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EXCLUSIVE: RFDB Interview With Rare Replay Lead Designer, Paul Collins

EXCLUSIVE: RFDB Interview With Rare Replay Lead Designer, Paul Collins

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We here at RareFanDaBase were lucky enough to interview Paul Collins from Rare about Rare Replay. Paul first started at Rare in 2009 as a Game Designer for the Kinect Sports games on the Xbox 360. From there he became a Senior Designer for Kinect Sports Rivals on the Xbox One. Now he is the Lead Designer of Rare Replay and playing a huge part to bring this awesome collection of 30 games to our homes for us to enjoy. Read our interview with him below to learn even more about this collection of 30 amazing games!

RFDB: Hello Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with us!

RFDB: First, tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get into the game industry and what has your history with Rare been?

Paul: Incoming cliché story! Since I can remember I’ve been playing computer games. It was usually the only time you could get my brother and I to stop fighting and enjoy time together! I was always doodling little game ideas, off the back of playing certain games, but I really got into developing when I first got a PC. I started messing around in the modding community where I would help out making mods (either levels, models or tweaking gameplay) in things like Unreal, Q3, Serious Sam and such. Later I went to the University of Greenwich, studying a games degree. After successfully completing that, I spent over a year at Disney, which was awesome to work as a designer from the production side, as I got the chance to get involved in a number of different projects with them.

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I think the N64 period was when I started to take proper notice of Rare, and realise how amazing this bunch of people were at making games brimming with quality and imagination. This wasn’t because I hadn’t played a Rare/Ultimate game before, but it was around the N64/PS era that we started to get developer logos appearing on the game boxes. If you’ve grown up with different generations of game consoles, it’s very likely that you’ve played a Rare game at some point! I sank countless enjoyable hours into games like Sabre Wulf, Battletoads and Cobra Triangle, all the way up to Rare’s Xbox 360 games like Viva Piñata. Getting the chance to work here and be a part of the team has been pretty special, and an exciting ride so far.

RFDB: How was Rare Replay born? What was the studio reaction like when it was official?

Paul: It felt like the right time to celebrate Rare’s gaming heritage. Everything just seemed to fall into place this year. We’re celebrating our 30th birthday, and we knew we wanted to do something amazing for it. The back compat team were working on bringing certain X360 titles to Xbox One, which meant we had a whole host of great 360 games that players would be able to get access to. On the Xbox Community pages we’ve had lots of fans asking for us to bring our classics to Xbox, which meant a lot to us. And with the announcement of Sea of Thieves this year, we wanted it to really feel like this was the year of Rare. So it made sense that creating Rare Replay was the best way to celebrate the studio and showcase our amazing past, along with our very exciting future. The studio’s (and MS’) reaction to the idea was great, it really was a no-brainer!

RFDB: Saying Rare Replay is a HUGE game is an understatement. What has it been like trying to combine all the games, developer interviews and other bonus content together?

Paul: The biggest thing for the team on Rare Replay is making sure we do justice to the studio and its accomplishments over the years. We’re all huge fans of the games, so in essence it’s like one big thank you to the studio and the fans. We never had any intention of this just feeling like 30 games on a disc (or hard drive!), we wanted it to be bursting with extra content and features, and make you explore everything on offer. The wrapper that all the games and content is placed in helps to bring it all together in a way that showcases these remarkable feats over the past 30 years.

RFDB: Porting over 30 games must have been quite the undertaking. Was there any game in particular that was more difficult than the others?

Paul: There were a few challenges along the way, but the team were up to the task! Every member of the team has fond memories of playing a Rare game during their formative gaming years, I think that helped us get through any tough moments!

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RFDB: Rare has developed over 100 titles in the past 30 years, so winding that down to only 30 must have been an interesting challenge in and of itself. What was the selective process you and your team went through to choose the games available on Rare Replay?

Paul: At the start of the selection process we set ourselves criteria: which games really showcase Rare’s iconic worlds and characters, and which games really went above and beyond, doing something that players hadn’t seen before. We started to ask ourselves “Which games have the Rare Factor?” Cue our own in-house reality TV programme…

We wanted to make sure that we highlighted the successes and achievements over 30 years, selecting the games that are unique to Rare, that only a studio like Rare could create. Funnily enough we didn’t limit ourselves to 30, but after going through the selection many times, it felt like the right number to give players old and new a real taste of what Rare has created. I’m also super happy that we’ve got the Ultimate games in the collection, showing off our humble beginnings. There’s still so many I’d love to see in the collection that deserve a Replay!

RFDB: We know there have been some adjustments and fixes to a few of the games. Grabbed by the Ghoulies now running at full 1080p/60fps and the Battletoads co-op glitch having been fixed. Are there any other notable changes to any of the other games you could share with us?

Paul: We’ve said from the start that we wanted to cherish the authenticity of the games, looking at it on a platform basis, and doing what we felt was right for that generation of gaming. For the most part we’ve tried to keep these changes to a minimum, but where it felt appropriate we’ve made updates if it felt like it could enhance the enjoyment of that particular game. There hasn’t really been a precedent set for how you put together a collection of games spanning so many generations, so we’ve tried to make sure we’ve done what best represents the games. I love the visual filter that you can apply to the older classics, making it feel like you’re playing it again on an old CRT. Grabbed by the Ghoulies looks incredible, too. When you do the cel-shaded approach right, it can really look timeless.

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RFDB: Was Rare already working on their own backwards compatibility to get the Xbox 360 games running on the Xbox One or did you already know Microsoft would be handling that part so you could focus on the other games on other consoles?

Paul: The back compat team’s fantastic work on getting the 360 games playable on Xbox One was one of the big reasons for us wanting to put this collection together. We’ve had a great relationship working with them to bring nine of our Xbox 360 titles to Rare Replay. It was awesome to see all their hard work go down so well at E3.

RFDB: Will the online components of the Xbox Live games be available in Rare Replay? Were there ever talks of trying to bring online co-op to older games such as Battletoads?

Paul: The majority of the online components will definitely be there in Rare Replay. However, a few things like crate sharing in the original VP, photo sharing in VP: TIP and blueprint trading in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts sadly won’t be there as the servers have since closed down.

When it comes to the older classics in the collection, we wanted to keep the authenticity of the originals. One of the things that is great about the collection is the amount of sweet couch co-op games there are. It’s about time we all got back in the room together and synched up four controllers!

RFDB: Snapshots and rewinding older games in the collection is a new feature implemented just for Rare Replay. How did the idea come about and how difficult was it to implement these features with the older games?

Paul: When we put the collection together, we wanted to make sure there were lots of reasons why both old and new players would want to check out every game. The Snapshot Challenges were a great reason for just that. These are bite-sized minigames that highlight some of the coolest moments of these older classics, and in some cases have our own little Rare spin on them. They give a nice taster to those who may have played them before and want to get some of that muscle memory back. We also want the Snapshots to help incentivise players to check out the full games, and feel like they’re more than capable of getting through it all.

We have some great older games in the collection. Back in the day it was probably much easier to ace them, but playing them again now might just bring about a little pain and suffering! We didn’t want players to get frustrated, play the game for ten minutes then move onto the next. Or even worse, just put Rare Replay into the shame pile! We wanted players to feel like they could get through all the games, and that’s how the rewind cheat came about. It was also used as a really nifty debugging tool as we played through the games.

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And for those experts, that’s why we have the Snapshot Challenges. Rewind won’t work on these, so it’s down to the players to test their mettle and see how well they can do on the leaderboards!

RFDB: Are there any hidden Easter Eggs or Secrets throughout to be discovered?

Paul: There may be a couple! Especially in the Rare Replay Opening Number. I’m hoping we’ll find some pretty cool Easter Eggs in the games from years ago that may have never been found before.

RFDB: How do go about testing a game with 30 games in it? Was each game assigned to a small group?

Paul: We tested the games internally, via play tests and user research, to make sure the experience was good for all players. Obviously with having 30 games to select from, we wanted to provide players with easy access to the games and help them get to the ones they wanted to play quickly. That’s why we have things like being able to filter the game lists, instantly get back into a game from where you left off, and even save and load from any point of some of the older classics.

RFDB: What game on Rare Replay has been your personal favorite to play and work on? What game did you learn the most about while working on Rare Replay?

Paul: Such a hard question! Battletoads Arcade was strangely one I missed along the way, so it was great to see how the arcade-style gaming was applied to the franchise. Three-player Battletoad brawling was also a nice surprise! It was great picking Gregg’s brain about some of the design decisions, and how designing for arcade is different to creating something for console. Everyone really loves the puppet theater presentation for Rare Replay!

RFDB: Were there any other ideas about how to present this 30 game collection in one polished package? How did the theater idea come about?

Paul:We explored quite a number for different themes and wrappers to bring all these games together. For us we wanted to capture that celebration feeling, and find a metaphor that made sense as to why all these games were in one place. We loved the papercraft theatre, as for us it really helped capture what we feel goes into making a Rare game, people honing their craft to painstakingly put something together. I love that typical British allure the games always seem to have, with a small dash of Monty Python; that feeling that something could go wrong at any minute! It was all about getting across that feeling of how much love and quality would go into producing a Rare game.

The opening credits for Rare Replay was just shown to the public at SDCC and if you got to play Rare Replay at E3 or SDCC you could watch it yourself. There is so much Rare charm and humor pouring from it, what lead to its creation? Who wrote and sang the song that accompanies it?

Paul: One of the reasons why I loved the theatre metaphor was because it meant there might be the possibility to get a little musical number into Rare Replay! Originally in the game we wanted to include a feature called ‘Rare: The Musical!’ which would take the player on a musical history tour of the games. Each game would have a small musical skit, then you’d get to play a small snippet using the Snapshot Challenge system. Sadly (as is sometimes the case!) we didn’t have the time to get this done, so I was thrilled to get the chance to make a little number for our opening attract.

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As this would be one of the first things the players see the first time they start Rare Replay, I wanted them to have all their memories of playing these games come flooding back. And for those who hadn’t played them before, they should start to feel pretty excited for what’s in store!

The song and the animatic were down to a combination of a few of us on the team. Robin Beanland, Chris Allcock and I put the song together, with Jon Vincent adding that extra level with some great sound effects. Paul Cartwright, Paul Cunningham and Peter Hentze helped us choreograph and storyboard the animations. The brilliant Realtime UK then helped us bring it to life. It was an absolute joy to create, we wanted it to be filled with the Rare charm and humour we all know and love, with a few little Easter Eggs too! Getting the chance to work with Robin Beanland on a little tune was also a real dream come true.

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RFDB: You recently had the honor of becoming Rash for the San Diego Comic-Con Rare Cosplay Contest. That was very brave of you! What was SDCC like for Rare? Was there a game the SDCC crowd was drawn more to than others in Rare Replay?

Paul: What an experience that was! It was pretty funny how that all came about. I originally said for a laugh that I would go as one of the KI characters to the cosplay competition. Something quite minimal effort… then all of a sudden I’m having Drew and Adam talking about Battletoads, and getting a professional body painter in to transform me into one of the characters. I was quite apprehensive at first, but after a little more persuading I’m glad I did it!

It was like being set up for a big action movie. The whole thing took well over four hours, and Lana Chromium (@artbychromium) did a stellar job. When I first walked out of the hotel room, it just felt like I was walking around the streets of San Diego in nothing but my boxer shorts! But she did such an impressive job, people actually thought it was a skin-tight costume. I’m glad it was at SDCC, as I blended in with the rest of the cosplayers. I probably wouldn’t have gotten away with that on just a normal day!

One of the coolest things I took from it was how many people recognised me as a Battletoad, especially with SDCC being more about comics, film etc. and slightly less about games. I was pretty sure at first I’d just get called a Ninja Turtle, but I lost count of how many people came over wanting to get my picture, talking about how much they played Battletoads when they were younger. Now they get to play it all over again on Xbox One! Turbo Tunnel waits for no gamer…

Getting the chance to speak to so many Rare game fans at these events, and reminisce with them about our favourite moments, has made this all the more worth it. I can’t wait for August 4th!

We hope you enjoyed our interview with Paul Collins and are even more excited now to pick up Rare Replay in a few more days!

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