MGS: The Evolution Of The Cardboard Box

[MGS, or rather, Metal Gear Solid, is a video game series created by Hideo Kojima that was conceived in 1987, when it was only called Metal Gear. The series has been around for 25 years now and as a big fan I’ve only known about them and played the games for less than a decade. That said, I’ve seen the evolution of the series and have grown to love it even more. One way I choose to express this is to write about some of these changes in the form of ‘MGS: The Evolution Of.” Whether you’re a fan or not I hope you enjoy.]

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The cardboard box to many people is just an ordinary brown object folded in specific places to which, when each corner comes together, forms a 3-dimensional object in the form of a cube or rectangle. A cardboard box usually sits open side up and can be filled with objects, typically for transportation as a parcel or to just store needful things. In the Metal Gear world, it’s used upside down and is an ideal place to hide or take cover so as to avoid detection from ones enemies while trying to infiltrate certain areas, be they buildings, ships, or even thick jungle locales.

Since the beginning of the whole Metal Gear franchise the cardboard box has been a staple of the series. First introduced in Metal Gear (MSX, 1987), it’s had one purpose, which is so our legendary soldier Solid Snake can avoid being seen by enemy soldiers and surveillance cameras while infiltrating enemy territory. It was used as an extension of sneaking behind enemy lines, which is what the MG games are well known for. In an early gaming age when all games back then were geared towards full on action, Metal Gear, and its predecessors, decided to have the player go in for a quieter approach, thereby increasing the overall tension of the gameplay. If by chance you get spotted you then have an onslaught of enemies coming at you from all corners of the game screen. Not so nice. So it paid to be the tortoise of the race. Or Snake.

The first iteration of the cardboard box was a literal brown box sprite in screen. When the player moved around there wasn’t much animation beyond a sprite for the side of the box and a sprite for the front or back of the box, depending on the direction you were going. It was 1987. Whatever works, right?

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Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, the official sequel, had a cardboard box that did more of the same, except it was even boxier. Perhaps so Solid Snake could move easier. Still though, it worked like a charm to bypass the bad guys.

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Once the series jumped to next gen platforms like the PSX, the series then became Metal Gear Solid, and things took on a more 3-dimensional aspect, literally. PSX (Playstation 1) was a new piece of Sony gaming tech at the time MGS was released in 1998. By that time sprites changed to polygons and gaming took on a more realistic dynamic. So obviously, a cardboard box and its likeness would also take on these aspects. Since Snake could move more realistically so too did the box. Animation more fluid and lifelike, cartoony at times, but it also worked. Dogs could even pee on it for goodness sake. But it still retained its trademark concealment from prying enemy eyes. And enemies could interact with it.

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Once MGS2: Sons Of Liberty came along a few years later the functionality of the cardboard box extended to having different versions throughout the game. From a Wet Box Snake finds outside the tanker in the rain (which kinda made no sense for me) to different boxes that took Snake to different locations of the Big Shell (chapter 2 of the game) by way of a conveyor belt in the Parcel Room, the usefulness became more crucial.

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MGS3: Snake Eater dialed down the functionality of the box, perhaps because the protagonist was Naked Snake/Big Boss from the Cold War era 1964 instead of Solid Snake. Who knows. There was a codec call however, between Naked Snake and one of his support team members, Signt, where Snake explains the usefulness and comfort and overall security that a cardboard box offers. Where the box actually shines, or shined, was in the Online Multiplayer portion of MGS3 in the form of MGO (Metal Gear Online).

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By the time MGS4: Guns of the Patriots came along the Box sorts became lost in translation. It wasn’t as important to have it in your inventory so even finding one was hard. Only a few areas had one lying around as a throwback to MGS fans. At this point in the series there were additions, or extensions, to the ole cardboard, like the inclusion of the Drum Can. Snake was able to not only hide in one but could actually use it as a weapon by turning it on its side and rolling with it and literally bowling down enemies in its wake. Although rolling for too long caused Snake to vomit. So there are pros as well as cons to it. But one big pro was that it was fairly bulletproof. Very useful in times of stressful gun fights.

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The box’s uses, on the other hand, were again relegated to Online Mode. This time not only could players hide in boxes, but they could literally equip one as face camo. Oh Kojima, you’re such a funny bastard.

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With MGS: Portable Ops, which was released on the PSP as a sequel to MGS3, story wise it was cool. I personally enjoyed it. The gameplay is great for a handheld MGS game. It’s actually the reason why I even own a PSP in the first place. Lots of “hardcore fans” seem to classify this as something that never should have existed at all. For reasons unknown, or none that I could really give two shits about.

This is the game where Naked Snake is referred to as Big Boss more often because of the events of MGS3. And having that namesake means that, according to MGS lore, Big Boss is to amass an army of his own and build Outer Heaven someday. This is the game that lets you recruit those soldiers to Big Boss’ morals and ideals. One way to recruits these soldiers is to knock them out and painstakingly drag them back (one by one if you have a handful of snoozing enemies) to a truck parked at a secret spot in every level of the game.

Another easier way to do this is to drag these enemy bodies to a nearby comrade hiding in a cardboard box, who you have the option of interchanging (only available if you already have a decent number of recruits in your team), calling a certain codec signal, and having that comrade actually do the work for you behind the scenes while you continue in your mission.

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Enter MGS: Peace Walker. Released in 2010 on PSP first, then PS3/360 a few years later with the MGS HD Collection, this game, spiritually speaking according to MGS father himself Hideo Kojima, was supposed to be MGS5. PW takes the essentials from MPO (recruitment, team building, comrade system) and expands upon them in a grander scale. This time, instead of some random truck you actually had a station to put your recruits called Mother Base. The comrade system and especially recruitment have been refined to make capturing enemies easier. No longer do you have to drag people back to a truck or comrade in a box, but instead have the Fulton System, where Big Boss can just slap a big ole balloon in an enemy’s back after being held up or knocked out and send them flying in the air for a chopper to snag em and bag em.

The number one aspect of this game is the inclusion of co-op gameplay where The option of having up to 4 players is available for any mission. This co-op mechanic is extended to the use of the cardboard box in a huge way. Now the box is specifically called Love Box, probably as a funny way to infer that two people now can fit inside one box, totally unprecedented for the MGS series. Other iterations of this box in PW come in some meaningful assortments. There is a lethal version of the Love Box, called Bomb Box, that when tampered with by an enemy it explodes in their face. The same can be said about the non lethal version, Smoke Box and Stun Box, only it knocks enemies out temporarily. Another one called Rescue Box, comes in handy when in a mission of 2 to 4 players where if one player gets wounded close to death, the Rescue Box actually makes that Ambulatory siren sound and the user can resuscitate his/her comrade and can once again go into battle. Wilder still is the Tank Box. It quite literally is a tank made out of corrugated cardboard material as with all the other boxes which when occupied with 2 people the canon then becomes active and the 2nd player can fire it. The Tank Box comes in a few flavors which can fire lethal rounds, Stun rounds, or Smoke rounds. It’s not unlike in MGS4 where the player was able to use different rounds, from lethal to tranq, and Psyche rounds that actually played with enemy’s emotions. One other function that the Love Box has (which I found out by messing around) is that you can still shoot enemies while having the Box equipped, ie; sneaking around while inside the box. I’m not sure if this is possible with other MGS titles but I know for a fact that its not possible in MPO as the weapons and items are in one menu activated by one button. With other titles the weapons and items are on separate windows.

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In terms of tie-ins, Peace Walker was all over the map with tie-ins to Doritos (for Japan, T-Chips for US), Uniqlo (T-Shirt camo), and Assassin’s Creed (as with the Altair costume in MGS4). In this AC tie-in Snake and gang actually get to swan dive into a bail of hay, or ‘Assassin’ Box and use it in a very functional way. Players could sneak around as usual but could also pull enemies into the Box and subdue them and either leave them be or use the Fulton on them.

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As we can attest, the cardboard box has gone through a lot over the years, with the beginning bulk basically unchanged up until the most recent PSP iterations. I love all the games, even the Gameboy spinoff Ghost Babel. It’s as if MG (MSX) and MGS1 (PS1) had a baby. Some other spinoff, meh not so much as they’re too far removed from the Solids. For those of you who have a PSP you guys and gals can snag MPO and PW. And Konami recently rereleased MGS2, 3, and PW in HD for PS3 and 360. So it’s all win/win. I’m dangerously close to getting a PS Vita just for their version of the HD Collection. Craziness.

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With the recent announcement of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Hideo Kojima says he wants to “reinvent” the series for current and newer fans. I can only imagine the cardboard box’s new attributes this time around. Perhaps Snake will pop out from the top of the cardboard box like a birthday cake and CQC some fools. We shall see.

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