Famed game developer Rare Ltd. is reviving one of its most beloved and successful franchises exclusively on Xbox 360 with the third installment of the "Banjo-Kazooie" series. "Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts" embraces new and old fans alike, as the famous bear and bird duo return in stunning high definition for a unique adventure of epic proportions. The Lord of the Games (aka LOG) is tired of the petty squabbling between Banjo and the evil witch Gruntilda (aka Grunty), and has arranged a showdown to decide the rightful owner of Spiral Mountain. Claiming to have created every video game ever made, LOG has built the game worlds in which the contest's challenges take place. Banjo must complete LOG's challenges to win, while Grunty tries to stop him using every method her devious mind can muster.
Throughout their adventure, players create their own abilities by building vehicles for Banjo to pilot over land, sea and air. Vehicle parts, which range from simple devices such as engines and wheels to more unusual equipment such as springs and egg guns, are earned and collected throughout the game. Players use their imagination to combine parts in any order to create whatever vehicle they choose. LOG's challenges have one goal, but players' choice of vehicle and tactics will determine how it gets accomplished. By exploring worlds and solving puzzles, players both young and old will be rewarded with more advanced and diverse vehicle parts in their quest to defeat Grunty once and for all and lay claim to Spiral Mountain.
WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!
I'm Gregg Mayles, Rare's head of design.
WP: Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is taking a little bit of a departure in the game design — it seems to scale back on the "collect everything in sight" aspect of the game. Why take it in a different direction, and do you think that's better or worse for the series?
GM: "Collect everything in sight," yeah, I guess you could've level that criticism at some of the earlier games. I think you have to take things in different directions, otherwise you just stagnate. It's the same as in anything, if you don't actually try different things or new experiences, then you just sit and stagnate, and that's certainly something that we didn't want to do. Given the amount of time and effort and money involved in making a game in today's industry, if we can't offer something different from what has already been seen before, then for me, that was the primary goal that we should be looking to offer something that's different from what we were presenting eight years ago.
WP: Why the focus on vehicles? What inspired that?
GM: The vehicles came from an idea we had where we looked at how the traditional Banjo games and games of that genre were put together, where the designers would design a very specific task and then you'd be given a very set group of abilities to be able to complete that task, and it was usually working out which of those abilities you'd been given was the one that was required to complete the task. We found that didn't really give players a choice so we looked at it from a different viewpoint, where the task in itself is quite simple, but the way that you could complete it was more up to the player, and instead of there only being one way to complete it, there are many different ways to complete it, and it's up to the player to find out a way of completing it. So it kind of started from that and we thought, to be able to do that, rather than giving the player a set of abilities, couldn't we just offer them different types of abilities, and the player was able to combine those abilities in whichever way they wanted to achieve the objective. That's kind of where the vehicles came from, because these abilities kind of started off as just blocks and then if you can kind of "glue" the blocks together, you're really gluing your abilities together, and then you can glue them together in different types of ways. Inherently, you've got an object which is capable of different abilities so then the vehicle element came from that because blocks, obviously, and then the mechanical element kind of snowballed from there and became what you see today.
WP: Speaking of the building blocks, when you do build a vehicle, you can save a blueprint, and you can share that with your friends over Xbox Live. You've also got a photo utility in the game where you can take screenshots and publish those to a Web site, I believe. What other community features are there, and again, same with the vehicles, what inspired you to bring the community features into the game?
GM: Sharing the blueprints is the key to the whole community side of it. Right from the very start, we felt that as soon as you created something, the first thing you want to do is either show that to somebody else or share that with your friends. We felt that was going to be the big feature on the community side, so we put a lot of effort into making it easy for players to share blueprints if they wanted to.
I guess the other thing I'd say is when you finish, you can complete the challenges in many different ways, you can also load videos. They're deletable so you can kind of download and see how the best players completed the challenges, so you might be playing a certain challenge and doing OK but not getting the best rewards out of it. You can go onto the leaderboards, download other people's videos that show their ways of having done it and the vehicles they've been using. You can also download the vehicle that was used so they can sort of copy them to try and complete the challenge in the way that the best players have done.
WP: Does that turn into a little bit of an internal competition at Rare?
GM: (laughs) Yeah, it has. Unfortunately, not as much as we'd like because we're trying to get the game finished, but at any spare moments we have, we'd all be beavering away, ganging up on each other and building better and better vehicles and they'd be sabotaging each other's vehicles when people aren't looking.
WP: Let's shift gears for a little bit. From a technical perspective, Rare has been on the X360 since its inception. You had one of the launch titles with Kameo. What does Banjo do that you couldn't do in Kameo, whether it be pushing polygons, lighting effects? What technical tricks have you learned over the years?
GM: As with anything, the longer you spend on a piece of hardware, the more familiar you get with it and the more you can get out of it. I guess on a simple level, it's more efficient as we've learned to use the hardware better, but then there are other aspects in Banjo that games like Kameo or Perfect Dark would never have. We kind of integrated physics into the game, what we call "fun physics," where it's based on reality but a lot of work has gone into making it fun to play so it feels like you can build anything and the vehicles are kind of quite friendly. In reality, some of the vehicles you build would be absolutely useless and would tip over as soon as you use them, so we tried to make it so that whatever the player builds, it's fun to play. You could create this enormous, big heavy block and stick some wings on it. In real life, there'd be absolutely no chance that it could get off the ground, but we've made it so that this big heavy block, stick some wings on it, and it will fly. If one wing falls off, in real life, your plane would fall out of the sky and crash. We've simply made it so that it becomes a lot more difficult to control, but if you're good enough, you can keep this massive block with one wing stuck on it, you can keep it airborne, which is kind of cool. But the physics side of it is a big development.
WP: Looking back, you worked on the original Banjo Kazooie, and now the same game is going to be released on Xbox Live Arcade. What kind of challenges, aside from the technical, were there? I know there's been talk in the past of classic N64 games coming to Live, and it's never happened, but how did you basically work out that three-way deal between Rare, Microsoft and Nintendo to allow it to happen?
GM: You're asking that to the wrong person, really. I mean, I have absolutely no idea. Someone came along and one day said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could coincide the 10-year anniversary of when the original Banjo was invented, if we could offer something from the past?" The idea was to pitch that it'd be good to re-release the original Banjo, and as soon as that decision was made, we thought it'd be even cooler if we could tie in the old Stop 'n' Swop from 10 years ago, which is what we managed to do with Nuts & Bolts.
WP: Stop 'n' Swop is actually finally working after 10 years?
GM: There's kind of a version of Stop 'n' Swop. I mean, anyone that follows it to the degree that some of the fans have will know that obviously the original Stop 'n' Swop was impossible to do because of the hardware, different types of hardware. We've brought Stop 'n' Swop back to life and kind of tried to get it as close to what it would have been all those years ago. It's just something for the fans, and it ties the games neatly together for those people, and those who are playing the original Banjo on Xbox Live Arcade will be able to find a few new bits and pieces in Nuts & Bolts that people who don't, won't. It's just a nice addition to have, and I think for some people, it'll just be a nice that we've actually tied up a few loose ends after 10 years.
WP: In Nuts & Bolts, there are more than a few references to Rare's older games, but specifically, Grabbed by the Ghoulies seems to get a lot of love. Is there a bit of favoritism for that particular title within the company?
GM: I guess it comes from the people who actually worked on Ghoulies. I mean, I myself led the team that did Ghoulies. It was the game that we did after Banjo Tooie, and a lot of the people who are working on Nuts & Bolts or worked on Viva Piñata were actually the Ghoulies team. It's one of those games that you kind of hold dear in your heart. Yeah, it didn't have the success that we had hoped it would be, but it's just remembered fondly. As you've seen before, we're not afraid to poke fun of ourselves, and the fact that it didn't perform as well as we wanted it to, I mean, in the Banjoland [level], we've got a big trash can full of copies of Grabbed by the Ghoulies. We think it's funny, and the people that have seen it think that it's funny. We always try and include references to our old games. Fans who play all of our games love to see that kind of thing, we love to see that kind of thing, and it's kind of a two-way thing. Can we bury references to our games? Some of them are really obvious, and some of them are a lot deeper. Some, probably people will never find, but I think it's another layer to the game that fans love looking for. They love looking for these kinds of references to our old games, and we enjoy putting them in there, so everyone's happy.
WP: Speaking of enjoyment, what stands out in your mind as your personal favorite experience with Nuts & Bolts? There's so much to do in it, but once the game finally came together and you had a chance to start playing through segments of it, what's your favorite story?
GM: There's plenty. I guess the biggest recurring story that you get is you come across a challenge and you think of the different ways you could solve that by building different vehicles. And then you have an idea in your head that if I built this particular type of vehicle, would it actually be better than what you might think is a default choice. Then you go and make a vehicle, and then you test it out, and sometimes it's absolutely rubbish and completely useless, and then sometimes it just works exactly as you believed it would, and you think, "Yeah, that's it!" A good example, we've got a game — again going back to the trash can with copies of Grabbed by the Ghoulies in it — we've got a game there that's got these various pieces of junk that the player has to pick up and somehow get into the trash can. The obvious way of doing this is to either build a helicopter that is capable of putting trash in there, use it to fly over and drop the trash in. One night, I'm sitting there thinking that there has to be an easier way to do this, so I built a giant set of steps, an enormous set of steps on wheels. I parked it next to the trash can, grabbed a hold of the trash as Banjo and just walked up these 20 flights of stairs and dropped it into the top of the trash can. I thought it was a pretty cool way of doing it.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about in Nuts & Bolts that you wanted to add?
GM: Not really. I think that the biggest thing that I'd say the game offers is the choice of freedom. We were constantly saying during the testing process that people were completing the challenges in all sorts of ways that we just hadn't even considered. They'd be posting these times that we thought was impossible until we looked at the videos, and to see the vehicles that they were using and the methods that they were doing, and to me, that's the best thing about the game you're constantly surprised by. You think as the designer, you've come up with a better way of doing every challenge, and then you turn around, and someone else who's been playing the game for half an hour has come up with a better vehicle. You've spent hours trying all different types of vehicles, and they beat you, and you think, "You smart, smug kid!" That, to me, is the one thing I'll remember about the game very well is that there's no conventional way of doing it, and to me, some of the challenges, there will always be that feeling of, "Yeah, that's a really good way of doing it, but is there a better way?"
WP: With Viva Piñata 2 and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, the last couple of games out of Rare have been sequels. Can you let us know if the next game that you're working on is a sequel or an original piece of IP?
GM: (laughs) Umm, no, I'm afraid not. We've had a couple of games out in three or four months, which is a lot. We did Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero, they came out together, and now we've got Viva Piñata and Banjo, so umm, what next? I’m afraid, in the usual Rare fashion, there's absolutely nothing to add, and everyone will just have to wait and see!
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is hitting U.S. store shelves on November 14, 2008.
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