Death Stranding has nothing to do with Kojima Productions' mascot - but we don't believe it
There's been a lot of speculation surrounding Ludens, that space-faring skeleton man Kojima Productions had been teasing for a while. Kojima claimed that despite getting a full rundown, including the origins of his design and the philosophy behind his inception, he's just a logo. Oh, and it's Kojima in the suit, claims Kojima.
Frankly, we're calling BS on this. Zoom into the hi-res image of the Ludens suit and it looks a *lot* like Norman Reedus' eyes in there. Kojima is fond of dangling the most critical revelation about his game in the public eye, only without the context to understand what we're seeing. For example, he joked that the 'bandaged man' in the MGS5 The Phantom Pain trailer was 'Me, Hideo Kojima' in an interview with Geoff Keighley and inadvertently - or deliberately - gave up (MAJOR MGS5 SPOILER AHEAD) the game's big twist: that you don't play as Big Boss, but Venom Snake, an unknown medical officer duped into playing the role of Big Boss. (SPOILERS END)
Our theory is that Reedus' ends up in the Ludens suit sometime during Death Stranding, perhaps even for the bulk of the game - and all the trailers so far are taken from an early point in the story's chronology. It appears the mystery female character in the sketches is also a Ludens, so add your own speculation here. If the sketched character is Léa Seydoux, she will have to evolve into a Ludens later in the game. In the E3 2018 demo, she appears to work in 'transportation' similar to Sam Porter Bridges – albeit at a higher class. Her suit says 'Fragile Express – Handled With Love'. She's the express courier to his standard delivery, it seems.
What does it all mean? Here's our best guess at Death Stranding's bigger picture
The key to unravelling Hideo Kojima's games is to pare the evidence back to its original components and apply an element of Occam's razor, since later videos are often designed to mislead and keep you guessing.
Kojima is a master of misdirection and sometimes dangles abstract clues relating to fan theories which don't always lead to fruition. For example, the MGS5 launch trailer added weight to the fan theory that Big Boss was *literally* the main villain Skull Face which proved untrue - despite the deliberate compare and contrast between the characters and their vengeful motivations.
Kojima seems to love dangling key clues at the start of a promotion campaign when we lack the context to appreciate what we're seeing. "For me, the game with the audience starts as soon as the first teaser trailer is released", Kojima says.
As a result, it's often most revealing to wind back in time before the first trailer. Kojima's prolific tweeting means it's easy to discover what he's reading and watching - or where and who he's visiting - before a project begins.
Bought NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC as there was special Artie about HOMO naledi.pic.twitter.com/MZ71voCfepOctober 11, 2015
Before Death Stranding was announced, Kojima was tweeting about museum visits and human evolution. “Bought NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC as there was special Artie about HOMO naledi”, he tweeted in October 2015 while still contracted to Konami, months before he started Kojima Productions with its mission statement heralding 'Homo Ludens'.
I started piecing together predictions for Kojima Productions first game in late 2015 - months before Death Stranding was announced at E3 2016 - for an article in Official PlayStation Magazine. At the time, my best guess was:
How does a 2001-inspired, anthropological, space-exploring, mech-based, character-led, action game sound to you?
Being forced to speculate, I'd say that hints at a game that spans swathes of time, alternate universes or how species' evolved. It's consistent with MGS's messages of legacy and generations (Gene, Meme, Scene etc), and might allow an Assassin's Creed-style view of history i.e. a binding theme, like the Templars / Animus, allowing you to visit any location (and keep the game fresh). Think Star Wars (A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) or the conclusion of the BattleStar Galactica TV series.
It's a broad prediction, sure, but isn't that far removed from what many fans consider the most-plausible Death Stranding theory, explained in this 'Extinction Event' video by the excellent RagnarRox (more of that later).
Bought THE INCREDIBLE HUMAN JOURNEY by ALICE ROBERTS. It has the oldest Homininae and Sahelanthropus too. pic.twitter.com/0CGNKEYWUZApril 12, 2016
Can you explain that again in English?
They key to understanding Death Stranding lies in William Blake's Auguries of Innocence (from the first trailer): "To see the world in a grain of sand. And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour".
Essentially, everything (and everyone) is connected and Death Stranding's 'strands' or ropes are the manifestation of that. Blake's poem carries an environmental warning and Kojima's game appears to do the same ('stranded' whales and crustaceans, the oily beach etc) In fact, I replied to a Kojima tweet in 2016 noting the environmental theme and he favorited it, for what it's worth.
Auguries of Innocence contains warning of judgement, pitting the underprivileged or innocent against the elite. In the context of Death Stranding, it appears that humanity as we know it is facing judgement ("And then came the next explosion. An explosion that will be our last"). The five spectral figures that hover above Reedus in trailers 1, 3 and 4 imply a transcendent / religious tone, with fans speculating they will act as archangels of the apocalypse - or the Rapture in Christian definition.
Zooming right out, it's plausible that humanity has advanced to a point where it has accelerated its own judgement or Rapture. My best guesses are that a) mankind has unlocked the ability to create / exploit black holes and visit parallel dimensions or b) a scientific advance has eradicated death as we know it (i.e. death stranding) which leads to environmental ruin and - deep breath - a form of cosmic judgement or c) Possibly in relation to the prior theory that the world is in ecological ruin, humanity has entered a 'transhuman' state where we exist entirely in the digital realm (think Ready Player One / Black Mirror), but the physical world is calling us back.
Either way, Death Stranding seems to explore parallel universe / realities and the Black Hole explanation is aligned with the Schwartzchild Radius etc equations on Reedus' necklace, plus, er, the thing that looks like a black hole on the shadowy giant's 'face' in trailer 3 before reality is transformed.
Kojima's clue that 'something from another world is stranding in our world' might allude to those five spectral figures (which some people refer to as Ludens), or the giant shadowy figure from trailer 3 that floats over the water. Another reading is that the 'something from another world' is in fact, us i.e. humanity, via black hole links to parallel worlds (aka string theory in science… reinforcing the strands theme). It's also possible that our unlocking of parallel worlds has alerted our presence to a more dangerous force outside of our previous knowledge (think Stranger Things).
Coming full circle, this would allow Death Stranding to work as a single player game (everyone operates in their own universe), but as part of a connected set of realities (look at the BRIDGES logo - are the United Cities of America *all* of the Americas in all of the connected realities?). We know the game contains elements of social media and global connection, plus a 'new form of co op'. Kojima has already said that players won't die, as such, but leave their 'death' craters as permanent marks on the game world. This all sounds similar to Dark Souls, and the notion of leaving clues for other players, or invading their single-player world.
What if Death Stranding goes one further and instead of encouraging players to collaborate in online forums to solve puzzles like PT, encourages you to do so directly through the game? So the very act of play is to be a smaller part in a larger shared goal. Mads Mikkelsen recently told Total Film magazine that Death Stranding is about 'global player collaboration' and Norman Reedus said the game contains 'elements of social media'. Hideo Kojima was asked about the 'global collaboration' aspect in an E3 2018 interview with Geoff Keighley. "That was Mads speaking on his own", Kojima laughed nervously, "I'll just say… he's not wrong". The inference was that Mads had revealed something he shouldn't, but wasn't misleading people.
Kojima has always broken the fourth wall between player and game, but Death Stranding may well remove that wall entirely. What if Del Toro, Reedus etc are aware of our intrusion as a player into their reality i.e. we are the handprints they can see, fumbling our way to take control of them, from our parallel reality. The baby takes on an interesting philosophical role in that context, by quite literally representing our presence as the player bringing life to the game universe.
If all that sounds utterly bewildering, don't worry - we know the core of the game will play like a traditional third-person action adventure, only overlaid with what seems to be a shared goal across each player's universe.
There's also the implication that (who we presume is) Léa Seydoux's character is a mirror to Reedus' (with both eventually wearing the Ludens suit), and the game is a parable of cosmic / human evolution where you relive the trials of Adam and Eve… but that's a story for another day.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and stay tuned to @gamesradar for all the latest Death Stranding news, updates and analysis.