A Taste of Metal Gear Solid 4

Realism of simulated guerrilla combat

One of the hottest exhibits on day one of the E for All Expo was for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Its sinister, military-bunker booth was full all day and into the evening, in part because this is the first time anyone's been able to play the game outside of Japan. Also, Kojima Productions tends to be secretive, which has apparently had the desired effect of driving its fans wild for the merest crumb. Today's demo was a lot more than a crumb, though.

The folks waiting in line were about to enter a tiny briefing room blanketed in camo netting to learn how to play before getting an all-too-brief, 20-minute test drive. (I was just starting to get the hang of the 8 different buttons and 360-degree visual scheme when I got the friendly tap on the shoulder).

As for the game itself, the thing that stands out is the meticulous attention to detail in rendering the environment. (The developers mention offhandedly in an earlier demo that the hero's mustache has the same number of polygons as does an enemy soldier from MGS3). Kojima has a staff of 200+ working on the game; even a background team that travels to undisclosed locations in Africa, the Middle East, and South America to take pictures of tiles, surfaces, and buildings that can then be rendered by the art department. In all, the game covers five different geographical regions—although the company won't say which, to avoid angering the various governments that (quite reasonably) think an association with covert war might not be the best thing for their public image.

The goal is make the video game as much like a movie as possible, even if doing so has sent production costs into the

realm of what Kojima assistant producer Ryan Payton coyly describes as "tens of millions of dollars." Head designer Hideo Kojima and his team employ color filters to set mood, use discreet blurring behind foreground objects to create depth of field, and build off of the shadow rendering engine native to the PS3 to make the play of light more convincing.

Still, juggling all of the graphical information has required Kojima's programmers to develop their own shadowing techniques in addition. "With the PS3, we have the luxury of more polygons," says Payton. "But it's not much easier to manage the polygons."

A programmer's task is never done, I suppose, but consider my disbelief suspended. The realism of this simulated guerrilla combat comes through spectacularly, to an extent that can even be a bit chilling.—Andrew Rosenblum