In at the deep end

Banjo Tooie Atlantis Submarine

Contrary to how modern sequels tend to reintroduce players to familiar characters, movesets and worlds as if you're starting from zero, Banjo-Tooie hits the ground running with all the moves and abilities from the previous game available from the very beginning. Samus, eat your heart out.

"Yeah, there was definitely an assumption that just about everyone playing Tooie would have played Banjo-Kazooie," Malpass says. "I mean, why would anyone go straight to the second game in a series? Of course, today a sequel will usually try to stand on its own as much as it can, onboarding everyone as a new game." Tooie's approach is certainly a boon for veterans and a refreshing change from modern tutorials that force you to revise the basics, however clever they've gotten. "Players were reminded of the existing moves at the start but it would’ve been a lot to take in for someone with no muscle memory of the first. Gregg was always critical of games that rehashed the same old ideas without adding anything new so that was never going to happen with one of his."

Gregg used to say “you’re only as good as your last game” and that’s stuck with me over the years, even though everyone seems to have a duff project now and then

When it came to being thrown in at the deep end, Malpass relates on a professional level as the fresh-faced newbie in a design role. "Rare was two-to-a-room back then (it may still be), rather than open plan like most studios. Gregg had a room to himself so I sometimes wouldn’t see him for long stretches at a time. He’d give me a task and I would often sit for days, or even a week or two, just trying to think of stuff, then we’d reconvene whenever I had something. In hindsight, being given whatever time needed to be creative seems like a real luxury. So now I do roll my eyes whenever a producer asks how long it will take to design certain things. How long is a piece of string?"

Having moved into design from Quality Assurance, the young designer found himself in a position somewhere between amazement and anxiety which has stuck with him through the years.

"I also remember not being able to quite believe I was working on a game and at Rare of all places. It was a definite case of imposter syndrome. I half-expected to be rumbled and given the boot back to the day job I’d left to go there. Gregg used to say “you’re only as good as your last game” and that’s stuck with me over the years, even though everyone seems to have a duff project now and then. There’s a need to prove your worth every time, which has often been much-needed motivation. I’m just eternally grateful to be fortunate to be given a shot at a way into the industry at the best place and learn from the best people. But imposter syndrome never really goes away."

"The first world I had a go at designing proper, Grunty Industries, caused me a lot of headaches," Malpass remembers. "It was spread over several factory floors, so I had to think in terms of height as well as from above in 2D, and all on paper. I was determined that the location of things, like the lift shaft, had to be consistent from one floor to the next, even though they are separate sub-levels and not actually physically modelled together (nowadays you could quickly mock something like this up in Unity or Unreal). And as it was my first proper attempt at level design I was trying to push myself, really. In the end, even after Gregg changed some of it, I think it ended up being too complex for the game. A lot of players hate that level, though some really like it, strangely. Which is better than indifference, I suppose! Up to that point, all the world designs had just Gregg’s initials written in the corner of each page but that one had both his and mine, so that was a proud moment."

New tech, new worlds, new possibilities

Despite some new recruits and changes between games, many of the old faces carried over directly from the original Banjo team, which gave the project a leg up from the beginning and had a beneficial effect across the board, including on the tech side.

"The team size was relatively similar in size across both," says Sutherland, "but I think having the underlying codebase from the first game meant we had something of a head start, which allowed us to add more ideas and content in the second game (i.e. in the first game, quite some time was spent creating development tools, whereas in the second game we were able to start building right away)."

That's not to say that things were easy. "The codebase from the first game only supported one player so there was a bunch of time involved going through and trying to make everything multiplayer aware (for both splitting out Banjo and Kazooie as well as the multiplayer split screen gameplay)." Multiplayer was planned for the original game, but the team ran out of time to implement it.

Much as other Rare titles did at the time, Tooie really pushes the 64-bit hardware, which was several years old at that point and in the twilight of its life cycle, and the ambition of the game's open worlds had a detrimental effect on framerate in several areas. The studio wanted to avoid limiting players by having the game require the system's peripheral Expansion Pak ("I remember there was much desire at Rare for Perfect Dark to ship without needing the Expansion Pak" Sutherland recalls). Therefore, unlike Donkey Kong 64 and Perfect Dark (and contrary to this writer's memory before starting work on this feature), Tooie runs on a vanilla N64 console without that extra 4MB of RAM. "I know the team took great pride in that fact," recalls Malpass.

For E3 we had to have [the intro cutscene] in and working and I can remember that Will and I stayed up until gone 6 in the morning running and rerunning the intro trying to get it to not go out of time.

Banjo-Tooie represents various significant technical advancements over the first game. "A lot of it is due to us refining tech or systems that were more basic in the first game. For example in the first game we had a system (written by Paul Machacek) that dynamically loaded information into RAM as the player looked around the level, and that's the kind of thing I think we'd have enhanced for the second game."

While certain tools weren't as easy to use as they are these days, some things were modified for the better. "The editor we had for making the cutscenes improved," says Ed Bryan. "It was made a bit more user-friendly, which for me as the poor sod who had to put them all together was nice. The 10 minute(!) intro at the start of BT took some work, certainly to keep it running properly. You had to attach characters to splines edited down on the background then move them into place at the right time whilst triggering the right animation. The frame rate could interfere with the timing of things. Tools have moved on a lot since then! For E3 we had to have it in and working and I can remember that Will and I stayed up until gone 6 in the morning running and rerunning the intro trying to get it to not go out of time. We got there in the end"

The team's multi-disciplined 'get stuck in' approach led to Bryan taking on level creation duties, too. "I did the mine level, which after my efforts with Gobi's Valley [from Banjo-Kazooie], I shouldn't have been allowed to do. In fact, I think I started on the mine as soon as BK was done, over the summer of '98. I've always been more of a character kind of person, but somehow end up doing a bit of level stuff. After the mine, I was able to avoid a level until Viva Piñata 2."

The sheer scope of the new worlds was a bugbear for the team. "Getting that level loading stuff working was tricky. All the levels were so big," Bryan continues. "I can remember a lot of effort going into finding a way to essentially stream level data as you moved about; Jolly Rogers Lagoon is a good example. The tunnels under the water were long enough, if I remember right, so there was time to fetch the next bit of level off the cartridge."

I often get the blame for that but all I did was recreate Gregg's original drawing in 3D... I do genuinely believe it was entirely accidental that it ended up looking like it did!!

"Cloud Cuckooland didn’t actually fit in memory if you flew far from it and then turned to look at it in its entirety," Malpass recalls, "so the far side of it had to be culled dynamically. But the Banjo engine was probably the most capable at Rare (each team wrote their own game engine at that time!) so they were able to make the game run in memory and at a mostly respectable frame rate without [the Expansion Pak]."

"We were pushing the hardware with the first game so it was difficult to get the same detail into bigger levels and get it to run at a consistently good framerate," says Hurst. "I think some levels suffered more than others in that regard – Terrydactyland I think in particular was problematic because you could see large sections of the level at one time."

On the subject of Terrydactyland, there's a well-known and rather rude-looking land mass (when viewed from above) found outside Mumbo's skull. In an effort to find the culprit of this infamous terra firma, we gave Hurst an opportunity to 'fess up.

"Ah yes that 'structure' [smiles]. I often get the blame for that but all I did was recreate Gregg's original drawing in 3D (I'm sure I still have the original drawing around here somewhere to exonerate me from blame) – I do genuinely believe it was entirely accidental that it ended up looking like it did!!" We invite readers to examine Mayle's original world design below and come to their own conclusions...

Textures and tunes

Accidental phallic level geometry aside, increased texture sizes helped prevent the game's sprawling spaces from looking repetitive. "We used textures that were 64x64 pixels in size (ah those were the days!) rather than the standard 32x32 ones," says Hurst, "which meant that we could fit in more detail (at the cost of reduced colour resolution). We also used blending techniques quite a lot so that textures could be blended together and you could vary them across large surface areas to reduce the repetitive tiling effect."

Improvements and enhancements made to the original engine opened up new opportunities across the board, and Will Bryan (Ed's brother — another fraternal pair on the Banjo team) opened up some new audio avenues for Grant Kirkhope.

"I had double the amount of memory for Tooie as the cartridge was bigger," Kirkhope explains. "The biggest change for me was that Will Bryan managed to get two MIDI files to run together at the same time so I had double the amount of instruments available. This is most noticeable in Witchy World. You can run round the whole level and into all the separate zones without the music having to restart once, it just morphs into the new version."

Banjo Tooie Atlantis Kirkhope

With Tooie's fairytale tone being bleaker and more complex, that extra audio bandwidth enabled Kirkhope to reflect that shift and expand on what he'd achieved in the first game. The foreboding and melancholy Isle of Hags theme which accompanies your journey through the hub world—a personal favourite for this writer—is a moody successor to the original's Grunty's Lair theme and its memorable If you go down to the woods today-esque melody. "I think I was going for the same vibe as Gruntilda’s Lair for this one," Kirkhope tells us. "It’s the same 6/8 rhythm as Grunty’s Lair as I thought that could be the main linking factor."

Asked for a favourite track, Kirkhope has a hard time pinning one down. "I think it’d have to be Atlantis, I loved writing that one. I just think it really fitted that area well. Ask me on another day and I’ll probably say something else!" Banjo-Tooie is filled with audio that adds the same intangible texture to the worlds as its predecessor, but Atlantis stands out on this game's soundtrack as a gentler, more ambient theme than the rest; a piece which arguably hints at Kirkhope's direction with his future scores once he had fewer tech limitations to contend with.

Bombs and bugs

When asked about specific headaches throughout development, two features in particular are mentioned multiple times. The first is the increased scope and scale of the worlds. The second?

"Clockwork Kazooie bombs… we loved those in testing," recalls Price. "They were excellent for finding bugs and causing bugs too! Being smaller and being able to be fired to places the main characters couldn’t get was great for causing mischief."

During our QA phase there seemed to be a never ending stream of BKCKB bugs!... there were so many permutations of its use that I notice there are still plenty of cheats and glitches that people have discovered since then

"[They] turned out to be the source of a large number of bugs and sequence breaks," says Sutherland. "The bomb would be launched then the player would take motion control of it, whilst the launching character (BK) would remain idle. Because the BKCKB [Banjo-Kazooie Clockwork Kazooie Bomb] could be launched at any point determined by the player there were 'interesting' situations where the idling launching character could unexpectedly change state — i.e. they might have been attacked, fallen off a moving/disappearing platform, triggered a cutscene or started walking out a door. This was made even more likely as the BKCKB could collect items which again in turn might trigger a cutscene, and on top of that the bomb could travel through doorways to other levels/areas."

This new and fun little mechanic turned into something of a nightmare for the team. "During our QA phase there seemed to be a never ending stream of BKCKB bugs! Each time I squashed the root cause of one, someone in QA would come up with another one based on a unique sequence of events. Although we fixed the big issues raised in QA at the time, there were so many permutations of its use that I notice there are still plenty of cheats and glitches that people have discovered since then."

Tooie's complexity caused issues for animators, too. "Banjo’s new solo moves where he could take the backpack off [were tricky]," remembers Steve Mayles, and it took some creative workarounds to achieve the desired effect. "At a certain point in each animation, the main backpack is switched off and a new separate backpack appears in the same place that can then be animated as required."

"Oh, and I had an issue with parts of Lord Woo Fak Fak not animating." Mayles continues, referring to the oversized anglerfish residing in Davy Jones' locker, just one of many boss characters in the game. "After a couple of hours of double checking stuff and much head scratching, it turned out he had exceeded the maximum joint count. I didn’t even know we had a maximum joint count! Had to take some joints out, poor guy was never the same again!"

Characters and couplets

"Steve and I had a massive list pinned to the wall with all the characters and we crossed them off as we did them." - Ed Bryan
"Steve and I had a massive list pinned to the wall with all the characters and we crossed them off as we did them." - Ed Bryan (Image: Ed Bryan)

The sequel brought back not only the team, but also many of the characters players had met while exploring Grunty's lair, including bit players like pirate hippo Captain Blubber and Gobi the Camel, as well as the Jinjos and the best shaman in the whole first game, Mumbo Jumbo, who received a minor makeover for his sophomore appearence.

"That was him going from a rubbish model, to something a little better!" explains Ed Bryan, the character's creator. "He needed to look better for the second game, especially as you'd see all the way around him. And he had more animations and stuff. Why he was playable? That's what Gregg wanted!"

With Mumbo taking on a more active role, new cast member Humba Wumba took over his transformation duties. Tooie had plenty of new additions besides, with family members of existing characters making up much of the roster. We meet Grunty's sisters (besidesthe benevolent Brentilda from the first game, that is), as well as dearly departed Bottles' wife and kids, not to mention his brother, Sergeant Jamjars (who doles out the new moves this time round). "I made an animation of Jamjars where instead of going back into his hole, the lid closes and he hits the lid instead," says Steve Mayles. "It doesn’t happen very often. Anyway, I was watching a speed run at AGDQ one time and looked on in amusement as Jamjars did indeed hit his head and the commentator moaned about the runner losing several seconds due to this alternate animation. A real proud moment for me, costing that speedrunner a few seconds!"

Mayles has affection for the lowliest of cast members ("I have a soft spot for the Gruntling with the wrench in Grunty Industries. He had great sound fx too! 'Aieeeeee!'"), but bosses were another addition to the sequel mix that he enjoyed working on. "Bosses are fun as you know they are going to be huge on screen so you can use more textures, more joints, and really go to town with the animations. So Mr Patch, Lord Woo Fak Fak and Weldar would be favourites."

"Weldar turned out to be one of the best of all the Banjo bosses," agrees Gregg, "but the first design was perceived to be so poor by [Steve Malpass] that he didn’t want to show me. But we worked on it a bit and I think it ended up great!"

"The characters are the heart and soul of the Banjo games, being where the humour and charm comes from," says Malpass. "I love most of them but faves are probably Mumbo, Klungo, Gobi, etc. Many of the minor characters were really comical if they had particularly amusing animations or lines. I’m also very fond of Weldar, because he started out as a discarded sketch of a welding torch enemy and ended up being a boss."

As with the first game, the assembled crew of characters—from bit-players to bosses—are perhaps best remembered for their humour. "[We were] writing what we thought was hilarious dialog," says Malpass. "I mostly wrote placeholder lines but Gregg left in whatever he found amusing." The humour and double entendre of Banjo-Kazooie may have returned in force, but there was one beloved element of the first game which was quickly nipped in the bud.

"This was another of our attempts to surprise people," Gregg Mayles says about the absence of Grunty's trademark rhyming couplets in the sequel. "I quite liked writing Grunty’s rhymes, but I thought it would be funny if she simply stopped when asked to do so, despite talking like that for the entire first game. In hindsight, I don’t think this was one of my better ideas and probably should have continued the rhyming. But if you don’t try different things you never know!"