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If you have even a passing interest in video games, then you’ll no doubt have heard that Silent Hills, the new, crazy-scary, Daryl-from-The Walking Dead-featuring reboot of long-running survival horror series Silent Hill, has been cancelled.

For many, Silent Hills represented the sole reason to own a PlayStation 4 as it bobs along in a sea of multi-platform titles and high-definition re-releases of last-gen games. But with the removal of its “playable teaser” from the PlayStation Store today, Silent Hills is gone – poof – into dust because director and industry veteran Hideo Kojima is to part ways with parent company Konami the moment he finishes work on his other big project, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

But what exactly is going on over at Konami? And why on earth would the company scrap a game that was already garnering so much praise and generating such excitement? Join us after the jump as we explore the myriad rumours and theories regarding Kojima and Konami’s messy breakup.

P.T. the extra-awesome teaser

In August last year, Konami published a title simply dubbed P.T. on the PlayStation Store. Free to download, P.T. turned out to be short for “playable teaser”, and was a demo set in a stately mansion, whose long, repeating corridors quickly turned from “kind of spooky” to “Nope! I’m out” levels of terror. The demo received enormous praise from players and critics alike, and when it become clear that, not only was this a cheeky peek at director Hideo Kojima’s vision for the next instalment in the much-loved but lately faltering Silent Hill series, but that The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus and celebrated director Guillermo del Toro were also onboard, people went nuts. Silent Hill was back, and it looked positively amazing.

▼ Even as a short demo, P.T. was described as “the first real horror game in years”.

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But then something went horribly wrong.

Trouble in paradise

It had been clear for a while that something was rotten in the state of Tokyo. Despite being well into the final stages of development, in mid-March this year director Hideo Kojima and his studio Kojima Productions’ names were suddenly removed from all online material relating to their upcoming game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Understandably, fans of the long-running series were deeply concerned, and began scrabbling around looking for answers to increasingly out-there questions. Had Kojima been fired? Was there something wrong with the game? Was this all just a clever marketing ploy on the part of Kojima, a notorious showman?

▼ Hideo Kojima has been working for Konami since 1986

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Things went from bad to worse the very next day when Konami not only failed to restore Kojima’s name to the Metal Gear Solid website, but posted a number of job listings directly on it. Eagled-eyed fans also noticed that Kojima’s name was now missing from a list of corporate officers at Konami, despite him having become a member of the board years previously when he established the Kojima Productions subsidiary. Things were not looking good for the moody man of the Japanese video game industry.

In a bittersweet statement, Konami and Kojima later announced that Metal Gear Solid V was still on track for its September release and that Kojima was still in charge of its development. Kojima would, however, be parting ways with Konami after the game was completed. After years of threatening to hang up his sneaking suit but always coming back for more, it looked like this truly was to be Kojima’s last ever Metal Gear.

The fallout of the falling-out

Metal Gear Solid V appeared to be safe, but what would become of Kojima’s other project, Silent Hills? Little by little, details began to trickle down from those involved with the game, and alarm bells immediately started ringing. Konami had put Kojima and his team in charge of the game, but the IP was still very much Konami’s own, so surely it would still go on without him? But who would Konami put in charge in Kojima’s stead, and would this have an adverse effect on the game’s development? Clearly, there were multiple hurdles to be overcome, but considering the enormous amount of buzz surrounding the title and the involvement of so many big-name stars, Konami would be mad to can the project completely, right?

It was director Guillermo del Toro who broke the news that Silent Hills was to be thrown on the scrapheap. In a tweet from photojournalist Matt Hackney, del Toro was quoted as telling an audience at the San Francisco International Film Festival that the game was simply “not gonna happen”.

The sentiment was quickly echoed by Norman Reedus, the actor who was to lend his vocal talents and likeness to the game, when he tweeted to express his disappointment that Silent Hills was no more:

But the final nail in the coffin came when Konami itself confirmed that Kojima’s vision for the horror series would not see the light of day, downplaying the achievements of Kojima and his team in a statement to Kotaku by referring to them as “embryonic”:

“Konami is committed to new Silent Hill titles, however the embryonic ‘Silent Hills’ project developed with Guillermo del Toro and featuring the likeness of Norman Reedus will not be continued.

In terms of Kojima and Del Toro being involved, discussions on future Silent Hill projects are currently underway, and please stay tuned for further announcements.”

New iterations in the survival horror series would be seen, the company said, but everything we’d seen in P.T. was dead. The demo would be removed from PlayStation Store and any and all mention of Reedus et al was scrubbed from the company website.

Fans of the demo were of course devastated by the news, but what had caused Konami and Kojima to part ways so suddenly? And why was Konami throwing their best man’s hard, not to mention impressive, work on Silent Hills out the window?

After being pestered by dozens of news outlets and thousands of fans, Konami finally responded with a series of curious statements, some of which were real head-scratchers.

In a Q&A posted online and later shared on gaming forum NeoGAF, Konami responded to the question “Why has the image of Norman Reedus disappeared from the official [Silent Hills] website?” by saying: “Our contract period with him has expired”. A similar response was given to the question of why P.T. had been pulled from the PlayStation Store. This in itself seems rather odd given that Silent Hills was still in early- to mid-stages of development. Would Reedus’ agents really have allowed the actor’s likeness to appear on Konami’s website for only the first seven months following the game’s announcement? Would Sony have limited Konami to a few months of sharing their demo on the PlayStation Store? Given the amount of hype it was generating, both seem rather unlikely.

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Far more concerning, though, is the boilerplate response Konami gave to gaming news site Eurogamer a couple of weeks earlier when asked about the sudden removal of Kojima’s name from promotional materials for Metal Gear Solid V:

“As we have already announced, we are shifting our production structure to a headquarters-controlled system, in order to establish a steadfast operating base capable of responding to the rapid market changes that surround our digital entertainment business.”

At the time it was given, this statement certainly raised a few eyebrows, but following the recent announcement that Silent Hills was to be cancelled, gamers and industry pundits alike have begun to question whether something is afoot at Konami.

Tail wagging the dog?

It is here that we wade out into the dark, rumour-filled waters that I alluded to at the beginning of this article. Chances are, we won’t have any concrete answers until September when Metal Gear Solid V is released and Kojima cuts ties with Konami completely, and even then we may only be given a glimpse at what went on. Nevertheless, there are multiple reasons to believe that Konami is not – as far as gamers are concerned at least – in the best shape right now, and that the axing of Kojima Productions is just one indicator that video games are no longer the company’s top priority. 

▼ Konami may mean video games to those in the west, but in Japan the company has its fingers in a great deal more pies

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To me personally, Konami’s talk of shifting to a “headquarters-controlled” system hints at something much less palatable than a mere office reshuffling, at least as far as gamers and the company’s game devs are concerned. Konami has for a long time had its fingers in a great many pies, operating everything from sports clubs to slot machines and real estate businesses, and although many of us may fondly remember the company’s logo appearing at the start of our favourite NES games, it has always been an entertainment and leisure industry company at heart. During these times when Japanese console game sales remain stagnant and mobile gaming is seeing a phenomenal rise in popularity (the “rapid market changes” mentioned in their earlier statement), Konami, like much of the Japanese video game industry, is keen to shift focus. Titles like Metal Gear and Winning Eleven account for a sizeable portion of the company’s revenue, but they are by no means essential to its future success, and figures like Hideo Kojima – a man who has long been known as something of a maverick in the Japanese video game industry and who takes a distinctly Hollywood-style approach to making games – no doubt makes some people very nervous. It’s highly possible that Konami’s top-brass has simply grown tired of Kojima operating with the level of authority and independence that he has, and by scrubbing Kojima’s name from Metal Gear Solid V and canning his (likely very costly) new project, Silent Hills, the company is seeking to show the world that Kojima is not, in fact, the face of Konami.

In a recent video titled Kojima Vs. Konami: An Investigation, George Weidman – former contributor to True PC Gaming and, it has to be said, a tremendously thorough and level-headed games journalist – presents information purportedly supplied to him by Konami insiders who wished to remain anonymous. Weidman takes care to stress that anonymous sources cannot always be relied upon, and that much of what is said in the emails he received comes across as hyperbolic, but even so there is enough to suggest that these are more than just the rantings of a disgruntled employee. 

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The video can be viewed here, but to paraphrase, Weidman’s Konami contacts maintain that the company is currently in the process of rapidly – perhaps too rapidly – shifting its focus away from the kind of big-budget games that Kojima is known for. With the loss of “hundreds” of jobs, Konami plans to push further into the gambling and leisure industries and, although it will keep big-sellers like Metal Gear Solid and Winning Eleven alive, in-house development staff will be tasked with working on multiple games at any one time, with dedicated teams like Kojima Productions disbanded altogether. Weidman’s sources also suggest that Konami’s very own Big Boss, Kagemasa Kozuki, has had a long-running feud with Kojima and that this is partly to blame for the recent bust-up. Kagemasa, it is also noted, has personally invested in casinos and has high hopes for Konami’s future in the gambling scene, should Japanese laws be revised to permit it.

At this point, this is, of course, all just rumour and speculation. For all we know, Kojima and Kagemasa could be getting along just fine and Konami may well continue to be a software powerhouse while also expanding further into slots and mobile gaming. But judging from the current state of the Japanese video game industry, and having myself heard countless horror stories direct from the mouths of game developers with experience working in Japan (common themes include meetings to plan meetings, constant budgetary concerns and incessant bean-counting, and a general lack of drive and ambition amongst staff), I fear that there may be at least a kernel of truth to what Weidman’s sources are saying. Coupled with the fact that Konami made US$191 million last year through casino-related products alone, it stands to reason that the company should feel that it can survive perfectly well without Kojima.

Is this the end for Konami?

Depending on who you ask, with Kojima gone, Konami is either doomed to fail miserably or will in fact go on to become even more profitable without him. In an opinion piece published by Forbes earlier this week, Erik Kain writes that, while Kojima did indeed achieve a great deal of success at Konami, he is after all just one man. Kojima may be leaving, Kain argues, but great deal of talent will remain:

“Bemoaning the departure of one invariably misses the point that games like Metal Gear were made by lots of people … and that while Kojima may be a visionary and a very clever PR man, that doesn’t mean all the credit for his games can be placed at his feet—nor, indeed, all the blame. The fact remains, lots of talented developers work on these games. We shouldn’t discount their efforts.”

And he may have a point. Peter Jackson’s name may well have been the one of first to appear during the opening credits of The Lord of the Rings, but was the film’s success down to him alone? All too often, we attribute a film or game’s success or failure to the presence of a big name, but while these such individuals undoubtedly hold great sway and make crucial decisions, they also attract and are constantly surrounded by similarly talented people. The games we play today are multi-million dollar productions, not (usually) the work of a sole programmer locked in their bedroom for years. Just as it would be unfair to credit a great meal at an upmarket restaurant to the head chef alone (thus forgetting all about the sous chef, kitchen staff, the supplier of the ingredients, and no doubt a great many others), it’s wrong to suggest that every entry in the Metal Gear canon was a success purely because Kojima alone was calling the shots. Before we all give Konami the finger and swear never to play a Metal Gear game beyond The Phantom Pain, let’s remember that a great many people put a great many more hours of their lives into the previous games and believe in them just as much as Kojima does.

▼ A (former?) fan-made alteration to Konami’s logo. To say that people took Konami’s recent decisions badly would be an understatement

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On the other hand, Konami’s rumoured shift to mobile and less costly productions does not bode well for the future of gamers’ most-loved Konami IPs. Metal Gear Solid arguably worked so well purely because it was so vast and so layered; it felt like a blockbuster experience from start to finish and dared to do new things. To see successive games made with a fraction of the budget – something that already seems likely given that Konami so quickly turned its back on a del Toro/Reedus-backed Silent Hills – and without dedicated teams working on them would no doubt come as a huge blow for many. Konami’s recent decision to remove itself from the New York stock exchange – reportedly due to the fact that 99.71 percent of its common stock is in Japan and the United Kingdom – could also be interpreted as a sign that it is becoming less concerned with creating products that will appeal to those in the west and is instead looking to save money however it can. Gamers may be crying out for more Metal Gear and Silent Hill, but with so many profitable balls in the air, Konami doesn’t have to provide the same kinds of experiences that Kojima would, and stands to make money by focusing on business back home.

I suspect that Kojima’s real reasons for parting ways with Konami will only become clear once Metal Gear Solid V is out the door and he is able to speak more freely. Until then, all we can do it wait, and hope–hope both that this messy affair will not impact on what will really be Kojima’s last ever Metal Gear, but also that its parent company is committed to maintaining the high standards that their once-golden boy set.

Whatever becomes of Konami, one thing we should remember during this puzzling kerfuffle is that Kojima and his team are still very much the driving force behind Metal Gear Solid V. His days with Konami may be numbered and his vision for Silent Hills may, sadly, never come to fruition, but to snub Metal Gear Solid V as a handful of rather reactionary gamers hoping to stick it to Konami have suggested online would actually be hurting Kojima as much as the company from which he is to depart under such regrettable conditions. As Kojima himself put it just last week: “I want to reassure fans that I am 100% involved and will continue working on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain; I’m determined to make it the greatest game I’ve directed to date.”

Here’s hoping he’s right, and that Konami appreciates the value of such a piece of digital entertainment.

Featured image via DualShockers edited by RocketNews24