Interviews

Happy Birthday Banjo!

Interview: Rare speaks on the 10th anniversary

Get the beer in from Sainsbury's and pick up a card from the petrol station on the way home, because Banjo-Kazooie is ten years old today. Hip, hip...

It's a significant milestone for developer Rare. Not that it hasn't got any other elderly characters in its 25 year-plus stable of franchises (quite the contrary), just Banjo is pretty much the only one that's still alive and kicking after a decade of platinum selling releases - and it looks to become more popular than ever on Xbox 360.

The latest instalment, Nuts 'N Bolts had the series' traditional fanbase up in arms with its radical new direction, which revolves around designing and building literally thousands of possible contraptions to complete the wacky tasks in Banjo's world.

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We recently went hands-on with the latest game and were bowled over by its new approach to longevity, player choice and most importantly for us, community. Players can share their creations, videos and scores with every other player on Xbox Live, and we reckon if Microsoft positions it right Nuts 'N Bolts could be massive.

With cheap Sainsbury's beer under our arm, we skipped down to Microsoft HQ for a chat with Banjo producer Rich Cousins and Rare studio head Mark Betteridge. Let's get all nostalgic...

First of all, congratulations on reaching Banjo-Kazooie's 10th Birthday. How does it feel to reach that milestone?

Mark Betteridge It's great. I suppose ten years is a long time with anything in the entertainment business. We've taken Banjo in a slightly different direction in Nuts 'N Bolts which we're able to do because of the increased performance of the 360. It's given us a platform in terms of gameplay that we can built up on, give longevity to and take forward.

We think the time is right for Banjo to be a mascot character for the 360, that's the key point. The price of the box is less than it was at launch, there are more casual customers buying consoles, so I think there's now a really good opportunity there. It's a unique game in the 360 line-up, it's a game that the 360 needs.

Is that the objective then? To make Banjo the Mario of Xbox?

Betteridge Yeah. Certainly as a mascot character Mario is fantastic and that would be wonderful to have Banjo mention in the same breath as 360 in way that Mario is with Nintendo. That would be wonderful. That's certainly an aim.

Should we be expect Banjo Boxing then?

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Betteridge (Laughs) We've used our characters in other games before with Nintendo. I suppose that's an historical skill of Rare's, to create likeable characters and characters that have proven to be popular worldwide - which is particularly difficult.

Banjo had success in both North America and Japan, which is very, very difficult to do. Our background is about IP and character generation, with a quirky sense of British humour if you like.

What's your proudest achievement in the Banjo series so far?

Betteridge Establishing a character as a worldwide star, and that goes back to the first Banjo-Kazooie, which was certainly one of the biggest hurdles you'll ever face during any development. To bring in a new character, a new IP and make that stick, if you like.

How did it all come together? 'Project Dream' was the name of the first concept, wasn't it?

Betteridge Hmmm... We've always got various projects on the go. Some of them evolve into different things and end up looking nothing like they did at the start. Dream was a code word. We had lots of Code words for games when we were working at Nintendo like many companies do. It wasn't something we went forward with, it was more about technology that we were working on at the time.

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