It's been Rare-tastic on VideoGamer.com this week - every day bringing a new slice of our mammoth interview with graphics god Nick Burton. On Monday he talked us through the development of Star Fox Adventures and Kameo: Elements of Power, on Tuesday he spoke on the power of the Xbox 360, the future of Rare and why he thinks Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a hardcore gamer's game, on Wednesday Nick revealed inside knowledge on GoldenEye for Xbox LIVE Arcade and yesterday he talked about his formative gaming moments (and a funny tale involving Dancing Stage EuroMix). And today, in the final part of our week-long interview series, we pin Nick down on the possibility of the legendary studio returning to some of its most well known games. You might be surprised by what he says...
VideoGamer.com: Looking back at your career, and you have been at Rare for a while now, and the stuff you've worked on and had influence on, what are you most proud of?
Nick Burton: I have two things. First one is just the amount of graphical effects we got into Kameo. We said earlier it still looks great. It's absolutely packed full of stuff. I saw a thing recently with Unreal where they were talking about water that reacted to the player. We had that in 2005! I was very proud of that and proud of the reception it got as well. To read the reviews and all the people saying it set the high point for graphics and things like that, to have, when we'd done some of the technology, these really senior Microsoft Games Studio people come in to the studio, sitting down and saying: how the hell have you done that? That was a defining moment for me as a graphics programmer.
In terms of probably what I've enjoyed the most, don't know about my whole career but certainly in recent years, was just being able to go and remake the game that got me into playing games. When our production director said to me, we're thinking of doing a LIVE Arcade game, you've got a bit of free time before the next big project starts, we were thinking of making one of the old Ultima games, and I was like I'm there! And he went, you know one guy's got one sheet of paper where he's been thinking about Jetpac. I'm like, yeah, we're doing Jetpac! And almost to be given carte blanche to say right, you can go and remake one of your golden moments of gaming.
I still remember Summer 1983, myself and my cousin not seeing the sun because we're in my front room, and I don't know how we managed to eke it out over the entire summer holiday looking at it now, just playing Jetpac on the Spectrum. I even remember going into Fox's Music in Nottingham and buying the tape. That's how much it's etched into my memory! Then to be able to go right, let's go remake it for LIVE Arcade, and do what we will to it. That was just a fantastic experience. And I feel privileged to have been able to do that when I wasn't the original person that came up with the IP. If you were to look back over your formative gaming years, some of the first iconic games you played, and someone said to you right, there you go, have a small team of people and you can go and remake that. You just cannot buy that opportunity. I guess that's the kind of thing that keeps me at Rare. It's just a great place to work! I'm not going to beat about the bush!
VideoGamer.com: Looking at those games that you loved back in the day, are there some you haven't had the opportunity to remake for XBLA that you'd love to have a stab at?
Nick Burton: There's tons. If you were to say right, go and remake what you like, I'd remake a ton of stuff and there'd be ones I wouldn't be allowed to because they're not my IP either. You'd probably be looking at anything that was in an arcade between 1985 and 1989! Just one or two!
In our back catalogue, I've made no secret about the fact that if I was to do another XBLA game because that fitted in with what we do, which it doesn't at the moment, and that is at the moment, because I'd done Jetpac and we'd already got a fairly strong idea for Lunar Jetman, I kind of like to do that providing I was given a hard deadline of six months so it was really tight and quick. Mainly because there's that idea already there.
Other than that I would have loved to have seen Dinosaur Planet see the light of day as Dinosaur Planet, because I had so much emotionally invested in that because it was my first game. It was strong in its own right. Undoubtedly it was commercially more successful because it had Star Fox in it. Anybody who says it was any other way is delusional in my mind. But it was a very strong IP. On the N64 at any rate, technically we were pushing it too far, even more than Conker did, so much so that it would have been too slow in some places. But it had a wonderful ambience that only the team have ever seen, almost this haunting mythical ambience to a lot of it, especially to the snow and ice worlds, that you could capture so well with today's hardware but unfortunately it's probably one of those things that's locked in limbo. Whether it's the right kind of game for today as well, it probably isn't. But if you were to say sales don't matter and the team says it doesn't matter, just make the game you want to make, and it was going to be a big project, I think it would be something like that.
But then again it's even better to do something that's totally new and totally exciting and nothing like we've done before. That's the great thing about our industry as well. Yeah there's lots and lots of churn, there's lots of sequels, but there's so much opportunity to do absolutely fantastic original things. If it coincides with critical acclaim, brilliant, if it coincides with critical and financial success even better. But all in all providing the game's in the black, in our industry you've done well.
VideoGamer.com: You mentioned Conker. What's the future for Conker? Another IP that anybody that plays games knows about.
NB: We'd be stupid if we didn't, like we have done with Banjo, if we didn't have Conker back at some point. But to continually do sequel after sequel after sequel for something is hard on the team because they get locked into a sequel mentality, so they don't do new things necessarily. And that can be bad for your staff in general, that can be bad just for morale - oh Christ! I'm doing Viva Piñata 12! I did six, seven, eight, nine, 10 and 11 I thought I'd be able to do something else afterwards! So it's better to let things have a hiatus for a while.
VideoGamer.com: Like Banjo has enjoyed?
NB: Yeah. It made sense with Viva Piñata to do a sequel straight off, without a doubt. Sometimes it does. And then other times the time has passed. Like with Kameo. This is just me personally, I was very big for the second we got Kameo out, for hitting the deck running and going right we're doing Kameo 2, we're going to take 12 to 18 months to do it, bang, it's done. But for one reason or another we didn't do that in the time frame where you could hit that sweet spot. So she's got to take a hiatus.
VideoGamer.com: How long of a hiatus?
NB: That is the unknown. It could be short, it could be long. It depends on the team, it depends on the market, it depends on the portfolio from other studios. There's so many factors that get involved in making that decision that it's impossible to say at any one time. I could say to you now, no, 18 months at least. In reality, everything might come into alignment at the end of next week and suddenly it's like, yeah go and start doing that. And it might be out of our control. It might be because suddenly there's a massive gap in the portfolio where there's no games like that at all coming down the pipe in two years' time. And then if the resources were there, let's say Banjo's finished but they decide they want to do something different, and then there's this opening for Kameo, what I'm saying now could be completely wrong in three months, four months time. But it's not something that one studio can just go, yes we are going to do this now, because if you do that that's when you might time it wrong.
With any of the IP we own there's a good chance of seeing any of it again. You might see Killer Instinct, you might see Battletoads. Or as I said the other month Killer Instinct meets Battletoads in the GoldenEye universe!
VideoGamer.com: That would be something else.
NB: Yeah I can't even begin to think about the design but it would!
VideoGamer.com: Killer Instinct is another one everyone wants to know about. What was the deal with that Christmas card - that had to be Killer Instinct, right?
NB: Of course it was!
VideoGamer.com: So what was the deal?
NB: You'll probably have to rephrase this, we're just fu!$ing with you! Have you not noticed a theme in our Christmas cards? We do it every year! It's just sometimes people don't notice it because it's that subtle.
Ryan (Stevenson, senior concept artist), when he was doing it said, oh I'm putting Killer Instinct in that, I am. The conversation was, put Battletoads in as well! Or Snake Rattle and Roll, come on do it! We have a reputation for teasing. Sometimes we do it for good reasons and other times it upsets people. We're English, we're allowed to!
VideoGamer.com: So it's not an indication that you guys are working on Killer Instinct 3?
NB: Again, let's be ambivalent this time... (makes weird, funny noises).
VideoGamer.com: I guess with Street Fighter 4, MK VS DCU, I'm thinking back to when I was playing these games, it was Killer Instinct as well. So, to make us feel more like we're in a 90s arcade, Killer Instinct would be great right now...
NB: Yeah, if we could find a KI machine right now...
VideoGamer.com: When you think about Rare's back catalogue I can't think of another studio with so many fondly held titles.
NB: If you look at the IP that we still own all the rights to, unless you were going to go for one of the big ones, but then you go, oh well what about that... if we did that then there's this! But then everybody else is going, yeah but we won't have a bigger back catalogue if we don't do something newer!
For arguments sake let's take a real old one, Captain Skyhawk on the NES. Brendan Gunn, that's the first game he did, he's still a programmer with us now. He celebrated his 20th anniversary with us the other week. That's incredible. Absolute great guy - he's doing stuff on Banjo at the moment. Skyhawk was a vertical scrolling shoot-em-up, had a plane in it... do something like Ace Combat with it! Would it be in a garden? I don't know. That's the thing now, the technical limitations are such that it could be anything. For me games are still escapist. Let's face it we're all off escaping into some alternate reality, and realities have just got better and better and better. I reckon you could pick anything in our back catalogue and then turn it into something new.
VideoGamer.com: That's brilliant Nick, thank you so much for your time.
That's it! Our exclusive, mammoth five-part week long interview with Rare's Nick Burton is over. We're emotionally drained. All this talk of GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Killer Instinct, Banjo, Star Fox and Conker has got us crying tears of nostalgia for 90s gaming. If you missed any of it, fear not - you'll find part one here, part two here, part three here and part four here. Now - where did we leave our N64?