How a Twitter hoax gave false hope for a Metal Gear Solid remaster

One of many artful scenes of everyday "Big Shell" life shared by @TheTomOlsen on Twitter.
Enlarge / One of many artful scenes of everyday “Big Shell” life shared by @TheTomOlsen on Twitter.

Weeks ago, a mysterious Twitter account popped up to tell the story of Tom Olsen, an unassuming maintenance technician at the fictional “Big Shell” facility that served as the main setting for Metal Gear Solid 2. The unique first-person photos and videos Olsen posted from “inside” Big Shell—and the account’s interaction with the official Metal Gear Solid Twitter account—have led many to assume that “Tom Olsen” is a viral marketing campaign for an as-yet-unannounced Metal Gear Solid 2 remake.

No such luck. Instead, the account is the creation of a lone fan and self-described “Metal Gear Solid historian” who seems to be reveling a bit in the rumors and speculation he’s driving.

How rumors get started

Tom Olsen’s Twitter account describes him as a “born and bred NYer. Maintenance Technician at the Big Shell. Married 10 years to my wonderful wife Karen. Recovering Mets fan.” So far, the account has amassed nearly 4,000 followers despite only following four accounts: three related to Konami and MGS and one for the New York Mets.

Throughout April, the account has posted dozens of photos showing Big Shell looking a bit sharper than even its 2011 HD remaster—and from angles that would seem impossible to get through traditional gameplay. Olsen has also posted first-person videos moving around Big Shell in a way that isn’t possible in the original game (where players can’t move when the camera is in the first-person perspective).

Then, last week, Olsen started tweeting multiple references to a visit from President Johnson happening “next week,” adding an apparent timed element, fueling suspicions that an alternate reality game was forming.

“There are far more boxes being shipped around than usual. Management must be preparing for something big soon!” Olsen tweeted on April 16. “Management has been running non-stop inspections,” Olsen added on April 20. “Whatever’s coming up, they’re not taking any chances.”

Then there’s a Kojima-style cryptic tweet featuring seeming video freeze-frame hidden messages and a robotic “THANK YOU FOR USING TOKUGAWA NETWORK SERVICES,” a message Olsen later attributed to “head trauma.” Add in the official Metal Gear Solid account quote-tweeting Olsen with an in-character reminder that “we have visitors coming next week,” and the speculation train was off and running.

On Friday, Game Informer called attention to the account with a credulous headline: “Mystery Account Seems To Be Teasing A Metal Gear Solid 2 Remake.” While the piece allows for the possibility that it’s all a hoax, it also concludes that it’s “very likely” that Tom Olsen is a clever Konami marketing campaign.

Plenty of other press outlets have also gotten in on the speculation. The Tom Olsen account “makes it pretty clear that Metal Gear Solid news is coming, but what it is isn’t very clear, especially considering the singular focus on Metal Gear Solid 2,” TheGamer wrote. “There could be a new Metal Gear announcement on the way,” Siliconera added in its own write up.

“Given the often mysterious nature of the Metal Gear series, it’s no wonder people are starting to pay attention to this,” PlayStation news site Push Square added in its story.

“It appears the wishes of fans [for a remake] may soon be fulfilled,” Game Rant chimed in.

And of course it’s not hard to find random people on Reddit, YouTube, and Twitter running wild with theories of their own. All told, a lot of people are looking at Tom Olsen as a Kojima-esque tease of some sort of Metal Gear Solid 2 announcement this week.

Unraveling the thread

Unfortunately for the speculators, the Tom Olsen account has no direct links to any Konami PR plans. The account is instead the creation of Nitroid, a self-described “Aspiring Game Maker” and host of a Hideo Kojima-centric podcast.

At first, the evidence of Nitroid’s involvement was hiding in plain sight. When the Tom Olsen account launched on April 10, Nitroid posted a tweet announcing that “Metal Gear Solid 2 is unfinished. It’s time to fix that.” The now-deleted tweet (archived here) contained a video (which Ars has seen a copy of) focusing on Olsen running in the background of action-packed MGS scenes. The video promised to show “at long last, the other side” of Metal Gear Solid, including “two characters, two perspectives.” It concluded with the reveal of the @TheTomOlsen account as the home for this experiment in storytelling.

A screengrab showing scenes from Nitroid's now-deleted announcement video for @TheTomOlsen.
Enlarge / A screengrab showing scenes from Nitroid’s now-deleted announcement video for @TheTomOlsen.

That announcement tweet was live until April 20, when YouTuber Lance McDonald posted a tweet pointing out that the whole thing was a hoax by Nitroid that “seems like it’s just for fun.” At that point, McDonald told Ars, Nitroid “reacted by deleting all his old tweets about it.”

McDonald said he has talked to Nitroid a bit about the account, mainly to figure out how the poster had been creating the images and videos from Olsen’s apparent perspective. “He just uses the PS2 ‘Document of Metal Gear Solid cutscene camera DVD running on PCSX2 emulator to make it look nicer,” McDonald said. “I don’t want to ruin his fun, but it’s been funny seeing news outlets covering Tom Olsen back when Nitroid’s tweets were all still live and they didn’t seem to notice,” he added.

Nitroid hasn’t responded to a request for comment from Ars, but McDonald said Nitroid told him that “it was funny to watch how the rumor mill works.” That lines up with a Twitter thread Nitroid shared last year, describing how a misreported story of a Metal Gear fan’s suicide led Nitroid to “[lose] faith in journalism as an institution.”

“If so many professionals can get one small incident this horribly wrong, what does that say for the myriad news reports that are made on a daily basis?” Nitroid asked in the thread.

Of course, a Metal Gear Solid remake could still be coming, even if the Tom Olsen account has nothing to do with it. Solid Snake voice actor David Hayter recently said he thinks it “really might be happening” based on information from “insiders” (a Konami representative hasn’t responded to a request for comment from Ars Technica).

In the end, though, the spread of the Tom Olsen hoax fits right in with Kojima’s usual in-game themes of how information spreads in a loosely connected society. Colonel Campbell would be proud.