In a new series of interviews (kicking off right now) we speak to some of the industry's most creative thinkers about what it takes to make great games in the modern era. First up is Martin Hollis, CEO of Zoonami, who talks about auteur theory, realism and his time working at Rare.
You're well known for having worked on both GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. What was it like working at Rare?
Martin Hollis: My time at Rare taught me many things. I am fond of saying that I learnt far more at Rare than I learned at University. My Computer Science course was actually amazingly great. But when it comes to games there is nothing like vocational experience.
Considering the high level only, I believe in organic design, in non-paper driven design, in iterative design, in instinctive design. I believe in team involvement in design, in shared vision rather than solitary vision, and in every person having game design expertise. Rare allowed, encouraged and shared my instincts, and helped me to develop them.
You were both the Director and Producer on GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. What did these roles entail?
Hollis: As producer I was responsible for producing the game, for actually making it happen, for ensuring it gets started and gets finished. I proposed the project to management, selected, grew and managed the team. I was responsible for schedule. I was responsible for ensuring the project meshed with the third party IP, and that the project was commercial.
The pros and cons that leap to mind: you are there start to finish so you have enormous involvement. It is a 24-hour-a-day job, you manage people, you manage management, you are the buffer for conflict, you get the blame or credit when milestones are missed or met and when the project is cancelled or completed. If you give up? That costs you.
As director I was responsible for the creative vision, and for managing the creation of the game to ensure it fit the vision. Also for managing the development of the vision so that it fits the game. I am not fond of the 'V' word but really this is my best description of the role of director. I understand that director is not an industry standard job title in games in the west, but I am comfortable ignoring convention.
I find the director/producer distinction useful because I think it's important to separate creative thinking and leadership from commercial thinking and leadership. If I am director/producer on a project I will strive to do both jobs, but not in the same minute. Obviously there are additional benefits and disadvantages to combining the roles... your thinking can be distorted by the other role, it is a 48-hour-a-day job, you can instinctively trade off commercial and creative factors to improve the end result much more rapidly than you could if the producer and director were separate people.
In the past you've stated that 'one person can't design an original game, it just isn't humanly possible'. Could you expand on this?
Hollis: Auteur theory is the theory that one individual is chiefly responsible for the nature of a film, much as an author is for a book. Truffaut coined the term. I have some sympathy with auteur theory, but overall I do not believe it. My pragmatic view, based on the observation and study of many films is that sometimes the director's style or personality is invisible in a piece of work, sometimes it is balanced with the work, and sometimes it overwhelms. For example, consider David Lynch and his films Dune, Wild at Heart and Eraserhead respectively. In the most successful works there is actually a harmony of personalities, and this may even be invisible. Consider the creative enterprise involved in a symphony orchestra, in a film production, in a stage production, and in a game production. All these creative industries involve teams of people working together to create a work. Of course the conductor/director/producer/designer has more influence than any other individual, but the group has greater influence than the leader, and the symphony is bigger than all of them.