The five-year quest to remove all nuclear weapons from Metal Gear Solid V


Enlarge / All Snake is saying is “give peace a chance.”

Nearly five years have passed since Konami started Metal Gear Solid V‘s nuclear-disarmament metagame, tasking the game’s community with removing every single nuclear weapon created by players on the game’s servers. This week, players on the PS3 version of MGSV seemed to reach that long-sought goal, unlocking a cut scene congratulating them on a day that character Master Miller says he “thought… would never come.”

Now, the excited players behind the disarmament are waiting to see if Konami will officially acknowledge their achievement and perhaps unlock some long-hinted-at new content for the five-year-old game.

The long push for peace

Organized MGSV nuclear-disarmament efforts have been going in fits and starts for years, first via the now-defunct Metal Gear Philanthropy subreddit and more recently in the MetalGearAntiNuclear subreddit. There, players would join together to discuss raiding the Forward Operating Bases of nuclear-armed opponents on MGSV‘s online servers in order to steal and then disarm those weapons to lower the total worldwide count.

But interest from disarmers has been sporadic, and the effort has faced sustained opposition from self-interested players who are encouraged to create nuclear weapons as a form of in-game protection and deterrence. Both Konami’s official counts (which the company stopped publicly updating years ago) and unofficial counts via a GitHub server scraper show historical disarming progress either long-stalled or actively going backward over time, depending on the platform and server (the PS4 and Steam versions of the game are still far from full disarmament as of this writing).

For a brief moment, a scene like this was impossible to see on a PlayStation 3.

For a brief moment, a scene like this was impossible to see on a PlayStation 3.

“I think most people just kind of gave up and the fun had been sucked out of it after such a long time,” player and indie VR game dev Stefferp told Ars over Discord. “I think the whole thing is a big missed opportunity, people were really into this nuke ‘minigame’ in 2015, but Konami’s interest in it dwindled over time and were very reluctant to talk about it eventually.”

Getting the band together

The latest sprint down to full disarmament on the PS3 started back in March, when Reddit user TheHungHorse used the coronavirus quarantine as an excuse to start a Discord server organizing a serious push among dedicated players. “At first, nothing got done because we simply didn’t have the numbers. But slowly, our numbers grew to 60, 70… It was heartwarming to have everyone come together for this goal. Me and a few other members actually bought a PS3 copy [of Metal Gear Solid V] just to help out.”

Eventually, 20 or so hardcore disarmers started a group direct-message chain to coordinate their efforts and schedules. “We all disarmed at the same time during this past month so we wouldn’t have to worry about people bringing the numbers back up to what they used to be,” TheHungHorse said.

“This time it was like a ‘right, let’s just get this done’ mentality, maybe because the game is nearing its fifth anniversary,” Stefferp told Ars. “Teaming up brought that fun back, I suppose.”

Thanks to the group’s coordination, initial progress was quick, with PS3 nuke counts dropping from over 800 on July 10 to below 100 in under a week, according to the GitHub scraper. At that point, though, the group ran into what TheHungHorse suspects were hackers determined to keep the nuke count high.

“Sometimes we’d get the number to 40 just for it to immediately go back to 60,” he said. “So all in all it was a lot of patience and trial and error. Considering we don’t have access to those tools used against us, it’s really a miracle that we made it down to zero.”

The unlocked cut scene that followed PS3 disarmament, as posted by Stefferp. Note the congratulatory list of usernames at the end.

Hackers aside, normal players also caused headaches for the disarmers. “I was… surprised by how active the PS3 player base still is,” Stefferp said. “We figured taking the nukes would be easy but people would retaliate all the time [striking back against the player who had stolen their nuclear weapon]. It’s an old console but it’s still in use by quite a few people. I think that’s pretty cool… 2006 hardware but still not irrelevant.”

The disarming group was also faced with a set of “invincible nukes” apparently caused by an error in the game’s server code. These weapons show up on the server as owned by players who don’t have a Forward Operating Base—a logical impossibility that also prevents others from stealing and disarming the phantom weapons.

“My personal theory is those people had nukes, and then reset their save data, which resets your FOB back to zero,” Stefferp tells Ars (this, Stefferp suspects, is why the GitHub nuke counter has still never shown a full “drop to zero” moment).

Waiting for confirmation

Phantom nukes or not, the disarmament group was surprised to find its efforts rewarded this week with the activation of a cut scene announcing full disarmament. “We knew we had gotten close on the day it happened, but we didn’t think we’d actually do it,” TheHungHorse said.

Konami, for its part, hasn’t quite confirmed the community’s victory just yet. “A nuclear abolition event has occurred in PS3 version of MGSV:TPP from July 28, Japan time, but we are currently investigating this matter,” the official Japanese Metal Gear account tweeted earlier this morning.

That investigation may be warranted before players celebrate too much. That’s because previous activations of the “full disarmament” cut scene were later judged to be false alarms—once for PC players in early 2018 and again for PS4 players in late 2018.

“We… can confirm that the event was triggered while the nuke count hadn’t reached zero,” Konami said days after the false PC disarmament in 2018. “We would like to apologize for the inconvenience and reassure you that we will investigate the matter as well as take the necessary action to avoid this in the future.”

Peace is the key?

Konami’s confirmation could be more important than a simple pat on the back, too. That’s because many players are convinced that in-game disarmament is the inciting event that will lead to new content being unlocked in the game.

The evidence for this theory is circumstantial but hard to ignore. Back in 2016, for instance, Konami Community Manager Robert Peeler pointedly said he’d “rather not stipulate on what, if anything, happens with nuclear disarmament.” Peeler, who no longer works for Konami, recently tweeted that he’s “[n]ot sure if/how Konami will celebrate, but if legit, that’s great. Coming up on that 5th anniversary!”

Though MGSV only has two chapters, data miners have also found a title card for “Chapter 3: Peace” hidden in the game’s files. Some have linked that to a series of three cryptic, three-themed tweets made by Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima back in 2016. While no actual “Chapter 3” content has been found hiding on the game disc, some suspect Konami may use a confirmed disarmament as the trigger to patch the content in.

A title card data mined from the <em>MGSV</em> code introducing a chapter that some believe may be unlocked following disarmament.

A title card data mined from the MGSV code introducing a chapter that some believe may be unlocked following disarmament.

Such an obtuse, drawn-out method for unlocking DLC wouldn’t be out of character for Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima, who is somewhat known for quirky gameplay experiments. “I think there is definitely something to the disarmament thing, otherwise Konami wouldn’t have to ‘investigate’ it every time it triggered,” Stefferp said.

TheHungHorse, for his part, thinks the actual trigger might involve disarming and then keeping the server disarmed for the length of the eight-minute cut scene that runs. Then, TheHungHorse suspects, there might be “a secret cut scene that plays instead of Ocelot telling you ‘Welp, someone’s making nukes again.'”

“For me personally, I just want answers to these questions. I want the age-old debate regarding MGSV‘s cut content to end once and for all,” TheHungHorse continued. “For now, our next goal is to get the nukes to zero again but for a prolonged period of time in order to test a few things out… For now, though, we’re all taking a break. We deserve it.

“Plus there have been other fans picking up where we left off since ‘Peace Day,'” he added. “Glad to see this game being relevant again.”





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