On Christmas day, Hideo Kojima, the creator of the famed Metal Gear Solid series, played an amusing trick on his fans.
He told them via social media to visit his studio’s website Kojima Station on 25 December, to see a special video announcement. They did so in their droves – only to sit through three hours of Kojima opening Christmas presents and talking about movies while wearing a santa hat.
However, right at the close of the video, he did make one revelation concerning forthcoming title Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain – the game will include a chick hat.
Apparently, if players are killed too many times while negotiating a tricky sequence, they will be given the option of putting a chicken hat on the head of grizzled hero Snake. From this point, enemy soldiers will think he actually is a chicken, leaving the spec ops agent to continue his infiltration.
It sounds ridiculous, but then the Metal Gear series has always been known for effortlessly combining its dark political themes with moments of surreal hilarity. Take for example, cast regular Johnny Sasaki who is perpetually struck down with diarrhoea, or the appearance in Metal Gear Solid 3 monkey hero Spike from Ape Escape or indeed any time in which Snake eludes enemy guards by hiding in a cardboard box.
This is, of course, not the first time gamers have been offered special clothing or items to help with tricky moments. In several Super Mario games, a power-up named the invincibility leaf appears if the player dies too many times; touching it allows our plumber hero to don a beautiful white and gold tanooki suit, making him – yes – invincible. In Sonic Lost Worlds, the hedgehog hero’s pal Tails provides players with remote control vehicles to help them if they repeatedly fail at certain tasks.
There are also much more subtle aids. The infamous “Rubber banding” system in racing games, slows down leading cars to allow the player to catch up, while the Uncharted series provides successively more obvious hints when you take too long solving a puzzle. Developers will also quietly help players without telling them: Max Payne 2 is one of many shooters that subtly makes enemies more stupid and health packs more powerful if players are regularly seeing their protagonist blasted across New York.
The Metal Gear chicken hat is particularly wonderful, though because of its diametric opposition to the idea of Snake as a thoughtful and serious soldier, battling enemy terror cells. Also, in this era of Twitch streams and YouTube “Let’s Plays” it’s going to be a super obvious indicator that someone is having a bit of trouble filming their walkthrough.
Kojima has always enjoyed manipulating the rules of game design and game play, often breaking the fourth wall between the action and the participant. Making players switch controller ports and featuring characters who can “mind read” by accessing a gamer’s PlayStation memory card are two of his most famous tricks. So as daft as the chicken hat is, it’s unlikely to be only piece of fowl play in Phantom Pain.
This article was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Friday 9th January 2015 15.50 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010