Friday, December 9, 2016

Making Sense of Death Stranding

Perhaps the most enigmatic upcoming game in the industry is Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding. Kojima famously broke off with Konami, the company that had produced his decades-spanning Metal Gear series (starting in the 80s and going up to the recent Metal Gear Solid V) in what looks like a pretty ugly divorce.

Kojima has created his own production studio, and the company's first game will be Death Stranding.

Hideo Kojima has always had a very cinematic style when it comes to game-making. In fact, his Metal Gear Solid games tend to have very long and complicated cutscenes (I think there's a 45-minute one in MGS.)

Kojima is one of the clear examples of an auteur game director - there are certainly other hugely important game creators from his generation (Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario, Zelda, and a lot of other famous games, is the Walt Disney of video games.) He has always attempted to deal with big, important themes in the medium - usually without a lot in the way of subtlety - and I think has been one of the major forces in exploring games as a serious art form.

So I'm extremely curious about Death Stranding.

Right now, we know nothing whatsoever about gameplay. I don't even really want to speculate on what it might be.

What we do have is a cast and a bit about a setting. There have been two trailers, each with CGI game-versions of characters who are played by famous actors (well, two actors and one director.)

In the first trailer, we see what appears to be a beach covered in dead marine life (Death Stranding is, I believe, a phenomenon documented in marine biology) and there seems to be black oil just about everywhere.

On this beach, we see a naked Norman Reedus (Reedus was going to be in Kojima's Silent Hills, a project that Konami cancelled, which I think precipitated their break.) Reedus' character has some sort of strange umbilical cord that extends to an infant lying near him. He also has a cross-shaped scar on his abdomen. Reedus picks up the infant and holds him, and we actually see a number of light handprints on his shoulders. Suddenly, the infant disappears, and Reedus looks around, horrified, until he sees five human-like figures approaching in the air toward him.

The second trailer I'd say has more content to it, but is still a bizarre mystery.

We see a muddy riverbed that, similarly, has dead marine life all over it (particularly crabs.) However, rather than on an isolated beach, we actually see that we're in a large city that seems to be a war zone.

Walking through this area is Guillermo del Toro, who is holding some strange mechanical capsule. He wears a suit and has a pin saying "Bridges" and "United Cities of America," which almost seems to suggest he's a member of this organization - the symbol on the pin is the 48 contiguous states with a kind of spiderweb radiating out from where Washington is. He also seems to have a scar running in a line along his forehead.

Del Toro shuffles his way under a bridge, but he backs up to see that there are warplanes flying overhead, each with things streaming off the back of them. There is also a rainbow overhead, but it's strangely inverted - the curve seems to be pointing downward rather than up.

Del Toro watches as a tank covered in very organic-looking objects makes its way across the bridge followed by creepy skeletal soldiers.

Del Toro then attaches some kind of umbilical cord - it's not clear if it's attached to him or some piece of technology he's got - to the capsule, and an infant appears inside. The infant then winks at us.

The water rises, and we see a doll drift under the bridge and into some kind of sewer. It briefly glows red, and then the camera moves past it to reveal five soldiers - four are skeletons wearing WWII-era gear while the middle one wears modern combat gear. The middle one gives commands to the skeletons, and they march forward, electrical umbilical cords breaking off and returning to a pack the commander is wearing on his belt.

The commander lifts his night-vision goggles and his helmet completely disappears, revealing him to be Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen looks just as creepy as he did playing Hannibal Lecter in the recent tv show (which holy crap, go see it - just don't eat anything while you're watching.) He sees the little doll drift forward and pump into his foot, and then he smiles.


What the hell is going on here?

In terms of plot, I'd guess that we've got a world consumed by war. We're probably in America given Del Toro's pin, but the "United Cities" rather than States suggests that perhaps the countryside has become too dangerous for civilization to persist. In fact, the label saying "Bridges" almost suggests that they might need alternate means of getting form one city to another, perhaps even teleportation, like how the infant appears within his capsule.

The image of dead animals and oil everywhere really seems to imply that there has been some kind of environmental catastrophe brought on by rampant industrial activity. The skeletal soldiers and grossly biological weapons of war are kind of like the nightmarish extreme of the military industrial complex. Indeed, Mikkelsen is directing soldiers that sure look like they're already dead - the biological has been transformed into tools for the powerful and malicious.

Mikkelsen is presumably looking for Del Toro, or at least the capsule that he is carrying.

There's definitely a motif here of umbilical cords, but the three (living) characters we see are all men. In fact, Reedus' character has that scar on his abdomen that almost looks like a more extreme version of a C-section scar (though that's typically just one horizontal incision.) In Reedus' case, it's clearly organic or at least implanted into his body to have this connection. Del Toro's is more ambigous, while Mikkelsen's umbilicus is purely technological, and rather than connecting with infants, it's connected to the opposite - corpses.

Anyway, I'm super curious, but I think we're going to have to wait a while to find out what this game is actually going to be like.

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