Rare Talks Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
As Rare's latest labour of love hits shelves, we hassle Lead Technical Artist, Neil Harrison, for a Banjo Kazooie chat.
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When you're playing four games for review or preview in so many days, something's gotta give, and sadly this week that something was Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Rare's leftfield Xbox 360 follow-up to one of its best-loved N64 platformers. Please accept my grovelling apologies for that, ladies and gentlemen. And whatever you do, don't hold it against the game itself: this riotously colourful genre chameleon - equal parts physics sandbox, vehicle creator and action adventure - has an awful lot going for it.
The storyline is pleasantly self-referential. A has-been Banjo and Kazooie are interrupted in the middle of yet another stand-off with perennial nemesis Gruntilda by a chap who styles himself the Lord of Games, or L.O.G. This eccentric interlocutor whisks the trio off to Showdown Town, and instructs them to resolve their differences once and for all by collecting the customary shiny platforming currency, known here as Jiggies.
The twist is that rather than double-jumping or spin-attacking their way towards this objective, Banjo and his feathered sidekick must construct vehicles from components hidden in crates scattered across Showdown town, and use them to complete challenges in game worlds of L.O.G.'s creation. This process is enlivened by the inclusion of what Lead Programmer Salvatore Fileccia calls "cartoon physics", as the vehicles you construct respond intuitively but exaggeratedly to such factors as weight distribution and momentum. Rare has rolled out online leaderboards for every challenge in the game, and there's competitive multiplayer to round out the picture.
The review will be goose-stepping out of our word processors later in the week. In the meantime, here are the fruits of a quick chat with Neil Harrison, the game's Lead Technical Artist. Should keep you going till we've digested enough of Banjo's innards to nail down a score...
Kikizo: One thing that really strikes us here is that much as the gameplay in Nuts & Bolts revolves around construction, the game worlds you move through really look as though they've been constructed...
Neil Harrison: Right, they kind of look real but they've been manufactured. There's a fake sky there and you can go hit it, the floors - there are maybe trapdoors in there, that sort of thing. Even the characters that you meet in these gameworlds are not really real - they're just kind of incidental characters. We've got these wind-up plastic toys.
And we have the main cast of characters who are kind of like an amateur dramatics club. There are familiar characters from the other Banjo games and there are some new ones in there as well. On each different gameworld they kind of play a different role and they have different costumes.
Kikizo: What was the reasoning behind altering the gameplay from previous Banjo outings so drastically?
Neil Harrison: So a lot of people are confused in some respects in that... why didn't we just do another platformer, why didn't we just do Banjo Kazooie again? The main reason for that is that we started working along those lines, and it just felt a little bit stale, it felt dated, it felt old, and we wanted to do something a little bit new and adventurous - the hardware's so much more powerful now. And we thought "why should the player have to complete the challenge in one way?"
If we could somehow give the player control over how you complete the challenges it's going to be so much more fun." And that's where the idea for the vehicles came in. So it's still very much a Banjo Kazooie game, it's just that we've removed Kazooie's abilities and given the player the components. So now it's up to you guys to come up with your own abilities, and for us it's just much more fun like that. It's cool watching what people do.
What we used to do and what other platformers used to do is to offer you a complex challenge, but only really offer you a limited solution to it. The only real way you can complete the challenges is to do it exactly as the designer intended. What we've tried to do here is turn that on its head - we're offering simple challenges, but we're giving the player complete control over how they go about doing them. And for us that offers a huge amount of replayability, because you'll want to go back to the challenges with new components, new ideas and try and tackle them in a different way.