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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

KSR Superstar Player Showcase

There are lots of you out there who have proved that you’ve got the skills and determination to show us up in Kinect Sports Rivals. From smashing records set by the team behind the game to defeating every challenge we set, you’re a talented bunch!

We decided to put the spotlight on a few of our superstar players to show off their skills and success. Let’s go!

First up in the spotlight is Terry, aka Deadly Silent74 on Xbox Live. Terry is one of our most dedicated players, having logged almost 110 hours on the Kinect Sports Rivals island. Winning fan after fan has led Terry to climb the Rivals League to reach the top level of the Legendary League, an exclusive status only matched by 12 other players in history. Here’s Terry to explain how he did it!

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Can you tell us a little about yourself? 

I am a 40 year old gamer. I have played video games since the Odyssey. I have played Xbox since the first system. I have had Gold for about five years now.

What attracted you to Kinect Sports Rivals?

What attracted me to KSR was I was actually doing the motions on the game, not just using the controller. That made the game feel somewhat more real to me, even though I am terrible at real sports!

What’s your favourite sport in the game? 

My favourite sport in Rivals is Bowling. My favourite in the first two games was Golf.

Which team have you joined? 

My team choice was easy. I joined the Eagle Legion. I enjoy fairness in games, boosting my own abilities. I do not enjoy dirty, offensive tricks.

What has been the biggest challenge in climbing the ranks to the top?

The biggest challenge in climbing ranks was collecting fame. It can be very time consuming. For example, I have played over 100 hours to get where I am today!

What motivated you to keep going until you reached the Legendary League? 

What kept me going all the way to Legendary is I like to complete a challenge I set for myself. I want to get every achievement, every challenge, every rank possible.
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28
Oct
2014

Scoring for SpecialEffect 2014

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After making it to the final of last year’s football tournament in aid of SpecialEffect, we sent two teams this year in hopes of glory! While not all went to plan, the teams had a great day supporting a worthy cause. Here’s our match report from James. Pay special attention to the intense on-pitch facial expressions in the photos…

After a sterling run to the final in the inaugural SpecialEffect Wembley 5s charity football tournament, this year we decided to stack the deck in our favour and double the number of teams heading south for the event. After all, if you’re playing against yourself in the final at least someone from the company walks home with the trophy.

That was the conceited plan, anyway. Shame the other squads in attendance weren’t on the same page as us.

As with last year the tournament took the same format as the World Cup, a series of groups with every team playing each other with the group winners and runners-up progressing to the knockout stages. Word of the event had spread, however, and so the number of teams had grown to include the likes of Sega, Sports Interactive, Rebellion, and 5-a-side’s most feared gaming team, Testology. On paper alone it looked tough!

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With such heavyweights we knew that a tricky draw was a possibility, and Rare Blue (there were no A or B teams for us, we tried to split the squad evenly, honest) of the two Twycross teams fared worse. Carrying on from where we left off last year, Blues tumbled to a defeat against reigning champions Creative Assembly before promptly losing to an impressive SpecialEffect. The latter can almost be forgiven as not trying to upset our hosts but the first was a sharp reminder of how last year we let our game slip at a vital time.

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12
Sep
2014

#welovegamedevs at Rare too

The #welovegamedevs hashtag went big on Twitter this month, with everyone from fans to other developers tagging their favourite games and creators for some personalised public appreciation.

As we wanted to get into the spirit of things but there was no way of squeezing a fair cross-section of our employees’ most loved gaming experiences into a handful of tweets, we threw it open for any Rare staffer to contribute via this blog post. Whether they wanted to big up a bedroom coder or a blockbuster studio, namecheck an early gaming obsession or a recent discovery, anything was fair game. See below for a selection of what we got back. Now updated with extra love!

Kudos to all the games, individuals and studios mentioned. And thanks to everyone who tweeted and tagged Rare itself, of course. You sweeties. #welovegamedevs

Andrew Burt, Lead Animator: “Black Isle Studios. Planescape: Torment’s rich universe, characters and gameplay made me want to create games for a living, and set me on a path for more geeky game adventures to come.”

Karn Bianco, Gameplay Programmer: “Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo for Zelda. Yuji Naka and Sega for Sonic. Ron Gilbert and LucasArts for Monkey Island. Shinji Mikami and Capcom for… Goof Troop on the SNES!”

Paul Mountain, Software Engineer: “Jonathan Smith – coding wizard who did amazing arcade conversions for ZX Spectrum in the 80s. After destroying several joysticks playing Hyper Sports I knew I wanted to make games this great.”

Christopher Davies, Senior Designer: “As much as I want to give Thatgamecompany a shout out for providing us with both Flower and the peerless Journey, I dedicate my nomination to Messhof for the fun, laughs, intense rivalry and clammy hands he’s brought to our barn in the form of Nidhogg.”

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22
Aug
2014