Rare on Kinect: "You can sit a six-year old in front of it and they know what to do"
Rare’s Nick Burton talks to us about the developer’s role in the retro XBLA community, and throws a few nuggets on Kinect into the bargain…
Nick Burton has overseen several of the Twyford-based developer’s retro remakes. He’s currently working on Kinect Sports ahead of the launch of Microsoft’s camera peripheral, though he was also heavily involved in the XBLA remake of Rare’s 8-bit hit Jetpac.
360: Rare has produced a few retro remakes on XBLA, with the likes of Perfect Dark HD and the HD updates of the Banjo-Kazooie games, though they were outsourced…
Nick Burton: I’d like to be involved in more retro remakes, I mean I’m a retro gamer myself, and I was behind the XBLA version of Jetpac Refuelled.
360: You’re obviously busy working with Kinect at the moment. Do you see that as a way of getting back to old-school games? Not so much in terms of the technology, but in terms of the instant appeal and accessibility of older games?
NB: Well, for us making the game, the controls are actually the most difficult part, and they require quite sort of complex programming to get the interface right and make sure it all works fine. But from the user’s end, yeah, there’s a simplicity to Kinect which is like the old retro games, in that it’s accessible controls. You can sit a six-year-old in front of it and they know what to do.
360: Jetpac Refuelled was the first retro remake Rare produced for Live Arcade, and was quite a success. What were the most important aspects for you in updating a classic for a modern audience?
NB: Well, from our point of view, you’ve got a complex controller – modern controllers have so many buttons compared to the joysticks and pads of old – and so we dialled down the controls so you’ve got something much simpler.
360: Was that a deliberate decision to keep it closer to how the original was played?
NB: Yes, I think you have to do that in order to stay close to the original game. There are some games out there doing complicated things under the hood but still with simple controls so they feel like they have a retro design. I think you’ve got to have a place on the gaming market for easy access stuff, games you can play that are instant and accessible with a limited amount of time that people have these days.
360: Why do you think Xbox Live Arcade has become a really natural home for retro games and retro-style games?
NB: I think, in general, it’s a place where there are a lot of smaller titles – the games tend to be, by nature, smaller, so you can get quicker into the game, and they’re cheaper. All of those things kind of make you want to play a game of that nature. A gamer sees a game that is essentially quite simple and straightforward, available to a low price and that doesn’t take a lot of time to play, and that’s appealing to a lot of people.
360: So do you think it’s as much of a time thing as anything else?
NB: Not so much a time thing as a convenience and an accessibility thing. I mean, I don’t know if you’re the same, but I sometimes think ‘right, I’ll play something on Xbox Live Arcade’ and I won’t necessarily think of a particular game so much as I want to play a game that doesn’t take too much time. People have less and less spare time these days, so sometimes they’re looking for something that doesn’t require such a significant investment. If I’m going to spend my time playing, for example, Banjo, I’ve just got to sit down and browse through arcade games and then play. I mean, there are retail games out there like Rock Band and Guitar Hero that you can play without needing too much time, and you can simply jump in and have a quick play, but they’re the exception. Sometimes you’re not in the mood for an epic adventure, so these Arcade titles fit the bill.
360: And they can fit into the schedules of busy people more easily…
NB: Well, what I sometimes find is, you set it up to go and play something for 20-30 minutes… but then you can end up playing for three or four hours because you’re messing around playing a number of different games! I mean, something like Game Room can be a timesink because you’re going through the arcade and finding lots of little games you want to play.
360: So with Rare focused on Kinect for the time being, do you think you’ll be able to explore retro-style titles in future, whether using Kinect or a traditional style control scheme? ls there a possibility that you might still be able to do projects for XBLA? Or now you’re working with Kinect, are you purely focused on that?
NB: We’re focused on Kinect at the moment, but we’d never say never to doing smaller projects like that. While we’re not working on anything right now, that’s not to say we wouldn’t do something like that in the future. Over 25 years, our back catalogue has been very eclectic – we’ve done very different kinds of games from the very early days on the NES, through to the N64 and GameCube and now on the 360 and with Kinect. Whatever seems to be exciting and interesting is what we’re particularly interested in making.
360: If you could personally choose, what would be the one Rare IP you’d like to bring back?
NB: Well, I was lucky enough to get to remake the one game I really wanted to make, which was Jetpac. I remember back in the Eighties I lost one summer to that game. When everyone else was playing outside I was in playing Jetpac for hours and hours – I can’t believe I lost a whole summer to that! So that’s probably not the kind of answer you were looking for, but I was fortunate to get to remake the one game I loved as a youngster. Otherwise, I think something like Lunar Jetman would be good, though that’s probably too similar to Jetpac so they wouldn’t let me make that. So maybe something like Snake, Rattle and Roll or RC Pro Am.