In many ways, Martin Hollis is an example of the archetypal, slightly eccentric English developer. Starting out as a teenaged bedroom coder, he was Rare's first graduate programmer employee, working on the Killer Instinct coin-op before setting up and leading the 12-man team that created the seminal GoldenEye 007.
He left halfway through its quasi-sequel Perfect Dark, citing a combination of wanderlust and a lack of interest. He spent the next year traveling and consulting on GameCube's hardware development before returning to the UK. He eventually set up Zoonami, a small Cambridge-based studio in 2000, and after working on numerous secret research projects, its first game, Zendoku (DS/PSP), will be released in North America via Eidos this June.
OK, let's start at the beginning. How did Martin Hollis get into computer games?
Martin Hollis: It's funny. Even the people in the games business who are younger than me are getting old now. I'm 35. I've been in the business, more on than off, for 21 years, which is a long time by anyone's reckoning.
I used to program a BBC Micro - type in games. Do you remember that? I was ecstatic to get paid for writing a game. It meant I could upgrade my equipment but I never saw it as a career. Never considered it for a second. Back then my perspective was a job making games was about as sensible as joining the circus. So I went to university to do computer science [at Cambridge University]. Then I went to a little startup doing hardware and software, but that didn't enthuse me, so I applied for a job at Rare. I was their first computer science graduate.
What was the atmosphere like back then?
MH: The company was going through an enormous transition from PC to Silicon Graphics machines. Rare had had considerable financial success so it was able to pay cash, but the SGI equipment was fabulously expensive. Of course, as a 22-year-old, it was really cool. I was the guy who understood UNIX, so I ended up setting up the networks. We had a lot of good fun. Rare went from having three SGI machines to around 50 by the time I left.
What was interesting though was the millions of pounds spent on the kit gave the company a competitive advantage. You could say it was the best decision they made because they realised it would make a big difference to the games they could make. And boy were they right. Using that technology to the fullest delivered Donkey Kong Country, which sold over 8 million on a dead platform [Nintendo SNES] at full price. It was an incredible piece of work and only possible because of the SGI kit.
How did you fit into the company?
MH: I was the second programmer on Killer Instinct for most of the project. It was a lot of fun. I had the most powerful and expensive machines imaginable and I could do cool stuff with them. We were right down to the hardware with the coin-op. Chris Stamper designed the hardware.