There have been several articles that have caught my attention lately about the sad decline of games company Rare since its sale to Microsoft almost ten years ago. The quality of the company as it stands has been blamed on both the direction set out for it by Microsoft and a number of the creative talent leaving to pursue other companies and projects. An analysis of this, however, is not the purpose of this post. The articles written on this subject made me remember just how large a part of my childhood the games made by Rare actually were. At least half of the triple A titles on the N64 were created by Rare; Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo Tooie, Donkey Kong 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Blast Corps, Diddy Kong Racing and the slightly less well known, but equally good game, Jet Force Gemini.
Most game producers have a few well loved hits to their name, but the achievements of Rare in this relatively small period of time dwarf the efforts of others by comparison. Rare seemed to be able to produce hit after hit after hit. I think that one of the most impressive facts about this herculean feat of game production is the sheer variety of games that they made. They seemed capable of making an outstanding game in almost every genre; first and third person shooters, racing games, adventure platform games, action games and fighting games. Many companies specialise in games of a certain genre; Rare seemed able to turn its hand to pretty much anything and do it well.
So how did Rare manage to achieve this level of success? Obviously the design talent at the company was outstanding, but there is perhaps more to their success than that. Rare were an incredibly secretive company and had very little to do with the wider games production community. Therefore they were not influenced much by gaming trends or following from the production habits of others. This possibly made it easier to create games from an almost outsider viewpoint and make games from the perspective of gamers rather than businessmen, allowing for greater innovation and ingenuity. Perhaps it is because they don’t take themselves too seriously; many of their games are laced with the humour and personality of the developers. Often this humour is poking fun at themselves or established gaming conventions. The dialogue and story in the Banjo series and Conker’s Bad Fud Day particularly are good examples of this. It is possibly this style that has endeared the company to so many and still causes so many to call for Nintendo to buy back Rare. Despite the many amazing childhood (and indeed present day) memories that Rare are responsible for, I am not one of those who wish for their return. A large amount of the talent has left Rare; and in this next gen gaming setting it is harder and harder to innovate in games. This would inevitably lead to disappointment in those people who would be expecting Rare to make games which create the same level of impact that the N64 era games did. Despite this, I will always have a soft spot for Rare. The games they made in their hey-day were phenomenal and I still play many of them to this day. It is also worth noting that some of the creative talent left Rare near the end of the N64’s life cycle to form a small independent company called Free Radical Design. This company was responsible for the excellent Timesplitters 2 and a relatively obscure game called Second Sight which made fantastic use of psychic powers and a lovely design style which combined to make a wonderfully unique game. Happily, despite being under a different name and being diffused across several companies, the ethos and spirit of Rare has lived on. However, a huge thank you to Rare for many fantastic games.