Last month, we mentioned that Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 4 for Sony’s PlayStation 3 was going to feature an iPod as an in-game item; now that the game is out, we’ve had a chance to see how both the iPod and Macs were used. It’s actually sort of surprising.
As you may or may not know, Metal Gear Solid 4 is the latest in a series of military espionage and action games featuring a character named Solid Snake. The developers at Konami, led by Hideo Kojima, have spent years creating realistic guns, vehicles, armor and environments for the various games in the series, modeling them to an impressive degree of reality, and in some cases abstracting them into next-generation versions. So it’s no surprise that the company’s emulation of an iPod is fairly accurate—the only unusual part is that the device is a well-since-discontinued fifth-generation iPod in a world where nanomachines, night vision eye patches and genetically engineered battle machines are all apparently more common than iPhones or touch-screen iPods.
You actually use the iPod by holding down one of the top left triggers and then spinning the right analog joystick around in a circle to scroll on the Click Wheel. A yellow beam indicates how your finger is currently sweeping the Wheel. Pressing the joystick inwards is the iPod’s central Action button; you can select items on the Wheel by sweeping the Wheel and pressing the X button on the controller as something’s overlaid with the yellow beam. It’s all an attempt to make the experience as much like using an iPod as possible on a PlayStation 3 joypad, with menu options that are familiar but stripped down for simplicity’s sake. The only setting under “Settings,” for instance, is “Repeat,” and both songs and podcasts are found under “Music.”
The in-game iPod’s collection of songs consists of tracks that are pre-added by the game, as well as ones you find lying around in the warzones you walk through. Konami has included songs from past Metal Gear games, both console and handheld, as well as podcasts that break down the fourth wall and let you listen to the developers talking about the game. You’re supposed to use the iPod to listen to audio if you get tired of the default minimalist background music; it’s not a mandatory part of the game, but playing certain tracks can relax Snake or improve certain of his performance characteristics.
While it’s cool to see the iPod in the Metal Gear universe, it’s also a little off-putting. By attempting to replicate the Click Wheel rather than just using a simpler joystick-style selection interface, Konami actually makes it more difficult to pick tracks than it would have been with just a simple menu. Apple understands this completely in its own design of TV- and computer-based interfaces—Apple TV and iTunes don’t try to use faux scroll wheels. The inclusion of the iPod appears to have been more for fun or stylistic reasons, or perhaps paid product placement, than anything else.
Leaning in the “product placement” category are some of the cutscenes with your assistant, Otacon. He sits at a desk with a suspended Apple Cinema Display floating in the air, and a Mac Pro under the desk—or at least two items that look a lot like them. The Apple logos on both devices are unmistakeable, though, and Otacon even asks how you’re enjoying your iPod in one scene. “If you’re feeling run down, why not take a break?,” he asks. “Listen to a few tunes…?” Something about that just says “product placement,” or at least “thanks for letting us include the iPod, Apple.”
The presence of Macs, iPods, and Apple logos in the game is especially interesting given how many TV shows and commercials we’ve recently seen with the Apple logos intentionally covered up: the Food Network’s Iron Chef America has a conspicuous collection of Cinema Displays near Alton Brown, but their Apple logos disappeared after the first season’s episodes. Commercials now include more Apple notebook machines (current model MacBooks and MacBook Pros) than ever before, but they tend to appear with purely white or silver lids, minus only the Apple markings. For Metal Gear’s fictional characters to be Apple users clearly required some sort of permission from the company—we just wonder how much.