Rare Replay interview. Rare Gamer talks to James Thomas.
After the truly amazing reveal of Rare Replay at E3 a few weeks ago, we got the chance to sit down and chew the fat with Rare staffer James Thomas about the game.
RG: How long has Rare Replay been in the works for? Was it always tied into being a way of celebrating the 30th anniversary or were there plans to release a compilation of some shape or form before that?
JT: We’ve been working on Rare Replay since last year and from the beginning it was always intended as a 30th anniversary collection. When the ball started rolling we did a bit of research and were quite surprised at how few studios have been around for that length of time. After that we knew we had to make it extra special.
RG: Did you have any direct influence on what games were chosen for the collection?
JT: We obviously had a lot to choose from and the first port of call was come up with a theme (other than “whoop, 30 years, baby!”). We decided on that of games that showcased the worlds and characters created by Rare itself, celebrating the numerous developers who have made Rare the studio it is today. After that, we held “The R-Factor”. Cue Paul Collins and Chris Davies creating oversized trading cards for every game we ever did, covered in years, genres, players, and so forth. If it fitted the initial theme it went into one pile, if not then it went aside.
After that it was a back and forth as to what made the cut, the Designers leading the way but allowing the rest of us to throw our tuppence in. Gregg, Paul, Huw, and a few of the other long standing Rare stalwarts waded in, too. As soon as they came around the table it became a group reminisce; they’d pick up a card, you’d see a grin flicker into place, and the tales would flow. It was a fun process to be involved with and generated a lot of personal Top 30 lists that were bandied back and forth.
RG: Which of the games are your personal favourites?
JT: Solar Jetman. This one was in my contract; I refused to sign on if it wasn’t included. I’ve such fond memories of it as a kid and have used it as benchmark throughout the project. It was one of the first NES games that really clicked with me and it wasn’t until years later that I realised that Rare / Ultimate had been instrumental in it.
Apart from that, Blast Corps returning has been superb (though Backlash can seriously do one) and I’ve a new found affection for Atic Atac. Odd considering I never ever had a Spectrum growing up.
RG: Can you give a brief overview of your involvement in Rare Replay? What were you doing each day? Did you get to work on all of the games or were you assigned a select few?
JT: I’ve been Lead Engineer on the project, and boy what a project to cut my teeth on. Unlike “traditional” projects where you start with a concept, prototype it, grow it, ship it, this was a unique beast. Instead we had an exciting adventure of trying to assemble 30 classics, from 6 different platforms, on a single disc. It was quite a whirlwind but most of my time I think was spent corralling all the different moving parts together. Combine the logistics of that with digging into older games to extract information we can use for Achievements and it’s been technically invigorating period, leading me to even try my hand at my own NES emulator at home. Thankfully all throughout the project I’ve been blessed by having a hugely talented and enthusiastic team that has made my life as easy as it could have been.
RG: How many of the games were you involved with originally and what’s it like to see them being given a new lease of life?
JT: I was on the original Ghoulies, Viva Pinata, and Viva Pinata Trouble in Paradise teams. Ghoulies especially holds up ludicrously well and that’s all down to the art direction from back in the day. “No straight edges” was the edict and that comic style combined with the playful colours and themes have made it really shine on Xbox One. It’s probably the first game I’m going to play when I get Rare Replay home.
RG: Going on to the technical side of things, does Rare Repay come as a single disc? If it is, how did you manage to cram all the games in there?
JT: Yes, one single disc. It was close, especially with an hour’s worth of new behind-the-scenes videos, but we’ve just about done it.
RG: The trailer boasts of 10,000 gamerscore points. Are these a whole new set of achievements or are they the existing ones?
JT: So the 360 games are as they currently are on the 360, nothing added or taken away. The benefit of this is that you get to use your existing Achievements to get a head start in unlocking the bonus content within Rare Replay. Furthermore your saves carry across too thanks to the wonders of The Cloud – if you saved it up there on 360, it’ll be there on Xbox One. Now some swift maths should then give you a hint as to how much Gamerscore is within the remaining games and it’s fair to say we’ve pushed the boat out on that one and broken normal conventions.
RG: Is the Conker game the original N64 Bad Fur Day version, or is it Live & Reloaded? If it’s the original, have you had to do any work to remove references to Nintendo?
JT: Tis the original. We did have a good old think about which of the versions we’d prefer to use but as we’re trying to tell the story of characters created at Rare we’d prefer to start any tail (!) at the beginning. We felt that the Xbox version altered a little too much, whereas Banjo and Tooie are both the XBLA versions as we felt that not only did they stick to the original but made them look exceptional at the same time.
RG: Have the earlier games (R.C. Pro-Am, etc.) had any work done so that they feature local / online multiplayer or any other gameplay enhancements?
JT: All the games are as good as you remember them, we’ve taken a considered stance on not altering them where at all possible. One person’s improvement feature is another person’s heresy.
RG: Was it hard getting all the games up and running on Xbox One?
JT: Yes, but not in the ways you might think. Individually, or at least on a much reduced scale, it would have been a relatively easy project but the sheer number of platforms and games we had to try and squeeze together on one disc made it interesting. We’ll be able to say more in time but each platform presented its own unique set of challenges and one of the joys has been seeing the team knock aside one after another, culminating in the successful unveil last week.
RG: I think I’ve bombarded you with enough questions now. Is there anything else you’re able to talk about or do you have any anecdotes during development that you’re able to share?
JT: Just thank you for the support. We’re really chuffed that Rare Replay has not only excited our nearest and dearest of fans but, from everything we’ve heard from our comrades returning from E3, large swathes of show goers too. It was great hearing tales of people claiming to have never knowingly played a Rare game flicking through our list and finding out their childhood was fuelled by the studio. I’m hoping that come August Rare Replay continues not only to give a nostalgic hit to many people but possibly brings in the next generation of Rare Gamers.
A massive thank you to James Thomas for taking the time to speak to us. Rare Replay is released on 4th August 2015.