Exclusive interview with Rare graphics god! Part three

Exclusive interview with Rare graphics god! Part three
Wesley Yin-Poole Updated on by

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For the last two days we’ve brought you an exclusive interview with Rare senior software engineer Nick Burton, and we’ve got plenty more to go. If you missed parts one and two, head over there now, but if you’re up to date read on for Nick’s inside knowledge on GoldenEye on Xbox LIVE Arcade and why he thinks Rare gets a harder time than most other development studios. It’s juicy info you won’t find anywhere else.

VideoGamer.com: One of the largest threads on our forum is about Rare and when they’re going to do another FPS. It almost feels like the entire gaming world is waiting for this game to come out, more than any other studio in the world or any other genre.

Nick Burton: I remember when the news of Bungie going, not separate ways, but independent again from Microsoft. The first thing that popped up on every single forum was “What’s the bets on who’s getting the Halo licence?” and everyone was like Rare every time. No, Bungie will do it. Probably. I don’t know. We read all those things as well. All the talent, you know, just because you see Viva Piñata doesn’t mean that the talent has gone, because that kind of pains me when you hear about that sometimes. Especially with the GoldenEye guys. About a third of the GoldenEye team are still at Rare. A couple of them did a lot of stuff on it. Everyone’s like “GoldenEye was done by these guys”. No, it was done by a team of people. Some of our designers, when you look at them and how they analyse things, especially if they have a specialisation like FPS or multiplayer level design, the way they can analyse stuff almost spoils your gaming sometimes. You come in saying how you’re really enjoying something and then “well that bit was rubbish wasn’t it?” No. “It was because there was this, this and this.” And you go yeah, I did get stuck there actually.

VideoGamer.com: What’s the feeling within Rare about the whole GoldenEye Xbox LIVE Arcade thing?

NB: That was a tricky one. To be fair, I kind of wished that the differences got sorted out, but obviously there’s the licensing issue for Bond, even if it’s something that’s already come out. It’s incredibly hard to solve because there’s so many licence holders involved. You’ve got the guys that own the license to the gaming rights now, the guys that have the licence to Bond as an IP, and there are umpteen licensees. Me, just personally, I thought, God, that’s a difficult problem to solve. The guys wanted to go and make it. I guess it probably got to them maybe, I don’t know, but for me I just kind of thought that we’d never manage it, never quite make it. But the feeling’s not too bad really. It’s what it’s like as a games developer. You have to treat something that’s not seen the light of day as a prototype. I’ve had, what, four or five things that never happened. It’s funny that we don’t even talk about them a lot of the time, because you think, well, we might revisit it.

VideoGamer.com: So is that it? Is GoldenEye on Arcade dead?

NB: The ball’s not in anybody at Rare’s court really. It’s squarely in the license holders’ courts. It’s a shame. It’s kind of locked in this no man’s land. There’s nothing on LIVE Arcade, there’s nothing on Wii.


VideoGamer.com: From a gamer’s point of view is amazing that it’s not available.

NB: It’s just what happens legally sometimes. Not necessarily with games, but you see it with music and films. Things get locked in this legal limbo. Even most of the parties involved, probably all the parties involved want to solve it. It’s such a complex issue. It amazes me. I sort of sit on the periphery, but I know a few guys in the legal team. Why can’t this happen? I want to play it and I want everyone else to play it. And they’re like “well, there’s this and this and this and that, and you have to have approval from them, and then there’s artist approval, all the way up to probably Pierce Brosnan has to say it’s all right for this”. There’s not enough hours in the day.

VideoGamer.com: It’s so sad.

NB: It is so sad. It is. Ultimately everyone loses out. Including the license holders.

VideoGamer.com: So those screen shots that were released. Were they real screens from something?

NB: I can’t say. Again, infer what you will from that (laughs). Let’s just say. The last thing about GoldenEye: Legal mine field.

VideoGamer.com: It was just so frustrating to see that slow reveal only to find out we’d never get to play it or really see it.

NB: Yeah, “oh, it’s been snatched away”.

VideoGamer.com: The internet blew up over that.

NB: Yeah, it’s interesting being on the inside and seeing that. You have your own take because you have all the information. It makes you laugh and cry in equal parts. Especially when you read forums and there’s all “It was this, this, this and this”. Maybe it’s a 14-year-old lad who doesn’t know or somebody who really thinks they know. You’re like, “what are you on?”. Then there’s other ones where you’re like, “that’s a bit close to the knuckle” (laughs).

VideoGamer.com: Did you see any post where you thought it came from someone who knew? Or do you think it’s one of those things that no one really knows the truth behind?

NB: I think, probably, some people do. I’m not one of them, but as I say I was out on the periphery for that. Watching as an interested party and having a chat with guys over lunch about it. We chat about it as much as the guys on your forums do. Believe me (laughs). Yes, in the organisation somewhere, probably somebody knows. It’s probably going to go down in the annals of gaming history as one of the big mysteries.


VideoGamer.com: Does GoldenEye almost haunt the studio?

NB: No, not at all. I wouldn’t say indifference. It’s nice to see people still talk about it. But I also think, and a lot of us think this, that you look back at it and it’s still good fun to play, but if I played it now with my gaming tastes as refined as they are now, would I still have the same reaction or have I really got rose tinted spectacles on? It’s almost impossible to separate one from the other. I still look at it and think, no, it’s got great level design for instance, but then you think I’m saying that because maybe the control feels really good, but it’s not perfect. But it’s not perfect because the frame rate wasn’t high enough. It’s very difficult to separate your memory. As someone coined at work the other week. “You need some brain bleach” so you can get rid of the memory. Maybe I should get hypnotherapy to remove the memories. It’d be interesting. Then go an play it and see if it still stands up. We’re not “oh God, get over it” and we’re not like “urrggh, look, everybody still worships that thing”. I think sometimes it gets to you a bit when you a get a forum poster say “Rare’s not as good as it used to be”. In reality, if you look at our recent games, they’re better than they ever were. It’s just that the market has changed, and diversified and got a lot bigger, and we still appeal to the audience we appealed to. Gaming changed and started to fracture a lot. One studio will find it very difficult to fulfil everybody’s tastes, unless you get that one golden moment where you get that true breakout game, that breaks outside of its niche and becomes that phenomenon like GTA and Halo. They do that because they’re very good games, without doubt, but these days you have to have that alignment of the planets, where the marketing has to be right, the time has to be right, all the social aspects have to come into alignment. And when it does you get an amazing effect, but it’s more than the sum of its parts, without a doubt.

VideoGamer.com: The games you mentioned that Rare is working on but can’t talk about. Is some of that stuff going to answer critics? Shut some of those people up?

NB: I don’t think some of them it will ever shut up. They’re critical because they’re critical.

VideoGamer.com: This is the internet.

NB: Yeah, the internet haters. It’s easy for people on the internet to vent anger or their own opinions, and everybody’s a critic. Sometimes from a developer’s point of view that hurts some people, especially the younger developers. The older guys, the more experienced guys are like “Yeah, whatever. That’s probably 5000 people out of 40 billion. I’m not too worried about it”. For some of them it will answer it. For others it will probably confirm what they think they already know. We went through, I wouldn’t say dark times, we went through a bit of a lull as we had the changeover. I truly believe that since the launch of the 360, we’ve had a really good catalogue of games. One of the things that I always find funny is when people always quote Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero as being flops at the launch of the 360. In the industry if you break even you’re lucky, you’re in the minority. If you make a decent amount of money you’re really in the minority. You’re in the top percentile. Those two games made a lot of money. For the install base they sold phenomenally well. Kameo is still selling now.


VideoGamer.com: So what’s everyone’s problem then?

NB: Well, I don’t think it’s everyone’s problem. I think it’s a small, vocal group. I think it’s what somebody said about Microsoft in general actually, like how everyone bitches about Windows and says Apple is genius. If that’s the case how come there’s 10 Microsoft products for every Apple product in terms of sales? To quote my ultimate boss, since Bill retired, Steve Ballmer, “the tallest trees catch the most wind”. So when you’re there at the top people want to knock you down. And if you stumble everybody will start kicking. Some of those people will never stop. You’ve got a right to say what they want to say. That’s the point and the great thing about the internet, but you just have to look at how many people there are compared to how vocal they are. All we do in the end is we make the games we think people will want to play. If nobody plays them then we have to question what we’ve done, and we’ve taken a wrong step.

It seems the bar for us, to be what people would call a success, seems to be higher than a lot of other studios. People just expect so much more. Maybe because they have fonder memories. I harp back to the George Lucas Star Wars. When I first saw the first Star Wars saga, as far as I was concerned they were the best films ever made because I was eight. And then I went to see the new films and came out, it was almost like I wanted to go and burn my Star Wars collection. Jar Jar Binks, what have you done? Then I come away and think, actually, it’s because I’m not eight. So the last Star Wars film I thought I’m going to try and not be critical as an adult. And think right, if I wanted big explosions and was maybe my daughter’s age or a bit older, what would I like? Yeah, actually it’s no different really.

I think people have these amazing fond memories of Banjo and GoldenEye, their formative gaming years, and they want that again. Who doesn’t? They’re never going to get that back. I’ve never managed to get it back. I have these amazingly fond memories of playing OutRun. I occasionally go and play on MAME, play the original OutRun, play Marble Madness, Space Harrier. To me they still seem good, but that’s because I have this childhood memory and it’ll never tarnish it really. If someone’s got that for one of our games, whatever we do to address it is never going to be as good as that memory, even if the game is fantastic. That’s one thing everybody said about Piñata, “Oh, it’s a commercial failure”. No it isn’t. It’s doing very well thank you very much. And critical acclaim. It’s a bloody good game. When you get people coming up saying they can’t wait to play VP2 that’s fantastic, and people asking when Banjo’s coming out. But there’ll still be people that hate it because it’s not Banjo 3 as they imagined it.

We’re lucky being inside MGS that our remit is to kind of expand and broaden this demographic and do things that are slightly more out there. In a way we don’t have some of the commercial pressures that some other developers do. We can take a risk now and again. Piñata was a risk and it’s paid off. Would that have come out of another studio? It might have come out of Lionhead maybe. It might have come out of Will Wright, something like that. Spore is fantastic, but massive risk. Of course, nobody thought of the ability to actually make creatures that actually look like they’re several creatures doing something. A sure-fire success without doubt.

That’s your lot for now. If you want more straight away head over to Part one of our week-long interview, from which you’ll be led effortlessly into part two. Check back tomorrow for even more.