Rare headquarters in Twycross, Leicestershire
Video game industry
|Predecessor||Ultimate Play the Game|
|Headquarters||Twycross, Leicestershire, United Kingdom|
|Scott Henson (Studio Manager)
Craig Duncan (Senior Studio Director)
Simon Woodroffe (Creative Director)
Number of employees
|~200 as of 2008|
Rare is a video game developer located in Twycross, Leicestershire. The company was established in 1985 by Tim and Chris Stamper, founders of Ultimate Play the Game. During its early years, Rare was backed by an unlimited budget from Nintendo, primarily concentrated on Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games. During this time they created successful titles such as Wizards & Warriors, Battletoads, and R.C. Pro-Am. Rare became a prominent second-party developer for Nintendo, who came to own a large minority stake of the company. During this period, Rare received international recognition and critical acclaim for games such as Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and Conker's Bad Fur Day.
In 2002, Microsoft acquired Rare, who retained their original brand, logo, and most intellectual properties. It has since focused on developing games exclusively for Microsoft Studios' video game consoles. Notable releases include Kameo: Elements of Power, Perfect Dark Zero and Viva Piñata. In 2007, founders Tim and Chris Stamper left the company to pursue "other opportunities" and, in 2010, the company's focus shifted to the Xbox Live Avatar and Kinect, releasing three different Kinect Sports games. In 2015, Rare released Rare Replay, a compilation of 30 games produced by the company to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Rare is currently working on Sea of Thieves, a multiplayer adventure game. Several key employees left Rare to form their own companies, such as Free Radical Design and Playtonic Games. Rare was widely recognised by the gaming industry and received numerous accolades from critics and journalists. Rare's operation was often held off from critics, and the company is often described as secretive and seclusive.
Rare evolved from Ashby Computers & Graphics Ltd, better known by the trade name Ultimate Play the Game, and founded in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire by former arcade game developers Tim and Chris Stamper. After multiple critically and commercially successful releases including Knight Lore, Sabre Wulf, Atic Atac and Jetpac, Ultimate Play The Game was among one of the biggest UK-based video game development companies. The ZX Spectrum home computer, the platform the company usually developed games for, was only popular in the UK, and they believed that working on that platform would not be beneficial to the company's growth as they considered it a "dead end". Meanwhile, the company inspected an imported console from Japan, the Famicom, and believed that it would be an ideal future platform of choice for the company as it was more sophisticated than the Spectrum, had a worldwide market, and its cartridges had no load times. As a result, a new subdivision named Rare Ltd was established by Ashby Computers and Graphics Ltd in 1985. Its main goal was to reverse-engineer the console and investigate the codes for Famicom's games to learn more about the console's programming. With successful results, the company decided to sell the Ultimate brand to U.S. Gold, and ceased games development for the ZX Spectrum in the following year.
Famicom's owner, Nintendo, once claimed that it would be impossible for their console to be decoded. Using the information the Ashby Computers and Graphics team learnt from the Rare division, the team prepared several tech demos and showed them to the Nintendo executive Minoru Arakawa in Kyoto. Impressed with their efforts, Nintendo decided to grant the Ashby team an unlimited budget for them to work on games for the Famicom platform. After they returned to England, they moved from Ashby-de-la-Zouch to Twycross, and established a new studio using the name of the subdivision; Rare. They set their headquarters in a Manor Farmhouse. Rare also set up another company known as Rare Inc., in Miami, Florida. Headed by Joel Hochberg, the American company was involved in maintaining Rare's operation in the US and contacting major US publishers. Famicom was eventually released in the UK under the name Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
With the unlimited budget, the Rare studio could work a large variety of different games. The first project Rare worked on was Slalom, an ice-skiing title. The company then worked with various gaming publishers that included Tradewest, Acclaim Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Sega, Mindscape and Gametek to produce over 60 games for the NES and several additional Game Boy conversions. They helped in creating new and original intellectual properties, including R.C. Pro-Am, a vehicular combat game with racing elements, and Snake Rattle 'n' Roll, an action platform game with Tim Stamper developing the game's graphics. Rare also developed Battletoads, a beat'em up inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. The game became known for its extreme difficulty, and upon seeing success, publisher Tradewest published multiple ports for the game, and tasked Rare to develop sequels. Tradewest also gave their own Double Dragon licence to Rare, allowing them to develop a crossover game between the two franchises. Rare released three Battletoads games in 1993, including Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team, Battletoads in Ragnarok's World and Battletoads in Battlemaniacs. The last Battletoads game was released for the arcade. Several Battletoads games were also ported to Sega's Mega Drive.
Rare worked on licensed properties such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hollywood Squares, and ports including Marble Madness, Narc, and Sid Meier's Pirates!. The development of four Rare's games were outsourced to Zippo Games, including Wizards & Warriors and the third instalment of the Jetpac series, Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warship. Rare eventually acquired Zippo Games and renamed them to Rare Manchester. According to Ste Pickford, a Rare team member through the late 80s and the early 90s, Rare just "wanted to make as many games as they could in their 'window of opportunity'". However, despite the huge catalogue of games, none became a critical success for the company while less creativity and innovation were shown despite the games making large profits.
When the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was conceived, the Rare studio was not yet ready for the change. Rare limited their releases to some Battletoads games and decided to invest their significant NES profit in purchasing expensive Silicon Graphics workstations to make three-dimensional models. This move made Rare the most technologically advanced developer in the UK, and situated them high in the international market. Their priority also changed at that time, as the team decided to focus on quality instead of quantity.
Partnership with Nintendo (1994–2001)
Rare, using the SGI systems, created a boxing game demo and presented it to Nintendo. As the SNES system at that time could not render all of the SGI graphics at once, Rare used the SGI graphics to produce 3D models and graphics, before pre-rendering these graphics onto the cartridge of the SNES system, a process known as "Advanced Computer Modelling". Their progress with the 3D graphics on the SGI systems impressed Nintendo, and in 1994, Nintendo bought a 25% stake in the company that gradually increased to 49%, making Rare a second-party developer for Nintendo. During this period, Rare started selling their games under the trademark name "Rareware". The company was considered one of Nintendo's key developers and had enough recognition that Nintendo offered the Rare studio the Nintendo catalogue of characters to create a 3D CGI game. The Stampers asked for Donkey Kong. The resulting game was Donkey Kong Country, which was developed by a total of 20 people and enjoyed a 18-month development cycle. Rare staff also visited Twycross Zoo, observing and videotaping real gorillas. The game was a critical success, with critics praising the game's highly advanced visuals and artstyle. Donkey Kong Country sold over eight million copies worldwide, making it the second best-selling game in the SNES library. The game received several Game of the Year honours and was followed by two sequels, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!, as well as several handheld spin-offs such as the Donkey Kong Land series.
Nintendo's stake purchase allowed Rare to expand significantly. The number of staff members increased from 84 to 250, and Rare moved out from their headquarters at the Manor Farmhouse. Rare also developed a CGI arcade fighting game, Killer Instinct, on their own custom-built arcade machine. Killer Instinct was set to be released for Nintendo's own 64-bit system, Nintendo 64, in 1995 but was forced to release the game for the 16-bit SNES system, and had to downgrade the game's graphics. Killer Instinct sold 3.2 million copies, and was followed by a sequel, Killer Instinct 2. Killer Instinct Gold, the console version of Killer Instinct 2, suffered from a graphical downgrade due to the compression technology used to fit the arcade version onto the smaller Nintendo 64 cartridge.
Rare then developed Blast Corps for the Nintendo 64. The game sold one million copies, which was considered disappointing by Rare. At that time, Rare was split into several teams, working on different projects. A large-scaled platformer was set to be released afterwards but was delayed. As a result, Rare changed their schedule and released their smaller projects first. The first project was GoldenEye 007, a game based on the titular film. The project was led by Martin Hollis and development was conducted by an inexperienced team. Inspired by Sega's Virtua Cop, Goldeneye 007 had originally been an on-rail shooter before the team decided to expand the gameplay and turn it into a free-roaming first-person shooter. New elements, such as stealth, headshot mechanics and reloading, were introduced. A split-screen multiplayer was added to the game by the end of its development. GoldenEye 007 was the first console first-person shooter developed by Rare and it was released two years after the release of the film. The game received very high critical praise and received numerous awards. It is often credited for having revolutionised the genre of first-person shooting video games. Goldeneye 007 remained as one of the best-selling games for two years, and sold more than eight million units worldwide.
Rare then developed Diddy Kong Racing, their first self-published game. Originally intended as a real-time strategy game involving cavemen, the game was re-imagined into a racing game prior to its release in 1997. It was one of the fastest selling games at the time, as recorded by The Guinness Book of Records. Diddy Kong Racing also features protagonists from some future Rare games, including Banjo and Conker. At the time, Rare was still working on the large-scale platform game. Originally codenamed Dream: Land of Giants, it was a game featuring a young boy named Edison and pirates. The protagonist was then replaced by a bear known as Banjo, and Rare expanded the role of Kazooie the bird. The two characters were inspired by characters from Walt Disney Animation Studios films and Rare hoped that they can appeal to a younger audience. Banjo-Kazooie was released in June 1998 to critical acclaim. A sequel, Banjo Tooie, was released in 2000. It was a critical success and it outsold the first game, selling 3 million copies.
Upon the completion of Banjo-Kazooie's development, Hollis immediately began another project. Originally set to be a tie-in for Tomorrow Never Dies, Rare was significantly outbid by another publisher, forcing Rare to develop a new concept with new characters. With a major emphasis on lighting, the game was named Perfect Dark. Hollis left Rare for Nintendo 14 months after the start of Perfect Dark's development. Around the same time, numerous employees left the company and formed new studios. With major project leads departing, a new team took over its development and diminished the role of lighting in the game, making it a more straightforward first-person shooter. Despite the game's troubled development, it did not affect the progress of Rare's other teams. When Perfect Dark was still in development, Rare released two other titles, Jet Force Gemini and Donkey Kong 64. In 1999, Nintendo signed an agreement with Disney, and assigned Rare to develop several racing and adventure games featuring Mickey Mouse. The project later became Mickey's Speedway USA and Mickey Racing Adventure. Perfect Dark eventually resurfaced and it was released in 2000 to critical acclaim. The game sold approximately 2 million copies.
Conker the Squirrel also had its own game. Originally named Conker's Quest, the title was renamed to Twelve Tales: Conker 64. However, the new title was criticised for being too family-friendly and too similar to Banjo-Kazooie. As a result, the team renamed the game to Conker's Bad Fur Day and was re-revealed again in 2000. Conker's Bad Fur Day, unlike Banjo-Kazooie, was intended for a mature audience, and features violence, profanity and scatological humour. The game received positive reviews from critics, but was a commercial failure as the game was released at the end of the Nintendo 64's life cycle and the game was not actively promoted by Nintendo.
After the completion of Diddy Kong Racing, another team was working on a new game known as Dinosaur Planet for the Nintendo 64. However, Shigeru Miyamoto, a Nintendo executive, demanded the team to recreate the game as a Star Fox title for Nintendo's new console, the GameCube. Unlike previous Star Fox games, Star Fox Adventures focused on ground-based open world exploration. The game received positive reviews upon its launch in 2002. Star Fox Adventures was the first and last game developed by Rare for GameCube.
Microsoft era (2002–present)
Game development costs gradually increased, and Nintendo did not provide Rare with more capital nor did they purchase the company's remaining stake. According to Rare founders Tim and Chris Stamper, they were surprised that Nintendo did not directly acquire the studio. Rare then looked for potential buyers. In early 2000, workers from Activision and Microsoft began visiting Rare with purchase offers. Rare was interested in Activision's offer, but the deal collapsed and on 24 September 2002 Microsoft paid $375 million for the company. Rare became a first-party developer for Microsoft's Xbox. Character trademarks from games developed by Rare for Nintendo consoles, such as Conker of Conker's Bad Fur Day and Banjo of the Banjo-Kazooie series, were retained by Rare; intellectual property created by Nintendo, such as Donkey Kong and Star Fox, were retained by Nintendo. This left Donkey Kong Racing, due for release for the GameCube, unreleased. 30 employees left Rare during the transition.
Since Microsoft is currently not part of the handheld video-game console market, Rare continued to develop games for Nintendo handheld consoles after the acquisition. In August 2003 Rare and Microsoft entered an agreement with THQ for Rare to publish games for the Game Boy Advance, including Sabre Wulf, a game based on an Ultimate character; Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge, initially intended as a Game Boy Color game and It's Mr. Pants!, a puzzle game originally developed as Donkey Kong: Coconut Crackers. January 2005 saw the completion of this deal with the release of Banjo-Pilot, known as "Diddy Kong Pilot" before the Microsoft acquisition.
In 2003 Rare released their first Microsoft game, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, a humorous action-adventure game set in a haunted mansion full of supernatural creatures. Originally intended as a free-roaming game, it was significantly streamlined in design and concept to attract a larger, more casual audience. The game received mixed reviews from critics, and was considered Rare's worst and least-popular game. At E3 2004, Microsoft's Ken Lobb said that Rare had obtained Nintendo DS development kits and was working on two games for the Nintendo DS. Shortly afterwards, Microsoft issued a statement that the company and its studios had no plans for Nintendo DS development. However, in July 2005 Rare posted job openings for Nintendo DS development on its website and said that it was creating "key" DS titles. The first of these games was Diddy Kong Racing DS, a remake of the Nintendo 64 title Diddy Kong Racing which was released in February 2007.
Rare released Conker: Live & Reloaded, a remake of Conker's Bad Fur Day, in 2005 with updated graphics and a reworked multiplayer option. The game received generally-favourable reviews but, similar to Bad Fur Day, was a commercial failure. Xbox successor Xbox 360 was released in 2005, and two of its launch titles were developed by Rare: Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power. Zero, a prequel to the first Perfect Dark, was originally intended for GameCube before its redesign as an Xbox 360 game. Rare removed several features to meet the game's release deadline. Kameo: Elements of Power was also intended for the GameCube. A new intellectual property, in it the player character shape-shifts to solve puzzles. Although both games received generally-positive reviews from critics and sold more than a million copies, they were considered disappointments.
In 2006 the company released Viva Piñata, a game involving gardening. Incorporating elements of several franchises including The Sims, Animal Crossing, and Harvest Moon, it was acclaimed as innovative. The game's commercial performance was a disappointment, however, and some Rare team members questioned Microsoft Studios' large marketing budget for Gears of War and its relative neglect of Viva Piñata. On 2 January 2007, Rare founders Chris and Tim Stamper left the company to "pursue other opportunities". Former lead designer Gregg Mayles became Rare's creative director and Mark Betteridge the company's studio director. That year saw the release of Jetpac Refuelled, a remake of Jetpac for Xbox Live Arcade.
Rare unveiled their work on Xbox Live avatars, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (the next instalment in the Viva Piñata series), and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts in 2008. Made by the core team that developed the first Banjo-Kazooie, Nuts & Bolts received significant criticism from players due to its focus on vehicle construction rather than traditional platforming. Despite generally positive reviews, the company's titles for Microsoft sold poorly and Microsoft decided to restructure the studio at the end of the decade. In March 2010 Rare opened a new facility at Fazeley Studios in Digbeth, Birmingham. Later that year Microsoft confirmed that Scott Henson, a developer who had worked on the hardware and software designs of the Xbox 360 console and Kinect for Xbox 360, replaced Mark Betteridge as studio manager and announced a focus on Xbox Live avatars. Rare also shifted their focus to Kinect. According to Henson, "Kinect will be the main focus for Rare going forwards as it's a very rich canvas. This is just the beginning of an experience that will touch millions of people". Rare's first Kinect project, Kinect Sports, was released in November 2010. Originally titled Sports Star, a more-complex sports simulation games, the game was streamlined into what Microsoft executive Don Mattrick hoped would be the Kinect equivalent of Wii Sports. According to a former Rare employee, the team was worried about the game during its development because of Kinect's limitations. Despite average reviews it was a commercial success, selling three million units by May 2011. Many non-Kinect teams at Rare and BigPark, another Microsoft studio, collaborated on the development of sequel Kinect Sports: Season Two. Combining with the sales of the first Kinect Sports, the game sold more than 8 million copies.
In March 2011 Scott Henson announced that Craig Duncan, who had worked on Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and the Colin McRae Rally series, was hired as senior studio director. Simon Woodroffe, who had worked at several studios (including Adventure Soft, Midway Games, Ubisoft, and Sega), became the studio's creative director in April 2012. A Rare property, Killer Instinct, was revived in 2013. The company had a supporting role in its development, assisting lead developer Double Helix Games. Another Rare mascot, Conker, was also featured in another Microsoft game, Project Spark as episodic downloadable content. Known as Conker's Big Reunion, it was cancelled in 2015.
Rare released Kinect Sports Rivals in 2014. The game was worked on by 150 staff members and a new game engine was developed for it. The game was a commercial failure, and Microsoft's announcement that Kinect would no longer be a priority, about 15 Rare employees were laid off. On 10 February 2015 a group of former Rare employees announced the formation of a new studio, Playtonic Games, and planned a "spiritual successor" to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise entitled Yooka-Laylee. According to Rare composer Robin Beanland, the year 2015 would be significant for the company. At E3 2015, a new compilation game, Rare Replay celebrating the studio's 30th anniversary, was introduced; it was released in August. The compilation, with 30 of the studio's published titles, lacked some popular Rare franchises, including Donkey Kong and Goldeneye 007, due to licensing issues with Nintendo. Rare Replay became the most pre-ordered game shown at E3 that year and received critical acclaim upon launch. A new game, Sea of Thieves, which was a multiplayer adventure game marketed as "The Best Game That Rare Has Ever Made", was introduced at E3 that year.
According to Mark Betteridge, one of Rare's main goals is to create games people will find enjoyable rather than just to earn profit. The Stamper brothers gave the team considerable creative freedom, although they would intervene if a product was technically flawed or under-performing. Some employees noted that working for Rare in its early days could be difficult, with staff members allowed 30 minutes for lunch and possibly working more than 60 hours a week. Nintendo worked closely with Rare, and their relationship was described as a "creative partnership" by Viva Piñata designer Justin Cook. According to Duncan in 2014, Rare would only develop games that had unique ideas, and will never develop a generic game with their owned intellectual properties.
Ed Fries, head of Microsoft Studios' publishing division at the time of acquisition, said that the company attempted to preserve Rare's culture so its staff could continue feeling that they worked for Rare rather than Microsoft. Rare employees differed about working conditions after the Microsoft acquisition. According to Star Fox Adventures lead engineer Phil Tossell, conditions became more stressful after an "imperceptible" start, and that the culture of the two companies began clashing with each other. Tossell said that Microsoft gradually imposed a corporate structure on Rare, including more performance reviews and meetings, to which some Rare members found difficulty in adapting. Some admitted that early changes, such as permitting team members to discuss projects they were not working on and allowing staff members to use the internet or listen to music during work hours, were beneficial to team morale. Betteridge called the overall change "positive", saying that Microsoft's capital could help Rare develop their projects. Former Rare employee Gavin Price said that some Microsoft executives, such as Phil Spencer, were supportive of the developer. Grant Kirkhope, a former composer at Rare, strongly criticized Microsoft for ruining Rare. Former Xbox executive Peter Moore voiced his disappointment with Rare's works after the acquisition. He noted that Rare employees were attempting to "recreate the glory years", but their skills had become outdated and were no longer "applicable in today's market". Duncan insisted that there were still a lot of talented people working at Rare, and they will have a "bright future".
Unlike other software developers, Rare acquired a reputation for secrecy; the approach to their office buildings, in Manor Park near Twycross, is monitored by cameras. Web video shows have been granted access in recent years, such as Eurogamer in November 2006. The company is internally divided, operating slightly differently from other software houses. According to Tim Stamper,
Rare has a different philosophy. We don't really have much contact with other game development companies and we just do things the way they've evolved. We try to employ people who are great games players and games enthusiasts and they're really interested in seeing the other games we're developing in the Company, so it's really a group of games enthusiasts all working together to produce the best games they can – that's Rare.— Tim Stamper, February 2003 Video Games Daily interview
In 2010, Rare declined an offer by fansite MundoRare to film a documentary about their studios at MundoRare's expense. The film, to celebrate Rare's 25th anniversary, would have been distributed on the internet and Xbox Live. Rare refused permission to shoot this film, saying that it was not "on message". Mundorare was shut down, and stated that the site could not support the company's new corporate direction. Rare's secrecy was criticised by Hardcore Gamer's Alex Carlson, as they thought that it made them "disconnected", and prompted them to develop games that "their fans don’t want".
Around 1997, a number of Rare employees left to establish separate companies. The first was Eighth Wonder, underwritten by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, which did not produce any games before it closed. After Martin Hollis left Rare, he joined Nintendo before founding his own company Zoonami, releasing Zendoku, Go! Puzzle and Bonsai Barber. Other Perfect Dark team members, including David Doak and Steve Ellis, founded Free Radical Design and created the TimeSplitters series. It was acquired by Crytek and renamed Crytek UK before its 2014 closure, with most of its staff moving to Deep Silver Dambuster Studios.
Former Free Radical and Rare staff also formed Crash Labs, a studio specialising in developing iOS games. Chris Seavor, director of Conker's Bad Fur Day, founded the Gory Detail studio and released 2D platform game The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup. Starfire Studios were founded by four former Rare employees and released Fusion Genesis, an Xbox Live Arcade title published by Microsoft Game Studios. Another group of former Rare employees formed a mobile-game studio, Flippin Pixels. Former Rare employee Lee Schuneman headed Lift London, a Microsoft studio. Phil Tossell and Jennifer Schneidereit founded Nyamyam and released Tengami. Playtonic Games was founded by several former Rare employees; their first project is Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. Chris and Tim Stamper joined FortuneFish, a mobile game company founded by Tim Stamper's son, Joe Stamper. Their first game is That Bouncy Thing! The Rubbishiest Game Ever for Android.
Rare has developed a number of video games since its founding, with sales nearing 90 million units by 2002. The company is best known for its platform games, which include the Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, and Conker series, and for its Nintendo 64 first-person shooters GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. Rare does not adhere to a few specific video-game genres. They have also developed action-adventure games, including Star Fox Adventures and Kameo: Elements of Power; fighting games, such as the Killer Instinct series; racing games, such as R.C. Pro-Am and Diddy Kong Racing, and beat 'em up-shoot 'em up games such as Battletoads and Captain Skyhawk. Since Rare has usually been associated with a video-game console manufacturer (such as Nintendo and Microsoft), most of their titles have been developed for a particular platform. Since E3 2015, Rare has been working on Sea of Thieves, a pirate-themed MMO for Xbox One and Windows 10.
The company's cancelled projects include Dream: Lands of Giant, which became Banjo-Kazooie; Perfect Dark Core, originally the sequel of the first Perfect Dark; Black Widow, an open world game that tasks players to control an eight-legged robot; Sundown, which featured a horde-like survival mode; The Fast And The Furriest, a mascot racer; Tailwind, an action game featuring helicopters; Urchin, a Fable-style game which began development after the completion of Live & Reloaded; Ordinary Joe; Savannah, a Kinect-based game; Kinect equivalents of Wii Fit and Professor Layton, a sequel to Diddy Kong Racing, and a sequel to Kameo: Elements of Power.
Rare received numerous awards, including BAFTA award for "Best UK Developer" for its work on GoldenEye 007. Rare was awarded the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Moving Images Award for 2000, for developing Perfect Dark. Conker's Bad Fur Day won the 2001 BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Award for sound, Kinect Sports: Season Two won the BAFTA award for Best Sports/Fitness. Tim and Chris Stamper were named as Development Legends in the 2015 Develop Industry Excellence Awards. Rare was included as Gamasutra's Top 30 Developers of All Time of all time, and was ranked as the 36th best video game maker by IGN.
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