Iconic Game Designer Hideo Kojima on 'Alien: Covenant' and How Franchises Can Live Forever

In his latest essay, 'Metal Gear' creator questions who beloved franchises truly belong to

Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima is widely regarded as one of video gaming's auteurs. Though the 53-year-old is most closely associated with his work leading the production of some of the most beloved narrative games of the past 30 years, his original ambition, prior to joining Konami in 1986, was to become a movie director. His passion for film has long informed his work in games, leading most recently to a collaboration with director Guillermo del Toro on his upcoming PS4 exclusive Death Stranding, which we should see another glimpse of at E3 on June 12.

Given that it is still more than a year from release, Kojima is reluctant to share details about his new game, but he's eager to share his passion for movies and how they connect with his own work. In the following essay he explores the history of the Alien movies following last month's release of Ridley Scott's Alien Covenant, and – in a possible nod to his own legacy – questions who creative works truly belong to once they become ongoing franchises.

In the latter half of the 1970s, screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, who was working on an early version of Alien – then known as Memory – was invited by Alejandro Jodorowsky to work on his film adaptation of Dune. For the moment, Memory was put on hold, relegating Alien to the recesses of O'Bannon's mind. Dune, however, eventually fell through and O'Bannon returned to the script. With support from friends and a merger with another of his scripts entitled Gremlins, Alien took shape and the script was approved by the eventual producers of the film: Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill.

Before Alien, sci-fi movie spaceship interiors were functional, and futuristic. In most instances, the characters were the chosen elite, living in high-tech and pristine environments. The Nostromo spaceship in Alien, on the other hand, was like a factory full of sweaty laborers – a stark contrast to what came before. From the design of the alien itself to the crew's utilitarian work attire to the retro diving suit-like space suits (designed by Jean "Moebius" Giraud and Ron Cobb), the movie is rife with innovative visual design.

These successes are a testament to the achievements of Ridley Scott and the Pinewood Studio production staff, but owe just as much to the designs of Giger and Moebius. It was the connections that O'Bannon formed with them during his work on Jodorowsky's Dune that brought their exceptional talents to Alien. From egg to larva, and onto grown adult, the idea for Alien was transferred directly from O'Bannon to Giger.

And yet, in spite of all this, O'Bannon wasn't welcome on the set. It's said that producer Walter Hill forbade his presence, which forced the writer to resort to sneaking in. On top of that, Hill rewrote large portions of O'Bannon's script. In the end, the Alien concept that had originated in O'Bannon's mind evolved from a larva into something else, and just like in the movie, it burst free from its host to wreak havoc.

So Dan O'Bannon clearly isn't Alien's sole creator, and this begs the question: who do movies or franchises really belong to? Ridley Scott is the director, Dan O'Bannon is the writer, Walter Hill and company are the producers, and the rights are owned by 20th Century Fox – but who is the creator?

It's safe to say that, without James Cameron's Aliens, the Alien series would have never become what it is today. So, should we consider James Cameron to be the "creator" of the Alien franchise? No."

It's safe to say that, without James Cameron's Aliens, the Alien series would have never become what it is today. So, should we consider James Cameron to be the "creator" of the Alien franchise? No. While Cameron kickstarted Alien as an ongoing series, he can't hold claim to the franchise. In fact, as the "newbie" director and writer on Aliens, Cameron butted heads with Pinewood Studios on several occasions, a situation that recalls Dan O'Bannon's slinking onto the set.

Even gifted chefs like Fincher and Jeunet were unable to successfully decipher the Alien recipe with Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. The same goes for Terminator: neither Jonathan Mostow nor McG could cook up anything that surpassed Cameron's original work. Regardless of how famous the restaurant, when the head chef changes, so will the taste of the food. The more closely a franchise is defined by its author, the more a new chef's abilities and inclinations will be called into question.

It may be a different story if Alien, Terminator and Blade Runner were franchises more like The Fast and Furious or Mission Impossible. The former could be compared to fine dining restaurants, and the latter more like chains where the meals are set. That said – having Vin Diesel and Tom Cruise as sommeliers would make for pretty awesome restaurants.

Nowadays, the demand is for master chefs to return to their renowned restaurants. It doesn't really matter who owns the restaurant or who conceived the original recipes. Everyone wants a piece of that master chef's legendary dish. As I mentioned in my previous column, forms of entertainment that were born in the 20th century – namely movies and video games – are moving away from traditional story formats and away from the need to tie things up with any kind of neat resolution. Entertainment is increasingly moving toward the notion of an endless universe and ongoing stories.

"Only the living, unique, and irreplaceable master chefs can prepare the dishes that we remember."


But even if the universes are infinite, the lifespans of their creators – sadly – is not. A famed restaurant can live on, but the chef will eventually pass. Not to be morbid, but neither Ridley Scott nor James Cameron will live forever. Then the question becomes whether there's a way to continue preparing a master chef's signature dish once they've gone.

After all, a restaurant's name and branding can persist – that's merely a question of money. But what about the actual food? That's something that money alone can't solve. Only the living, unique, and irreplaceable master chefs can prepare the dishes that we remember. Capital can ensure the place and menu. But is there a way to keep the true essence – the flavor and service?

One answer to this question can be found in the recent theatrical release of Alien Covenant.

The title of the previous movie, Prometheus, is a reference to the god that brought fire (technology, effectively) to humankind. As the title suggests, the theme of this prequel concerned itself with gods (creators) and their creations (creatures), and Covenant carries this on. God created man, man created androids, but who created the alien? This mystery is played out within the confines of the story, but it also brings to light the meta question: who is the creator of the Alien franchise? Was Ridley Scott aware that he was raising this question? The horror themes of the first Alien were transformed into action in the second by James Cameron. After Cameron, the series lost its way, but the theme of the alien creature – and the struggle to figure out how to best prepare this ingredient – remain a constant.

However, this latest film shows no signs of the returning master chef, Ridley Scott, struggling to create that signature dish. The theme of the Alien franchise itself takes center stage. All effort is spent explaining the location, and lore of the alien, while the meal itself is an afterthought. In this context Scott is a creation of the Alien franchise, and – like David in Prometheus – his role is as the franchise representative and selector of ingredients, not as the curator of the taste or director of customer service. The created becomes the new creator, and that creator gives birth to further creations – Scott is barely needed. This unending chain of creator arising from creator sustains the film universe much in the same way that DNA carries on the seed after the individual has passed.

One could say that Alien: Covenant is a query from a creator with a finite lifespan toward a franchise with intentions of infinity.

As a viewer though, that's not what I want to see. The design of the restaurant sign, who the owner is – I don't care about any of these things. In fact, it's not important to me who the chef is. When I visit one of my favorite restaurants, I want to enjoy the flavor and the service. I go to see the movie, because I want to know how the ingredients – in this case the DNA of Alien – are going to be prepared. The horror of Alien, the action of Aliens, I want to taste that sense of surprise again.

The viewer signs a contract – joins a covenant – with a film because they want to enjoy the food, not for the name alone. As long as this premise is kept, a never-ending universe isn't a bad proposition.