As someone who's an outsider, what attracted you to getting involved in games?
AH: I just thought I could do it. We thought we could do it. We were making digital art anyway, and then we were playing games just for relaxation. For kicks. We could rent games. We were renting games and movies at the same time. I don't know why. We just did it, because we thought it was like, "Okay. Well, there's this thing in the video store. Let's do this."
It's not that I never played video games. I played Mario as a child once or twice. We had a Game Boy -- somebody had a Game Boy. I played Tomb Raider 1. I wasn't a gamer, but a friend of mine had a PlayStation 1, and I ended up going, "What's that?" And I played that. But it sort of stopped there.
And I moved to CD-ROM games, playing Myst and loving that and loving games like that, that sort of genre of full-motion video CD-ROM games that was happening in the '90s. I played several of those, without really thinking they were video games. So, I still didn't "play video games."
MS: And I think when we started working on the web, those kinds of things influenced us.
AH: Yeah, I specifically wanted to remake games like Myst on the web, but that was impossible at the time, because it was so slow. You couldn't have big images. You could make image maps, I remember.
I experimented with early web 3D stuff, just because I was like, "I could make this environment where you're walking through this..." But then all that sort of disappeared for a long time. When we met, we were working on the internet. And when we started playing games again, after I moved in...
MS: Doom II has been on my mind with every web site I made. Doom II, specifically -- that experience of being in that space, not the shooting and all that -- has always been on my mind with any interactive project I have made.
AH: But I think we still thought of games almost subliminally like, "Well, this is just this thing that people do." Like, it wasn't one of those things where we were really passionate about games, as such. It was just another thing, like, "We're renting a movie. Let's rent a game." Okay. They're sitting right next to each other.
MS: Yeah, exactly. And we also didn't want to make movies.
AH: And we would just look at the back of the box and go, "Well, that sounds kind of interesting!" Like you read a video. And it was interactive. Since we were already interested in interactive things, we're like, "Well, this is interactive."
So, when we were playing all these games, it suddenly dawned on us, "Well, this is interactive, and this is art. Why don't we make a video game?" It was such an innocent and naive thought that I laugh about it now, but it was really like that.
We were like, "Well, you know, how hard can this be, to get Sony to put this on a disc?" We literally thought that if you make something nice, you just go talk to Sony, and they go put it on the PlayStation. You know what I mean? It's, like, so mind-blowingly naive. [laughs]
MS: The transition happened when sort of the early signs of Web 2.0 started to appear, and suddenly this web was changing as a medium, and it suddenly felt a lot less comfortable to us, to make these kinds of artworks we liked to make.
AH: But we also just felt like we wanted to level up -- doing something more formal. I mean, the internet is a very casual thing. Anyone can make a website. We were like, "It's like making a movie, and then you have somebody distribute it, and it's on a disc, and people can go to the store and they buy it." We wanted it on store shelves. And we thought that this could just be something you could do, like, "Start a company, we make a game."
MS: That's true. And that's, actually, sort of personal. Because at that point, we were sort of done with talking about ourselves, only. [laughs] So we wanted to make something for other people.
AH: So, we started thinking, "Well, what kind of game can we make?" We had this little moment where we were doing design research at a postgraduate thing, so we had two years that we could use to learn how to make video games that were basically free years. So we were like, "We can learn how to make this." We already knew a bit about programming, a bit about 3D. We knew we wanted to make 3D games, so we just did it.
But the first thing we did was all the research, of going to GDC, meeting other developers. Because it's like, "Who makes these things? And how do they make them? And why are they made like this?" And reading all kinds of things online.
And sort of, then, that's when my first misunderstanding happened, because the first question I asked is, "Why do games all seem so similar? Why are there these genres? Why is it, like, RPGs and FPS? Why are these genres there?" There's no way to understand that as an outsider.
So, all I saw was that there were really delightful things in video games, and lots of opportunities, but people weren't taking them. So, I really thought all game developers were stupid. I literally thought, like, "Were they just really geeky, and into shooting stuff, so that's why it's always like that?" It didn't occur to me that this is what they wanted to make, yet. I still thought that they were trying to tell stories. Because there was so much story in it.
MS: And in all these conferences, people are always talking about that, too -- about wanting that. About wanting more.
AH: Yeah, I mean, we're strictly... I'm not talking about puzzle games, like Tetris and stuff. We really wanted to make this sort of immersive, narrative, 3D thing happen. So, all those immersive, narrative, 3D things were usually about shooting stuff, or fighting, or blowing shit up. I was like, "Why is it always like that?" I can see you want that to exist, but why is it almost exclusively that? Or even in RPGs, why is it always this battle arena, with a random battle?
And I thought they were just dumb. You can not do that, too, you know! It's like, I just want to go up and shake somebody -- "You know, you can not do that!" They kept doing it. Or an adventure game, where it's always like some pre-rendered background point-and-click. It's like, "Why is it always like that?" For years. [laughs]
And so, that's why our games turned out the way they did. Because we immediately decided we were not going to do any of that -- because we don't like that stuff. We're going to do all these other things that we do like.
Things like in Ico, where you hold hands. Like, Ico was one of those perfect games for us. Because it was just like... Yeah, you have to battle shadow monsters, but that's so minor, to everything else.
MS: I couldn't do it. [laughs]
AH: You couldn't do it. I did those parts! But it was still like, that's so minor compared to everything, and you were so overwhelmed with the beauty of it, and everything. I said, "That's where he put the emphasis." I was like, "That's what I'm talking about. You put this emphasis on these things that you're really talking about, that you really want."
Or in Silent Hill 2, I gave it a pass because you don't have to fight at all. Well, except for the boss rounds. But it's like, for the most part, you just run away. I was like, "That's brilliant." Or you get the knife, but you never use it. I'm like, "Fuck! Mind blown. That's beautiful."
And those are the things I'm thinking about. The fact that that happens so rarely, I couldn't understand it until years later, when I realized that they like first person shooters. And then that's it. So they make another one.