Through that lens, who are the geniuses working today?
MH: [laughs] I cannot tell from simple reason that I don't know necessarily who's really in charge of making a game turn out the way it has. And I don't believe too much in the auteur theory of games making.
I believe very strongly in the group, so I can talk about what groups are working really well at the moment. Can you call a group a genius? If you can, then... Except for the case of indie games where in a lot of cases, it's pretty clearly one person.
Yeah, one or two guys.
MH: Yeah, so Spelunky is a good example of that. As far as I know, that's one person. Dwarf Fortress is another one. So, I would be happy to use the word "genius".
[Warhammer Online's] Paul Barnett speaks of how he thinks the teams who make games are kind of like bands. There may be a huge number of people involved in making a record, from technicians, A&R and so on, but it's that core band of four or five musicians who give the music its character. Like you're saying, it is a group, it is a very small group...
MH: I use the band metaphor, too, yeah. I'd rather have a band than an orchestra. I prefer not to be a conductor. I'd rather get to be in with the musical instruments.
More democratic, yes.
MH: Yes. I do believe in that. You know, very often, somebody does have to say, "This is how it's going to be," otherwise it becomes difficult to make progress. On the other side of the coin, I see design as an intelligent search for the best solution. Why isn't it that other people are going to be able to find the right answers if you can communicate the problem?
Looking back now, which of your games are you most proud of? All the way back to those most formative titles on the BBC Micro.
MH: Pride is an interesting question. I think it's important. It's classified as a sin, but I think it is important to be proud of your work, and I think if you're not proud of it, that would be a big problem. I personally wouldn't want to work on something I couldn't be proud about.
But for me, I tend to want to rely on my own judgment. I want to satisfy myself, it's that kind of pride. And for me, right now, I feel the project that's changed me the most is Bonsai Barber. I feel a really intense pride about that game. I know that Nintendo loves it, I love it, and I learned an immense amount through building it. I'm a changed person because of this game.
You used the word "changed" twice there. What do you mean when you say that the game's changed you?
MH: Well, I like nature. And in a way, I've spent a lot more time with nature making Bonsai Barber, and that's changed me.
Do you mean staring at Bonsai trees...?
MH: I have always loved looking at trees. I think trees are amazing things. I love looking at the sky, I love looking at trees and parks.
But surely, the virtue of trees and parks is their tangible reality, the counterpoint they provide to the virtual nature of our games? The trees and plants in Bonsai Barber are fake, no?
MH: Yeah, they are. But we're holding a mirror up to nature.
So, you still found that enriching.
MH: Yes. Because I spend a lot of time looking at virtual trees, and I can see real trees better now.
Did that happen with the guns in GoldenEye?
MH: Yeah, certainly. When I went into GoldenEye, I wasn't interested in guns at all. When I came out, I knew quite a bit about guns.
Through that game you could better understand the beauty of Hollywood combat?
MH: I think it's a fact that can't be denied. The stories you are told, or the stories you tell yourself, have an immense influence on you. I think that's an important fact.
So does that lead you to challenge not just game designers, but also artists to consider the responsibility they have for the things they build into their worlds?
MH: I believe there is a great responsibility, very much so. I'd like to make games that enrich the world somehow.
This might sound evil, but I don't think that guns are evil. I think that in general, conflict is a part of the world, and that can't be eliminated. I think the black and the white, they can't exist without each other.
There's also an aspect of making videogames where guns perform a real utilitarian function. They're something that enables player to interact with a world with more efficiency and reach than almost any other human tool.
MH: Yeah, I agree with that, but even so, I feel regret that almost everything in games is funneled through the interface of the gun.
Yes, but we don't really have anything better do we? I guess maybe a bow and arrow?
MH: On one hand, it's a pattern of thought that people have fallen into because there are so many games that function like that. But it's also a security blanket. Maybe that sounds patronizing, but it's a positive thing as well as a negative thing because you can actually make a game more reliably if you use design scaffolding from previous games on proven successes.
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.
Thanks to GoldenEye, do you feel some responsibility for guns becoming the primary tool in video games?
MH: Yeah, I do, but it's important to not get weighed down by anything. You have to relax to get into a place where you can think of ideas. I don't think you can get in the ropes about it and feel a great Atlas-like burden.
Why do you play video games?
MH: Because I believe they connect more deeply with human beings than anything else -- other than other human beings.
Because they allow players to get inside of the minds of the designers, offering a deep insight into their creators?
MH: In a way, yeah. Yeah, in a way. And because I like expanding our world. I love the world and the way it is, but I like to see other worlds, too. I want there to be many parallel universes that I can duck between, and games provide me that option.
You play video games to escape, primarily, then?
MH: I don't see it as escape because you're already somewhere.
More like tourism, then?
MH: I see it as teleportage. I play games to teleport.