Hideo Kojima's earliest games starred Hollywood actors. 1987's Metal Gear for the MSX2 featured character portraits drawn to resemble popular actors, like Sean Connery, Mel Gibson, and uh...Albert Einstein. Scientists aside, it was a pretty clear mission statement on Kojima's part. He was a man who decided to go into video games, but he came primarily from a film background. Not academically mind you— Kojima studied economics— but he spent much of his childhood making films on an 8mm camera, and watching movies with his parents. He references games like Yuji Hori's 1983 adventure game, The Portopia Serial Murder Case, as the games that inspired him to get into the industry. He was an aspiring short story writer and artist and film maker, and here he was, making games. Games that were inspired almost entirely by movies.
David Cage's latest game is stars Hollywood actors. Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe take starring roles in Beyond: Two Souls, a game with ads deliberately designed to echo movies posters. It was less a mission statement than a confirmation that Cage is all about exploring the intersection of games and cinema, even if he gets really heavy-handed about it. Cage started working on games around 1993, as a musician and sound designer. He mostly worked on smaller, obscure games, before founding his own studio, Quantic Dream. Cage's games, like Kojima's, are pretty clearly insired by movies, but in a slightly different way. Kojima's games are often inspired by secific movies— Metal Gear was a take on The Great Escape, while 2005's Snake Eater was a pastiche of '60s James Bond movies. Meanwhile, Cage's games are more often takes on the idea of intersecting cinematic tropes and tricks with video game storytelling.
There's something to be said about the similarities between the two designers. Sure, they're not the only game developers to be so fascinated with cinema— a look at any Call of Duty story, or even the Viewtiful Joe series could disprove that notion— but they're two of the biggest, and most successful at merging the two mediums in interesting ways. But to what end? Kojima is infamous for movie-length cutscenes that talk the player's ear off, while Cage is often best known for games that minimize player involvement in favour of telling a story that very rarely makes any sense at all. If mixing the mediums really is the message for these two designers, are they really finding success? And what does that success mean for gaming as a whole?
Cage has talked before about his belief that "game over" states are anathema to storytelling in games, and has tried repeatedly to excise them from his works. It's probably most evident in Heavy Rain, which uses quick time events to handle most of its action, but doesn't necessarily give you immediate penalty for failing them. The scene merely plays out differently than it would had you succeeded, and affects the trajectory of the narrative. It's arguably a superior way to handle storytelling in games— it's far more immersive than a fail state could ever be, and it allows the story to progress more naturally, taking into account player input. The problems (because there are always problems) come in when you realize how little the game can actually bend before it simply must break. There aren't infinite endings for every possible player input, and any way you slice it, the narrative resolves itself in much the same way. Simply put, the narrative falls apart on a second playthrough, and unlike the best movies, it's not exactly well crafted enough to hold up past any initial interest in the plot. It's impractical to have a game that evolves as the player interacts with it, at least when you're trying to make something grand in scale.
Hubris, then, may be Cage's problem. He writes big, bigger often than the structure of his games allow. Heavy Rain is meant to be flexible and react to players, but only really accomplishes that through smoke and mirrors and having characters actively lie to the player throughout. Similarly, 2005's Indigo Prophecy reportedly had a hyper ambitious 2,000+ age script, but the narrative fell apart due to time and budget constraints, resulting in a rushed third act that barely makes a lick of sense. It's not too different from Kojima, who often seems to suffer from the same curse of writing bigger than seems practical, though it often seems he has the capital and cache to back to back it up.
Kojima's games takes a long time to make. Unlike Cage, he's been stuck on one series for a very, very long time (thought that all seems to be changing now), but each of those games is fairly different from the last. Specifically, each one seems to toy more and more with the idea of being a movie. Before getting shackled to Metal Gear though, Kojima spent his time remaking his favourite movies in video game form. Snatcher is an anime'd up Blade Runner, and though Policenauts isn't quite as transparent, it's pretty hard not to see the protagonists' resemblances to Riggs and Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon. Unlike Cage though, that seems to be where Kojima's film inspirations end. It is however, where his aspirations begin. Rather than try to meld the gameplay of...well, games, with the narrative experience of cinema like Cage does, Kojima simply divides the two into seperate categories. There are the moments where you interact with the game, and there are the moments where the game shows you some movies to advance the story. Even more organic character-building dialogue, which could be handled within the game proper was shoved off to the side until Metal Gear Solid 4 gave Kojima an in-story out for having in-game dialogue.
Kojima, in that sense, seems less considered with making a game-movie hybrid than he does with making games inspired by movies, and movies about those games. His often ludicrous plots are strung around the superhuman actions of the player characters, but are rarely directly influenced by their actions. Metal Gear Solid 2, Kojima's flailing attempt at postmodernism, seeks to recast the player as an unwitting pawn in a grand scheme put together by the game itself, but mostly does this by withholding information and pulling an eleventh hour twist so flimsy, it took an entire game to give it legs to stand on. At no point, however, does MGS2 take player actions into account for its narrative. At no point is it an "interactive movie".
When discussing this article with a friend, he mentioned that, in layman's terms, it would seem that Kojima is looking for a mosaic, where he can piece together elements of movie and game without necessarily merging the two, while Cage is attempting to melt them down and merge them into something different. I don't know if that's necessarily true though. Kojima isn't piecing the two together in any significant way, he's merely setting them up next to each other, like the neighbours these mediums are often seen to be. He juxtaposes the two, in a way that often seems to frustrate his audience. One moment they're playing a game, and then all of a sudden, they're stuck watching a movie. The momentum is sucked out, and the player is lost, forced to become a more passive audience. While it's certainly a less risky tactic to combine the two mediums into something, Kojima's film aspirations seem to stop right there. He's a good game designer, and a pretty terrible film maker, so it would seem, and his cutscenes allow him to dabble in a medium he would otherwise never be given the leeway to try. Meanwhile, Cage's scripts would likely get laughed out of any major film studio, but his experimental gameplay style earned him some second looks within the games criticism sphere. He's trying something different, he's attempting to create what may effectively be a new hybrid medium, or even the next step in films, but his games have yet to prove themselves good enough to justify it.
So where do we stand after all this? Kojima's bloated cutscenes set a tone for overlong, self-serious stories in games long ago, but we likely would have reached that point with or without him. His bare-faced aspirations of one day making real movies is what often gets him lumped into the category of wanting to turn his games into them, but all of his choices around presenting MGS's narratives seems to point to the fact that he really does believe the two media should remain separate, something that most games that utilize cutscenes traditionally support. Cage's efforts, on the other hand, do set the stage for something different. It's impractical and expensive and arguably pointless, but he's laid the foundation for, and shown that there is interest in, a real interactive movie. He hasn't, however, shown that he can actually make a good enough movie without the interactive element, which somehow seems to grant him a pass every time. To be fair, neither has Kojima, but he's not the one who seems to be trying to build an entirely new medium from scratch. Cage's games show that there's a future out there for a work that melds games and cinema in a truly satisfying way, it just probably own't show up until we find someone who can actually write a good script.