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Rare Nearly Took On The Nintendo Game Boy With Its Own "Playboy" Handheld

Posted by Damien McFerran

Before they were bedfellows, Rare and Nintendo could have been rivals

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Rare's first game, Jetpac. OK, technically speaking Jetpac was created by Ultimate Play the Game — the company founded by the Stamper Brothers which eventually spawned Rare — but most fans consider the two studios to be one and same.

To mark the occasion, Rare's Gregg Mayles and Paul Machacek — along with former staffer and Conker's Bad Fur Day creator Chris Seavor — have been speaking to Red Bull about the history of the studio.

Machacek — who started at the studio 25 years ago and is still there — explains that Rare has historically been a very hardware-focused firm, and at one point was even contemplating a move into portable gaming with a system based on its unreleased RAZZ arcade board:

The RAZZ board was Chris Stampers’ project. It was entirely home grown, but he and Tim had an arcade hardware background so it wasn’t completely out of the blue. I don’t remember whose idea it was to try and turn it into a handheld device running on a few small batteries, but we did it anyway, undaunted by the short running time or bulky form-factor produced.

It was a loose collection of chips suspended in thin air, squashed together carefully so that it fit inside the casing without shorting out anything. Tim was responsible for the exterior styling and I did the software demo. It ran on some AA batteries and used a colour LCD screen ripped from a little portable TV that Tim had brought back from Japan. Then, just to ensure that we’d never be able to actually release it, we called it the Playboy.

It was taken to a trade show to pitch as a possible product, only to find out that at the same show Nintendo was pragmatically - and wildly successfully - launching the Game Boy.

Rare would go on to develop numerous games for the Game Boy, and would eventually become part of Nintendo's development stable before being sold to Microsoft some time later. Where would the company have ended up had it become a hardware manufacturer as well as a software developer? We can only guess.


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User Comments (38)



Pit-Stain said:

If Rare released this, they could've been a hardware manufacturer, but now look at them...



Einherjar said:

From almost hardware designer to shovelware producer. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Working for microsoft must be creativity poison. They are in no way as bad, evil, rotten and downright dangerous to the industry as EA, but still, many (first party) studios working for them take their eventual leave or wither under them.
Rare was once a studio that was capable of putting nintendo in its place. The only safety net nintendo had at the time was, that it all happend on their consoles. And now ? Wii Sports rip offs for a non working spy camera.
Didnt some of the older core stuff plan a reunion under nintendos wing ? I remember reading something like that quite some time ago. Anyone up to date with that ?



Mk_II said:

Jetpac was the very first video game i ever bought and i still have the cassette tape in my collection. Those were the days!



AyeHaley said:

As far as I know: Rare fell apart around the time Microsoft bought the studio anyway. I mean its downfall already started from the inside even before they were acquired. There are reasons Nintendo didn't buy the studio.



Kyloctopus said:

The only thing similar to rare of the 80's and 90's and the Rare of the 21st century is it's name. Everyone talented left the studio.



Technosphile said:

So did the Stampers each sign some NDA and that explains their vanishing off the face of the Earth? Chris Seavor and Martin Hollis are great, but I'd like to hear how the founders feel about Rare and where it is headed.



ricklongo said:

I wish Nintendo would try to buy the Donkey Kong-related Rare IPs (namely Conker and Banjo). It's not like Microsoft is ever likely to do anything worthwhile with them anyway. :/



Socar said:

@Einherjar I agree. If it weren't for rare. Sega CD and 32X would've beaten the SNES since Nintendo needed their talent to make Donkey Kong Country.

Its a shame that Nintendo's studios despite almost doing the same thing atleast are very creative and never let down.



Socar said:

Maybe that's why its called Rare. Such a rare company that makes great games. Nintendo should've bought Rare.



Einherjar said:

@Artwark "Nintendo should've bought Rare"
Rare was a 2nd party inhouse dev team of nintendo. Nintendo sold them to microsoft. Microsoft bought 51% of rare and nintendo was somewhat forced to give them up. Turned out that it was a good decision, since their initial talet was long gone.
Even without Rare, i doubt that Segas peripherals could have beaten the SNES. The SNES had so much other stuff going for it (Nintendos 1st party games, Square and Enix in the RPG department etc), Rares games were just the cherry topping and the whole SNES cake
And if you ask me, nintendos "repetition" is one of its biggest strong points.
Look at modern game franchises: Every single modern CoD game is basicly a carbo copy of the last one. They even start to recycle cutscenes and just replace the character models and nobody really seems to have a problem with that.
And now look at, say, mario games. Very few games share the same mechanics. You have your direct sequels like the original SMB and the lost levels, the NEW series, galaxy 2 and to some extend, 3D land and 3D World. But i wouldnt call SMB3 a carbon copy of SMB, Every new major installment was a fresh, new game based on the same formular.
Sure, they use the same pool of characters over and over, but i cant find anything wrong with that. People dont seem to care that modern game casts almost completely consist of either generic military men or hulking space marines.
Normally i would say "never change a running system" but its quite the opposite here. Nintendo almost always changes something about their games and still, they get accused of "doing the same thing over and over" while other companys literally recycle their games, slap a new number on the cover and call it a day and people are fine with it.



ReigningSemtex said:

I miss the old rare as soon as Microsoft bought them it seems like a lot of staff left and the rare magic left with them. Rare didn't even make the latest killer instinct.



element187 said:

@Pit-Stain sounds like they canned it because the response they received at trade shows.... Ultra short battery life and ultra bulky.... Now if only someone made a handheld like that in the early 90's..... SEGA tried that with the game gear (I had it, even though it was color, I played my gameboy more)



Azaris said:

Yeah good thing they didn't name it that. People would confuse it with the other playboy.



Damo said:

@Technosphile Both have since left the games industry and I'm not sure they are interested in talking about it anymore. They were notoriously secretive when they were at Rare anyway.



Damo said:

@Kirk The prototype is in Rare's HQ. I visited a few years back and I think I saw it in one of the glass cabinets in reception. Apparently it's been removed and placed in storage now, though.



Luigi21 said:

Somewhere in the late 80's:

"Mom, I want a playboy for Christmas!!"

"You what??!!"



Tasuki said:

I dont know alot of people consider the company that made Jetpac and Rare the same. I know MS does cause that's why DK64 never came to the Wii VC.



WingedSnagret said:

Funny, I actually would call the GameBoy PlayBoy when I was little. Granted I was too innocent to realize my mistake at the time.



AVahne said:

Weill even if they had made hardware, they could've very well been driven out of the market and maybe the industry by Nintendo and Sega like so many other companies.



silly said:

@Artwark The SNES was wildly successful from its launch in 1991/1992, long before Donkey Kong Country came out in 1994. Rare may have extended its life into the N64 generation, but they're not really responsible for its success. Battletoads is rad and all, but not really a system seller.

They contributed a lot more to the success of the N64, however!



Kirk said:


I used to work for Rare and yet I don't remember seeing this in the display cabinet.

This was back in the days of the Game Boy too. Well Game Boy Color.

Maybe I didn't look properly at those cabinets or I just didn't know what I was looking at or something.



Damo said:

@Kirk You used to work at Rare? That's amazing!

When I first visited the glass cabinets were in the reception, and had the RAZZ board and (I think) the reverse-engineered NES. I don't recall seeing the Playboy then, but on my next visit the cabinets had been moved to the canteen, and one of the Rare staffers pointed the Playboy out to me. I've since been in touch with the same staffer and he says it has been moved into storage — seems like that old gear has been all over the HQ, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Microsoft is trying to push it out of view these days.



Tiberius30 said:

With the Game Boy you use two hands stationery ...
With the Play Boy you use one hand really fast...
ha ha ha



Kirk said:


Yeah, when I worked there the display cabinet was right at the entrance (reception) below that awesome Japanese mural type thing, which as I recall, Nintendo gave to Rare as a gift (although I might be wrong on that one). It was actually a very nice first impression to get as you entered the building.



Damo said:

@Kirk THis is what the cabinet looked like when I visited the first time, just prior to Kinect hitting the market:


I don't actually recall seeing the Playboy on this visit, though - and I didn't get the whole cabinet in that shot



Kirk said:


I don't remember is being quite as full back in the day but I'm foggy on the details.

I probably should have looked at it in more detail but at the time I just walked passed it for the most part on the way to my desk. I did have a wee look but just thought it was cool too see some old Nintendo and Rare related stuff on show.

If only I'd known back then there was some genuinely interesting and indeed historically important stuff hidden away in that wee display cabinet.



Damo said:

@Kirk I wish I'd have taken a few more shots, myself. I did get the Dinosaur Planet statue in one of them, though! I imagine that has been melted down and recycled now



Kirk said:


It would have been interesting to see how that game would have turned out if they'd just went with Dinosaur Planet to completion (probably very similar but without the Star Fox characters I'd assume)...

Might have had even some sequels at this point. Although probably not with the current output at Rare.



Henmii said:

Rareware handhelds could have been great! On the Snes and N64 Rareware really where the graphics wizards!!



XD375 said:

Rare still has a lot of the old staff, but the Internet seems content with pretending they all left to excuse them for making Kinect Sports, which is probably Kinect's best game.



Henmii said:

"Kinect Sports, which is probably Kinect's best game"

Wich doesn't say much!

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