What does one of the chief creators of "GoldenEye" do for his Nintendo console encore? He makes a barbershop game in which players cut the branching locks of shrubbery-creatures.
Martin Hollis, lead designer on the famous 1997 Nintendo 64 James Bond first-person shooter doesn't mind if players don't make the connection between his old classic and his team's firs Wii game. "Bonsai Barber," released as a $10 downloadable game for Nintendo's WiiWare service three weeks ago, is a very different thing from the legendary "GoldenEye."
One's a spy game. One's about giving vegetables haircuts.
"I've been moving, over the years, to trying to make games that are progressively different from anything else," Hollis said during a telephone interview with Multiplayer from the Cambridge, U.K. offices of his development studio Zoonami today. "I tend towards preferring the really new and creative ideas over somebody else's universe."
A barbershop game -- even if it didn't star vegetables in need of a trim -- is new for games.
A barbershop game -- even if it didn't star vegetables in need of a trim -- is new for games. "It's just a complete blindspot for the whole development community," Hollis said, noting that he was aware of only two "shaving" games before "Bonsai Barber," both of them mini-games in "WarioWare" titles. "I think there's so much virgin territory. But many developers are choosing to instead stay in these ruts."
Hollis' game is polished and simple, a first-person grooming game that allows the players to wield their Wii remote like scissors or an electric razor as they snip and shape the branches and leaves sprouting out of the fruit and vegetable characters' heads. They must sculpt specific styles. The trickiest mechanic is that the cutting a branch too low can knock out half a "hair-do," just as recklessly cutting a bush in a garden might cause the shrub to lose its form. Thankfully, a spritz of water grows branches and leaves back. Skill and dedication to returning customers is rewarded.
The game is the work of small team of Zoonami developers who worked closely with producers at Nintendo's home office in Japan to make the game. "We've been working with a group from Japan for several years now to try and develop outstandingly new games for WiiWare," Hollis said. This new game is just one of hundreds of one-sheet ideas Hollis team concocted, one of several they've tested for Nintendo's platform. "We've got prototypes that are still in flight." The "Bonsai Barber" game has been developed in earnest for nine months.
"That's one of our goals, to try and engineer a game would make people say, 'This feels like a Nintendo game.'"
Hollis is tight with the Nintendo people from his days at Rare making "GoldenEye": "We've got a very close relationship with Nintendo, a lot of history together," he said. "The way they work is similar to how I work: always looking for an innovative approach, always looking at it from a user-centric point of view. 'Why is this working for them?' and 'Why is this not working for me?'"
Zoonami's name doesn't appear in the WiiWare listing for "Bonsai Barber." Nintendo's does, as the company serves as its publisher. "I'm completely happy about that," Hollis said. He thinks the game meets the standards the labeling suggests. "I feel that from the very beginning we were trying to engineer a Nintendo game. That's one of our goals, to try and engineer a game would make people say, 'This feels like a Nintendo game.'"
Hollis declined to call out features in "Bonsai Barber" he's particularly proud of. He said he'd prefer to take what he thinks is a "very English" route and let the game speak for itself. Keep playing it, he encouraged. It has its surprises.
As we wrapped up our interview, Hollis deflected a question about recent gaming media reporting about WiiWare sales thresholds. One report indicated that games would need to sell between 2,000 and 6,000 copies before developers would be awarded royalties. "I can keep a secret," Hollis said. When pressed, he added, "The normal deal for a really small retail game is that you have to sell 100,000 units, ballpark. For a larger game you have to sell one million, two million or more… My point of view is that WiiWare is great for creativity and for the business side. All the developers I know feel the same way."
"Bonsai Barber" is available for download on the Wii for 1000 Nintendo Points or $10.