[Gamasutra sits down with former Rare game director Martin Hollis (GoldenEye 007) to discuss his career to date, his work on Bonsai Barber for WiiWare, and his thoughts on today's game business.]
Notable UK developer Martin Hollis has worked in the video game industry for over 19 years, being best known for his work at Rare in the '90s. Having produced and directed GoldeneEye 007 for the Nintendo 64, which sold over 8 million copies globally, Hollis went on to work on Perfect Dark.
He then left the company, which at that time was tied closely to Nintendo as a 'second-party' developer, to be a consultant on the development of Nintendo's Gamecube.
Hollis is now founder and CEO of Zoonami, a UK-based studio whose first WiiWare title, Bonsai Barber, was released in Europe one week ago, and which Gamasutra interviewed Hollis about when it debuted in North America.
However, in a wider interview, Gamasutra recently got the chance to speak with Hollis about how he got into games in England in the 1980s, his route into the game industry, the span of his career, and his current beliefs about the video game industry.
Did you play video games when you were a child?
Martin Hollis: Yeah, to an enormous extent. I had a BBC Micro.
Was that your first computer?
MH: This is quite a good story, so I'll tell it in the right order. So, first of all, my parents decided to buy a ZX-81 because it was the new thing. "Clearly, computers are going to be important. We'll help our son get a computer," they thought. £99.99 was a lot of money, really. Because my dad was a schoolteacher, moderately well-paid -- but it was a lot of money to our family.
And then, when we got it home, the machine didn't work. [laughs] So, we sent it back, and they sent us another one. I assume it was another one. It might have been the same one again. Anyway, it had the same problem: black screen.
So, we sent it off and my dad said, "Oh, well. We've kind of gone off Sinclair." [laughs] "So, why don't we spend £399 and get something that actually works?" So, I was a BBC Micro guy, and I made a bunch of games for it. I played... I don't know how many compilation discs that I had, with 20 games on each disc.
So, what were your favorites then? Chuckie Egg?
MH: Chuckie Egg is pretty good. I'd happily play that today, yes. Chuckie Egg, I'm not sure I could get through 192 levels. [laughs] You get older. I liked a lot of the coin-op conversions. Elite of course, I loved. It came to the BBC Micro first. I have to pretend to care more about the BBC... You know, like "The BBC is better than those other consoles." Still fighting that war. [laughs]
What kind of games were you making at that time?
MH: Not very good ones, I think, if I'm honest. Finding my way.
Well, you're kind of emulating everything you play, then.
MH: Yeah, a lot of emulating. I created some coin-op clones and made a very literal Pac-Man clone as well as a not-so-literal one, that was an Easter-themed game. With rabbits going around the maze.
Oh, nice! Do you remember what it was called?
MH: It was called Easter Maze.
Right, brilliant. [laughs]
MH: I guess I was probably 15 when I made that one. Yeah, it was kind of fun to do because I enjoyed it.
So, was that just for your own amusement? Did you share your creations with friends or anything like that?
MH: No, not always. You know, some of the games I just made and never showed them to anyone. I think that, if everybody died except me, I'd still make games.
So, I love to show what I do generally speaking, and a lot of them were published in magazines for tie-in games, but it's not a necessity. It's not the main drive of my motivation.
Would you say then, that you prefer the process of creating games to consuming games?
MH: Well, I think naturally you need to see fewer and fewer games as you get older because, on average, there's less that's new in each game. Once you've seen a thousand games, it's quite likely that the 1001st game is going to have a lot of similarities with many of the others.
So, I try to find the games that really teach me something new and give me an interesting feeling, a new feeling.
What was the last title you experienced that with?
MH: Well, I'm not too chronological about it but... I told you this before, I really liked Dwarf Fortress. I think that's really interesting. But that was about a year ago now. You know, but it's still sinking in now, how good that is. I plan to play more Spelunky.
Yeah, that's a platform seller for me. I'm going to have to get my own PC in order to play Spelunky.
What about the blockbusters? Are there any that have grabbed you? I mean, you're best known for the ultimate blockbuster...
MH: [laughs] I guess it's true. There are a lot of things that I respect. The games that really sell a lot tend to have a lower density of exciting, new ideas.
At what point did you realize that this is what you wanted to do for a living?
MH: Yeah, that's a funny question. I left university... I'd studied Computer Science -- not thinking of games as a career despite the fact that I was still making them as a hobby -- and I went to a tiny engineering company, just me and the other guy in the office, doing inertial systems, accelerometers and gyroscopes for tracking boats and submarines. I did that for a year, and it wasn't that exciting to me. I liked the technology, but it wasn't that fulfilling.
I saw an advert for Rare, and I went for interview, not too seriously, I think. And we hit it off, and I was happy to be there. I was very happy there for a long, long time. I said to Chris Stamper later that I think to a lot of older people, a career in games is like running away to join the circus.
It's like, "I don't want my child to do this!" It's difficult. And I think credibility... Maybe they don't care about games, but I'd like them to see the games industry as a serious thing.