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July 24, 2007 - Metal Gear Online saw its big unveiling today as part of Konami's heavily hyped Metal Gear 20th Anniversary Party in Tokyo. As you might have already figured out from our [Register or Login to view links], IGN was on-hand at the event to witness a game of hide-and-seek and cyber crime between 12 Kojima Productions employees.

Rather than playing for themselves, Hideo Kojima and MGO producer Yoshikazu Matsuhana called two Kojima Production employees out on stage to do the dirty work. Each employee was the leader of their own team, labeled red and blue. The other players were back at the Konami office, which just so happens to be in the same downtown building complex as the party. Today's demonstration consisted of two teams of six, but the final version will allow for a total of 16 players.

The demo started with each team lined up, waiting to begin battle. The interface is what you'd expect of an online Metal Gear game. In addition to a life bar over the heads of all other players, your on-screen info display shows a circular radar map and the series' trademark weapon selector.

But this is one game where the player information goes way beyond the life bars and maps. Kojima had his subordinates start off with a demonstration of what we're sure will be one of the game's most talked-about features, the SOP system. This new gameplay system provides you with all sorts of useful information about your teammates.

In our blog, we mentioned that the SOP system allows you to see your teammates even through walls. When behind an obstruction (and that includes hiding in a cardboard box) your teammates appear as pulsing shells colored according to your team's color. The game shows teammates near and far, through one wall or many. At last, a new way of keeping track of ally positions, on top of the trusty radar map.

There's actually quite a bit more to the SOP system than just x-ray vision. Light lines project through the map, indicating the direction in which your teammates are aiming their weapons. Circular lights show up around your character when you get a communique from your teammates, indicating where they are with respect to you. Lights are also used to highlight things that your teammates have found, even though you may not have directly seen them yet.

The possibilities for teamwork offered by this new SOP system should be obvious. But there's also a way to put the SOP system to use as a weapon. When you kill an enemy, it's possible to tap into the information link they've set up with their teammates. You're then able to see all enemy positions (including those who thought they were so clever by hiding in that inconspicuous box). Matsuhana referred to MGO as being part "information war."

Following this demonstration of the SOP system, the twelve Kojima Production employees went into full battle mode. Kojima, as the god of all things Metal Gear, was able to switch the main monitor between the blue and red teams at will.

The red team started off by splitting apart, shouting lots of pre-set Japanese phrases, like "Go Go Go" and "Gambare!," as selected from a phrase window. We're not sure if the game will support voice chat or not at this point, as there wasn't any live chatter shown.

Before going into a few combat situations, Matsuhana explained the camera system. MGO uses the same set of cameras that you'll find in MGS4. When shooting, you can view the action from behind your character with the character positioned slightly to the left or right of the screen. When moving about, you have a conventional camera where you're loosely tracked from behind and slightly above your character, or you can switch into first person view.

Next, Kojima had the camera switch to the blue team's side. He showed one character reach down and start reading something. You guessed it -- the gravure magazine that was shown in the gameplay demo of MGS4! It appeared to be the same quality as that of MGS4, suggesting that MGO uses the same engine as its offline counterpart.

Following this lighthearted sequence, the blue leader took cover behind a wall of sandbags as an enemy player approached. He cleverly maneuvered around the sandbags as the enemy passed, then walked up to him from behind and did a choke move, knocking him out. The animation for this choke sequence was spot on with Snake's first kill in the MGS4 live demonstration footage.

Here, Kojima switched the camera back to the red team. The red leader was in the same area we'd just seen, complete with the fallen teammate. He awakened his ally by patting him furiously on the butt. The game will, according to Matsuhana, have a variety of methods for lending support to your allies.

Next, the red leader climbed a ladder to the roof of a building where an enemy was taking cover behind some rubble and blasting away. Matsuhana noted that many online games have ladders. However, in MG Online, you can stop midway up the ladder, grab a grenade, and toss it at the enemy.

While Matsuhana was sure to make note of the major features of MGO, there were a few areas that didn't require any commentary. Anyone who enjoys competitive gaming will love the setting of the demonstration stage. A war-ravaged city not unlike the setting of the MGS4 gameplay demo, the level of play was full of obstacles, like cars, sandbags and the walls of broken buildings. That translates to lots of places to hide, making this a true hide-and-seek game; "hide-and-seek" is actually the term a Konami rep used to describe MGO prior to today's unveiling.

The level of detail afforded by the graphics engine seems like it could contribute to the gameplay. While watching the blue leader strangle an enemy during one sequence, we noticed that they were on the second floor of a building that had had its roof and much of its surrounding structure blown out. It was apparently an office building, as it had stacks of boxes, some open, some closed, and even an office desk with a computer. During the course of the demo, we noticed three players hiding out in areas like this and taking fire at enemies below.

Metal Gear Online comes close to MGS4 in visual quality; it wouldn't be surprising if they're actually running on the same engine. Actually, compared to the live MGS4 gameplay demonstration, the Metal Gear Online visuals seemed a bit smoother at this point in development. The game looks polished enough to be a finished product.

And there's probably a good reason for that. Kojima Productions is ready to let a few select members of the public sample MGO! A closed beta program will start on 8/20 and continue through 9/3. Participation is limited to 3,000, chosen by drawing. This is presumably a Japan-only thing at the moment, so you'll have to wait until an official English beta program is announced.

Even though you may not be playing it for a bit, based on what we saw at today's demonstration, it's worth getting hyped up for Metal Gear Online right now. The main event at today's event was the Metal Gear Solid 4 demo, but Metal Gear Online looked like so fun that we wouldn't mind if it ended up being our first taste of the new generation of Metal Gear.

Thanks to [Register or Login to view links] for sharing the news with us!