Gregg Mayles – Creative director at Rare and designer for the Battletoads and Donkey Kong Country series – is quite a fan of the piracy world and lore. Jonny Blastoff and the Kremling Armada was conceived as a game to fulfill his love for pirates and it would have been set in a series of islands with coconut palms, galleons and hidden treasures. This same tropical setting planned for Jonny Blastoff was later reused for Donkey Kong Country.
While Rare never officially announced this game to the public and no image from the prototype was ever released, in September 2015 Gregg shared some concept art on Twitter, showing off the original Kremlings designs that somehow resemble the Battletoads characters designs.
While no details about Jonny Blastoff’s gameplay were ever revealed we can imagine it would have been played like a traditional point & click adventure game, with many strange characters to interact with, items to retrieve, weird puzzles to resolve and Rare’s classic english humor.
After Donkey Kong Country Gregg Mayles and Rare worked on other piracy-inspired games such as the cancelled Project Dream for SNES (later Banjo & Kazooie for N64) and lately Sea of Thieves for Xbox One.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day was one of the most fun and original games ever released on the Nintendo 64, a funny and “mature” game featuring cute characters survived from the cancelled Conker: Twelve Tales. After the first game was published in early 2001 the team started working on a sequel, at the time probably still planned to be released on the Nintendo Gamecube.
Image from “Conker’s Big Reunion”, a Project Spark DLC
Conker’s creator Chris Seavor and other former members of the Conker Team revealed the existence of their Conker sequel in many interviews, as in this old article from Mundo Rare:
“So we asked Chris Seavor what ever happened with Other Bad Day and why the hell is that we are not playing that game if everybody seems to want it. He answered that not only did they start working on a sequel with that title, they also had a full storyline ready to be depicted on the screen and many new movie references in mind: “We actually started on a direct sequel which was going to be called ‘Conker’s Other Bad Day‘ which dealt with Conker’s somewhat unsuccessful tenure as King. He spends all the treasury money on beer, parties and hookers. Thrown into prison, Conker is faced with the prospect of execution and the game starts with his escape, ball and chain attached, from the Castle’s highest tower.”
Thanks to an interview by Gamer Québec with Chris Seavor we know some more details about the planned story and characters in Conker’s Bad Fur Day 2:
“GQ: People want to know more about The Other Day, rightfully so. Rare had trademarked the name, but the sequel never happened. More than 10 years later, can you spoil what we were going to see as far as the story goes? Did it ever make it to a prototype?
CS: It had some graphics and concepts done for sure, but didn’t really get much further than that. As for what happened to Conker in OBD, well he became Emperor of the Known Universe, got a new girlfriend, and lost an old one (again). There was also a massive space poo: The Cthulpoo, the main baddie. Lots of other stuff happened, with some new characters appeared and old favourites returned. We got to find out about Greg’s childhood and why he hated cats, there were tons and tons of parodies of the more contemporary movies, and an evil doppleganger version of Conker that you got to play for a while. And Beardy (Birdy) died. That kinda stuff…
As with the original, it ended on a bittersweet note. I did actually do an act by act summary for you and the fans, but it was twice as big as the rest of the interview so i took it out… sorry. As consolation here’s a piccy of some early designs for the first level, just to prove we actually did do some work on the bugger.”
We also know that some unused scenarios planned for Conker’s Bad Fur Day were meant to be re-used in Conker 2:
“As for features, I don’t think anything we really wanted to do didn’t end up in the game. There were a few levels that only existed on paper, for example one where Conker had to inflate a giant, fetish themed female pig by sticking a bellows up her arse. She then became a floating dirigible which you used to fly around the level dropping anvils on Cows to make them shit in the trough which then weighed down a lever and opened a door. This would have eventually leaded to the Bull Fight sequence. It got cut to save some time.
There were a few of these “linker” levels. Some eventually ended up in the design for Other Bad Day, but that’s never gonna happen so i guess you’ll never know…”
Unfortunately it seems that Microsoft was not interested in a Conker Sequel and soon the team dropped Other Bad Day, to work instead on a remake of the first Conkerwith major focus on its online multiplayer mode. We can assume Microsoft though the Xbox market would have been more interested in another multiplayer game, and a bonus remake of Bad Fur Day would have been less expensive to create than a full sequel.
In June 2005 finally Conker: Live & Reloaded was published but it seems that since late 2004 the team was already trying to return to work on Conker’s Other Bad Day, without success. In November 2005 Microsoft would release their second console, the Xbox 360 and they asked Rare to move their projects to the new console, as it happened with Kameo. As we can read on another interview by Eurogamer with Chris:
“Chris Seavor: I started designing it [Conker 2] and we were going to do it. They just wanted it quickly. It was coming to the end of the life cycle of the Xbox, and there was talk of them going, look, can we just shift this over to the 360, which was a year away? I was really against that because I just couldn’t face spending another two years on a game we’d already spent a year and a half on. So I guess it was probably my fault.
Now, I would have gone, absolutely. Let’s take a step back and make the graphics look as good as we can. It would have done all right I think. From the amount of messages I get every day saying please make Conker 2 I’d say it would have been a better move, but hey. There you go.”
At the same time Rare started working on another multiplayer focused Conker titled “Gettin’ Medieval” as a sequel to “Live & Reloaded”, re-using some of the art and assets from the cancelled Conker’s BFD 2. Chris revealed during an interview with Rarefandabase:
“CS:Erm, well it was pretty much designed in outline…. The story, the levels, some of the gameplay (loosely) which movies were ripe for parody, and general tests for the graphics. A ton of artwork was done, which spilled over into the multiplayer only game called Getting Medieval, based in the Conker universe with Gregg the Grim Reaper as the principal protagonist rather than Conker.. It all got a bit messy and tbh I couldn’t face another 3 years of the squirrel and gang. Summat like that…. Not really sure when it stopped exactly, we just kinda moved onto something else. Looking back, probably should have stuck with Other Bad Day, but hey ho, we live and learn. What would I have expected? Erm… it would have been fucking brilliant and JK Rowling would definitely have sued… :)”
In the end even Conker: Gettin’ Medieval was cancelled, along with many other canned projects designed by Chris Seavor, such as Arc Angel, Quest, Urchin, Perfect Dark Core, and Ordinary Joe. After so many failed attempts to create new and original games, Chris left Rare in January 2011 when the company did not renew his contract. Later in 2012, Seavor finally opened his own indie studio called Gory Detail.
Fans of Conker the squirrel got a bit excited when Microsoft announced a DLC campaign titled “Conker’s Big Reunion” for their game-tool Project Spark. Even if Chris reprise his voice for Conker, only the first chapter of Big Reunion was ever released, as Project Spark was soon discontinued and the whole campaign failed to be completed.
Velvet Dark is a cancelled spinoff / sequel to Perfect Dark, the cult classic FPS developed by Rare Ltd and published for the Nintendo 64 in May 2000. A few months before Perfect Dark was completed, Duncan Botwood (Production Designer on GoldenEye and Level Designer on PD), Steve Malpass (Designer on PD) and possibly a few more people from the original team started to work on this new concept, that would have featured Joanna Dark’s sister: Velvet.
The relationship between Joanna and Velvet was never fully detailed in Perfect Dark, but Velvet is a playable character in the coop and multiplayer modes, and she is also unlocked from the start to be used as a bot in single player. We can assume that early work on Velvet Dark begun in late 1999 as in january 2000 Rare filed the trademark for the title and later in february 2000 they even registered the domain name for www.velvetdark.com.
Unfortunately not much was done Velvet Dark before its cancellation: a design doc and some concept arts / renders were made but in the end the project was not green lighted for full development. A photo of the cover for Velvet’s design doc was shared on Twitter by Gregg Mayle in July 2015 and it was marked with the date 30 October 2000. If our speculations are correct, the small team at Rare spent about 1 year on Velvet Dark and many gameplay elements were already detailed.
From the design doc index we can read that Velvet would have use some kind of “serum” to gain new abilities, maybe something similar to the “Nectar” featured in Haze by Free Radical Design, the studio composed by a few former Rare employee. There could also have been squad-based strategy elements (probably an evolution of the bot commands used in Perfect Dark N64) and a possible GameBoy / GBA compatibility. As a spinoff and spiritual sequel to GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, multiplayer was also considered for Velvet Dark.
In August 2000 Nintendo officially announced their GameCube at Space World 2000 and one of the tech demos shown at the event was a 3D rendition of Joanna Dark, implying that a new FPS by Rare was already planned for the new console. Even if some work on Velvet Dark was undertake at least till October 2000, we can assume that the game was not developed further because they decided to switch all resources to create the new Perfect Dark Zero, a popular FPS needed to be successful in the American market. A third person action / stealth game was not Rare or Nintendo’s priority anymore. Rare’s last game for the Nintendo 64 was then Conker’s Bad Fur Day, released in March 2001.
The first Crackdown was developed by Realtime Worlds, a company founded in 2002 by David Jones, former founder of DMA Design, the studio behind the Grand Theft Auto series (that later was acquired by Rockstar). This over-the-top open world game was in development for about 5 years and finally published by Microsoft as an exclusive title for their Xbox 360 in 2007. Realtime Worlds were ready to start development on a new Crackdown while they were still finishing the first one, but Microsoft were not sure about it being a profitable game (they even added a code to access the Halo 3 Beta to promote it) and were taking too much time to greenlight the second title.
After Crackdown 1 was released it became a huge success, surpassing Microsoft’s expectations. Quickly Microsoft changed their mind, wanting to publish a Crackdown sequel as soon as possible. Unfortunately at that time Realtime Worlds were too busy working on their ill-fated APB MMO and were not able to develop a new Crackdown anymore. Microsoft did not want to waste time and asked to Rare Ltd to start working on Crackdown 2.
The same team that created Kameo: Elements of Power worked on this Crackdown sequel for a few months along with other lost games as Kameo 2 and Black Widow, before Microsoft decided that Rare would have been better to create games for their Kinect add-on, boosting the casual gaming market on the Xbox 360. Crackdown 2 by Rare was then canned and the project was given to Ruffian Games, a team formed in 2008 by… former Realtime Worlds employee.
“The bottom line is that what we thought would happen is that a sequel would be done by a studio somewhere… maybe one of the internal studios, or others that they’ve worked with, and that would be the way it went forward,” […] “I think it was unfortunate that it had to be with a start-up in Dundee… it is challenging to get enough developers in one region as it is, so that was the only little big of negativity to the story.”
During an interview with Retro Gamer Magazine (issue 122) Phil Tossell, former Rare developer that contributed to the Crackdown prototype, shared some memories on the project:
“He spent several months working on an early version of Crackdown 2 and has a particular affection for Black Widow, an aborted first-person shooter featuring a spider mech and an ingenious “jump-and-gun” mechanic. […] I think we were handed a poisoned chalice,” he says, wearily. “We were being asked to make the games we’d always made for an audience that didn’t want those sort of games. The reason we did Black Widow, Crackdown and aged up Kameo was because we were trying to bridge that gap but Microsoft wouldn’t let us.”
Rare still kept a small connection with the released Crackdown 2. As written by Rare Gamer: “save data from Crackdown 2 is used to unlock the protagonist as a playable multiplayer character in Perfect Dark XBLA.”
Banjo Kazooie: Grunty’s Curse is the cancelled Game Boy Color version of the Rare Ltd. project that would later become Banjo Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge, released on GBA in 2003 by publisher, THQ. Initially established midway through 1999, Grunty’s Curse represents the original vision for the title with an alternate storyline, and levels that never saw the light of day.
Unlike the game released, Grunty’s Revenge, the GBC game does not take place mere months after the events of the first Banjo. Instead, it begins “a few years” after it, according to design documents recovered by a former Rare employee. Whereas Revenge features a tale about time travel, in which the newly resurrected Mecha-Grunty escapes to the past in order to stop the titular duo from ever meeting, the plot of Curse tried another approach.
The title would have opened with Mecha-Grunty confronting Banjo and his friends, placing curses on each of them (with the convenient exception of Banjo himself), as her reign of terror resumes. She starts by morphing Kazooie into a “monster” version of herself; a larger blue bird with allegiances to Grunty. Then, she transforms Bottles into a “funny creature”, as the documents describe it, before manipulating Mumbo‘s mind into making him attack Banjo. While the two fight, she takes off with Kazooie in tow.
The hero, however, is soon able to out-duel Mumbo, releasing him from the spell. A determined Mumbo then chases after the villainous witch, but to no avail. In a planned comedy set piece, the character inexplicably falls victim to all manner of bad luck: a black cat pounces on him, he runs under a ladder, before a mirror falls and smashes over his head. When Banjo catches up to him, he finds that Mumbo has been stricken with amnesia as a result of his injuries. His memory fails him, but he is able to recall that Banjo must collect several magical ingredients in order to relieve Bottles of his condition.
Banjo, however, comes to the realisation that he has forgotten his moves in the time since his last adventure. With Bottles incapacitated, he will need to seek out a new mentor to provide tutorials. Thus, he chases down Grampa Mole, the elderly father of Bottles. As development progressed, Grampa Mole would evolve into ‘Bozzeye‘, the NPC that teaches Banjo in Grunty’s Revenge during his visit to the past.
Banjo Kazooie: Grunty’s Curse featured two worlds that were ultimately dropped from the slate as time went on. These were dubbed ‘MohendraBanjo’, and ‘Fiery Furnace’ respectively.
MohendraBanjo was a stage set in and around the ruins of a jungle temple in the far East:
Fiery Furnace, on the other hand, is described as a ‘dark industrial’ themed level filled with machinery and fire hazards:
While MohendraBanjo appears to have been scrapped fairly early on in the project’s life span, Fiery Furnace would make it considerably further. It even appeared in a leaked early prototype build for the GBA game, albeit in a largely unfinished state. Due to time and storage limitations, the team reduced Fiery Furnace in size and adapted it into a small part of the Freezing Furnace level.
Fiery Furnace protoype video:
We have been able to ascertain that a plethora of enemies were explored during Grunty’s Curse, before being abandoned. In MohendraBanjo world, for example, the developers imagined enemies based around cobras and scorpions, in line with its far Eastern theme. You can see some illustrations of these lost baddies here:
According to the design plans from October 1999, Rare had originally intended to include the ‘Bee Banjo‘ transformation that first appeared in Banjo Kazooie. This would have allowed players to fire stingers in a straight line to attack foes, as well as the ability of flight for an unlimited period to traverse larger platforming gaps.
Early in development, the team was exploring the possibility of ‘useless transformations‘ too. These were power-ups that served no other purpose than comedic effect; a hidden extra in the game to amuse players. Only one of them was slated to be added due to storage restrictions, but a number of them were being looked into:
Unused Transformation Functions
There were considerations for a handful of secondary functions for transformations that were left on the cutting room floor:
Tank Banjo originally was going to allow players to directly control the crosshair for greater precision. Players would tap the ‘B’ button to switch from directional movement to manipulating the aim of the cannon. In the final game, tapping the ‘B’ button does nothing. In addition, the tank originally fired eggs. The Grunty’s Revenge tank, however, fires missiles.
Octopus Banjo originally was set to be able to swim faster by double tapping the D-pad in any direction.
Mouse Banjo was intended to have a ‘shrinking’ function mapped to the ‘B’ button. This would enable Banjo to manually reduce his size for a limited period to fit through smaller gaps in his environment.
Alternative Level Titles
The documents provided also reveal numerous stage names that were eventually changed over the course of development. Among these are ‘Cottage Farm’, which became ‘Cliff Farm’, ‘Soggy Bog Swamp’ was revised to ‘Bad Magic Bayou’, ‘Freezing Furnace’ was originally ‘Freezing Fjord.
Although a playable prototype of the game in its GBC form is not to have ever been made, we have learned that the team of artists assigned to the project at Rare produced a multitude of digital art assets intended for one in 1999. These included sprites of some of the main characters, as well as designs for UI screens, like a pause menu.