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Snake in the Grass

Nich Maragos

Solid Snake has given us the slip again—and we’re the ones controlling the freakin’ guy. The one-man-army star of the Metal Gear series is right in front of us on the TV screen in Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater—we swear he’s there—but we can’t see him for the trees.

Looks like the new camouflage system in this killer-looking sequel, due for PlayStation 2 this fall, is working a little too well. “It’s very hard to play when you cannot see yourself,” muses series creator Hideo Kojima, trying to work out the solution to this prickly game-design dilemma. “But we don’t want to place a little cursor on [him], so we’re trying to tweak that to where the camo works but you can still see yourself.”

Kojima is back to work on the Metal Gear series after vowing never to return once he’d finished the excellent and off-kilter Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. So perhaps it’s to make life interesting for himself that he’s made such drastic revisions for this sequel: For Snake Eater, players can look forward to “a new era, new gameplay, and a new setting,” Kojima says. We’ve told you about the new era and shown glimpses of the new jungle setting in past articles, but Kojima has just revealed to us one of the sequel’s main new gameplay features: Hiding not behind trees or rocks, but in plain sight of your enemy. The secret? Careful use of camouflage.

A new era

But before we get too deep into the new game’s jungle, a quick refresher course: Snake Eater is set in the 1960s—an odd period considering that the Snake we know from past Metal Gear games would have been in kindergarten during that turbulent decade. “One thing I can say is that Snake is not going to hop on a time machine and travel back in time,” Kojima quips. “There are games like that out there, but this isn’t one of them.” Instead, all signs point to the real protagonist of Snake Eater being Big Boss, the main bad guy in the original Metal Gear for Nintendo Entertainment System—and also the source of Solid Snake’s DNA (as well as evil twin Liquid Snake’s. Mullets run in the family, apparently).

Snake Eater begins with this mysterious character (for the sake of simplicity, we’ll keep calling him Solid Snake) parachuting into the jungle on an unknown mission and losing his backpack. Once he’s recovered his things, his mission proper—whatever it is—begins.

Fortunately, we know considerably more about the new gameplay and settings. “Survival” has been a hot concept in games since Capcom created the survival-horror genre with its Resident Evil series, but never has the literal meaning been applied to a game as heavily as in Snake Eater. With an objective that could (or could not) take days to complete, Snake has to survive the elements in addition to encounters with enemy forces. That means keeping himself well fed on fish and snakes he catches (hence the game’s name), staying well sheltered, and—of course—remaining well hidden.

New gameplay

The camouflage system in Snake Eater is so effective that Kojima challenged us to find Snake in certain screenshots, and at least one of them genuinely stumped us until he moved the commando from his position. Snake can don different types of camo and face paint to match the terrain—snow, grass, forest, etc.—in real time. Players will know how well camouflaged they are by checking the Camo Index in the screen’s upper right corner. It changes in real time based on a variety of factors, including posture, terrain, amount of shadow, and the current camo and face paint Snake is wearing. The highest the index can go is 100 percent, meaning that enemies cannot see Snake no matter how close they are to his position, but it’s possible to get the percentage down to a negative as well—for instance, by taking Snake out of cover and running him over crackling dry leaves. “When he runs and you see that negative five percent,” Kojima says, “that’s more like, ‘Hey, see me! I’m here!’”

In fact, running anywhere is not to your advantage in Snake Eater. It’s better to mosey and better still to use a new type of motion called “stalking,” created for this game. “This new technique is very useful when you want to sneak up on an enemy from behind,” says Kojima. When stalking, Snake moves very slowly on tiptoe and can sometimes move without any penalty to his Camo Index, but it comes at a price. “Thing is, when you stalk, you lose a lot of stamina,” Kojima says. “Basically, when you walk around in the mountains and you have to climb, you lose stamina, and you have to regain stamina by feeding yourself.” That means it’s time to chow down on some “wilderness sushi”—raw fish, snakes, and other high-protein foods.

Gung-ho players who’d rather not worry so much about staying hidden can go a little more Rambo if they like. “If you want to be a macho, hard-boiled guy like ‘I’m not going to wear anything,’ then you don’t have to wear any camo,” says Kojima. “You can just walk around with no T-shirt and play it your way.” The drawback—besides the obvious lack of cover—is that Snake will have a harder time staying warm and will lose stamina faster. But at least you won’t have to worry about getting out those stubborn stains. “One thing about the camo uniforms,” says Kojima, “is that if you get shot or wounded, there’ll be bloodstains, and then your camo pattern will have red stuff on it, and your Camo Index will go down.”

The new setting

The first Metal Gear Solid is confined to an Alaskan military base and its immediate snowy environs, while MGS2: Sons of Liberty takes place entirely in industrial settings, such as an oil tanker and an overseas refinery. To contrast this and take the series back to its jungle roots, Kojima is going back to nature. “As I said before, most of the gameplay takes place in the wilderness,” he says. “You’ve seen the jungle, but there are also mountains, rivers, and caves—basically the natural environment. [It’s all to force you to] switch between different camo patterns anytime and try to pick a pattern that’s the best match for where you are.”

These outdoor settings make for some nifty visuals, including a torchlit cave filled with bats. But they also make for some changes in the way players must approach certain tasks, such as disposing of bodies. Now that you won’t find lockers to stash corpses in, “you can hide them in the grass, hide them in holes or tree trunks, and you can also carry them to streams or rivers,” Kojima says. It’s a fitting end for these enemy troopers who—if you play the game right—will never even see you coming.

Snake Egg #1:

Random Intelligence About Snake’s New Game

The Snake Eater musical theme has little in common with the familiar stirring score used in MGS1 and 2. Instead, the vocal theme is based on the classic James Bond songs of the ’60s, with the addition of some oddball lyrics about tree frogs.

Ever since Metal Gear Solid 2’s campaign to put players’ names on collectible enemy dog tags, series creator Hideo Kojima has tried to include fans in his games in a literal way. This trend continues with the Camouflage Campaign: a contest in which you can design your own Snake Eater camo pattern. Contest entry details will be revealed in May at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo game show, so you might want to start thinking about your entry now. And if you don’t make it into the final product, don’t give up: The campaign will extend beyond the initial release when Konami offers later patterns as online downloads, a first for Metal Gear Solid.

Keep in mind that you can’t design an entire outfit like we have in these mocked-up Snakes here—designs are more like PC wallpaper in that you can either center or tile a small texture across the entire suit. Entries will be based on one of three criteria: effectiveness, humor value, or coolness. “If [a pattern] seems to work really well, we’ll pick it,” says Kojima, “[although we’ll choose] designs that look good whether or not they’re effective.” Kojima’s example involved Snake wearing camouflage plastered with the face of Gakko, a toy duck manufactured by Konami Toyware. “If there are a lot of ducks in the game somewhere,” Kojima jokes, “the enemies won’t see you when you wear this pattern.”

Snake Egg #3: What a Croc

Players will find other uses for dead animals besides chowing down on them. Take Snake’s stylish new crocodile hat, for instance. Snake can don this thing and creep through shallows, giving guards the impression that a crocodile is stalking them. Watch ’em run away screaming.

Snake Egg #4: Watch Your Step

Snake will have to worry about more than just enemy patrols in the jungle. We’ve seen him spend some quiet time 30 feet in the air after stepping directly into a tree snare. But it could have been worse—he could have been hit by the spiked bludgeon trap he dodged right before the snare.

Snake Egg #5: Critter Du Jour

Snakes aren’t the only things you eat in this game. Also on the menu: birds, frogs, rabbits, scorpions, and alligators. Furthermore, Director Hideo Kojima says, “I respect [Mario series creator] Shigeru Miyamoto, so there will be a lot of mushrooms in the game. But you cannot eat turtles.”

Snake Egg #6: Play Dead

Not all the ideas for camouflage made the cut. One rejected pattern: “Camo with a lot of blood and fake sword wounds, so when you wear that and lie by corpses, the enemy thinks you’re a corpse and leaves you alone,” says Kojima.

Not all types of terrain are created equal in the world of Snake Eater. Each one has different properties to take into account, and each requires a different kind of camouflage, which Snake can change on the fly. Konami hasn’t shown all the types yet, but the few revealed so far give an indication of how much you’ll have to consider the environment.

Type 1: Grass

Pros: It’s the easiest type of terrain to take cover in; just lie prone and your Camo Index goes to 50 percent.

Cons: Moving through it makes it rustle, and tall grass can hide dangerous serpents as easily as it can hide you.

Camo to use: Tiger stripe

Type 2: Dead Leaves

Pros: Almost none.

Cons: Plenty. Moving across dead leaves makes a nasty crunchy sound. And because leaves lie on flat land (you can’t burrow under them), they don’t offer the best cover.

Camo to use: Leaf pattern

Type 3: Trees

Pros: In addition to providing some helpful shadows, trees are good hiding places all on their own, if you can keep the trunk between you and the bad guys.

Cons: None, if you can keep them between you and the bad guys’ eyes.

Camo to use: Tree bark

Type 4: Fire

Pros: We’ve seen a level set in an inferno, which would give enemies something else to worry about besides you.

Cons: To blend in, you’d have to be close to the fire, and that can be hazardous to your health.

Camo to use: Fire pattern

Type 5: Snow

Pros: We figure it would be easy to slink through all that fresh powder...

Cons: ...but then, as anyone who has played Metal Gear Solid knows, nothing marks your hiding spot like footprints in the snow.

Camo to use: Snow pattern


Sit down? Stand up? Snake’s basic posture and the way he moves makes a difference when it comes to being detected. Lying prone is the stealthiest, standing tall is the worst, so the trade-off between moving quickly and risking attention is up to you. Here, Snake tries his new stalk move.


The right duds will do the most to help you blend into the background, but the wrong ones will be like a beacon when roving enemy patrols are near. Wearing the fire pattern in snowy areas will so get you on the worst-dressed list.


Take note of your surroundings because you’ll have to change up your tactics accordingly. Grass provides cover, for instance, but you’ll have to wear the right colored camo for it and rustling sounds could alert guards. Mud doesn’t make noise, but you’ll leave footprints, and you know the hassles that could create.

Face Paint

You can get up to 95 percent camouflaged without it, but for true invisibility, you’ll need the appropriate face paint. An enemy can be two feet away and looking directly at you, but he won’t notice a thing. Just don’t belch.


The radar, too, uses camouflage…OK, not really. Though you can’t see one on this screen, that doesn’t mean they’re gone from the game. In Snake Eater, you’ll have a couple of different radar types and can toggle between using them or not.

Camo Index

This readout indicates how well hidden you are, and it’s affected by all the other factors called out in this screen. The percentage refers to what degree you’re hidden—not the likelihood that a soldier will see you. Even if you’re 95 percent camouflaged, there’s still a 100 percent chance that a guard will see you if he wanders within a few inches of you.


Snake’s got it made in the shade, but his Camo Index decreases when he heads toward the light. Look for patches of shadow cast by trees, boulders, and other forms of cover to help you stay out of sight.

Snake Egg #7: HALO

Snake begins the game by parachuting into his location wearing a gas mask. Why? It’s a HALO (high altitude, low opening) jump. Such jumps are made to keep the enemy from seeing the parachute, but they’re very risky.

Snake Egg #8: Mystery Machines

We’ve seen two mysterious vehicles shown in silhouette. We figure one of them is probably the new (old?) model of the Metal Gear mech, the nuke-deploying walking tank from the original game. The other machine is a flying craft that seems to have tank treads and other strange accoutrements.


The enemies’ distance from you affects how likely they are to notice your presence. If your Camo Index is at 100 percent, they can get within inches of you without knowing you’re underfoot. If they’re a little ways away, 80 percent on the index will be enough to keep you hidden.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Electronic Gaming Monthly.

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