Rare Vintage: Part One
Donkey Kong Country
Format: SNES Publisher: Nintendo Release: 1994
MB: Donkey Kong was a dormant character at the time, and Nintendo were looking to bring him back. It’s about the time that Nintendo bought a stake in the company – and part of that was due to the level of investment required by that project. We’d been looking at some high-end rendering equipment that was used in the car industry. It was about a quarter of a million pounds for a machine. So we made the move to buy one of those machines and render some artwork on there. We were doing Killer Instinct at the time as a coin-op game and Mr Miyamoto was over. We showed him TJ Combo on the SGI machine, and he said: “It looks good, but how will it look on the SNES?” That wasn’t trivial – we had to make some software to convert it from 16 million colours into 16.
Gregg Mayles: But Nintendo were really impressed by what they’d seen. Aladdin was out on the Mega Drive and it had really good graphics. Nintendo said: “We want a game that looks better than that using your new technology and using Donkey Kong.” Apart from Donkey Kong himself, we created everything else. Originally we were going to use Donkey Kong Jr as Donkey Kong’s sidekick, but we’d reimagined him as what became Diddy. They weren’t happy with that; they wanted him to look more like Donkey Kong in a nappy. But we wanted something a bit more dynamic, something that could jump around – so we went with our new character, but decided to call him something else.
We had all sorts of names – he was Dinky Kong for ages but when we went to trademark it we got in trouble with the toy manufacturers. But the thing I really remember from that project was the immense struggle of reducing the massive SGI-rendered images to a really small size. I remember sleepless nights, wrestling with it. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle. All the levels were designed on Post-it notes and stuck together. I’ve still got them all. We’d come up with ideas for a level – say, swinging ropes – and come up with as many variations of that as we could, draw them all out on Post-it notes and stick them together in the order we wanted them to be used, and then basically draw bits of scenery to connect them together. That’s how every single level was designed.
Format: N64 Publisher: Nintendo Release: 1997
MB: When Nintendo asked if we wanted to do it, we said, “Well, not really.” It wasn’t something we were really doing – we were trying to build our own IP, and film tie-ins meant a lot of ownership by the film company. But Nintendo was very keen. When we originally did the contract, we were meant to be out close to the film’s release. We not only missed that, but the home release, and the BBC-film-at-midnight release. We got a letter from Nintendo saying we should cancel it, but we just never told the team.
GM: We went to E3 at the same time as one of our other games and that was getting loads of attention while GoldenEye just had all these empty stands with attendants looking round, desperate for anyone to play it. We thought, ‘Oh, God, here we go – this is going to be a disaster. Thank God we’ve got Banjo.’ Then, as it was, GoldenEye sold several times more. Usually, when our games come out, we never play them again. You’ve worked on them for so long that you just don’t want to see them. But GoldenEye – a bunch of us used to play it every lunchtime without fail. We’d eat our sandwiches as quickly as possible. I think we stopped playing it after seven years.
George Andreas: Internally, while GoldenEye was being produced, there wasn’t an awful lot of faith in the game around the company apart from the core members of that team. We were on a different team at the time, and I remember you could just hear rumours the project wasn’t going very well. I saw the game at various stages during its development, and I think, about four months before release, I saw a build of it and I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, it’s a bit of a mess.’ But then it all came together very close to the end.
MB: We never put the multiplayer in until two years after we were meant to have finished it. It was quite a different game to start off with: an on-rails shooter. But then we figured out a control mechanism that worked. We had a nice demo early on, where you had a character onscreen and you could shoot them in a particular part of the body and they would react. We thought: ‘Hmm! That’s pretty satisfying.’ And it started to give the player a bit more accuracy with the sniper rifles. Being able to move in stealthily and take someone down how you wanted – it was that freedom side of it that slowed the pace of the game down.
Format: N64 Publisher: Nintendo Release: 1997
GM: [Rare co-founder] Chris Stamper was working on an arcade concept, called Diggers or something like that. It had these mechanical JCBs that you could control, almost like Killer Instinct fighters. You’d be swinging shovels around and hitting each other. The development process was literally: ‘Let’s smash some things up – how can we do that?’ It was quite the opposite with Banjo where, once we got the idea, we quickly arrived at a plan for the entire game. I think that’s pretty indicative of the teams we have at Rare – each has their own flavour and style of working.
GA: There’s always been a very competitive element between the teams, too. Everybody wanted to outdo each other. If you heard another project wasn’t going so well, you’d be like, “Great! We’re going to beat them!” But it was good, it was healthy.