In the ‘90s Rare was one of the favorite developers for Nintendo fans, publishing such cult classic titles as Donkey Kong Country, Battletoads, GoldenEye 007 and Banjo-Kazooie. When the company was acquired by Microsoft in 2002 many things changed. In 2010 Scott Henson became the new Rare studio manager and for a few of years they mostly worked on Kinect Sports, Kinect pitches and Xbox Live Avatars for Xbox 360. Unfortunately many of their original ideas for new gamesnever seen the light of day.
“The new studio will be structured in a different way to most, however, and work more along the film production model in which teams scale up and down regularly according to the needs of projects being created.
Among the duties to be undertaken in Fazeley will be testing for Natal products – something which requires more space than traditional Xbox 360 games – while the decision is also part of a bid to stem the relentless increase of development costs over the years.
The process, which is similar in some ways to outsourcing, is labelled “insourcing” by Betteridge, and he cites past successes such as Xbox Live Avatars and the Sky link-up design as projects that were completed in this way.”
“They set up an off-shoot studio in Fazeley. It was where the graphics went. Quite a few people didn’t want to make the move because it’s the centre of Birmingham as opposed to Twycross, which is a bit of a wrench. But I thought, I’m all right, I’ll go for that. So I did that for nearly a year. And I went back to doing graphics again. “
One of Rare’s lost “casual” projects conceived at the Fazeley Studios was some kind of “The Wonderful 101” meets “Monster Hunter” multiplayer adventure, in which players could work together to hunt down huge bosses. You would use you own Avatar as the playable character, dressed-up as superheroes or fantasy knights depending on the settings of the mission. This would have been a “casual” game, but with many epic battles and interesting ideas to hunt down bosses, such as your friends blocking a huge robot while you would try to turn off the switch on its back.
Only some concept art from this lost project is currently preserved on Unseen64, to remember its existence. As far as we know this was never implemented into a playable prototype and could only have been one of the many undeveloped pitches proposed by the Rare team during their “Casual Gaming Years”.
If you know someone who worked at Rare’s Fazeley Studios, please let us know. We’d love to save more memories about their cancelled ideas.
Supposedly, the characters in Banjo X were to break the 4th wall, so to speak, and gradually become aware that the game was a remake of the original Nintendo 64 version. The farther along the player got in the game, the more things would shift directions from the original Banjo Kazooie. It would have been at this point when the characters would become aware that they were in a remake of the original game and attempt to alter the plot in a different way. Rare had already experimented with the remake of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, adding a few different situations in the early parts of the game to surprise players who knew the original version, it seemed only right to expand a similar concept in Banjo X.
The world found out about this lost game in late 2011 / early 2012 when Xbox executable files (dated June 2004) for a title named “Banjo X” were found by PtoP Online on an old Xbox development kit. These files were missing many of the characteristic that would have been needed to run the prototype, but someone managed to break them open and find some clues. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t do much when attempting to access it.
Depending on the file launched, a black command screen will pop up, showing files missing and an error message. It was expected that the game wouldn’t work due to these missing assets, but the fact that it boots shows that something was being worked on at some point. One user was able to extract an early 3D model of Mumbo.
Names for new Banjo abilities and items were also discovered in these executable files. Some of these include: Springy Shoes, Rocket Sneakers, Metal Feathers, Aviator Goggles, Invisibility Chocolates, Big Feathers, Bag of Eggs, and Diamond Beak.
During Banjo X’s development, the idea of having Gruntilda and Banjo attempting to accomplish the same task at the same time was attempted. Gregg Mayles wanted Gruntilda to interfere with Banjo during gameplay and make things much harder for the player. However, the team at Rare thought the idea would have required a very complex AI in order for it to do what they wanted. This concept was quickly scrapped after this realization.
Steve Mayles also confirmed in a twitter response that he remembers seeing a 4 player co-op mode during Banjo X’s development. It was during this time that a separate team at Rare began working on a Mario Kart style game with the Banjo Kazooie IP, under the name “Banjo Kazoomie”. The major concept that made it stand out was the fact that the player was able to build their own vehicle to use.
Banjo Kazoomie didn’t get very far in development but many of its ideas were later reused in Nuts & Bolts. According to designer Gregg Mayles, “Rare thought this would be a “hard sell,”, and that “players would expect a whole new game”. It was clear that there were not many reasons to continue working on Banjo X for the original Xbox and the team soon moved their plans to the new Xbox 360.
The new Banjo game would have been a completely different game and Rare began brainstorming ideas of how players traveled in platformers. They wanted to make the trip to the overall objection as fun as possible. This is when they decided to combine the Banjo Kazoomie idea with the worlds for Banjo X. The team only got as far as the first level and as soon as vehicles became incorporated with the game, Mumbo’s Mountain had to be altered to a much larger size in order to have proper usage of the vehicles.
Unfortunately, the interesting idea of a breaking-the-4th-wall remake with multiplayer coop for Banjo Kazooie never saw the light of day. But in the end, Rare was still able to release a third entry in the Banjo series with Nuts & Bolts, even if feedback from the fans was mixed.
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.
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.