A Rare re­u­nion

Core mem­bers of the Banjo-Ka­zooie team re­veal their am­bi­tious startup


How for­mer Banjo-Ka­zooie devs plan to re­write his­tory

More than a decade af­ter its sale to Mi­crosoft, lit­tle tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence now re­mains of the ’90s golden age of Twycross vet­eran Rare. With most of its IP shelved in favour of Kinect games, the for­mer cre­ator of charis­matic shoot­ers and plat­form­ers is al­most un­recog­nis­able from the days when Gold­enEye 007 ruled the mul­ti­player scene.

One en­sem­ble of Rare old guard has pledged to re­claim what was lost in that $375 mil­lion ac­qui­si­tion. The six full­time em­ploy­ees of Derby-based startup Play­tonic spent a com­bined 120 years at the stu­dio, and now boast am­bi­tions to cre­ate the type of games they might have made had the keys not been handed over to Marc Whitten in 2002.

“Imag­ine there’s an al­ter­na­tive timeline where Rare be­came in­de­pen­dent in­stead of be­ing bought by Mi­crosoft. What would that com­pany be like? What would it have gone on to be­come? That’s our am­bi­tion,” says Gavin Price, one of the de­sign­ers of Viva Piñata and the man spear­head­ing the new com­pany.

“Rare as it is now with Mi­crosoft is all right. I had some great times. But our aim is to make some re­ally crack­ing games in the style that we used to make them, not fo­cus­ing just on cer­tain types of games, but how we make them – that was unique to Rare and we know how we did it.

“I’ve wanted to do this for ab­so­lutely ages. I’ve been con­vinced there should be a clas­sic Rare team some­where mak­ing th­ese old-style Rare games. It was just a case of wait­ing un­til the right peo­ple be­came avail­able.”

His mo­ment ar­rived in the af­ter­math of Rare’s lat­est re­struc­ture, which saw some of Rare’s re­main­ing el­ders – in­clud­ing Price him­self – cut in a self-claimed method­ol­ogy change. An­other casualty was 25-year vet­eran Chris Suther­land, who was lead pro­gram­mer on Don­key Kong Coun­try and the Banjo-Ka­zooie games. Artist Steve Mayles – cre­ator of Banjo, Ka­zooie and other char­ac­ters – left shortly af­ter, and both soon found Price on the end of phone.

The trio se­cured three oth­ers to form Play­tonic: Banjo-Ka­zooie en­vi­ron­ment artist Steven Hurst, Don­key Kong Coun­try 3 and Kameo art lead Mark Stevenson and soft­ware en­gi­neer Jens Reste­meier, who worked on Per­fect Dark Zero. In ad­di­tion, com­poser Grant Kirkhope has pledged to sup­port Play­tonic’s projects.

The group’s plan is to build a proof-of-con­cept demo and later up­scale to an “N64-size” team of be­tween ten and 15 staff, for which Price claims he al­ready has even more “well known” for­mer Rare em­ploy­ees lined up.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, Play­tonic’s first project will be familiar to fans of the group’s pre­vi­ous work. In Price’s own words: “With­out giv­ing the game away, I think it’s pretty ob­vi­ous what kind of game we’re mak­ing from the his­tory of the team. We con­sider it a spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to Banjo-Ka­zooie. We want to make a game where you con­trol a fun char­ac­ter, learn new skills, add some new twists to the genre, and also lis­ten to Grant’s tunes!”

Talk of a spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor emerged among some for­mer team mem­bers once be­fore back in 2012, but Price stresses that the lat­est ini­tia­tive has real sub­stance. “Last time it was a pub con­ver­sa­tion – noth­ing was ever acted upon. This time, we’ve started work on the game, we’ve got fund­ing in place to sup­port us and we’ve got a longterm busi­ness plan,” he says. “There’s been so much pent-up pas­sion for do­ing some­thing like this, be­cause we’ve all been sat on a lot of th­ese ideas since Banjo-Tooie came out.”

Among the team, there’s a mu­tual de­sire to re­cap­ture the au­ton­omy that th­ese de­vel­op­ers claim was even­tu­ally lost at their pre­vi­ous em­ployer. “For me, the ap­peal is that I’ll be able to cre­ate char­ac­ters for a game my­self again, cre­at­ing a whole chain of an­i­ma­tion,” Mayles says, “whereas at Rare now, you’re just a small cog… You have to fil­ter through three of four dif­fer­ent peo­ple be­fore some­thing is ap­proved.”

For Suther­land, it’s a chance to re­gain hands-on re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. “The most im­por­tant as­pect will be the feel of the game and how it works,” he says. “I can spend hours tweak­ing num­bers to make sure it feels right and fun to play. It should be fun to just run around. If you can nail that, then you’re on the right path.” The spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor – or sim­ply

Game 01, as it’s called in­ter­nally – is de­scribed as Play­tonic’s “first ob­jec­tive”, af­ter which its am­bi­tion is to tackle new gen­res, but only if its brain­storms lead there nat­u­rally. It’s this kind of or­ganic cre­ativ­ity, just like in the old days at Twycross, that the new Play­tonic team wants to re­cap­ture.

“The re­mit for Rare as a first­party stu­dio was to do some­thing that Mi­crosoft re­ally needed, as op­posed to some­thing that peo­ple wanted to make,” Price ex­plains. “In my mind, I’ve been plan­ning this new ven­ture for three or four years. There are so many old Rare em­ploy­ees around that I thought we should be do­ing some­thing for our­selves by now.”

“There’s so much pent-up pas­sion. We’ve all been sat on a lot of th­ese ideas since Ban­joTooie came out”

From top: Gavin Price, Chris Suther­land and Steve Mayles, half of the Play­tonic team

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