Rare co-founder Tim Stamper recently won the accolade of Development Legend at this year's Develop awards - along with his brother, Chris - and has now given his first interview since 2007.
Stamper - who has recently returned to the games industry with mobile studio FortuneFish - talks about the origins of Rare, its relationship with Nintendo and its purchase by Microsoft in 2002. He also chats about his new venture as well as the exploits of the former Rare developers at Playtonic Games, who recently earned crowd-funding success with Yooka-Laylee.
One of the most interesting parts of the interview is Stamper's view on Rare's sale to Microsoft, and the question that seems to eternally be on everyone's lips: why didn't Nintendo snap up the studio beforehand? Nintendo owned almost half of the UK company, but for reasons unknown never tried to buy Rare outright, despite the fact that the Stampers were clearly on the lookout for buyers.
Stamper is at a loss as to why Nintendo didn't step in and open up its chequebook:
I've no idea why they didn't do that. I thought we were a good fit.
Indeed they were - during its time under Nintendo's wing, Rare produced some of its finest work. The raw talent of the studio - paired with Nintendo's guiding influence and understanding of game design - resulted in the likes of Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark and Diddy Kong Racing, many of which are included in the recently-released Rare Replay on Xbox One.
However, Stamper admits that while the Nintendo years gave us some amazing games, there was a feeling within the company that it needed to move onto bigger and better things:
The price of software development was going up and up with the platforms, and Rare works really well with a partner. We were looking for someone to help broaden our horizons.
I like Microsoft. They had a great system, and there's a lot of good people at Microsoft.
In 2007 Tim and Chris would leave Rare, an announcement which sent shockwaves through the game development scene. Tim states that the decision was necessary:
Chris and I needed to take a new direction to produce some better, greater products for the future, and we thought the only way we'd be able to do that was to take a step sideways and pursue a new venture.
FortuneFish is apparently just one such venture involving the siblings. Tim's son Joe heads up the Nottingham-based mobile dev, and he's cut from very much the same cloth as his father:
There are actually a number of new ventures. FortuneFish is run by a few guys – I'm an investor in FortuneFish and so is Chris. I spend some of my time there, and it's being run by Joe and a chap called Phil Popejoy. That's been going for two years, and it's going well.
Joe's been involved since he was a baby. He was our first junior games tester – he knows games in and out, and knows the thorough history of all of our products. Joe's well versed in working on new, unique products and keeping them secret.
FortuneFish's "casual" mobile focus hints at a studio that is very different from the Rare of old, but Stamper feels that it's still possible to create the same kind of company:
I don't think it would be difficult. You can still produce a studio like Rare; it would just need to have its own direction, its own idea stream and product stream.
Ultimate and Rare made dramatic changes to the type of software available throughout their history and that's why I don't really want to sit back and look at what's been done before. We need to push forward to the future – that's why the move from Microsoft was made, that's what I'm doing now, and that's what I've been doing with Chris for the last eight years or so.
In fact, you could argue that a "new Rare" is already happening, thanks to the efforts of Playtonic Games. Stamper reveals he's happy for the team and deems it a "great honour" that the studio is being established with Rare's core values in mind, but he's thus far avoided looking too closely at Yooka-Laylee:
I purposefully try not to look at other people's products because I don't want to be steered from the direction I'm taking.
And what direction is that, exactly? As ever, Stamper's lips are sealed - but we could know by the end of 2015:
Well, I can't tell you that yet, but you're going to find out hopefully by the end of the year.
What could the brothers be working on? Could we see another Rare-like studio appear in the English midlands, one to rival Playtonic itself? Or are the Stampers focused on something different, like FortuneFish would suggest? Could they be returning to games hardware, a sector of the market they very nearly entered when they prototyped a portable games console - based on Chris Stamper's RAZZ arcade board - prior to the release of the original Game Boy?
Tim Stamper isn't about to say, but he maintains that the level of secrecy the brothers are famed for itsn't intentional:
It's not secretive, exactly. We have a goal to produce the very best product we can, and that takes all of our time. A day spent doing an interview somewhere is a day that's not spent on development and design – and that really bothers me.
I've done this my whole life, I'm still doing it now. My time is very valuable to me. Yes, coming to events and doing interviews is wonderful, but what about those ideas that I would have developed if I had stayed at work and carried on pushing in the direction I need to push?
What do you think Rare would be like if Nintendo had purchased the studio? What do you think the Stampers are working on at the moment? Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.