When the good folks at PlayStation Asia extended us at MyRepublic an invite to attend the Death Stranding World Strand tour here in Singapore, I tried my best to contain my inner fanboy and accepted the invitation as gracefully as I could.
I was going to meet Hideo Kojima.
Yes, that world-famous visionary game designer and the man who brought us Metal Gear Solid.
Considering that this was the only stop the Death Stranding World Strand Tour was making in Southeast Asia and it’s Hideo Kojima, it came as no surprise that the Victoria Theatres 500+ capacity was filled in no time. Some determined attendees had also camped out in front of the theatre overnight to get some of the tickets available for walk-ins.
After collecting my wrist strap I was informed that my meet-and-greet photo opportunity with Kojima himself was going to take place before the start of the session.
I then proceeded, as you do when you are told you are about to meet Hideo Kojima, to freak out while in line for merch.
Despite the wait, the atmosphere was cheerful. Many attendees in line seemed happy to share their experiences with Death Stranding, including their general surprise at how much they enjoy the game despite all that walking.
Listening to these total strangers chatting and connecting, I was filled with a newfound appreciation for what Death Stranding was all about: bridging people, the bringing of individual strands together.
When the appointed hour arrived, we were escorted to a separate holding area for a quick autograph and signing session. With me was Deitrich Lorec Mohan, fellow fan and organiser of our GAMER Arena Tournaments run by our partner Eliphant, and Death Stranding Twitch streamer Crying_Orange. The tension was palpable. We were about to meet a living legend.
I grabbed a spare Bridge Baby replica (referred to as BB in Death Stranding) for the photo and was pleasantly surprised to see that Yoji Shinkawa, lead artist of Kojima Productions was also available for the meet and greet!
The session was over in a flash. Lorec, Crying_Orange and myself held expressions of disbelief on our faces. “Still can’t believe that just happened,” we laughed. To be honest, I still can’t!
We were whisked away right after the session to the theatre and realised PlayStation Asia did us another massive solid: we had seats in the front row!
Emcee Joakim Gomez introduced Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa, alongside the Aki Saito, Head of Marketing and Communications at Kojima Productions, who helped as an interpreter during the question and answer session.
Before the Q&A, we were treated to a highlight reel of the other legs of the World Strand Tour which kicked off in Paris and moved on to London, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and Osaka before reaching us here in Singapore. The reel showcased massive events, cosplaying opportunities, and meet and greets with the cast of Death Stranding, including Norman Reedus, Troy Baker, Lindsay Wagner and Tommie Earl Jenkins.
It was at this point that Crying_Orange leaned over to me and asked about the likelihood of Mads Mikkelsen making an appearance on stage. If only! ☹
The session kicked off with an epic entrance.
The Q&A itself was quite the insightful experience. A few questions bordered on the silly while most of them touched on the process and journey of making the much anticipated game.
Q: So what’s Death Stranding about?
Hideo Kojima: It’s about connection. I want people to connect in the game and in real life too. We’re here connect with you guys too. It’s the first time I’m in Singapore and I love it. I want to come back again.
Yoji Shinkawa: It’s my first time in Singapore too, and I was wondering what kind of country it would be. The cities are beautiful and clean. The people seem very nice too. I just wonder how our Singaporean players are reacting to the game. Is everyone having fun? [Audience responds with a resounding YES!]
Q: We were following your Instagram and saw that you were at Gardens by the Bay. Would we by any chance be seeing elements from the gardens in the next Hideo Kojima game?
Kojima: The gardens have man-made elements mixed in with nature. I love these kinds of cities. Singapore is successful in that way. Yeah I would like to put a setting like that in a game. Then I could also come visit more frequently!
Q: I want to touch on what you mentioned earlier about connecting because it’s so rare that a game goes on tour. Is the Stranding Tour all part of the games theme of connecting and reconnecting with people and humanity?
Kojima: Yes. I did my last world tour about 10 years ago, and there’s nothing like that the game creator going around the world. It’s all connected on the internet already. I want people to be connected. And I created something that you play, and that in itself is a connection right there between you and me.
I think meeting people physically is important too, to be connected in such close proximity, and I’m very happy to be able to do that. I want to meet as many people around the world as I can.
Shinkawa: You saw the video, it was heavily pouring in London and there were over 700 people waiting in line. I held their shoulders while we took photos and they were really drenched! Everyone was shaking! And even though I’d never met them, I felt that we were together in this. We were connected. And it was really fun, I was happy.
Q: I want to draw your attention to the gameplay trailer. Were you amused that people tried to swivel the camera to Sam’s frontal area while he was peeing?
Kojima: Well, it’s a game, so I knew people would try to do that. You can’t do this in movies right? But if you tried to do it, Sam/Norman would turn away. So this is something special that you can only do in a game. And I think it’s really important!
Q: We’re massive fans of rainbows, we think they’re beautiful. I lovingly blame the three of you that I can never look at a rainbow the same way again. Why did you choose to use a rainbow to show a sign of danger in the game?
Kojima: Well the rainbow is a bridge across the sky. Death Stranding‘s theme is about building bridges. It’s an icon. So I wanted to use the rainbow as an icon as a bridge. But it also kind of alerts you – an inverted rainbow, to Timefall. I don’t want to spoil it, but at the end, you will see a beautiful rainbow.
Q: In the game, when I walk around, I see all this lost cargo and I feel so tempted to return them. Is it part of the game to challenge the minds of players to help others and connect with others in the game?
Kojima: I know a lot of players have different play-styles. Some people might just want to go with the story, some might just want to build roads or just collect packages and deliver them. There are so many people with varied preferences, I just wanted to cater to all of them.
One important thing to note is the cooperative gameplay. So you have a ladder or a rope in the beginning. It’s firstly all about yourself. There’s a river or a place where you want to go- up a cliff maybe. You plant a ladder just for yourself at first. It’s the same as any other game, just for your benefit.
But after you cross the ladder, all the people around the world can see that ladder. And unexpectedly, people use that ladder, and you get likes. So you think, I was doing this just for me but now I’m helping other people. And this is the important part. When you understand that, the next time you want to put down a ladder, you think about yourself and the others that might follow.
We want to encourage you think about others. I know that Asian people think in this way too. That’s why I designed it that way, so people could feel that way.
Q: What was the casting process like for all the characters in this game?
Kojima: Casting is like music or like an artist painting. I have a lot of favourite artists, talents and musicians. And what I do is I contact them, we meet and gain mutual trust. Sometimes we discuss working together in the future. And then once we match our schedules, I onboard them in my game.
In Norman’s case, I was doing a project: P.T. (Playable Teaser). Of course P.T. was cancelled. But then I thought that if I were to create a new game, I’m going to make Norman the main character. Norman was really worried about me when things happened [referring to when Kojima left Konami], so he emailed me and I made him a character for this game. And then Guillermo Del Toro looked a little sad. So I said, “Do you want to be in my game?” Then Nicholas (Winding Refn) looked a little sad too, so I was like, “Nicholas, would you like to be in my game?” So it’s all about connections that we have. Nicholas, for example, had a connection with Mads, so he introduced me to Mads and the rest is history.
Q: Was it easy to make create these characters based on the existing actors, Shinkawa-san?
Shinkawa: It was both difficult and not difficult at the same time. The first complication was the setting. We didn’t understand the setting at first, just like you guys. How to use that to create a world was the really difficult part – to fill in all the details. I’d talk with Hideo, going back and forth: “Do this. Make a design.” “Go back and scratch that off.” And repeat that process. The good thing about working with the actors was that I could leverage their power to make and inform the characters. And that was really helpful in a good way.
Q: Which was the character you worked on most for the game?
Shinkawa: I think it was Sam which took the most time. At first he was more science fiction-like. He wore a more futuristic suit. But then, when you kind of playtest the game, it didn’t really match. It needed to feel more realistic.
Kojima: Usually Yoji makes a model and captures it, combined with motion-capture and that’s it. But for me, it’s a game, we need to design it and test it. When I see some odd points here and there, I say to Yoji, “You know, we have to fix this.” We’re just like the Odradek – you see it open and close, back and forth.
Q: How about designing Sam’s tools and vehicles in the game?
Shinkawa: It’s not just about making it look cool. You have to play it to test how it feels. I concentrated on that. For example, we have some weapons in the game and there’s this gun – its colours didn’t fit. I wanted it to be more like a tool, I wanted it coloured like a tool. Orange for example. So that it relates better, because the main character, Sam, isn’t a warrior.
Q: Let’s move on to the Bridge Baby. What was the research that went on behind this character, did you actually study how a baby moves in the womb when you developed this concept?
Kojima: Well… we can’t mo-cap a baby! [Laughs] So we observed and asked family members of our staff. We recorded our staff members babies! As for the animation, our staff generally create a lot of expressions like laughter or crying. I thought that was okay but the BB doesn’t usually have expressions. I didn’t want BB to express anything through facial expressions but through the movement of the body. So the team had a difficult time adjusting to that.
Shinkawa: The BB pod, when I designed that, Hideo told me we were going to put a baby in front, and I went, “What?” The design was envisioned like a silhouette of an Egyptian sarcophagus and I thought it worked out very well in the end. Initially, I wanted to put in a button on the front so the baby would swivel to the back. This was so players would able to see the BB and its expressions from the games third-person view. But also considering the fact that players stack their packages really high, you wouldn’t be able to see it anyway.
Q: What was it like coming together with Sony Music to work on the Timefall album?
Kojima: It was a concept by Sony who had fans that thought it would be a good idea. We said, “That’s cool, let’s do it!”
Q: Whats your favourite song from that album?
Q: In our country, every Singaporean son has to go through National Service where the heaviest bag we have to carry is our field pack, for a route march of 24km. What is the heaviest bag you’ve carried in your life?
Kojima: I created Kojima Productions 3 years and 9 months ago. I have hundreds of staff. That’s the heaviest!
Shinkawa: For me, maybe not heavy, but for me, it was when my child was born. That was quite big. My baby.
Q: In this game we see the theme of beaches, for the both of you, whats your favourite beach in the world to rest and why?
Kojima: I was born in Kobe, so I grew up with the Kobe beaches. I haven’t been there for awhile. It’s not the most beautiful, but I like them.
Shinkawa: I went to see the Merlion, and that was a great beach!
Kojima: I didn’t get to see the Merlion!
Mid-way through the Q&A, we paused for a quick break, during which the audience got involved in delivering two packages to Kojima-san and Shinkawa-san. The first case contained over 300 thank-you notes and well wishes from the audience – a reflection of the in-game ‘like’ mechanic which is sort of a karma/reward system for helping your fellow porters.
The second case contained a collection of Singaporean snacks for the three gentlemen to try and enjoy. What a great way to enjoy and remember Singapore! Kudos again to the organisers, PlayStation Asia.
We were porters for a day. Well, 5 minutes.
The second part of the Q&A featured fan questions that were posed on social media. Here are some highlights:
Q: You are well known for putting memes into your work. What is your favourite idea and what is your favourite internet meme?
Kojima: [Thinks for a moment] Oh, the God one. A lot of people send me that.
Q: How much did the actors own quirks change the characters presented in the end product?
Kojima: Actually a whole lot. When I chose Norman, I wanted to have his essence – how he speaks, how he moves, captured. With Norman there’s this serious image we have of him thanks to his The Walking Dead character, Daryl. I know there are Daryl fans playing this game, and I didn’t wan’t to upset them, but I wanted to show more of Norman than Daryl.
Plus, people don’t know the normal Norman Reedus. Normans really cute. So I wanted to put that cute essence in too. He really plays around all the time. So you can see this in-game in the private room!
Shinkawa: One challenge this time was Lindsay who plays Amelie. I know Hideo loves Lindsay Wagner from the TV series Bionic Woman. I know Lindsay Wagner today as a beautiful human as well. But I wanted to realise the image of her in her youth as well. And it was on the artists to turn back time; that was a difficult process. Lindsay was happy at the end, and I also think it was good.
Q: What is the most enjoyable aspect of working on Death Stranding?
Kojima: We’re always having fun! I didn’t have any staff or an office when I first started work creating the E3 Trailer. That was a lot of fun. It was all analogue. I had a big image in my head and there were no technical tools. I just had naked Norman, a crab and a baby. Even the hand-prints at that time were from the staff. You can see the hand-prints and the camera work there, we created a video for it before the computer graphics. We didn’t have an office, we were sharing a workspace and the other companies there were like, “What are they doing?!” and that was a really fun experience.
Shinkawa: For me I think it was the time when we kind of realised the whole structure. As first we were wondering if we were going in the right direction. But when we saw Hideo’s vision come to life, and we really understood it, that was cool.
As the Q&A wound down, the event looked to be over. But Kojima wasn’t done yet.
Despite the fact that there were over 500 of us in the theatre, Kojima-san and Shinkawa-san wanted every single attendee to have the opportunity to meet and get a photo with them. And they did.
I was beyond impressed: here was a man who certainly tried to connect with people and build bridges, people he didn’t know at all.
While I was certainly thrilled to meet Kojima-san in person, I didn’t quite expect to take away a new level of appreciation for Death Stranding.
Now some say the game is boring or an overrated walking simulator. Others argue that the game wouldn’t have gotten the buzz it generated if it stood on its own merits, without the Kojima-brand association.
I get where they’re coming from, I do. To me, Death Stranding represents a remarkable effort, an effort not just to make a new and different game, but a game that tries to bring people together, and bring out the best in people.
I mean, all I’ve done this week is jio’ed my friends out for coffee.
If I had one takeaway from the event (and my ongoing playthrough) its that we could all stand to do a little better if we just make more of an attempt at bridging what divides us. So thanks, Kojima-san. Remember, #TomorrowIsInYourHands.