Donkey Kong Country's Fate Was Determined By A Risky Rare Investment
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"The rendering of each 3D model would take ages"
With Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze currently entertaining Wii U owners, it's only natural for those with long memories to cast their minds back to where the franchise began. Donkey Kong Country on the Super NES remains one of the 16-bit system's most iconic games, and sits at the forefront — along with various other titles — of Rare's legendary partnership with Nintendo. When some make comparisons between Texas-based Retro Studios and the role of the UK-based Rare in past Nintendo generations, it can only serve as a major compliment to the U.S. studio.
With this being our Month of Kong on Nintendo Life, we sat down for a detailed chat with two former Rare employees that played integral roles in the original Super NES title — Brendan Gunn and David Wise. While Wise is well-known for the title's soundtrack and has made a triumphant return in Tropical Freeze, Gunn's role as Technical Programmer was vital in delivering the game that would go on to be the second highest-seller on the system. The visuals may have aged by modern standards, but it can't be underestimated how impressive those rendered graphics were when the game was released — it was a revelation.
As part of a full interview to be published later today, Gunn and Wise outlined how Rare's founders — Chris and Tim Stamper — took a major financial risk to pursue a new graphical style which, at the time, was unheard of in the home console space.
Wise: I think the machines were around £80,000 each. Incredibly expensive even then, so they really did go out on a limb to buy two of these machines. Senior staff from Nintendo were visiting at the time that the boxing game was being worked on, and seeing that sealed the deal. Rare showed them this working demo with rendered graphics which nowadays probably wouldn't look like much, but at the time it was like chalk and cheese when compared to other games.
The rendering of each 3D model would take ages. We'd work till 11PM at night, go home and in the morning the image might have finished rendering — it took that long for these huge machines to do it.
Gunn: We had this massive air conditioning unit just to cool these SGI machines (laughs). We could all be suffering in the summer but as long as computer didn't overheat, it didn't matter.
I remember the first time I saw the rendered Donkey Kong model on-screen and it looked like a real, solid thing. In the old days, stuff used to be hand-drawn on tracing paper and then someone would have to draw a grid over it and decode it by hand, so rendering it saved a bit of effort in that respect.
The rest is history, as Donkey Kong Country wowed reviewers and gamers alike, establishing Rare as a household name and revolutionising DK as a character. An initial risk, and the fortune that decision brought in catching the eye of Nintendo, played a role in bringing us many outstanding titles after Nintendo purchased a major share in the company.
Be sure to check back later today for the full interview, as we delve into the making of Donkey Kong Country in detail.