Homegrown Gaming: A visit to Rare
7th Nov 2011 | 11:56
There are some benefits to living in the Midlands. Okay, it may take a good hour and a half on the train to get from Twycross to civilisation, but Rare's headquarters are nestled in the rolling hills of an enormous countryside estate in Manor Park. It's not even a sprawling campus - just a single bright, airy complex and acres of unused, verdant pasture.
The relaxed vibe extends to the staff as well - there's no 100-miles-aminute PR spiel as we're given the guided tour, just a friendly confidence. If the pace seems slow, though, it belies Rare's unparalleled ability to juice Kinect for everything it's currently got. With fellow UK studio Lionhead seemingly keeping its most exciting research a secret, Rare is a more public trailblazer and as a first party developer its work flows back into the software development kit furnished to all Kinect developers.
Somewhere, squirrelled away are the minds that have cleaned up the side-on detection technology that makes golf in Kinect Sports: Season 2 possible and the finger tracking that allows the game to work out when you've released a dart. Stuff that 12 months ago, in the wake of guff like Sonic Free Riders, people were convinced simply couldn't be done.
And Kinect is very much the priority these days. Long time fans of the company would be dismayed by how little evidence of 'old Rare' there is at its Twycross HQ. The Microsoftgreen lobby is adorned with quotes from Kinect Sports reviews and a huge vinyl artwork from the game's athletics portion. Anyone expecting to be greeted by Pierce Brosnan's smug, pistol-toting pose or Orchid's frighteningly pointy chest is offered a blunt reminder - worth a thousand words - that the 90s was an awfully long time ago.
Even veteran mascots Banjo and Kazooie seem to have been swept under the carpet, presumably mothballed after Nuts & Bolts failed to construct itself an audience.
Still, there's the odd hint here and there. Surely that banana stand in the hallway is a nod to Donkey Kong Country? Was that a small picture of the old Killer Instinct line-up pinned to that noticeboard? Either way, the staff are evasive when it comes to talk of remakes or revisits of old intellectual properties.
The implication is that a murderous robot superheating its opponents until their heads explode, for example, isn't in keeping with the studio's new cuddly, casual vibe. Could it be that Rare's actively embarrassed about its teenage years?
It's not as bad as that. Venture into the canteen, the most public space, and you'll discover Rare's entire history - all the way back to the Ultimate Play The Game years - collected in a single glass cabinet and lovingly arranged and presided over by Viva Piñata's Horstachio.
So while we'd assume from Rare's reluctance to discuss their back catalogue that we're unlikely to see remakes of classic titles, everyone on the team is well aware of their shared history.
It may not be the Rare of old, but the company has moved that brilliance forward, into an ability to create Kinect games that play perfectly to the strengths of the technology. No mean feat.
We had a brief chat with Rare's Scott Henson and quizzed him about about the past (and future) of the veteran. Here's what he had to say...
So Kinect seems to be your main focus at the moment. Do you think that's the future of this studio, and the direction in which all development is headed?
Well, the future... there's like this infinite future, right? The thing I'll tell you, from having worked on Xbox and Xbox Live and so many parts of what we've done in the last ten years, is we have this big, huge canvas with Kinect. It's barely tapped. I mean you can see kind of where we were a year ago when we set the bar; you can see what we're doing this year when we're raising the bar for voice recognition and new ways to do gestures and new ways to play like challenge play. Yeah I think we're going to continue to innovate and push the limits 'cause I think there's a lot left to do.
What's Rare's relationship with its deeply loved back catalogue? Because there are obviously a lot of fans of your old franchises, like Banjo Kazooie or Perfect Dark, or even older titles like Killer Instinct. Do calls for remakes have much of an effect on you, and will we see those games return?
Well, first of all, we love the fans of the history and legacy of Rare. It's a huge honour to have that as a part of the studio, but our focus and ambition is about innovating and driving innovation with Kinect. If it makes sense, of course we'll evaluate those kinds of things. Right now the immediate thing in front of us is Kinect Sports Season 2, and continuing to push with that.
In fact, we'll continue to push the innovation envelope even beyond launch. We haven't talked about any details of that yet, but people should stay tuned because you'll see more with Season 2 even beyond what you see with the initial release.