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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

Rare Life: Interns Moira and Phil

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.

We’re currently focusing on this year’s batch of interns. They’re an enthusiastic and talented bunch and will be sharing what it’s like to be starting their games careers here at Rare.

In this edition: Moira Masshardt, Product Management intern and Phil Hickson, Test intern. Now over to them!

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Hi Moira! Where are you studying, and what’s your chosen subject?

I’m studying at Cass Business School, which is a part of City University London. I chose to study Business Studies to offer me a broad and diverse range of knowledge across all business functions. This allowed me enough time to see what areas are preferential and to avoid specialising too soon, shaping my degree as it progressed.

What led to you apply for a Microsoft internship?

It was around November 2013 when current placement students from across various industries spoke at the university and their positivity, passion and enthusiasm for doing a placement year was infectious. I finally realised that when I finish my degree I will leave university with roughly the same qualification as 300 other talented students, so what was going to set me apart from the masses? The answer was in fact this Microsoft internship. Once I became aware of internship schemes across the UK, I had to apply to Microsoft, a company that has unparalleled global presence and would give me real insight into the working world.

Were you a Rare fan before you began your internship?

Funnily enough, I was a lifelong Rare fan without even knowing who Rare actually was. I had played so many of their classics as a kid and GoldenEye literally shaped a significant part of my childhood. I’d never given much thought to the company behind the game but was so excited to find out I’d be working for the place that created such amazing games as part of my Microsoft internship.

How would you describe your first few months at Rare?

My first few months at Rare have been AWESOME! Haha. Seriously though, they have been life-changing in terms of the real experience I’ve gained, the amazing and SUPER talented people I’ve been lucky enough to work with and above all else, the fabulous culture here that makes you feel right at home. I can honestly say every day I’m thankful that I get to come to work somewhere that I love, and somewhere that I also – even as an intern – feel extremely valued. As a Business student who always had a passion for games, I’ve been lucky enough to get to use my talents while working with products and within an industry that I love.

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14
Nov
2014

Rare Life: Interns Laura and Alex

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.

We’re currently focusing on this year’s batch of interns. They’re an enthusiastic and talented bunch and will be sharing what it’s like to be starting their games careers here at Rare.

In this edition: Laura Beach, Art intern and Alex Neves, Services Engineer intern. Let’s go!

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So, Laura, where are you studying, and what’s your chosen subject?

I’m studying at Bournemouth University. Our course is also part of an institution called the NCCA (National Centre for Computer Animation). My course is Computer Animation Arts and involves a mix of technical modules such as programming, maths, rigging and arts related modules such as animation, 3D modelling, texturing and concept art.

What led to you apply for a Microsoft internship?

I felt I wanted more of a challenge than university was providing me with. I missed being in the workplace as I’d spent the years before uni working full-time. I actually only applied to Microsoft and it was the chance of being at one of the two most well-known AAA studios in the country that really appealed to me!

Were you a Rare fan before you began your internship?

I didn’t own the right consoles as a kid, but my friend had an N64 and I was pretty obsessed with Diddy Kong Racing.

How would you describe your first few months at Rare?

I would say that Rare has been a very welcoming place. Everyone has been so friendly and I felt like part of the team straight away. It’s been kinda surreal too since I spent many years trying to imagine the day when I’d be sitting 3D modelling in a game studio, and being given this opportunity has made that actually happen.

Can you talk us through some of the things you’ve been doing?

I first made tileable textures based on concept textures. Then I moved onto modelling and texturing environment assets. I was also given a character concept to make into a bust.

What has your biggest highlight been so far?

Seeing my work alongside everyone else’s on the environment team has been really cool. I’ve been given substantial pieces of work; objects that have gone on to be animated.

What do you hope to take with you when you leave next year?

Confidence that I have the necessary skills to be a good 3D modeller and texturer. I hope to have a portfolio of work after release that I can be really proud of. Also, the knowledge of how games studios work; the logistics of how they’re structured and how I fit into a larger entity.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a similar internship opportunity?

Even if you don’t think your work is good enough, apply anyway! A lot of mine was work in progress but it showed potential. I was certainly concerned that taking the year away from uni could potentially be negative in that I wouldn’t be taking my final year with my friends and they’ll graduate before me. But I’ll be going back to uni with all the necessary skills I need to do great work in my final year, and I’ll have had an invaluable year in industry which every junior or graduate job description seems to require.

Favourite Rare game, favourite game on an Xbox console and favourite game of all time?

Diddy Kong Racing, but I love the art style of Viva Piñata. Favourite game on Xbox is probably the original Fable or Morrowind and my favourite game of all time is probably Skyrim so far, but I loved Abe’s Oddysee and the first two Rayman games.

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06
Nov
2014

Rare Life: Interns Arran and Topher

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.

For the next couple of weeks we’ll focus on this year’s batch of interns. They’re an enthusiastic and talented bunch and will be sharing what it’s like to be starting their games careers here at Rare.

In this edition: Arran Topalian, Design intern and Topher Winward, Software Development Engineer intern. Take it away guys!

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So, Arran, where are you studying and what’s your chosen subject?

I’m currently studying Game Design and Production Management at Abertay Dundee university.

What led you to apply for a Microsoft internship?

A number of things! I felt it was the best possible opportunity to enter a successful corporation, as well as the ideal chance to learn from the industry’s finest and enhance my own skills. I have been a great admirer of Microsoft – its innovation and its passion – for a very long time. Additionally, on a more personal level, I felt that being accepted by such a prestigious company says a lot about me as an aspiring professional. What’s more, Microsoft has a rich and exciting history where design is concerned – software or otherwise – which has created and been responsible for the creation of products I’ve enjoyed both as a child and adult, and I really wanted to be part of that process and help create these experiences for others.

Were you a Rare fan before you began your internship?

Being a little older, it was many of Rare’s classic titles which first got me into video games. I can’t count how many fond childhood memories I have playing games such as GoldenEye, Perfect Dark and Banjo-Kazooie with friends or family. To me, Rare was one of – if not THE – first studio that infused their titles (and do to this day) with what can only be described as ‘Rareness’: an intangible quality that exists in the art, story, style and mechanics of their games, which tells you without any prior knowledge that the game you’re playing is from Rare. So yeah, I was a Rare fan long before I began my internship – and working here is, in all seriousness, nothing short of a dream come true.

How would you describe your first few months at Rare?

Truth be told I was a little starstruck when I first started, having found myself at a studio responsible for titles I had played and loved for so many years – as well as developers who’d actually been involved in their making! Beyond that, buzzwords would probably include exciting, fun, motivating and inspiring: having been surrounded by like-minded people with so many years of experience and insurmountable passion for what we do. Most importantly, I’ve not felt like ‘the intern’. Everyone I’ve worked with has never treated me with any less respect, trust or open-mindedness than they would a full-time employee. This acceptance has only been furthered by my manager, who has continually entrusted me with real tasks that have a real, visible impact on the project.

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31
Oct
2014