The Rareware Interview
Come inside for a genuinely 'rare' interview with the co-founders of one of the world's oldest and most deeply respected games developers.
Fresh from the sale of Rare Ltd. to Microsoft, Chris and Tim Stamper thought it only proper to have a sit down with us not so long ago, and explain what's going on. To keep a beady eye on the legendary Rare co-founders (now the lawful property of Microsoft), Ed Fries took part in the fun as well.
Kikizo: So, how long ago did you start negotiating this deal?
Chris Stamper: I think the first contact was made earlier this year. It was something that was desirable to both parties to put this thing together and then it was just a process of time to make sure that it all worked out.
Did you ever consider floating the Company?
Chris: Obviously, the idea came up, but it was not something we really wanted to do. We want to make games - that's what the Company is all about. Finding the right partner was the most important concern and criteria and I think we've done that with Microsoft.
"The only games that go back to Nintendo are Donkey Kong and Star Fox. The rest actually comes back to Rare."
Chris: Well obviously, we showed a video of Kameo, so that would be one franchise and a very brief intro of Perfect Dark, so those two are definitely coming to Xbox. And we have a few surprises back at home as well.
With hindsight, I mean obviously you don't because you had to do what you did, but do you sort of feel it's a shame that you developed a lot of IP that you've had to let go of now?
Chris: Well, the two properties that go back to Nintendo are Donkey Kong and Star Fox. The rest of the IP actually comes back to Rare. We have a very good relationship with Nintendo it all worked out in the end.
What does Microsoft bring to the deal, apart from money?
Chris: We wanted a partner with the right vision - a vision and optimism for the future - and just listening to what Microsoft has been portraying in the recent past, it's there; there's a lot of optimism and that is really good to see. We believe in this industry - we've been making games for over 20 years - it's our life and we want someone who actively believes in the future.
Do you see yourselves exploiting Xbox Live in the coming years?
Chris: Yeah, definitely. It's a really important feature of the Xbox platform; it's something that has been well thought-out. You obviously can tell that the Microsoft people have put a lot of thought behind what will make connectivity really work, so yes, we're very excited and we do have plans to incorporate that into our future games.
Have you done any work on-line, so far?
"[Xbox Live] is a new world, and we're really looking forward to exploring that."
What is it?
Chris: I can't tell you!
Well, what is your research telling you?
Chris: I suppose it tells us it opens up a new door. We're just opening up this door and we don't really know yet what we're going to find on the other side, but it's a new world and we're really looking forward to exploring that.
Ed Fries: Yeah, I think we've learned a lot from the acquisitions that we've done. Bungie was one that certainly has worked out well, but also that we learned a lot from. We took them and moved them from Chicago to Seattle and we kind had to do a lot of work to recreate the environment that they had before and try to make it back to the way they liked to work. So going into this deal, it was very important to us and to them (Rare) to really preserve everything as it is, to make sure that we keep the magic the way it is. So we've been able to structure this deal in a very unusual way, for Microsoft, to just keep everything the same so that, for the average employee, it will seem like, "I still work for Rare".
You've obviously got the Lionhead games and now Rare. That's quite a lot of eggs in the UK basket. Do you think you're building up to some kind of UK management over here - office, studios?
Ed: Well, it is nice to have a place here where we have some firstparty development. I have a studio in Japan and several in the US, obviously, so to have a firstparty studio in the UK is a great thing.
You don't plan on spending more time in the UK?
Ed: Well, yes, I will be spending more time there personally, I'll certainly be visiting these guys and seeing the progress of the games.
What role do you two continue to play nowadays - is it hands-on anymore - what do you get up to during the day?
Chris: We are actively involved in all of the games we make. Games are our life and it's what we want to do and, actually, I think the Microsoft deal will give us more time to devote to that. Myself, I'm still the Technical Director of Rare and Tim is the Creative Director and we want to spend as much time as possible getting involved with the games that Rare produces.
Obviously, the guys have a great reputation and you know exactly what they've done in the past, but this is a huge deal; how much of what they're working on now did Microsoft have to see, before tying things up?
"At Rare there's so much that's so far in progress, that we can just pick up."
Do you guys still own the 8-bit IP you used to have and if so, will any of that appear in the future?
Chris: Yes we do! I suppose the Sabreman character is one that you may see in the future... But the answer to the question is, yes we do.
Are you going to miss anyone at, or anything about, Nintendo?
Chris: That's a good question. I suppose, over 15 years, we've developed some wonderfully close relationships with the people at Nintendo, especially with the people at EAD and yes there are people there that we'll miss the day to day communication with, but they're still our friends and we'll see them at shows. It's not like you've seen in the press about there must be some rift between Nintendo and Rare. That's certainly not the case, which has been borne out by the fact that we have been able to sort out all the IP ownership issues. So, yes, a few tinges of sadness in terms of the people we leave behind, but obviously we're very excited about all the new people we're meeting at Microsoft and their vision for the future - that really does excite us, so we're really looking forward to it.
Obviously, we've heard the official line, but how have your experiences been so far, in respect of Xbox development - is it really as great as they'd have us believe?
Chris: It's the best development environment we've ever experienced. The Kameo demo that was shown last night took us two and half week to put together. We're just amazed by how easy that was and we just feel now that we're going to have far more time to actually focus on content and really explore new possibilities, rather than just worrying about the underlying technology and everything else that goes along with making great games, so it's the best development environment we've ever experienced.
There was a little dig at Pikmin there at the end, what was that all about, was it my imagination or was I drunk?
Chris: No, I think people liken these little characters to Pikmin, but there's nothing intended there.
Chris: They were actually in the Kameo game, if you noticed.
Were there any other games you wanted to make with Nintendo that you couldn't make?
Chris: No, not really. Rare has always made its own decisions, in terms of whatever games we wanted to make, so no, I can't think of anything. Going forward, we have a very strong belief in our own ideas and I foresee that continuing. Creativity is a very fragile kind of beast and you need the right kind of environment and place to make great games, so it was more important than anything else to find that right partner. Now that we've done that, I think you'll see the best games we've ever made come out of the fold, so we're very excited.
"Creativity is a very fragile kind of beast and you need the right partner to make great games."
Chris: No, we've never been concerned about that. We just want to make great games.
There seems to be a lack of more 'immediate' titles on Xbox right now. Obviously there are the arcade style titles from Sega, but many current titles ate very in-depth, and time consuming...
Ed: You mean something that's just really easy to just pick up and play, like something you'd see in an arcade? Well, I think titles like Quantum Redshift have that characteristic - beautiful game, easy just to pick up and play. But, you know, I think there are 175 titles now here - 200 in the US - so there is pretty much something for everyone at this point. The great thing about Rare though, is the broad appeal of the titles they produce - the ability to sell to so many people. I don't think they even think about it this way - they're probably just thinking "We just want to make a great game; we just want it to be fun", but when your average sale is 1.4 million units, it's incredible. I think that is really going to help broaden the audience of the Xbox and that's a great thing to happen.
Do you think you can learn from them?
Ed: I think I have a ton to learn from these guys.
Chris Stamper: We're not going to let them in! [laughter]
"We try to employ people who are great games players and games enthusiasts."
The way that you make games, I think it's fair to say (it may be a popular myth) but you do operate in a slightly different way to other software houses. Not so much press back and forth, and internally, you're quite divided and you tend to get people that haven't worked for other companies before. All those things are different to the way that the studios tend to work.
Ed: I think Tim would be great to comment on that! [laughter]
Tim Stamper: You got me on at last! Yeah, 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.
"It seems clear to me that Xbox is the best platform for on-line gaming."
Ed: Sure. We're in ongoing negotiations with EA, on Xbox Live. It's not unlike the situation with EA first coming to Xbox. It was one of the longest negotiations and ultimately, they came to the platform and we were both happy. You know, the sticky point is that, what we're building with Live is one unified system, one worldwide unified system, where in every game, you can talk, in every game there is one name that you own around the world, in every game you can find out where your friends are, you can invite them and have them join you. There's a handful of things that are very important to us, as the foundations of the platform and, until we can guarantee that those will exist in the EA games that come to the platform, we won't be able to find agreement between us, so that's basically the sticking point in the discussions. They've invested hundreds of millions of dollars in building their on-line gaming system, ea.com, and they don't want to see that go to waste. You know, for most publishers, it's a great thing that we've built Xbox Live, so that they don't have to worry about building their own server centers, managing them 24 hours a day, dealing with hackers and all the other issues. EA have a lot of that expertise already so, for them, it's how do we take our system and have it work with your system and how much of that shows through to the end user etc, so it's a very complicated situation. I'm still very optimistic that we will be able to work it out. Both companies ultimately want the same thing. EA believes in on-line gaming and it seems clear to me that Xbox is the best platform for on-line gaming.
Thanks for your time and we wish you all the best.Fries! You're under arrest.