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By John Szczepaniak, 26 May 2012

Interview with Toshinari Oka

Original cover art by Yoshiyuki Takani, one of the most famous illustrators of TAMIYA military plastic model kits (click for full version)

Due to low sales Kojima didn't plan for a sequel to Metal Gear. Instead, he started on Snatcher for the NEC PC-88. The US release of the NES port meanwhile did phenomenally well. In the November 1988 issue of Nintendo Power it ranked third after Zelda and Metroid, and allegedly it stayed in the monthly top 30 until January 1990. Konami Japan was aware of this and asked several members of the Castlvevania III team to produce a sequel specifically for the West. In an interview for the now-defunct Gamers Today website, Kojima explained: "When I was in the MSX division, this one guy in the Famicom division developed Snake's Revenge. One day we hopped on a train together. We were talking and he says, 'I'm developing this game called Snake's Revenge, but I know it's not the authentic Snake, so please create a new game of your own.' That was when I decided to create Metal Gear 2." And when asked what he thought of Snake's Revenge, Kojima replied: "I thought it was very faithful to the Metal Gear concept. I enjoyed it."

Wanting the inside story, I tracked down Toshinari Oka, who kindly did an interview through an interpreter. My first question was on his involvement with Konami's SD Snatcher, since some websites credit him: "I didn't work with SD Snatcher. I might have been part of SD Snatcher, but I cannot remember. I joined Konami in 1986, in April. Do you know Parodius? I worked on the MSX version. The very, very first version of Parodius. I worked on so many games. King Kong 2, and the MSX versions of Nemesis 2 and Castlevania."

I confirmed that he was programmer on MG2: "Ah, yes, I was. When the project was launched, I was Kojima-san's co-worker at Konami. We joined Konami the same year, at the same time. At that time we were friends, and when the manager of R&D decided to launch the project, I was chosen as the programmer."

Life in 1990 was very different, so I asked what an average day was like. "When I went to the company in the morning, right away I went to the cafeteria. And usually Kojima-san and myself, and other colleagues who were friends, would chat. I don't remember exactly what time, but probably around like nine o'clock, that's the beginning of work at Konami, I would start programming. Then we'd have lunch time, and I'd go with Kojima-san and some other colleagues. Then sometimes later we'd have supper, where we'd eat out, then come back to the company to work again. Sometimes I finished work earlier, it depended on the day."

MG2 was filled with numerous great ideas, such as capturing a messenger pigeon, deciphering a tap-code to learn a radio frequency, plus different types of rations needed for specific tasks. Some of the best ideas were later re-used in MGS, such as a key which changed shape depending on temperature, a mysterious 'fan' who informs you of mines, an alert countdown, plus the now iconic RADAR system which shows enemy movement. "I don't remember the idea about the pigeon," says Oka-san. "But we had team meetings many times. In these meetings we talked about what kind of ideas should go in, and some of the members popped up with suggestions. I can't specifically remember which idea came from whom, but some of the ideas from the meetings were included in the game. But mostly, the main portion of game design came from Kojima-san."

Did anything have to be cut? "I think Kojima-san probably had more things that he wanted to include, but because of the hardware specifications, the limitations of the MSX2, not everything could be."

Which leads us on to the technical side of creating MG2. "The programming language was assembler. The computer we used was Hewlett-Packard 64000 hardware. An old machine," laughs Oka-san, thinking back. "I liked being creative, and wanted to create something really impressive, so I enjoyed programming these games, although the work itself was really hard. It was a great experience."

Were any difficulties encountered? "As a matter of fact, some of the portions of the programming were very difficult. But I wanted to realise the image that Kojima-san had tried to create. I did not want to say 'No, I cannot do it' - I always tried to cope with a challenge. I thought if I cannot realise all of the game ideas from Kojima-san, probably the game won't be so great, so I wanted to make everything possible."

Oka-san then elaborated on some of his involvement: "I did all of the movement for the player, like the crawling scenes and crawling movement. I also programmed the transceiver sections, some of the movement of the enemies, and probably the RADAR too. It was a long time ago!"

Playing the game today the attention to detail is astounding. Things like Snake accurately holding a gun in his right hand whether facing the direction of left or right, and other graphical touches. "I really liked the transceiver sections," says Oka-san. "You know where the character faces are shown on-screen? I created the line, that little horizontal line which was moving, because I wanted it to feel realistic for the player."

Interestingly, some things came about by accident. "I cannot say which specific part, because it's a secret. But I made a mistake in the programming - it actually had an error, and some of the movement was wrong. Snake wasn't supposed to make that kind of movement by himself. But another team member saw this movement and said, 'That's good!' So eventually this way of programming the movement was used in the game."

Clearly with fond memories, he explained: "I still have one of the first versions off the production line, from right after the game was developed. Each team member was so excited to buy a copy of the game. It's one of my treasures and memories."

I explain that after MG2 was released in Europe it attracted a whole new group of fans, "I'm really glad to hear something like that. Because in Japan there isn't much information about our English speaking fans. I feel honoured to have been a member of a development team from the Metal Gear series, and really honoured that I could be a part of something that people were impressed by not only in Japan but also Europe. It's an old game, but I'm happy there are still fans playing it. I can't believe it - I'm so pleased."

I re-assure Oka-san, Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake on the MSX2 is one of the finest games ever developed.

Mr Toshinari Oka

MG2: Solid Snake (MSX2)

MG2: Solid Snake (MSX2)

MG2: Solid Snake (MSX2)

MG2: Solid Snake (MSX2)

MG2: Solid Snake (MSX2)

Additional Screenshots

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