Tagged "Rare"

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Jul 16

With game budgets forever rising and big name franchises more important than ever, the days of versatile development studios are slowly coming to an end.

The guys at Beenox must know how this feels – after working with various brands across different genres they’re now single handedly in control all things Spider-Man. If they aren’t sick of the sight of Spidey by now then we’d be very surprised.

It wasn’t always like this, of course. A good example here is Rare during the N64 era, working on first person shooters one year and colourful platformers the next. Nowadays Microsoft seemingly wants the developer to be working on sports compilations and nothing else.

We can’t forget Psygnosis either, knocking out such PSone games as The Adventures of Loma, Sentinel Returns, Psybadek and Overboard in quick secession alongside the various WipEout and Destruction Derby sequels.

Here’s a look at eight games where the developers involved are far from whom you’d expect. Behold the black sheep of gaming:

Rare – A Nightmare on Elm Street

Nightmare_on_Elm_Street_NES

Funnily enough, we’re starting this feature off with Rare. After reverse engineering the NES to create the curiously colourful Slalom, Rare – then known as Ultimate Play the Game – found themselves with plenty of work on their doorstep.

There’s nothing too out of the blue about them working on a movie tie-in considering the majority of ’80s videogames had licenses attached, but A Nightmare on Elm Street strikes us as an oddity.

The humble NES was the last console you’d imagine to host a game based on a notorious 18-rated movie, especially when Rare’s previous NES games included Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Sesame Street: ABC.

Squaresoft – Driving Emotion Type S

DrivingEmotion

There was a time when we always feared the worst whenever Squaresoft turned their attention away from RPGs.

The Bouncer wasn’t too unusual for them considering they developed the Final Fantasy-flavoured Ehrgeiz: God Bless the Ring for arcade and PSone, but early PS2 racer Driving Emotion Type S defied convention.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t very good. Perhaps Square weren’t entirely to blame though – plenty of developers struggled at first to get their collective heads around the PlayStation 2’s then-powerful innards.

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Nov 15

Thinking of buying a Kinect to keep the kids quiet this Christmas? You’ve picked a good time to make a purchase – you should be able to find one for under £80 new, and significantly less second hand, with games starting at literally pocket money prices.

You should feel sorry for our downstairs neighbour – we’ve played most of the games that the Kinect has to offer. We’re now passing our knowledge onto you, so you don’t have to rearrange your furniture and end up playing a game that feels like it has been forged in the bowels of hell.

Presenting our Kinect buyer’s guide.

The good…

Kinect Sports Double Pack
If you own a Kinect and not at least one of the Kinect Sports games then you’re missing out on one (well, two) of the Kinect’s finest. Season One has the better presentation of the two, but Season Two is the better package overall. Season Two does have a ‘money grabbing’ feel to it though, with lots of prompts to purchase extra challenge packs. Basketball is an additional download too. Thankfully a double pack exists so you can get the best of both.

Child of Eden
While this psychedelic shooter can be played with a joypad – a fact that Microsoft and Ubisoft kept rather quiet before launch – it feels a lot more intuitive playing with motion controls, waving your arm around to lock on targets and then pushing it forward to shoot. Fans of Sega’s Rez will feel right at home.

Dance Central 1-3
Take your pick, here. All three of the Dance Central games are thoroughly excellent. The original, which launched alongside the device, can be picked up for less than £10, while Dance Central 2 shouldn’t set you back much more. Ubisoft’s Just Dance series is worth a mention too – Dance Central is more substantial, but the Just Dance games are a little flashier.

Kinect Disneyland Adventures
Frontier Developments are one of the few studios to fully grasp the inner-workings of the Kinect. Their launch game Kinectimals was one of the better titles. In fact, we’d say it was one of the best virtual pet games ever made. They took what they learned there to make Kinect Disneyland Adventures one of the highest rated Kinect games.

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster
This wasn’t originally conceived as a Sesame Street game – the idea for it came first, and then the license was added at a later date. Double Fine wanted this to be a game that parents can play along with their children. Or you could just kill two birds with one stone and use it to keep two children quiet at once. It’s rather lovingly made.

The pretty good…

Fable: The Journey
The Fable games are renowned for their moral choices and freedom but not this one – it’s an on-rails journey across a land that’s being smothered by evil. Voice acting, character development and visuals impress, but the fact that you spend most of the game behind the reigns of a horse instead of carrying out quests makes it an adventure that’s likely to be soon forgotten.

Kinect Star Wars
It’s easy to tell that Kinect Star Wars had a rough development. A handful of studios worked on it, each throwing their ideas into the proverbial pot. The third-person adventure mode is a bit lame but the pod racing and dancing mini-games are nicely done. The rancor city-smashing mini-game should please younger gamers too. The dancing mini-game does take massive liberties with the license though, which upset a few Star Wars die-hards.

Kung Fu High Impact
Not the easiest of games to find – it was released only in the US and some parts of Europe – but it’s worth tracking down as it’s laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly challenging. A lot of the later levels take a fair few attempts to complete, requiring you to use power-ups sparingly. Seeing yourself on your TV screen, leaping through the air and firing magic arrows is rather neat.

Rabbids: Alive & Kicking
Another one that’s amusing to play. It’s as mad as a box of frogs, with a lot of mini-games inspired by arcade classics. One plays like Breakout, only instead of a bat and ball you control a fireman on a fireman’s pole and the ball is a flaming marshmallow. Another mini-game meanwhile plays like Lemmings, the idea being to use your limbs to guide the Rabbids to safety. The achievements too are a lot of fun to get, requiring you to play games different to how they’re supposed to be played.

Puss in Boots
A movie tie-in? Yes. This is one of the better movie tie-ins of recent times. A motion controlled platformer with combat sequences and stealthy bits, all of which are entertaining as the controls work perfectly. Production values are high too – it looks the part and Antonio Banderas himself supplies the vocal talent. The only downfall is the length – it can be beaten in around three hours.

Best of XBLA…

Fruit Ninja Kinect
Up there with Kinect Sports, Fruit Ninja Kinect is one of the Kinect’s finest. Controls are intuitive – simply swipe your hand to slice fruits and build up combos. Each game is randomised with different power-ups appearing, which makes it incredibly addictive. The two-player mode is good fun also. As well as a download it’s also bundled free with The Gunstringer – an above average platformer that can now be found for around £10.

Happy Action Theatre
Another one from Seasame Street: Once Upon a Monster developers Double Fine, Happy Action Theatre stands proud on Metacritic with an 80% average. “My daughter played Happy Action Theater for about three hours when we first downloaded it. We had to drag her away. She shows it off to her friends, who are equally enchanted by it. She now asks to play it after school rather than watch TV,” said Eurogamer in their 9/10 review.

Haunt
Haunt achieves more than Rise of Nightmares did. We’re using Sega’s disappointing first person adventure game as a comparison there as both share the same perspective and are based around spooking the player. Haunt though has a much more comic vibe – paintings with eyes that move, like something out of Scooby Doo. Double Fine’s Tim Schafer also had a helping hand in this one.

Diabolical Pitch
It’s odd that this one didn’t receive much press attention – it’s by Grasshopper Manufacture, of Killer7 and No More Heroes fame. The hero, a superstar baseball player, finds himself in an afterlife amusement park full of zombies and must use his batting skills to slay waves of the undead. If they get too close they can be given a swift kick to push them away. It’s a pleasingly daft game and one of the few mature Kinect titles.

Wreckateer
This castle smashing sim did get a little bit more attention than most XBLA Kinect games, due to being demonstrated during Microsoft’s E3 conference. It’s a 3D Angry Birds of sorts. “While the storyline may be a bit hokey and the voice-acting a bit childish, the fun that can be had with the gameplay and smooth easy motion controls just can’t be denied. It’s the best kind of fun: simple to play, but hard to master. It’s a casual motion controlled game that actually works well, and offers up real satisfaction when that control pays off it high scores and massive destruction,” said Destructioid in their 9/10 review.

And don’t forget…

Kinect Fun Labs
There hasn’t been much going on in the world of Kinect Fun Labs recently, suggesting that Microsoft have given up on their free to download hub full of Kinect gadgets and gizmos. Things like Kinect Bobble Head – which puts your head on a bobble doll – aren’t worth bothering with apart from the easy achievements they contain, but Junk Fu, Battle Stuff and Mars Rover Landing each provide a good hour or so of free entertainment each.

Kinect Playfit
Another free download, but not a game as such. It measures the amount of calories you’ve burnt off playing Kinect games and then tracks your fitness level on a leaderboard. Only certain games are supported though, most of which are first-party, but we’ve managed to get a few achievements out of it despite not owning many of the supported games. Expect more to be added in the future.

What’s next for Kinect?

There’s a notable lack of big-name Kinect games on the horizon, but you’ll at least be able to shout at guards in Splinter Cell: Blacklist and call Cartman a “fat ass” in South Park: Stick of Truth. Now there’s a thing.

Oct 02

Not Enough Shaders were lucky enough to talk to Crash Lab, a studio formed last year of Rare (and later Free Radical) staff members Steve Ellis, Martin Wakeley and Lee Musgrave.

As well as talking about their new iOS, Android and PlayStation Mobile game Twist Pilot, Not Enough Shaders were also able to squeeze a few tidbits from their former days.

Steve Ellis revealed that TimeSpiltters 2 HD was once in development:

“We had a ‘HD’ downloadable version of TimeSplitters 2 in development at Free Radical in 2008. I don’t know what happened to that but yes, I’d love to see it released at some point.”

He does also point out that Crytek owns the TimeSplitters license, so don’t get your hopes up.

Lee Musgrave also managed to clear up what happened to Donkey Kong Racing, which was in development for GameCube during Microsoft’s acquisition of Rare:

“Donkey Kong Racing was obviously pretty heavily tied to Nintendo as a franchise, and as Rare approached the finalization of a buyout deal with Microsoft it was clear that the game had no future, at least with the ape’s as characters. We switched it around to be a Sabreman game, and there was a great early Xbox prototype – but someone, somewhere decreed that it was a little too old-school for the kind of ‘revolutionary gaming experiences’ that the Xbox was capable of delivering, and so it started down a path of meandering changes, updates and ‘evolution’ that finally saw it run out of steam and fall over. There were some great ideas in the game as it developed though, and I still look back to the early racing game design and think we could have done something great with that.

“It was a pure racing game, the underlying software mechanics were actually based on car physics, but it also incorporated the idea of riders jumping between different animals mid-race, to always be riding the ones that were bigger or faster . . . we had some awesome gameplay in place, and it was lots of fun – we even had a multiplayer version working – and when you fell off, you had to tap-tap-tap (HyperSports style) to run on foot and catch up with an animal. Fun, but it lost some appeal without the DK universe around it, and Microsoft were unsure of its potential with Xbox gamers I think.”

The interview is well worth a read. Even the cancelled Jet Force Gemini game for Game Boy Color gets a mention.

Apr 08

Our trip around the world of gaming via the medium of Google Street View continues.

In the Nintendo years, Rare was a notoriously secretive company – which made the developer all the more fascinating to its fervent fans. Under the ownership of Microsoft, that mystique has faded somewhat – blame the games, blame the fans, blame the openness of the web.

The company hasn’t completely lost its desire to hide from the outside world though. This is the entrance to their HQ near Twycross in the Warwickshire countryside. The only sign that it’s Rare is the letter R from the company’s logo in the brickwork by the gate. Now that, is classy.


View Larger Map

It’s not Rare’s only location any more though. A studio in Birmingham – specifically Fazeley Studios in Digbeth, which needless to say is also on Street View – was opened last year. The company even posted a tour of its new pad on YouTube.

Wouldn’t have happened in my day: I remember when it was an event for a magazine to be invited in, and we’d be treated to a couple of photos from inside Rare.

Mar 09

Ten years is a long time. But has much actually changed since Games Asylum was born into this world? Yes. And no. I’ve dredged the archives to illustrate.

1. Walls no barrier

GP32

“Another technical marvel contained within is the RF module. With this you can play against up to three other players within a ten metre radius. No link-up cables are needed, and it even works through walls.”
GP32 – The Korean Alternative, January 2002

It works through walls? Wow! Mind you, a home network back then meant a load of CAT5 cable nailed to the skirting board. So going through walls was kind of a big deal.

2. Infrared?

“There is a built in rumble device, motion sensor and infrared communication capability. These allow for more interactive games, and of course for simple multiplayer gaming.”
Pokemon Mini, March 2002

And infrared was a simple way of achieving multiplayer gaming, apparently. Having to enter my Wi-Fi security key every time I get a new device is almost too much effort for me these days. Infrared? Jesus.

3. Downloads

Xbox Live

“If people want to download the latest blockbuster EA offering, I’m happy for them to be able to, but I see no reason for such releases not to also be available in shops. It’s for smaller games that I see digital distribution playing its part. Microsoft seem to agree. It’s on what sort of games, and how much they should cost, that we disagree.”
Digital Distribution, November 2004

Download games have exploded since Xbox Live Arcade first launched – and in much the way I thought they should. But I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that it would be Apple who would transform the market, with the sort of pricing I was looking for back then.

4. Rise of the casual

“To be fair, making a game for our Mr and Mrs Middle-Aged would probably be suicidal in the current market – except possibly on PC, but let’s not start on the problems of PC gaming for Joe Average.”
Bang On Target, July 2001

It’s easy to underestimate just how much Nintendo reshaped the market with the DS and Wii. A game for middle-aged people? You can’t get my mum off Professor Layton these days.

5. Rare

Rare

“Early signs, such as Rare remaining in scenic Warwickshire, indicate that Microsoft won’t be destroying the history and traditions of Rare. [...] The biggest gainers are doubtless Microsoft. They are in need of more quality exclusive titles, and Rare should provide them. Not only that, but Rare are skilled in the art of platform gaming, one area in which the Xbox is particularly weak.”
Microsoft Buying Rare, September 2002

Rare didn’t attract a less shooty demographic to the Xbox brand, and Viva Pinata didn’t really appeal to the typical shooty Xbox consumer. The idiots. And look at Rare now: moving to Birmingham, permanent jobs being replaced by contractors. It’s fair to say it didn’t work out like anyone wanted.

6. Connectivity

“Shigeru Miyamoto recently stated that 70 to 80% of the GameCube games released in the coming year will feature Game Boy Advance connectivity.”
Connected, March 2003

Well that didn’t happen, did it? The GC-GBA link cable was the great USP that never was. Possibly partly because, if memory serves, it was virtually impossible to get hold of the official product. Still, Pac-Man Vs was quite fun. It looks like it’s Sony’s turn to give connectivity a bash now, with the NGP and PS3. It’s sure to be excellent.

7. DualShock

DualShock 3

“Sony really have to change the placement of the left analogue stick on the PlayStation 3 controller, or they’ll get a bloody good kicking from me.”
Sony, Change Your Pad, February 2004

A year later, the PlayStation 3 was unveiled – initially with a truly bizarre boomerang-style controller. But the final PS3 pad is virtually identical to the PS2 pad, so despite my ranting, the left analogue stick is still in the wrong place. I’m waiting to hear back from Sony about administering that kicking.

8. Action adventures

“A simple question for you: are 3D action adventures the easy way out for games companies? There certainly are a lot about. Possibly more of them than any other genre.”
Action Adventures, January 2002

The original Xbox hadn’t even been released in January 2002, so the seemingly unstoppable rise of WAR GAMES above all else hadn’t really commenced. How I yearn for the days of Ty the Tasmanian Tiger.

9. Special edition

Driver San Francisco Collector Pack

“A lot of people are as pathetically materialistic as me, and would be encouraged to buy a game in its first week to get some nice packaging, and publishers would get better first week sales. Everyone’s a winner baby, that’s the truth.”
Cardboard Sleeves, February 2004

This has changed, by my reckoning: you can’t move these days for metal boxes, character figurines, and other special edition nonsense. At a suitably inflated price, of course.

10. Completism

“There is an unquantifiable pleasure and satisfaction to be had from complete, boxed consoles and games – both old and new.”
Digest #03 Column, September 2002

Well that certainly hasn’t changed – helped to some extent by the above. A quick look at our regular Cache in the Attic eBay trawls demonstrates how much people are willing to pay for a bit of old cardboard.

Jun 02

Microsoft bed buddy Rare is 25 this year, so they’ve decided that not one, but four, new logos are in order to celebrate. Studio head Mark Betteridge had this to say:

“Both Rare and the games industry have seen massive changes over the past 25 years, and right now it feels as if both we and the industry are continuing to evolve at an ever-increasing pace. With this landmark anniversary coming up, and knowing that we have a really exciting future ahead, we felt now was the time to have a new image more in keeping with an innovative and creative entertainment company which aspires to be around for at least the next 25 years!”

Rare is set to deliver a design keynote on making games for Natal at July’s Develop Conference. It has been rumored that they’re working on a yoga fitness “game” of some sort, while a recent interview with gamesTM magazine suggested that Killer Instinct 3 could be on the cards too.

Oct 16

Rare aren’t as secretive as they were when they were under the watchful eyes of Nintendo but there’s defiantly still a mysterious aura around them. This week though they’ve been slightly more loose lipped than usual, answering fan’s questions on their scribes pages.

The “big one” is that they aren’t making DS games any more. Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise flopped at retail and DK Racing didn’t score as well as the original, so you can kind of see why. They also confirm that Perfect Dark will arrive on XBLA this winter and claim that they have “no idea” why Donkey Kong 64 hasn’t been released on Virtual Console or re-made for the DS.

Rare senior software engineer Nick Burton then stated that Kameo 2 was in development back in 2007 (two years after the original was released) but later canned. There’s demo/prototype footage on YouTube showing Kameo wearing a cloak and running along walls and the like, suggesting that it would have been more akin to Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed and Heavenly Sword.

So just what are Rare working on at the moment? I’m guessing stuff for Natal, Killer Instinct 3 (this one has been rumoured for ages) and maybe Perfect Dark Zero 2 seeing that games like Rare’s own Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts and Viva Pinata don’t sell that well on 360.

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