Metal Gear Solid is my all time favorite video game franchise. I fondly recall memories of my cousin and I playing the demo version of the game over and over thanks to a Pizza Hut promotion. The game was unlike anything we had played before, and I suppose that sentiment was true for many at the time. Metal Gear Solid tread new grounds and we were hooked.
When MGSV dropped, I was afraid to enter the new world Kojima came to craft. He’d been quoted in saying that the form this MGS took was the one he envisioned all those years ago when the series was released on the NES. With modern day tech, he was going to be able to give us the “full” and “real” Metal Gear Solid experience, and where I was once excited to see what that meant, I was hesitant after playing Ground Zeroes.
Everything leading up to Ground Zeroes resulted in a mess. Lack of early communication of what the game was supposed to be plus it’s price point and word of mouth did no favors for the release of what we could establish as the “Tank Chapter” of MGS2 for MGSV. When I played through Ground Zeroes, I found that I was trudging along in a game that didn’t have the soul of Metal Gear. It felt like an amalgamation of every modern day AAA game with MGS elements scattered throughout to prod you into thinking it was MGS. As a diehard fan, I was trying to convince myself that the experience was enjoyable.
It was this uneasy feeling of betrayal to my favorite franchise that actually inspired Project Raga in it’s earliest form. I thought about “the good ol’ days”, and the fun I had completing the MGS demo from Pizza Hut every time I visited my cousin’s place. What if I could create my own Metal Gear Solid? How would it look? The overwhelming evolution of the franchise introduced by Ground Zeroes inspired the notion of simplifying things and getting back to the basics.
I immediately pulled out my trusty composition notebook that is my go to for any and all loose/stray ideas for concepts I want to explore between a bevy of projects. I needed a hero. This is what came to mind:
Sorry for the potato quality!
Of the many projects that I’m constantly writing/developing, they all happen to be of human beings. When I thought of Metal Gear, I recalled how many of the characters were all code-named after animals. I thought creating a world of characters inspired by anthropomorphism was a perfect way to pay homage and also diversify the roster/portfolio of characters I’d created so far.
Homage however, became the blueprint for imitation and needed re-evaluation. Who we now know as Mirza in his first form was a figurative representation of Solid Snake - a literal lone wolf. Yamini in her earliest form was created to be the Grey Fox of the game, wielding a sword and danced around a relationship as friend and foe.
What started like a fun exercise of creating my own MGS really began to climb into a territory that was reskinning the original, and where I thought I wanted to get down to basics to keep things simple felt lazy and uninspired. I decided that staying so loose and casual kept me in a box. It was at that point where I felt compelled to really push through with this idea and convince myself I could start developing my own game in homage of the first Metal Gear Solid.
The next piece is the first time I took the jackal and fox heroes into photoshop and applied the Eastern fusion over them. It took about 3-4 hours throughout the night between fleshing out multiple other characters and enemies.
It started with finding a backbone for the world that the characters would inhabit. It’s sad to say but I’ve been drawing nearly all my life but only recently did I learn how to insert myself into original ideas in a genuine way. Between my Indian heritage and cultural experiences, I knew that setting the game in a world inspired by East Asia was the way to go. If not for the fact that such a locale is rarely explored in video games, I could one day show my parents that my talent in the arts (something that’s lambasted in my culture) could create a tangible property that celebrates our heritage.
I should also clarify that my mother is arguably my biggest fan, and has always supported my dream of one day working as an artist. My dad is the one who needs more convincing, and is who I work to one day impress and make proud. It’s practically everyone else in the indian family (and indian families are huge, trust me) that makes me feel like I’m wasting time and staining name and honor. If I could create a game built on my art featuring our shared heritage , it’d be an awesome way to prove my efforts were never a waste to all those who’d ever doubted me.
Besides, how many stealth/spy games are out there that are decked out in blacks, navy blues, and olive greens? Stealth games feature grim spies and agents who are working with the latest technology and weapons. You all know me as a fauvist of sorts, playing with all sorts of colors in my work. The thought of injecting bursts of color into a stealth game is an amazing challenge that I’ve loved taking on.
The setting/atmosphere certainly makes sense for visual direction for the stealth genre, but Project Raga’s will be built around a colorful soul.
Pushing against the mold then took me back to our hero. I saw the literal lone wolf, and changed him to be a jackal for continuity sake of the location. I began to think about how every hero in these stealth games featured a voice in his ear to give him back up and how they infiltrated huge bases on their own. This of course makes things epic but also feel unrealistic when you step back and really look back at your adventure.
In my mind, I thought of how having two protagonists would be more efficient for recon and espionage, but rather than being partners for work, they were partners for life. I imagined silly banter and visual gags for these two characters as they pushed through a fortress (“Hey, did you lock the door before we left?”) and fell in love with having heroes we haven’t really got to play as in video games.
I was beginning to find a way to pay homage and build on my own vision. It’s highly rewarding when you sit at your workstation and build and tweak and build and tweak again, watching as characters and concepts come alive before you. This week, I thought it would be important to showcase how the blueprint came to be to enable the stability of the rest of this world that is Project Raga.
Next week, I’ll discuss how function inspires form and design and vice versa, including potential gameplay features that will dictate how I’m spinning the stealth genre to fit culture and two heroes to control.
Also, of course I picked up MGSV, and of course it’s simply amazing in every damn way. Mind you I’m still very early on and loving every minute spent (which is mostly in side ops missions because I want to take my sweet time with this thing!). MGSV is the culmination of a vision that’s evolved with the times and technology. Project Raga is homage to all that and creating an experience that doesn’t necessarily reinvent the genre, but offers a new take with nostalgia powering its development.