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Rare’s Charitable Efforts: Spring 2015

It’s been far too long since we last reported on the ongoing charitable escapades of Rare staff, so here’s an update!

We recently had a spring clean of the studio’s storage spaces, giving employees a chance to run off with quality game-related goods in return for a donation to our chosen charity, Get-Well Gamers UK. After a UK-wide Microsoft initiative at the end of 2014 to round up donations, we wanted to see what else we could do for Get-Well Gamers. Their lovely team collect unwanted consoles, games and more to donate to children’s wards of UK hospitals, helping children to communicate and interact with each other and providing them with an outlet for fun. We sent the team just shy of £650 from our little clearout. Want to make a donation of your own? Visit their donation page!

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We also ran events throughout 2014 to raise money for SpecialEffect, finishing with a total of £2,498. SpecialEffect are a UK charity using technology to enhance the quality of life of those living with disabilities, and much of this work revolves around giving them access to games. With some very clever controller modifications, the organisation can help children with a wide range of disabilities play games and share the fun with friends and family. While they’ve made excellent use of Kinect to date they also incorporate things like eye movement input, custom speech setups and heavily modified joysticks for children with specific needs such as playing using only their feet.

Nick from SpecialEffect had this to say:

“More and more people with disabilities are contacting SpecialEffect in order to help them game, be this with specialist controllers through to eye control technology. SpecialEffect is about creating a level playing field so that people with disabilities can have fun and freedom. The charity relies on voluntary donations so the support from Rare really does make a massive difference as we seek to meet growing demand.”

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All this good news got us wondering about the other charity efforts that Rare staff were recently or imminently involved in, so we went around and asked…

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30
Apr
2015

Rare Life: Senior Designer

It’s been a little while since our last run of staff profiles, as we were all wildly busy launching our first title for the Xbox One. But as we look ahead to what comes next and welcome more staff into the studio, we’re getting back to showing you the people behind the games. Hopefully these will prove informative for those hoping to get into a particular line of work, but also entertaining enough to be worth a read for anyone interested in Rare or a general industry career.

In this edition: Justin Cook, designer and Viva Piñata guru (and owner of the most infectious laugh we’ve ever heard). Go Justin go!

Rare: What’s your background and how did you arrive at Rare?

Justin Cook: I first trained as a primary school teacher. It was a good place to learn about how to engage people. Planning a lesson for a group of demanding children with different abilities isn’t a million miles away from designing a game for a discerning gaming audience. After a couple of years the mountains of paperwork took their toll and I left to spray cars for Toyota. The factory was a very practical environment, with repetitive work that allowed me to think of the hit games I wanted to make. I learned about defining quality (in terms of car paint jobs) and then taking steps to attain it.

Eventually I decided I really loved games (at least, more than cars or children) and applied to be a tester at Rare. My experience in other areas of work really helped me at Rare, so I find it difficult to understand why more designers don’t follow my career path. Working in a large factory made me very grateful for the lovely environment provided here.

Have you found yourself doing the job you always thought you’d do?

When I first applied to Rare I definitely wanted to become a designer. At the time I thought that I’d describe ‘great’ ideas and people would think they were so cool they’d build them. Now I know that lots of people have great ideas but not everyone understands how to turn those into a game experience (almost talked myself out of a job there). Design is a simple term that covers many elements of game production, from the philosophy behind a game through the player’s experience all the way down to tuning the controls. I’m still learning, every time we work on a project the experience is new.

So I’m not exactly doing the job I thought I’d be doing when I started out. As it turns out, no-one gets hired to sit in a room and say things like “Let’s make a game about a Pig-Wizard” and then go home for the rest of the day because that idea is brilliant. Despite that I still enjoy making games.

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What are your main responsibilities on the average game?

There are no average games! A designer’s role is to consider the gameplay experience. What does the player do, how does the game make them feel, how do we balance their enjoyment against the challenge of their task. A designer needs great tea-making skills, should be prepared to muck in (wherever that’s required) to get the game out of the door and should generally moan that NO-ONE EVER READS THE DESIGN DOCUMENTS….

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24
Apr
2015

Rare Life: Sound Designer

It’s been a little while since our last run of staff profiles, as we were all wildly busy launching our first title for the Xbox One. But as we look ahead to what comes next and welcome more staff into the studio, we’re getting back to showing you the people behind the games. Hopefully these will prove informative for those hoping to get into a particular line of work, but also entertaining enough to be worth a read for anyone interested in Rare or a general industry career.

In this edition: Jamie Hughes, musician, composer and sound designer. Basically an audio wizard. Over to you Jamie!

Rare: What’s your background and how did you arrive at Rare?

Jamie Hughes: I was interested in music from a very early age, taking up piano lessons at six, then the trumpet at eight. In my teenage years I developed a passion for electronic music and around the same time I bought a Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) and got hooked. I used to try to recreate my favourite game tunes using MIDI equipment and instruments, with varying degrees of success! But I didn’t ever think it could lead to a career. I knew I wanted to do something related to music, so I did a degree in Music and Music Technology at the University of Derby. This covered all aspects of music, from performance and history through to acoustics and sound recording.

After I graduated, I saw a huge double page advert in Edge featuring a certain bird and bear duo. The job description seemed to describe me perfectly:
“Composers wanted, must be able to write music in a variety of styles” – “I can do that,” I thought.
“Must be able to use modern sequencing programs such as Cubase” – “I use Cubase!”
“Must be passionate about games” – Check!

I applied, and was sent a test to compose theme/level tunes for a cartoony racing game, an action-adventure game and a stealthy spy-type game. I got so close to the deadline I ended up driving down to Rare’s HQ to deliver the cassette (yes, cassette!) in person. It wasn’t until the interview that I realised what an incredible company Rare was. I looked around the interview room at the posters around the walls: GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, DKC. Receiving the acceptance letter a few weeks later was one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me (apart from getting married and having children, of course!).

Have you found yourself doing the job you always thought you’d do?

When I was little I wanted to be a fireman or a train driver, so I guess not! Seriously though, my job has changed over the years. I have evolved from a musician/composer into a sound designer, which still involves messing around with audio, just a bit less tunefully!

What are your main responsibilities on the average game?

My main responsibility is to design, create and implement the in-game sound assets that will hopefully enhance the gameplay and bring the game environment to life. Other responsibilities include documenting audio systems and processes, recording and editing audio for development diaries and interviews, producing sound for marketing and promotional videos, and occasionally playing instrument parts for Rare’s Head of Music, Robin Beanland.

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25
Mar
2015

Tepid Seat: Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise

It took a while, but we successfully fielded questions from VP fans, wielded them like blunt instruments against members of the VP: TIP team and crunched down their responses into a lucid and printable format. So here, for the entertainment of players who enjoyed the game back in ’08 or discovered it as a Games with Gold freebie late last year, are the results.

Which team members do we have securely restrained in the Tepid Seat for this session? We have designer Justin Cook, programmer James Thomas, artist Ryan Stevenson and producer Adam Park. All in one seat. It’s very cosy. Begin the interrogation!

Piñata people!
   I’ve been a fan of the Viva Piñata series for years and I was just wondering if any Piñatas were cancelled during the making of Trouble in Paradise? What were their names? What species were they? Are they honored in the game in any way?
   Thanksmuch!
   Ana-Lee R. Kolch

JC: We considered many, many animals when we first started Viva Piñata, but on Piñata Island only the sweetest survive. Some of the Piñatas we’d liked but hadn’t managed to break free from the drawing board did get a second chance when we made Trouble in Paradise. Adding the desert and arctic spaces gave us a bunch of new beasts that just seemed to fit.
   Naming Piñatas is fun but tricky, so we didn’t really give names to anything that wasn’t likely to make it into the game. The Piñata names were especially difficult because we couldn’t use the old Rare trick of just sticking the letter ‘O’ on the end of their names…

RS: I remember doing a concept for a kangaroo Piñata, which would have been the only animal in the garden to have proper knees. Maybe that’s what stopped him going in. I also wanted to do a rattlesnake with a maraca for a tail, but we already had the Syrupent and didn’t want to end up with too many snakes. And of course the shark! If we’d been able to do aquatic animals we would have included the Sour Jaws-style shark who could be tamed and turned into a cute hammerhead. He was my favourite.

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Do you ever want to bring Viva Piñata to the Xbox One, or to the 3DS?
   Also what was the biggest design challenge you faced that just had to make it into the game?
   Michael Langlois

JC: What’s that you say? You’re starting a huge viral internet campaign asking us to sticky up your Xbox One with sugary animal goodness?
   The biggest challenge I faced as a designer was making sure that I got the tea order correct. You may not know it but some engineers and most artists have a clause in their contract where they can ‘down tools’ if they don’t receive a brew of the correct strength, colour or sweetness. Nightmare!

AP: We had a monster of a test matrix – the variations of Piñatas and parameters made it a massive, time-consuming game to test. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of hours to complete the various tasks in the game and make sure everything worked properly and you couldn’t break any of it by doing things wrong, or in a different way, or out of sequence. I’m getting the cold sweats again.

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27
Feb
2015

Rare Life: Gameplay Engineer III

It’s been a little while since our last run of staff profiles, as we were all wildly busy launching our first title for the Xbox One. But as we look ahead to what comes next and welcome more staff into the studio, we’re getting back showing you the people behind the games. Hopefully these will prove informative for those hoping to get into a particular line of work, but also entertaining enough to be worth a read for anyone interested in Rare or a general industry career.

In this edition: Brian Cox, one of our all-important Gameplay Engineers. No, not Professor Brian Cox. Or the actor Brian Cox. But just as talented!

Rare: What’s your background and how did you arrive at Rare?

Brian Cox: I was a student for a long time – seven years! First I did a four-year Masters degree in Communication and Multimedia Design. Then afterwards, a three-year game development specialisation in Digital Arts and Entertainment in Belgium.

Before I came to Rare I was working as a UI and Gameplay Programmer at Triumph Studios in the Netherlands where I worked on Age of Wonders III for PC. Since my university studies I am always creating games for multiple platforms mostly in Unity and attending game jams, which I really enjoy!

Have you found yourself doing the job you always thought you’d do?

No, my current job is better than what I expected it to be! As a kid I always wanted to make games but I thought there was no chance for that due to there not being enough jobs. Times have luckily changed, and the video game industry has grown quite a lot.

If your dream is to work in the videogame industry, just go for it. Even if you are not an artist or programmer you can start out as a QA tester and work your way up as many people have already proven. It’s a really nice industry to work in, and most if not all of your colleagues will have many similar interests and a love for making (and playing) games of course!

What are your main responsibilities on the average game?

On the new (unannounced) project I am implementing new gameplay features, writing AI, fixing bugs and making performance optimisations to get smooth gameplay with high FPS. I was part of the prototype gameplay team creating all the new features so that we could test them in play sessions before implementing them in the main game.

Currently I am doing UI implementation, making sure everything looks as the artists want it to look in the game and works as expected by the players. As I am a gamer myself I always keep in mind what I liked or disliked about other games, and I make sure to avoid those mistakes and make the experience as fun and enjoyable as possible.

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18
Feb
2015

Rare Life: Principal Environment Artist

It’s been a little while since our last run of staff profiles, as we were all wildly busy launching our first title for the Xbox One. But as we look ahead to what comes next and welcome more staff into the studio, we’re getting back showing you the people behind the games. Hopefully these will prove informative for those hoping to get into a particular line of work, but also entertaining enough to be worth a read for anyone interested in Rare or a general industry career.

In this edition: Dean Wilson, creator of some of the beautiful art that you find in-game. Ready? Draw!

Rare: What’s your background and how did you arrive at Rare?

Dean Wilson: I arrived at Rare ten years ago after accidentally stumbling across an interview invite from Rare in my email junk folder.

To explain… after a three-year stint at Teesside Uni I had found myself trying to put a portfolio together whilst doing bar work. Six months of dealing with Bacardi Breezer-swigging freshers and complaints about cold chips was enough, so I scrambled a heap of unfinished work onto a CD and sent it to Rare with blind optimism. To my surprise I got a reply a week later and was invited for an interview, which as I mentioned was only discovered when I was non-routinely checking my junk email. My golden ticket was due for deletion 24 hours later so it’s still a bit of a fluke I’m here really.

Having (shockingly) never played a Rare game other than GoldenEye prior to my interview (I grew up with Sega consoles back in t’ day), I had to get a crash course in so spent my nights ploughing through Conker and Banjo. Then, donning an ill-fitting suit, I somehow impressed the three-man panel of interviewers with my drive, passion and encyclopaedic knowledge of Rare games (ahem). I’ve been here ever since!

Have you found yourself doing the job you always thought you’d do?

And more so… the beauty of Rare is that you’re empowered to have maximum input on a project. No-one ever pointed at me and said ‘you will model levels’. In my time here I’ve done 3D modelling on many levels, texturing, lighting, concept art, mentoring, small nuggets of design work… I’ve dipped my toe into most things which is fantastic, so I would say I have done more than I expected to do.

What are your main responsibilities on the average game?

My main responsibility ultimately is to make sure that whatever the player sees on the screen looks incredibly pretty! Of course it’s a team effort but I have a part to play in that.

On the average game I tend to lend a hand at concept stage and help bring concept to reality in 3D where I produce the polished artwork you see in-game. My focus is on environments so that’s where my main responsibilities are.

Being a bit more senior now, I’m also responsible for making sure all the environment artwork hits a benchmark Rare quality and pulls together nicely. This is especially true on current gen where environments are so complex that there will be numerous people working on the same level. It’s tough work, but oh so rewarding.

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22
Jan
2015

Rare Life: Principal Animator

It’s been a little while since our last run of staff profiles, as we were all wildly busy launching our first title for the Xbox One. But as we look ahead to what comes next and welcome more staff into the studio, we’re getting back showing you the people behind the games. Hopefully these will prove informative for those hoping to get into a particular line of work, but also entertaining enough to be worth a read for anyone interested in Rare or a general industry career.

In this edition: Ellen Parkes, Principal Animator. Go Ellen!

Rare: What’s your background and how did you arrive at Rare?

Ellen Parkes: Some of my earliest memories are of drawing and creating cartoon characters, and from the moment I realised I could do this as a career my mind was made up and I knew I wanted to be an animator. I researched what qualifications I would need and discovered that a fundamental knowledge of art and animation was a must.

With this in mind I gathered information about courses that would help and completed courses in Foundation in Art, BTEC in Animation at Bournemouth College, and finally a PGCert in Animation at the London School of Animation, Central St Martins.

After college I freelanced for a year in London where I was lucky enough to work on a couple of films for TV (Attila, Ivor the invisible) before moving to Shrewsbury where I’d been offered a job working on kids’ TV shows for an up-and-coming company. During my time there I became friends with some of the animators in the game department and persuaded them to teach me how to animate using a computer. I loved it!

From there I got my first job in computer games in a little family-run business where I continued to develop my skills before being lucky enough to be offered a job at Rare.

Have you found yourself doing the job you always thought you’d do?

No. When I started my journey to became an animator there wasn’t a whole lot of information about what skills I would need and I wasn’t even aware it could be a career, but I’m happy it found me.

What are your main responsibilities on the average game?

I get involved in a lot of different areas surrounding animation, and my role tends to change depending on the current development cycle. At the start of a project I will sometimes test animation rigs (game characters), before giving feedback to the riggers, and making suggestions on how I feel we could improve some of our animation tools. Then I might animate some of the characters for pre-production so the designers and engineers are able to test potential gameplay mechanics.

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Which Rare games have you worked on, and what’s been your biggest achievement?

Kameo: Elements of Power
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts
Viva Piñata and Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise
Kinect Sports, Kinect Sports: Season 2 and Kinect Sports Rivals

Although every project has had its own learning curve, I think my biggest achievement was helping to get a fully functional cut scene editor working for Kinect Sports Rivals and helping get the cut scenes looking so good they were used by our Marketing department.

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18
Dec
2014

Rare Life: Gameplay Engineer II

It’s been a little while since our last run of staff profiles, as we were all wildly busy launching our first title for the Xbox One. But as we look ahead to what comes next and welcome more staff into the studio, we’re getting back showing you the people behind the games. Hopefully these will prove informative for those hoping to get into a particular line of work, but also entertaining enough to be worth a read for anyone interested in Rare or a general industry career.

In this edition: Karn Bianco, our second Gameplay Engineer to be featured and also one of Develop’s 30 Under 30 last year!

Rare: What’s your background and how did you arrive at Rare?

Karn Bianco: I studied Computer Games Programming at the University of Derby and spent my placement year working at Rare back in 2011. After that I spent a bit of time at Lionhead Studios helping out on Fable: The Journey before returning to university for my final year. After graduating I sneaked back in and pretended I’d never left (or I was kindly offered a job before I’d even graduated, one of the two).

Have you found yourself doing the job you always thought you’d do?

Yes and no. I’ve always loved games but it took me a little while to settle in on game development, and programming specifically. I studied English Literature and Philosophy at school and spent a few years writing about games instead of making them. I’d dabbled with code in my spare time and eventually decided that it was what I wanted to pursue. I picked the degree with the most rigorous syllabus I could find and went from there.

One thing I was set on from the start was working for Rare – I didn’t apply to many other companies while looking for an internship. That was a pretty big gamble given how competitive this industry is, but somehow it all worked out in the end.

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What are your main responsibilities on the average game?

I tend to jump around a fair bit and work on different areas of the game depending on what needs doing, but on the whole I’ve worked mostly with UI (user interface) and gameplay systems. The stuff I’m working on right now is completely different again to anything else I’ve ever done, which is awesome in my books.

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02
Dec
2014