We got a rare (ugh) opportunity to interview the handheld development team at Rare. They discuss their recently finished GBA games and tease us about future plans.
PGC: What backgrounds make up Rare's GBA team? Are there many 8/16-bit vets wanting to hold onto game design as God meant it, or does the team consist more of fresh blood?
Rare: It's a bit of a mixture really, there are several members including myself who have been working on games for over a decade (oh my God!) but we also have a few newcomers joining the team now and then. The team itself is made up of four programmers (Trevor, James, Rob and Paul), three artists (Keri, Chris and Dermot), one musician (Dave) and me (Gary) doing the design work. We’ve also had a couple of other music and SFX people working with us recently (Robin, Jamie and Eveline).
PGC: We've seen Banjo Pilot go through some dramatic changes since it first debuted a few years ago. Could you explain some of the major decisions, like removing the tilt sensor and switching to and then from the voxel engine?
Rare: The reason for the tilt pack being removed was that it just didn't work that well with the original GBA. Every time you tilted the game, you couldn't see the screen any longer - bit of a problem really. The development team that worked on Banjo Pilot did not work on its earlier incarnations; after we finished the conversion of DKC2 we were asked to complete DK Pilot/Banjo Pilot for release. So we decided to try something a bit different, thus the voxel game. This proved to be fine when only one or two planes were flying around the track, but as more characters and weapons were added the game started to suffer. Eventually we decided to return to the Mode 7 style as it is now.
PGC: Why create a racing game with only planes, instead of a more traditional car/kart-based game? What sorts of features did this choice allow you to implement?
Rare: We decided that we wanted to try something a bit different to the usual kart games as they've been done to death on the GBA. I think that adding the flight element changed the way the game plays. It still feels like a kart game at heart, but also has some key differences to previous games.
PGC: When crafting a sequel to one of Rare's franchises, as with the two Banjo games on GBA, are the original game's team members involved very much?
Rare: Not really, we're left to get on with it most of the time. Although the main designer from the N64 Banjo titles does keep a close eye on the content, making sure any new stuff that we add is in keeping with the previous games.
PGC: Is there a special quality of the GBA team which makes you so much more prolific than the Rare console teams?
Rare: I think the main difference in development time is the actual size of the games - obviously the Xbox games are much bigger and need a lot more manpower to get them done. We have a small but very experienced GBA team who between them have many games under their belts, and this counts for a lot as we have all been there before so we know exactly what we need to do.
PGC: Are the wacko It's Mr. Pants! character designs all Loveday, or was it a group effort coming up with characters like underwear-wearing elephants?
Rare: Leigh was responsible for the original design of the Mr. Pants character, but the character was applied to the game by another artist, Ryan. Ryan brought along a certain visual style that was developed with the lead programmer to create the fun scenarios that Mr Pants found himself within.
PGC: Reviews for It's Mr. Pants! have said that the game is single-player only, yet Rare's page says that the game has multiple multiplayer modes available. Could you set the record straight as to whether the game has multiplayer or not?
Rare: Various multiplayer game modes were experimented with during development, but ultimately not included in the final release. The information on our website was updated to reflect this as soon as the decision was finalised.
PGC: It must have been fun resurrecting Sabreman from the dead. Which untapped Rare franchise would you most like to work on for a handheld system? Or would you like to create something wholly original?
Rare: It was great fun resurrecting Sabreman, I think it's probably been the GBA team's favourite project so far. As I've said many times before, I would love to do either a sequel to or remake of Blast Corps. Other than that, how about a new version of Knight Lore or Underwurlde? Rare has so much really cool IP, it would be hard to choose.
PGC: Have you researched the possibility of using some of Rare's N64-era game engines on the Nintendo DS?
PGC: Thanks for your time!