. Maybe it’s inevitable that only pleasing works of entertainment will survive as entertainment changes because of the medium, but there is a danger to that as well.
IGN: The appearance of subscription services has dramatically changed the environment for movie-watching in particular.
Kojima: Movies used to have a lead-up time where the film was announced a couple of years in advance and you waited for its release, excitedly imagining what it was going to be like. Then you would go to the movie theater and pay for a ticket so you could sit down for two solid hours and finally watch the film for real, which delivered a large payoff. Now, though, people are starting to enjoy watching with high-speed playback, whether it’s movies or YouTube. It’s become commonplace for those videos to have something that grips the viewer at the start, and to avoid making anything long. Maybe that’s just how things are now, but we also need a place for work that isn’t made in this way.
Death Stranding was the opposite, an experience that you slowly ease into. It’s hard to strike a balance without also having to work that progression in this way. It’s the same as what I just said about going from A to B. It won’t be good for us if we keep simply connecting two points and never get to experience the process of doing so. That’s why I thought that a system of chance meetings was necessary. It’s not good to absorb only things that are easy to digest, and sometimes being confronted by something you don’t understand gives you the opportunity to ruminate on it over and over. Death Stranding is that kind of work, so it stands to reason that some people won’t like the experience.
IGN: There seems to be a direct connection between Death Stranding as a work and the issues that interest you.
Kojima: I think that sooner or later, we’ll find ourselves in a world where AI is placed between people in order to intermediate, allowing us to interact even without speaking to each other directly. We won’t have to meet people we don’t like or don’t get along with, argue and fight with them, or even make up. When I turn on a smart TV and the first thing I see is a ranking of recommended titles, I get the sense that this trend is starting with the field of entertainment.
IGN: That line of thinking would also make us reconsider the act of connection carried out by Sam in Death Stranding.
Kojima: There’s a line in the DS2 teaser that says, ‘Should we have connected?’ I think that you should be the one to decide what your connections are. Even in this interview, I want to talk and connect to you directly, and the same goes for you, right? But on the internet or on Twitter, you can be connected without that direct intention. You end up connected with strangers even if you think you never connected. It makes me wonder if there’s a danger in everything being too connected like this, and I think that’s what will ultimately end up becoming important.
Kojima’s intentions for the Death Stranding movie adaptation
IGN: The news of a Death Stranding film adaptation was announced a few hours before this interview. How did you come to work with Hammerstone Studios?
Kojima: I was on video calls with lots of people in Hollywood every week beginning last year, and not just for Death Stranding. I received a lot of offers, but my intention from the start was never to make a blockbuster film. Alex Lebovici from Hammerstone Studios shared my vision with regards to that. There were a lot of pitches to make a large-scale movie with famous actors and flashy explosions, but what good would explosions be in Death Stranding? Making money isn’t something I’m focused on at all, either. I’m aiming for a more arthouse approach, and the only person who offered to make a film like that was Alex Lebovici, which makes me think he’s a rather unusual type.
IGN: Have you made any decisions at this point about whether characters from the game, like Sam for example, will making an appearance?
Kojima: We haven’t quite decided that yet. The failure of film adaptations of games from a while back has led to a lot of movies that cater to gamers, right? That’s why they have the same kind of look as a game. I don’t want the Death Stranding movie to be like that. Rather, I’m taking the approach of changing and evolving the world of Death Stranding in a way that suits film well. I made Death Stranding to be a game, and games are games. There’s no real need to turn them into films. So in a way, the Death Stranding movie is taking a direction that nobody has tried before with a movie adaptation of a game. I think that what I need to make is something that will inspire some of the people who watch it to become creators 10 or 20 years down the line.
Preparing to jet on to the next planet
IGN: As far as games, Kojima Productions is currently developing DS2 and a title for Xbox, is that correct?
Kojima: In addition to DS2, we’re making one other unusual title. I knew that players expected the first release by Kojima Productions to be a videogame, so I started by making Death Stranding. While making games is harder than making any kind of video work, they’re also the most fun at the end of the day.
Kojima Production isn’t publicly traded, so I don’t have some goal of steadily growing the company. I just want to leave behind good work, and that’s the stance I’m taking while making games, while also considering making other kinds of visual projects. We’re going to maintain the stance of making our own IP and not working on IP licensed from others.
While Covid delayed things a bit, Kojima Productions has exited the atmosphere with its first booster rocket and is ready to detach its second to go to the next planet.
IGN: Your office has gotten bigger too. Will you be having more and more talent join your studio?
Kojima: I don’t want to add too many people, but I do of course intend on making that happen. The overwhelming majority of applicants we get are from overseas, and many of them are talented individuals, but ultimately there are lot of issues if they’re not able to work with us here in Shinagawa and speak Japanese. That’s why when we launched the studio I limited applications to people who could speak Japanese. I’m thinking it’s about time to get rid of that condition, though. I want to be even more assertive than before when it comes to providing Japanese language support to staff who need it. That said, I do want staff to come to work here at the Shinagawa office whenever possible, so I’d prefer to hire people who don’t mind living in Japan.
IGN: Have you considered establishing a studio overseas?
Kojima: There’s no way I’d create an overseas studio. We’re focused on making things in-house with our own hands. That said, we don’t have too many people on staff and do ask outside companies to work on things like props that just sit on tables, but we’d be the only ones making the sequence of movements where the player picks them up.
People thought Kojima was ‘mad’: The Microsoft project
IGN: In June this year, there was news that Microsoft will be partnering with Kojima Productions for a new cloud project. This seems like it’ll present new opportunities on a technical level as well.
Kojima: I tend to get easily bored. Part of why I’ve been able to make games for 30 years is because new technology replaces the old so quickly. The tech you use today may not be applicable tomorrow, and I’m interested in figuring out ways to incorporate the new. Making the wrong choice can result in failure, of course. It’s a bit like a space program in that way. The project we’re working on with Microsoft is one I have been thinking about for five or six years already. The project required infrastructure that was never needed before, so I discussed it with lots of different big companies and gave presentations, but they really seemed to think that I was mad. It was ultimately Microsoft who showed that they understood, and now we’re working together on the project, including the technology front.
IGN: Are there any kinds of philosophies or feelings you’d like to leave behind at Kojima Productions, a company bearing your name, as it continues into the future for the next 50 or 100 years?
Kojima: That’s a good question. I’ve never really thought about that. I’ll keep leading so long as I’m around, and all that matters to me is that our roots when it comes to creation are kept intact. But you know, I’ll probably become an AI and stick around. You need to be stimulated in lots of different ways if you want to keep creating new things, so I imagine I’ll keep collaborating with others and taking in new things even if I’m an AI.
IGN: It was cool to see the photo you posted on Twitter with Al Pacino at The Game Awards. I can’t wait to see all the different talented people you collaborate with in the future.
Kojima: Using actors isn’t easy. It means a bigger budget, scheduling issues and more. But I think I’m making the right choice by capturing actual actors and having them act. Once you see performances that expressive, CG that we’ve made from the ground up seems so unconvincing. It seems like they scanned Idris Elba for the Cyberpunk 2077 DLC recently, and there are more and more actors becoming interested in games. The chemical reactions that occur when creating with lots of different actors are just so interesting.
It’s not just actors who grew up playing games, but even film industry people who are under 50, directors, screenwriters, and producers. There are a lot of people who want to make games. I don’t know if it’ll be in the form of a game or a film, but I’m just waiting for the right moment and trying to collaborate with those kinds of people.
What will they show us next?
The path Kojima has taken is just like the story of Death Stranding, moving forward and changing through connections. Kojima Productions is making games that connect the world and expanding out into films and drama. What will they show us next? We’re fascinated to see where the studio travels next in its starship.
Thumbnail photo credit: Daniel Robson.
Shuka Yamada is a freelance writer for IGN Japan. This article was translated by Ko Ransom.