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Rare Life: Designer

It’s been a while since we did our last batch, but with the games business having blossomed into a hotbed of ongoing recruitment, it seems like a peachy time to bring back Rare’s in-house staff profiles. 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: Gavin Price, Designer. Bear witness to the inner workings of the Gavster’s mind.

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

Gavin Price: My background was just being a huge games enthusiast. I knew from a young age I loved videogames and as I grew older the thought of making them really appealed. I was on a programming course at college before fate intervened and I applied and took a testing/QA role at Rare back in ’99. 18 months later I went down the design route and haven’t looked back since (though I’d like to finish that college course one day)…

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

Yes and no. I tried not to define how I’d be making games early on – even though I was on a programming course it was mainly to get a foot in the door. When I started in QA, over time I figured out what role I thought best suited me and worked at it from there.

What are your main responsibilities on the average game?

Early on – ideas! Then planning and implementation, as designers here can turn their hand to anything (levels, control mechanics, systems, UI – it’s really fun and diverse), followed up by polishing (UR and fixing bugs). Some would also say that bringing in cake from a much-loved local cake-making business is in there too.

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

Loads – my first job was testing Jet Force Gemini on N64 (and then all of our other releases in the 18 months or so that followed). Design-wise I’ve worked on Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Viva Piñata, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Kinect Sports 1 & 2 and the current secret project. Also one or two prototypes that didn’t make it into production.

Biggest achievement… hmm, the BAFTAs for KS 1 & 2 are amazing, but on a personal level I’m still proud of not going crazy from editing a bazillion Piñata assets around their various behaviours and rules. And naming things in a classic Rare fashion, be it Piñata names that HAD to sound like chocolates/snacks/candy or coming up with fun names for activities in KS2. I love doing that stuff!

What do you see as the top perk of working for Rare?

Everything about the place is videogames mad. Even the water coolers have a secret button press combo to get them to pour faster! (Hold down ‘cold’, press ‘ambient’, release ‘cold’ and it still pours cold, but 38% faster! Nice – I’m quenching my thirst while others are still patiently waiting like Neanderthals!)

How would you describe your fellow workers in five words?

Worse than me at videogames.

What’s the greatest design challenge you’ve faced so far, and how was it overcome?

Nuts & Bolts multiplayer by far. One year out from release and we decided to add an incredibly overscoped set of multiplayer features including interactive lobbies, several themed playlists and a ton of individual game modes – but it was worth it! Also, tactfully getting the famous Rare innuendo into Grabbed by the Ghoulies was a challenge. To this day I’m amazed by some of the lines of dialogue we put in there. (I think you’ll find it’s all harmless fun and/or coincidence – Rare Lawyers)

In your experience, how has the advent of motion-controlled games shaken up design processes?

A gamepad is a relatively closed system, but delivering controls to an audience of millions where each individual is their own controller… you simply have to be closer to the audience than ever before and have a good user research programme. UR is always important, but UR testing your motion controls is so much more subjective when it comes to determining what’s right and wrong. I think the audience can easily tell when they’re playing a motion control title which has had a high level of UR testing and thought put into it. At the end of the day, all game developers are using the same hardware (so it’s a level playing field) but I believe we’re setting the bar for how motion controlled games should feel.

What do you find most exciting about your job?

That the projects and the work within them can be really diverse. I’d personally struggle at a specialised game studio sticking to a particular genre.

Favourite Rare game, favourite Xbox 360 game and favourite game of all time?

Jet Force Gemini (spoiler: Floyd dies), Toy Soldiers (spoiler: it’s ace), Legend Of Zelda: A Link to the Past (I want to invent a machine that wipes my memory of playing this, so I can replay it over and over brand new every time).

Any good (printable) anecdotes or memories from within the walls of Rare?

Printable? That narrows it down a fair bit… I remember we were doing a Kinect Sports: Season Two Golf review, and one of our lead PMs who always gets the ‘being short’ jokes (along with myself in his absence) stepped in front of the Kinect sensor to putt the ball. The game reacted as if someone taller had bent down in order to check the lay of the green, by playing the green view cut-scene. The whole room erupted into laughter but he took it in good spirit.

Much further back, in 1999, our old Testing offices were above the motion capture suite and a load of us testers came out of our offices because we could hear what sounded like a new Zelda game being played on the big screen in the room below. Nintendo execs including Miyamoto were over on a visit and Ocarina of Time had not long been released. Months later, Majora’s Mask was announced but it felt like we’d already had the scoop for a while. It felt special!

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying for a role similar to yours?

Play a diverse range of games. Don’t stick to the same old sequels and genres. Love gaming and have as many creative hobbies as possible, as they can be the source of your best ideas. I think regardless of the discipline you’d like to be part of, this is some of the best experience you can bring to any role. Think about how you can make everyday activities into simple games. Every week I fill my trolley at the supermarket like I’m playing Tetris – luckily the rows don’t disappear when I fit them in nicely. See above for a picture of one of my better ‘hi-scores’.

Previously in Rare Life:
Steve Mayles, Character Artist
Rich Nguyen, Tools Engineer

Weighing up a career in the games biz? What roles would you like to see covered in future Rare Life columns? Drop us a line and let us know.