A Convoluted Conversation With Martin Hollis
April 27, 2009 Page 5 of 5
You're really small. You can't afford to hire a bunch of people to do focus testing or whatever, can you?
MH: Yeah, we can. It's just the organization of them. And is that necessary? Actually digesting information. I can't watch 50 people playing this game in a week. I can't do that. I can't digest the information.
Say like a designer/programmer, he can't do it either, so we've really not got much reason to look at [that volume of information]. Unless we're doing it statistically and there's some kind of metrics that are like semi-automated, and we get back a chart, or spreadsheet, or whatever, but this game doesn't really work like that.
For us, we do another attempt at making it better, and then we test it with a couple of people. One, and then a second, and we make some conclusions on that. And then a couple months later, we do it again.
Maybe there's not a big sample size, but one is better than zero, and two is better than one! [laughs] It's pretty reliable, really, because human beings are mostly all the same -- unless you count hardcore gamers. [laughs]
MH: You get new people in, and they have the same problems as each other. You get two people, and they both have the same problems.
MH: Maybe one of them is a perfectionist, and the other is more free-wheeling. And you see that one of them spends 60 minutes...
AK: [Still playing.] These are the ones that Christian did. They're all grown out now.
That's cool. That's funny. It's another way to incentivize the player to continue on. And it's a relatively simple one, especially with procedural trees, right?
MH: Yup, exactly. So, we're trying to use the possibilities there, having this procedural stuff in there.
Making the most of what you got.
MH: It just makes for a more reactive game because the software is more reactive -- because it can be, because the software has control over the heart of the game, and it can make the game do stuff that depends on you.
Oh, so there are surprises in store? That's something you have to think about, right? Particularly, that's a challenge for when you're making a game that people are going to be playing day after day...
MH: There's no way we can test that. That's like a moon shot, right? We don't know if that works until the game goes out.
It's a different way of thinking about it, right? Most people aren't designing for an experience that's going to be played repeatedly, shortly, and consistently. They're playing experiences that are supposed to be played for 40 hours in a row, and then...
MH: This is not the game. This is like bite-sized nuggets. For just minutes a day. That's the whole idea.
In the end, that's how your game is going to succeed if it's conversational and gives people a way to interact. That's what's going to succeed. Because ultimately, it's a fun interaction cutting these plants -- but in and of itself, no one's going to be like, "I'm a plant cutting fan. That's my most favorite activity."
MH: So, we had like 20 guys come in NOA. They're like hardcore articulate... Some of them were journalists, I think? I'm assuming they're all guys. And they played this game.
One of them was like, "I fell madly in love with the game. I love Edward Scissorhands, and I love Bonsai. I've just fallen in love with this game." Maybe we'll get one in 20 there from the Nintendo-core who really are like, "I've always wanted to play a Bonsai game." [laughs]
It's funny, and this is totally unrelated, but I came down here in a car that Nintendo hired.
MH: Yeah, me too! [laughs]
And I ended up talking to the driver, and he's like, "What are you doing?" You know, blah blah blah, just small talk. And I said, "I'm going to meet this guy, Martin Hollis, he worked on GoldenEye." I said GoldenEye because everyone knows GoldenEye, right? At least if they played games.
MH: Yeah, like eight million people bought it, and I figured another 60 million people must have played it on their brother's, sister's, mum's, dad's... Or second-hand.
Well, it turns out that the limo company has an N64 in their back room, now, and they play GoldenEye now. [laughs]
MH: So, I guess that I kind of... It's not Nosferatu.
[laughs] I just thought that was hilarious.
MH: That's fabulous, isn't it?
These things can endure, right? We always think, as the industry, we always have that mentality of pushing ever forward, never looking back, never looking even a week back.
MH: I absolutely agree. This is a real art form that's starting to have a real history. We have to remember that, embrace it, and just be more mature about the whole thing.
This is just me ranting a little bit, but what got really frustrating to me as a journalist -- before Gamasutra, I wrote for like enthusiast press, and I was really frustrated that once a game comes out, it stops dead in terms of your coverage. The review is up, and maybe there's a strategy guide, but ultimately, there's nothing to do with the game afterwards. The audience doesn't expect it, no one thinks about it. And you know what? I'm still learning things about games. We still talk about games.
MH: Me too. That's why I come to [GDC]. I come to learn new words, new names for things that maybe I had an idea of before, but now I've got a name, and I can take that back, and we can like talk about it.
So we did like three prototypes for this. And then, like go to the Flower talk, and they're show all their old prototypes. I was so relieved that we're not the only people that have to go through this!
It's like frankly a traumatic experience, like, "Let's try this for a while. Oh, this doesn't seem to be working!"
Page 5 of 5