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From Me to Wii: Martin Hollis' Journey
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From Me to Wii: Martin Hollis' Journey

August 14, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

So, your first title at Rare was Killer Instinct?

MH: Yeah, that's exactly right. I was a programmer on the team. I guess I was like fifth or sixth on the team. They grew the team really fast from... They had two experienced people, Mark Betteridge and Kevin Bayliss, kind of programmer and art. I think all of the other eight guys in the end were all recent graduates or something like that, not professionally experienced at making games.

Rare ramped up a lot of projects like that in that time. Really, in a way, it's mad, but it worked, really well. During that time I did a lot of cool techy stuff for Killer Instinct. It was a CPU-rendered game, so we had to write all the code to draw every pixel. That was fun. It's some nice tech in there in a loop, optimizing.

So, what would you say that you learned from that project that you then took to GoldenEye?

MH: [laughs]

Because they're obviously so completely different.

MH: Yeah, well I wasn't much involved in the design of Killer Instinct. It was kind of a team consensus thing, but not much of the design. I was there to help make a good fighting game.

What did I learn? I learned that it's really exciting to draw amazing stuff. I remember on the SGI the scrolling backdrop of the leopard's head. Seeing that on the SGI, a hundred frames rendered? It blew my mind, really. I carried that into GoldenEye. The technology was a major drive for that game.

Killer Instinct

How did the pitch come about for GoldenEye?

MH: I heard a rumor in the company that a couple of the guys from the Donkey Kong team had gone to a PR party with the stars and press of the new Bond film. Tim Stamper wasn't too interested, I surmised, and Gregg [Mayles] wasn't that interested.

So, it sounded like it was a bit cold, so I went to Tim, and I said, "Well, you know, I'd like to make this. I'm a Bond fan." And he said, "Yeah, okay. You should probably write a document, and I'll take a look."

How quickly did it progress from that document? Was it an immediate kind of agreement?

MH: It was as clear-cut as that. Basically, from the moment of that conversation I was working on GoldenEye full-time for nearly three years until it was done. I don't know when it was greenlit.

It's funny, you know, I'd heard as well that Nintendo announced Rare was doing it before Rare had agreed to do it. But it's an important relationship, and so they had to try and work that out somehow. I guess something I had done had maybe impressed management, and they thought maybe I'd be okay running my own project.

That's amazing. So, you went from a kind of junior programmer to lead designer and producer in a single title?

MH: Middle programmer.

Right, okay.

MH: [laughs] I think these kind of distinctions make me chuckle.

They're more important these days; they seem to be, I guess.

MH: Yeah, and it gets more and more important the bigger project you're on and so on. I think in fact it's really, really hard to put your finger on who contributed what. It's really tough to know... You can have five people, and they think, "Well, I made that game," and it's probably true. They're all right.

What do you think about the roles in teams becoming more defined? Is that hampering creativity?

MH: I think it does hamper collaborative creativity, which I think is the most efficient kind of working. I want to hear other people's ideas because I can see there's a good chance they'll be better than mine.

It's like tennis. You can bat an idea around, only it changes from being a ball radically on every stroke, and then you end up with something that's fabulous. All you can really say is, well, the room, the conversation, made that idea.

And this was something that happened during GoldenEye's development, right? Am I right thinking that at that very early stage, you were kind of thinking it'd be a bit like Virtua Cop?

MH: Yes. I know what I liked. Mark Edmonds, who was the first guy on the project after me, liked Virtua Cop. And B. Jones and Karl Hilton. We liked Virtua Cop. That was what we were excited by initially, and it felt fairly makeable. It didn't feel too big in scope. But, you know, meanwhile, I also had some ambition, and I guess the other guys had some ambition as well, to make it something that wasn't so shallow in a human sense. We like the visceral, and immediacy.

So, at what point did it move from an on-rail shooter to more of a 3D roaming FPS?

MH: When we started to believe we could really do that with the technology.

I wrote a little list of what I'd like to happen in [the] interior. You know, I'd like Bond to come down the road. This will happen, that will happen -- but quite narrative-driven. I guess 10 percent of it actually got put into the game, but it kind of set a tone. We looked at Super Mario 64. I guess it came out mid-way through our development, and it was amazing. We took the idea of five objectives from that.

That's interesting. Because when you started, you didn't really know anything about the N64, did you?

MH: No, that's true. It was not designed yet.

So, that becomes the primary challenge, designing a game where you've got no boundaries.

MH: The partnership had been made with SGI, but the hardware wasn't... There wasn't a 20-page doc.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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Russell Carroll
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"Nonetheless, I have to be honest and say I do feel sad that I see so many things funneled through the interface of a gun. And I'd like to try and make a small contribution to opening out games to think about other tools, other human tools and other methods of interaction, tool-free."

Great read!

It's fantastic to hear about developers who are pushing the boundaries of what gaming is, to hear about what they are thinking, and to hear what is driving that thinking.

I am often disappointed that the vast majority of gaming seems to be about overcoming conflict through dominating/destroying those who oppose you. It makes gaming as a whole seem narrow-minded, and it's great to read about people trying to address this and make games that lay outside the typical conflict and enemy elimination scenario.

Thanks to all the parties involved for taking the time to put this Q&A together.

Jason Young
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I think part of what is so appealing about guns in an FPS is that they provide a point-and-click interface, which is very intuitive, direct, and enabling (in a good way). I would like to see experiments that also provide a challenging first-person point-and-click interface without the violence... though the hard part there is thinking of a metaphor.

Alexander Bruce
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Thanks for the interview. There's some good history here, and a good explanation as to why one of the people who made Goldeneye later went off to make a game about Bonsai trees. It seems odd looking at things at face value, but it all makes sense when you hear the story about it.

Jason, would you not consider things like Portal and Mirrors Edge to be that? Unless you're talking about violence against the player as well, in which case, yeah, those games still do utilize violence as a means of adding challenge.

It's possible though. I've spent the last... long period of time... making a game that's first person without violence of any kind, whilst still being challenging / thought provoking.

Alexander Bruce
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Sorry, didn't finish that last point. Meant to add "It does, however, use a weapon, exactly for your reason of providing good point and click functionality, as a utility for playing the game, not as a means for violence."

Samer Abbas
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@Jason & Alexander

Elebits, anyone?

Cordero W
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I would really like to get his analysis on how they came about making the Donkey Kong Country series. If there's one thing I am glad for Rare is for their work on making Donkey Kong and actual living-breathing character with his own story. And that is something the NES and arcade versions did not convey well.