The Mak­ing Of: Don­key Kong Coun­try 2

ALTHOUGH THE MAS­SIVE SUC­CESS OF DON­KEY KONG COUN­TRY MADE A SEQUEL AN IN­EVITABIL­ITY, GREGG MAYLES RE­VEALS HOW A BIG­GER, BET­TER FOL­LOW-UP HAD AL­WAYS BEEN PART OF THE PLAN

Retro Gamer - - CONTENTS - Words by Rory Milne

Given that Rare’s Don­key Kong Coun­try was the fastest-sell­ing game of 1994, it might be rea­son­able to as­sume that pres­sure would have been ap­plied on the de­vel­oper by its pub­lisher Nin­tendo to rapidly pro­duce a sequel.

But as Rare’s Gregg Mayles ex­plains, the push to de­velop Don­key Kong Coun­try 2 was en­tirely in­ter­nal. “I think the pres­sure was on our­selves,” Gregg re­flects. “We had started on DKC 2 be­fore we re­alised just how suc­cess­ful the first one was – ev­ery­thing hap­pened so fast. We al­ways knew there were things we didn’t have time to do in the first one that we would like to do in a sec­ond one, so we started think­ing about it, and then as soon as the first one be­came suc­cess­ful it be­came a for­mal­ity.”

The thoughts for Rare’s sequel be­gan with con­sid­er­a­tion of the en­vi­ron­ments that the game could take place in, which re­quired Gregg’s team to think out­side the box and cre­ate some­thing dif­fer­ent. “Sim­i­lar to the first game, we just sat down and thought about themes for worlds,” Gregg re­calls, “and I guess we had ex­hausted all the ob­vi­ous ones in the first game: the jun­gle, the caves, the mines and the for­est. So the back­grounds and the worlds in the sec­ond one were a lit­tle bit more out there. That’s where the ‘hive’ level and the ‘bram­ble’ level and all the edgier stuff came from – and the pi­rate stuff.”

As well as pro­vid­ing in­spi­ra­tion for level themes, pi­rates also de­fined the over­all nar­ra­tive that the DKC 2 team cre­ated for their fol­low-up. “I’ve had an al­most life-long in­ter­est in pi­rates,” Gregg en­thuses. “I think they’re a fas­ci­nat­ing bunch of char­ac­ters. I guess pi­rates have al­ways been painted as

freespir­ited peo­ple that did their own thing, which masks the truth that they were prob­a­bly a bunch of scum­bags! Don­key Kong Coun­try was very ‘jun­gle-y’ themed – when you think of go­ril­las and mon­keys you think of jun­gles, so it was the ob­vi­ous thing to go to. For the sec­ond one we wanted to do some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent, and I guess just be­cause we liked pi­rates it be­came an easy choice.”

hav­ing dreamt up lo­ca­tions for their pi­rate plat­former, Gregg and his team next took a de­cid­edly ana­logue ap­proach to pop­u­lat­ing those lo­ca­tions. “We would have a board with all these Post-it notes with ideas for lev­els, where there was, like, tyres that you bounced on or a thing that was chas­ing you,” Gregg notes. “So the lev­els all started off life as ideas, and then when we had cho­sen the ideas we de­cided which world they fit­ted in. We al­most cer­tainly had some ideas that we car­ried over from Don­key Kong Coun­try, but cer­tainly not lev­els; they were all brand new.”

Another fresh as­pect of Don­key Kong Coun­try 2 was a new player char­ac­ter called Dixie Kong, whose in­clu­sion re­quired Don­key Kong to sit out his own sequel. “The team was very young – I was prob­a­bly 23 at the time,” Gregg points out, “and I think when you’re that young you’re pre­pared to take risks. We wanted to do some­thing that would sur­prise peo­ple. The game­play was set, but we wanted to in­tro­duce a new char­ac­ter, so we were ei­ther go­ing to have to take Diddy out or take the braver, bolder step of tak­ing Don­key Kong out. It worked out okay. I think oth­er­wise we would have got a bit of a roast­ing from the mar­ket­ing peo­ple!”

An un­in­tended side-ben­e­fit of Dixie’s in­tro­duc­tion was that her pony­tail could dou­ble as a whip or a heli­copter blade, but the char­ac­ter’s gen­der wasn’t in­flu­enced by the pros of long hair or a push for fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion. “I think we de­cided it was go­ing to be a fe­male char­ac­ter be­fore the hair; the hair didn’t lead the de­ci­sion,” Gregg clar­i­fies. “And it was cer­tainly noth­ing to do with fe­male gamers – to me, if you en­joy the games you en­joy the games. I’m sure Dixie came from some of the early con­cept sketches. Some­one drew her with a big, long pony­tail; I think it was be­cause they wanted to make it flow be­hind her as she ran. I saw that and

“The Team was very young – i was prob­a­bly 23 at The Time” Gregg Mayles

thought: ‘Oh. We can do some­thing with that.’ You would think it was part of the de­sign, but re­ally it was just one of those happy co­in­ci­dences.”

Dixie wasn’t the only new player char­ac­ter in DKC 2, how­ever, as un­like the orig­i­nal game, the sec­ond Don­key Kong Coun­try would have stages where the Kongs could change into their an­i­mal friends. “You got so used to rid­ing them that trans­form­ing into them was the next log­i­cal step,” Gregg rea­sons. “I also didn’t want the size of the mon­keys to get in the way of what they could do. The vi­sion for the par­rot was that it was a small char­ac­ter that was very ag­ile, and adding the mon­keys to it made it not a small char­ac­ter that wasn’t very ag­ile. So it was a case of the phys­i­cal size that they took up on the screen if the mon­keys were there as well.”

Of course, as well as new pro­tag­o­nists, Gregg’s team were also com­ing up with fresh an­tag­o­nists for their sequel, of which the bosses got par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion. “In the first game, a pro­por­tion of the time was spent devel­op­ing the tech and work­ing out how to build the back­grounds,” Gregg re­calls, “but we had none of that in the sec­ond one so that gave us the free­dom to have dif­fer­ent back­grounds for the bosses. A lot of the bosses in the first game were fairly sim­i­lar, where as the ones in the sec­ond one – like the gi­ant sword with the hooks – al­lowed us to go a bit more out there and think about the things in the lev­els and try to build them into the boss bat­tles.”

The de­sign phi­los­o­phy for Don­key Kong Coun­try’s fol­low-up also un­der­went a rad­i­cal over­haul, with the em­pha­sis shift­ing from speed-run-friendly to ex­plo­ration.

“If we had made it speed runs again then there wouldn’t have been much scope for us to go any­where dif­fer­ent with it,” Greg ar­gues. “We wanted to main­tain the same ‘go first’ game­play where all the barrels and bad­dies were set up so if you went first time – or got the tim­ing right – then the lev­els were very fluid, but I also wanted to add some­thing new to it. So the first one was very lin­ear, and the sec­ond one in­tro­duced ex­plo­ration.”

In par­tic­u­lar, Don­key Kong Coun­try 2 would fea­ture many more op­tional bonus stages that could only be lo­cated if you fol­lowed the clues to their where­abouts. “The first game had its bonus routes, but you ei­ther found them or you didn’t,” Gregg con­cedes. “Cer­tainly those gi­ant DK coins in the sec­ond one, we re­ally went to town with try­ing to con­ceal those. There was a pattern to the first game where you started to look at all the walls know­ing that there might be a se­cret en­trance

there, where as in the sec­ond one we wanted to hide those coins in all sorts of hope­fully clever places that peo­ple could try to fig­ure out.”

But as well as bonus lev­els, the DKC 2 team also cre­ated a ‘lost world’ that could only be ac­cessed af­ter col­lect­ing enough coins from cer­tain bonus rounds. “We wanted to have a bit more in­trigue and try to ex­tend the play­ing time;” Gregg ex­plains, “hav­ing those ex­tra lev­els that you had to earn was just one of the ideas that we came up with. Rather than hav­ing bonus lev­els that you found on a level, they were ef­fec­tively bonus lev­els that you had to work towards through the en­tire game. So ev­ery level had its own im­me­di­ate hid­den re­wards, but the game also had a hid­den re­ward at the end.”

Rather than lim­it­ing DKC 2’s col­lectibles to the game’s bonus stages, how­ever, Greg and his team ad­di­tion­ally crammed the fol­low-up’s core lev­els with sur­real pick-ups such as banana coins and ex­tra life bal­loons, which Gregg puts down to re­spond­ing to pop­u­lar de­mand. “In the first game you col­lected stuff, but it was quite light­weight. We then just tried to ex­per­i­ment with push­ing that a lit­tle bit fur­ther. It was just the feel­ing that peo­ple liked col­lect­ing and find­ing stuff in the first one, and go­ing: ‘Okay, well we’ll give them more of that then. What else can we give them to col­lect or how can we rack that up another level to make the col­lect­ing more in­volved?’”

Less in­volved, though, was the game’s pub­lisher Nin­tendo, which trusted Rare ex­plic­itly to de­liver a great Don­key Kong Coun­try sequel. “Nin­tendo had less in­volve­ment with DKC 2;” Gregg con­firms, “I just can’t re­mem­ber much com­mu­ni­ca­tion with it at all. I think the suc­cess of the first one gave us some sort of trust – even though we had a huge amount of trust in the first game – but on the sec­ond game it was al­most at the point where Nin­tendo didn’t feel it needed to get in­volved at all.”

with Nin­tendo’s ap­proval seem­ingly a fore­gone con­clu­sion, Don­key Kong Coun­try 2 Diddy’s Kong Quest was re­leased to rap­tur­ous re­views and brisk sales, although Gregg rec­ol­lects tak­ing the game’s suc­cess in his stride. “At the time, I was still very young, and I guess to a cer­tain ex­tent I didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate what we had done. We just wanted to make a bet­ter ver­sion of the first one. So it came out and it didn’t sell as many as the first one, ob­vi­ously, be­cause the first one was very dif­fer­ent, but it was cer­tainly more crit­i­cally ac­claimed.”

In re­view­ing his game with hind­sight, Gregg doesn’t of­fer any tweaks, and when asked to choose be­tween DKC 2 and its pre­de­ces­sor he ap­plies a de­gree of diplo­macy. “I don’t think I’d make any changes; I try not to look back­wards too of­ten. The first one was the ground­breaker; but the sec­ond one was a bet­ter ver­sion. I think the first one was bet­ter in terms of ‘wow fac­tor’, but Don­key Kong Coun­try 2 was a bet­ter game in terms of the game­play. So I guess we’ll call it

an hon­ourable draw.”

“we wanted To have a bit More in­trigue and Try To ex­tend The play­ing Time” Gregg Mayles

» [SNES] Al­ter­nat­ing cross­winds make guid­ing Squawks through this thorny maze a daunt­ing chal­lenge.

» [SNES] The fi­nal show­down with K Rool ends with his blun­der­buss getting plugged with a can­non.

» [SNES] Diddy deftly lobs an ex­plo­sive bar­rel to make short work of a foe. » [SNES] Krow’s weak­ness is eggs; as long as you’ve got one he’ll take dam­age when he at­tacks.

» Gregg is still at Rare to­day, cur­rently he’s sail­ing the high seas, work­ing on Sea Of Thieves.

» [SNES] As well as tra­di­tional plat­form­ing, Don­key Kong Coun­try 2 has sev­eral un­der­wa­ter sec­tions to nav­i­gate.

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