Moby Dick Studio

The joke’s on us: The Phantom Pain highlights industry stagnation by masquerading as original IP

The joke’s on us: The Phantom Pain highlights industry stagnation by masquerading as original IP

Spike TV surprised audiences over the weekend with a trailer for The Phantom Pain, an original IP by Moby Dick Studio. It was full of interesting, mysterious set pieces and an interesting main character in hospital garb, bandages, and prosthetic limb. It looked amazing, but there is one problem: The Phantom Pain probably doesn’t exist, and could even be a Metal Gear Solid game in disguise.

Phantom gear syndrome

The collective Internet detectives at NeoGAF have compiled a list of evidence suggesting The Phantom Pain‘s true nature, most of which is derived from the trailer shown during Spike TV’s 2012 Video Game Awards. The trailer contains many subtle winks and nods to previous Metal Gear titles: white flower petals, familiar silhouettes of past villains, a bandana around the main character’s head.

Even Moby Dick Studios, the supposed developers of the game, is highly suspect. The company’s CEO’s name is Joakim Mogren; Joakim is an anagram for Kojima, and Mogren contains the word word “ogre,” the codename for one of Kojima’s projects. Perhaps the most damning evidence of all however is that the game’s title font is missing in several places, and when “Metal Gear Solid V” is overlaid in the same font, it fits perfectly. This may seem like conspiracy theories taken from the notebook of a loony gamer, but it all lines up. Oh, and VIPs at a Konami party were wearing Moby Dick T-shirts. So there’s that.

Hideo Kojima is known for playing with gamers’ expectations; Psycho Mantis is infamous for his ability to read a controller’s input, giving the illusion of a psychic who was always one step ahead of the player. In an age before widespread use of the Internet, many thought he simply couldn’t be beaten. Metal Gear Solid 2 told players to shut off their console. Setting your system’s time and date forward could kill a boss in Metal Gear Solid 3, allowing him to die of old age.

In other words, it should surprise precisely no one that The Phantom Pain could be a new MGS. And while a new Metal Gear Solid game will no doubt generate solid buzz, I can’t help but wish The Phantom Pain would have been real. The gaming industry needs new blood; the warm reception of Watch Dogs and Remember Me have shown that, and we only had an hour or so to enjoy the idea of another new game before it began to look like yet another sequel in a long-running series.

Instead of a new IP, we have another entry into a series Kojima has retired from twice. While a new Metal Gear is close to a sure bet financially, the industry seems like it’s ready for some new ideas.

The right environment, the right time

In an interview with Eurogamer, Dishonored visual design director Viktor Anotov was frank about his opinion on the industry’s current state. “It’s been a poor, poor five years for fiction in the video game industry,” he said. “There have been too many sequels, and too many established IPs that have been ruling the market. And a lot of them are war games. And they’re great projects and great entertainment, but there’s a lack of variety today.”

Dishonored went on to sell almost half a million boxed units domestically in its launch month of October, and Bethesda told Destructoid that including Steam and overseas sales, the game was performing above expectations.

CNBC listed Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning among its top 10 best-selling games of the year. Papo & Yo inspired and disturbed us in the best way. Journey not only had the most nominations at Spike’s VGAs, but also took home Best PS3 Game, Best Original Score, and Best Independent Game.

Project Eternity from Obsidian is the second-most funded game-related project on Kickstarter. It also reached its funding goal of $1.1 million in just more than 24 hours, making it one of the fastest to be funded game-related projects.

Obsidian as a studio may have a considerable pedigree, but Project Eternity does not. This is gamers taking a company’s word that they will create something new and interesting, and voting with their wallets to show support.

Steam Greenlight also went live this year and, while the results have been mixed and uneven policies have been introduced, it’s hard to see having another avenue for creators as anything but a positive. This is a space where a game about being sent to the woods by a demon and being forced to survive is an interesting, community-approved experience.

It could very well be that there is a large outlet for new ideas and experiences, and gamers are simply being forced to support it via these new methods. We don’t have many chances to put our money where our collective mouths are in AAA development so we can prove, or disprove, the market for original games.

Forward

Of course, the reality is that games are a monumental business venture that don’t always pan out. Quality games fail to sell. Original ideas don’t catch on. A lack of business sense might leave you homeless. Even some of the most creative, ambitious games need to catch the attention of the frat house dudebromanguy. There are risks.

But that doesn’t mean we should be so afraid of failing that we don’t even try. Kojima is a mad scientist, and now he’s – if Phantom Pain turns out to be a MGS game – working once again on a series with no fewer than a dozen entries. I love Metal Gear Solid; I bought a copy of Metal Gear Solid 4 at midnight in Times Square so I could have it signed by Kojima. I respect the man’s work and vision and if this is what he wants to do, he has every right to do it.

The problem here isn’t that we’re getting a new Metal Gear game; fans will like that and it’s a popular series. The problem is that it’s being marketed as a new IP at a time when we have very few of those, and gamers have shown they’re ready to support new ideas. It’s a cynical maneuver on Konami’s part, and it highlights how few new games are being released. You can’t argue with the results, we’re all talking about it, but we could have been talking about something strange and new instead of something safe and familiar.