Hideo Kojima outlines the ethos behind Konami’s Fox Engine

Hideo Kojima picks up a bottle. He’s trying to explain how the new Fox Engine changes the approach to creating objects, laughing as he does so. It sets the tone for a playful chat with the MGS creator at a boutique London hotel, as he talks about PS4, Fox Engine and the next gen.

You praised Platinum for Metal Gear Rising, but described development as “leaning towards the old way of doing things”. What did you mean?
It’s an endless cycle of reiterating and improving, but it’s hard to plan like that. For example, let’s say I’m a game modeller and have to make this object [picks up a bottle]. I think, ‘I can’t just make this; wouldn’t it be better if I also made something else?’ [He pretends to make another bottle.] It’s a detailed creative process and a great result, but the thinking is, ‘Oh well, it’s a day late.’ In the west, they approach a problem by calculating how much the cost is. The person who decides if that object is made isn’t the person making the object – it’s someone above you. How much time does this take? How much will it cost? Will making this object delay us?

You visited a lot of western studios to learn from them after completing MGS4. What surprised you?
They had a systematic approach to development, and their engine was not just their core engine, but also included all the tools and everything else. In the old days, a modeller would work on [a bottle] for a month, but wouldn’t show it to anyone, since it was incomplete. They’ve no idea how this object is going to be used, and obsess about making it high quality. In western studios, they’d use an incomplete model and slowly refine it until it looked proper in the scene… The level of transparency was another lesson: everybody in the team knows what everybody else is doing. Based on this research, we worked on the Fox Engine, and were doing this when we saw Platinum using the same ten-year-old outdated [methodology]! They managed to make a very good game, so we were surprised. [Laughs]

How does Fox Engine alter the way in which you work?
Fox Engine by itself can’t compete with engines that are being sold right now as a business. It makes our workflow as efficient as possible for our purposes. We’re focusing on things like lighting – like in the Ground Zeroes trailer, using lighting to cover for, say, a low polygon count, but still being able to achieve photorealism.

Pro Evo uses a modified version of Fox Engine, but the studio appears to be in a period of cultural change. Will this be common as Japanese studios move into the next generation?
I don’t want to say too much about this [and] start a fight, but as far as the team is concerned, in the beginning their approach wasn’t really suited to the tool. They’ve gotten better now. I think Japan lags behind in three respects: one, engine tools; two, user systems to take advantage of those engines, and three, management processes to use those tools effectively. We’ve given the engine to other teams in Konami, but right now these other two things are lagging behind.

Will new consoles mean bigger teams?
It’s possible to make many things more realistic, but that doesn’t mean you should. You have to prioritise, and that is what’s going to separate the teams that succeed from the teams that don’t. A very deep, 20 to 30 hour game might need a bigger team and take three or four years. [But] I think there’s a different way of tackling this problem: something similar to a TV series, where you can use pilot episodes to test the waters before you jump completely into the project… It can be distributed via download channels, so the player can try it out before production continues. Something like that wouldn’t take that long to create, maybe a year, and if it’s successful, you can continue.

Will the next gen aid that process?
I think there’ll be a social aspect to game creation, because it will be more interactive. You’ll get user feedback, and I think there’ll be this back-and-forth between users and creators – a social type of game creation.

What did you think of the PlayStation Meeting and PS4?
Honestly, I’ve been way too busy to see it! Of course, I know what the hardware is, but I want to see how other companies are using it. [Kojima asks us to describe the unveiling.] First of all, I think that’s great, but it’s nothing special; you could see it coming. It’s the logical evolution of the platform…

What do you think Sony should do?
Honestly, I think all of that is good and great. Social aspects, the multidevice direction: that’s correct, that’s the way to go. But just because it has these features doesn’t mean it’s going to be a success. What will really determine whether or not it sells is what titles will be available for the platform. And unfortunately, even though I am friends with Mark Cerny, he’s never told me what other studios are working on. I even ate a meal with him recently and he didn’t tell me anything.

Read our in-depth feature on Fox Engine in issue 252 of Edge, on sale now.

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