Rare Limited is a British video game developer and a studio of Xbox Game Studios based in Twycross. Rare's games span the platform, first-person shooter, action-adventure, fighting, and racing genres. Its most popular games include the Battletoads, Donkey Kong, and Banjo-Kazooie series, as well as games like GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, and Sea of Thieves.
Tim and Chris Stamper, who also founded Ultimate Play the Game, established Rare in 1985. During its early years, Rare was backed by an unlimited budget from Nintendo, primarily concentrated on Nintendo Entertainment System games. During this time, Rare created successful games such as Wizards & Warriors, R.C. Pro-Am, and Battletoads. Rare became a prominent second-party developer for Nintendo, which came to own a large minority stake of the company, with the release of Donkey Kong Country). Throughout the 1990s, Rare started selling their games under the trademark name "Rareware" and received international recognition and critical acclaim for games such as the Donkey Kong series, Killer Instinct, GoldenEye, Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and Conker's Bad Fur Day.
In 2002, Microsoft acquired Rare, which retained its original brand, logo, and most intellectual properties. Rare has since focused on developing games exclusively for Microsoft's video game consoles, including Grabbed by the Ghoulies (2003), Kameo (2005), Perfect Dark Zero (2005), and Viva Piñata (2006). In 2007, the Stampers left Rare to pursue other opportunities and, in 2010, the company's focus shifted to the Xbox Live Avatar and Kinect, releasing three Kinect Sports games. In 2015, Rare developed Rare Replay, an Xbox One-exclusive compilation containing 30 of its games to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Rare's most recent game, Sea of Thieves, was released in 2018.
Several former Rare employees have formed their own companies, such as Free Radical Design, best known for producing the TimeSplitters series, and Playtonic Games, best known for Yooka-Laylee (2017). Rare is widely acknowledged by the gaming industry and has received numerous accolades from critics and journalists. It is known as secretive and seclusive. Several Rare games, such as Donkey Kong Country and GoldenEye 007, have been cited as among the greatest and most influential games of all time, though some fans and former employees have been critical of the company's output since the Microsoft buyout.
The Beginning (1985-1993)
Rare evolved from the company Ultimate Play the Game, which was founded in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire by former arcade game developers Tim and Chris Stamper. After multiple critically and commercially successful releases including Jetpac, Atic Atac, Sabre Wulf, and Knight Lore, Ultimate Play The Game was one of the biggest UK-based video game development companies. The ZX Spectrum home computer, the platform the company usually developed games for, was only popular in the UK, and they believed that working on that platform would not be beneficial to the company's growth as they considered it a "dead end". Meanwhile, the company inspected an imported console from Japan, the Famicom, and believed that it would be an ideal future platform of choice for the company as it was more sophisticated than the Spectrum, it had a worldwide market, and its cartridges had no load times. As a result, Rare was established in 1985. Its main goal was to reverse-engineer the console and investigate the codes for Famicom's games to learn more about the console's programming. With successful results, the company decided to sell the Ultimate brand to U.S. Gold, and ceased game development for the ZX Spectrum in the following year. The Famicom's manufacturer, Nintendo, claimed that it was impossible to reverse engineer the console. Using the information the Ultimate Play the Game team acquired from Rare, the team prepared several tech demos and showed them to the Nintendo executive Minoru Arakawa in Kyoto. Impressed with their efforts, Nintendo decided to grant the Ultimate Play the Game team an unlimited budget for them to work on games for the Famicom platform. After they returned to England, they moved from Ashby-de-la-Zouch to Twycross, and established a new studio through Rare. They set their headquarters in a Manor Farmhouse. Rare also set up another company known as Rare, Inc., in Miami, Florida. Headed by Joel Hochberg, the American company was involved in maintaining Rare's operation in the US and contacting major US publishers. Hochberg was previously the vice president of American arcade manufacturer Centuri. The Famicom was eventually released in North America and Europe under the name Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). With the unlimited budget, Rare could work a large variety of different games. The first project Rare worked on was Slalom, a downhill skiing game. The company then worked with various gaming publishers that included Tradewest, Acclaim Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Sega, Mindscape, and Gametek to produce over 60 games for the NES and several additional Game Boy conversions. They helped in creating new and original intellectual properties, including R.C. Pro-Am, a racing game with vehicular combat elements, and Snake Rattle 'n' Roll, an action platform game with Tim Stamper developing the game's graphics. Rare also developed Battletoads, a beat'em up inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. The game became known for its extreme difficulty, and upon seeing success, publisher Tradewest published multiple ports for the game, and tasked Rare to develop sequels. Tradewest also gave their own Double Dragon licence to Rare, allowing them to develop a crossover game between the two franchises. Rare released three Battletoads games in 1993, including Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team, Battletoads in Ragnarok's World and Battletoads in Battlemaniacs. The last Battletoads game from that era was released for the arcade in 1994. Several Battletoads games were also ported to some Sega's systems like the Mega Drive/Genesis. Rare worked on licensed properties such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hollywood Squares, and ports including Marble Madness, Narc, and Sid Meier's Pirates!. The development of four of Rare's games were outsourced to Zippo Games, including Wizards & Warriors and the third instalment of the Jetpac series, Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warship. Rare eventually acquired Zippo Games and renamed them to Rare Manchester. According to Ste Pickford, a Rare team member through the late 80s and the early 90s, Rare just "wanted to make as many games as they could in their 'window of opportunity'". The huge library of games made large profits, but none became a critical success for the company while less creativity and innovation were shown in them. When the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was conceived, Rare was not yet ready for the change. Rare limited their releases to some Battletoads games and decided to invest their significant NES profit in purchasing expensive Silicon Graphics workstations to make three-dimensional models. This move made Rare the most technologically advanced developer in the UK, and situated them high in the international market. Their priority also changed at that time, as the team decided to focus on quality instead of quantity.
Partnership With Nintendo (1994-2002)
Rare, using the SGI systems, created a boxing game demo and presented it to Nintendo. As the SNES at that time could not render all of the SGI graphics at once, Rare used the SGI graphics to produce 3D models and graphics, before pre-rendering these graphics onto the cartridge of the SNES system, a process known as "Advanced Computer Modelling". Their progress with the 3D graphics on the SGI systems impressed Nintendo, and in 1994, Nintendo bought a 25% stake in the company that gradually increased to 49%, making Rare a second-party developer for Nintendo. During this period, Rare started selling their games under the trademark name "Rareware". The company was considered one of Nintendo's key developers and had enough recognition that Nintendo offered Rare the Nintendo catalogue of characters to create a 3D CGI game. The Stampers asked for Donkey Kong. The resulting game was Donkey Kong Country, which was developed by a total of 20 people and enjoyed an 18-month development cycle. Rare staff also visited Twycross Zoo, observing and videotaping real gorillas. The game was a critical success, with critics praising the game's highly advanced visuals and artstyle. Donkey Kong Country sold over nine million copies worldwide, making it the third best-selling game in the SNES library. The game received several Game of the Year honours and was followed by two sequels, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!, as well as several handheld spin-offs such as the Donkey Kong Land series. Nintendo's stake purchase allowed Rare to expand significantly. The number of staff members increased from 84 to 250, and Rare moved out from their headquarters at the Manor Farmhouse. Rare also developed a CGI arcade fighting game, Killer Instinct, on their own custom-built arcade machine. Killer Instinct was set to be released for Nintendo's own 64-bit system, the Nintendo 64 in 1995, but was forced to release the game for the 16-bit SNES system, and had to downgrade the game's graphics. Killer Instinct sold 3.2 million copies, and was followed by a sequel, Killer Instinct 2. Killer Instinct Gold, the console version of Killer Instinct 2, suffered from a graphical downgrade due to the compression technology used to fit the arcade version onto the smaller Nintendo 64 cartridge. Rare then developed Blast Corps for the Nintendo 64. The game sold one million copies, which was considered disappointing by Rare. At that time, Rare was split into several teams, working on different projects. A large-scaled platformer was set to be released afterwards but was delayed. As a result, Rare changed their schedule and released their smaller projects first. The first project was GoldenEye 007, a game based on the James Bond film GoldenEye. The project was led by Martin Hollis and development was conducted by an inexperienced team. Inspired by Sega's Virtua Cop, Goldeneye 007 had originally been an on-rail shooter before the team decided to expand the gameplay and turn it into a free-roaming first-person shooter. New elements, such as stealth, headshot mechanics and reloading, were introduced. A split-screen multiplayer was added to the game by the end of its development. GoldenEye 007 was the first console first-person shooter developed by Rare and it was released two years after the release of the film. The game received critical praise and received numerous awards. Goldeneye 007 remained one of the best-selling games for two years, and sold more than eight million units worldwide. Rare then developed Diddy Kong Racing, their first self-published game. Originally intended as a real-time strategy game involving cavemen, the game was re-imagined into a racing game prior to its release in 1997. It was one of the fastest selling games at the time, as recorded by The Guinness Book of Records. Diddy Kong Racing also features protagonists from some future Rare games, including Banjo and Conker. At the time, Rare was still working on the large-scale platform game. Originally codenamed Dream: Land of Giants, it was a game featuring a young boy named Edison and pirates. The protagonist was then replaced by a bear known as Banjo, and Rare expanded the role of Kazooie the bird. The two characters were inspired by characters from Walt Disney Animation Studios films and Rare hoped that they could appeal to a younger audience. Banjo-Kazooie was released in June 1998 to critical acclaim. A sequel, Banjo-Tooie, was released in 2000. It was a critical success and it outsold the first game, selling 3 million copies. Upon the completion of Banjo-Kazooie's development, Hollis immediately began another project. Originally set to be a tie-in for Tomorrow Never Dies, Rare was significantly outbid by another publisher, forcing Rare to develop a new concept with new characters. With a major emphasis on lighting, the game was named Perfect Dark. Hollis left Rare for Nintendo 14 months after the start of Perfect Dark's development. Around the same time, numerous employees left the company and formed new studios. With major project leads departing, a new team took over its development and diminished the role of lighting in the game, making it a more straightforward first-person shooter. The game's troubled development did not affect the progress of Rare's other teams. When Perfect Dark was still in development, Rare released two other games, Jet Force Gemini and Donkey Kong 64. In 1999, Nintendo signed an agreement with Disney, and assigned Rare to develop several racing and adventure games featuring Mickey Mouse. The project later became Mickey's Speedway USA and Mickey Racing Adventure. Perfect Dark eventually resurfaced and it was released in 2000 to critical acclaim. The game sold approximately 2 million copies. Conker the Squirrel also had its own game. Originally named Conker's Quest, it was renamed to Twelve Tales: Conker 64. However, the new game was criticised for being too family-friendly and too similar to Banjo-Kazooie. As a result, the team renamed the game to Conker's Bad Fur Day and was re-revealed again in 2000. Conker's Bad Fur Day, unlike Banjo-Kazooie, was intended for a mature audience, and features violence, profanity and scatological humour. The game received positive reviews from critics, but was a commercial failure as the game was released at the end of the Nintendo 64's life cycle and the game was not actively promoted by Nintendo. After the completion of Diddy Kong Racing, another team was working on a new game known as Dinosaur Planet for the Nintendo 64. However, Shigeru Miyamoto, a Nintendo executive, suggested the team to recreate the game for the Star Fox series for Nintendo's new console, the GameCube. Unlike previous Star Fox games, Star Fox Adventures focused on ground-based open world exploration. The game received positive reviews upon its launch in 2002. Star Fox Adventures was the only game developed by Rare for GameCube.
A Microsoft Subsidary (2002-Present)
Game development costs gradually increased, and Nintendo did not provide Rare with more capital nor did they purchase the company's remaining stake. The Stampers were surprised that Nintendo did not directly acquire the studio. Rare looked for potential buyers. In early 2000, workers from Activision and Microsoft began visiting Rare with purchase offers. According to Microsoft's Ed Fries, Nintendo, Activision, and Microsoft then became embroiled in a bidding war for ownership of Rare. Rare expressed interest in Activision's offer, but Microsoft offered more money. On 24 September 2002, Microsoft purchased Rare for $375 million. Rare became a first-party developer for Microsoft's Xbox. Character trademarks from games developed by Rare for Nintendo consoles, such as Conker of Conker's Bad Fur Day and Banjo of the Banjo-Kazooie series, were retained by Rare; intellectual property created by Nintendo, such as Donkey Kong and Star Fox, were retained by Nintendo. This left Donkey Kong Racing, due for release for the GameCube, unreleased. 30 employees left Rare during the transition. Since Microsoft was not part of the handheld video-game console market, Rare continued to develop games for Nintendo handheld consoles after the acquisition. In August 2003, Rare and Microsoft entered an agreement with THQ for Rare to publish games for the Game Boy Advance, including Sabre Wulf, a game based on an Ultimate character; Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge, initially intended as a Game Boy Color game and It's Mr. Pants!, a puzzle game originally developed as Donkey Kong: Coconut Crackers. January 2005 saw the completion of this deal with the release of Banjo-Pilot, known as Diddy Kong Pilot before the Microsoft acquisition. In 2003, Rare released their first Microsoft game, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, a humorous action-adventure game set in a haunted mansion full of supernatural creatures. Originally intended as a free-roaming game, it was significantly streamlined in design and concept to attract a larger, more casual audience. The game received mixed reviews from critics, and was considered Rare's worst and least-popular game. At E3 2004, Microsoft's Ken Lobb said that Rare had obtained Nintendo DS development kits and was working on two games for the Nintendo DS. Shortly afterwards, Microsoft issued a statement that the company and its studios had no plans for Nintendo DS development. However, in July 2005, Rare posted job openings for Nintendo DS development on its website and said that it was creating "key" DS games. The first of these games was Diddy Kong Racing DS, a remake of the Nintendo 64 title Diddy Kong Racing which was released in February 2007. Rare released Conker: Live & Reloaded, a remake of Conker's Bad Fur Day, in 2005 with updated graphics and a reworked multiplayer option. The game received generally favourable reviews but, similar to Bad Fur Day, was a commercial failure. Xbox successor Xbox 360 was released in 2005, and two of its launch games were developed by Rare: Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power. Zero, a prequel to the first Perfect Dark, was originally intended for GameCube before its redesign as an Xbox 360 game. Rare removed several features to meet the game's release deadline. Kameo: Elements of Power was also intended for the GameCube. A new intellectual property, in it the player character shape-shifts to solve puzzles. Although both received generally positive reviews from critics and sold more than a million copies, they were considered disappointments. In 2006, the company released Viva Piñata, a game involving gardening. Incorporating elements of several franchises including The Sims, Animal Crossing, and Harvest Moon, it was acclaimed as innovative. The game's commercial performance was a disappointment, however, and some Rare team members questioned Microsoft Studios' large marketing budget for Gears of War and its relative neglect of Viva Piñata. On 2 January 2007, Rare founders Chris and Tim Stamper left the company to "pursue other opportunities". Former lead designer Gregg Mayles became Rare's creative director and Mark Betteridge the company's studio director. That year saw the release of Jetpac Refuelled, a remake of Jetpac for Xbox Live Arcade. Rare focused on Kinect from 2009 to 2014 Rare unveiled work on Xbox Live avatars, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (the next game in the Viva Piñata series), and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts in 2008. Made by the core team that developed the first Banjo-Kazooie, Nuts & Bolts received significant criticism from players due to its focus on vehicle construction rather than traditional platforming. Though generally receiving positive reviews, the company's games for Microsoft sold poorly and Microsoft decided to restructure the studio at the end of the decade. In March 2010, Rare opened a new facility at Fazeley Studios in Digbeth, Birmingham. Later that year, Microsoft confirmed that Scott Henson, a developer who had worked on the hardware and software designs of the Xbox 360 console and Kinect for Xbox 360, replaced Mark Betteridge as studio manager and announced a focus on Xbox Live avatars. Rare also shifted their focus to Kinect. According to Henson, "Kinect will be the main focus for Rare going forwards as it's a very rich canvas. This is just the beginning of an experience that will touch millions of people". Rare's first Kinect project, Kinect Sports, was released in November 2010. Originally titled Sports Star, a more-complex sports simulation game, the game was streamlined into what Microsoft executive Don Mattrick hoped would be the Kinect equivalent of Wii Sports. According to a former Rare employee, the team was worried about the game during its development because of Kinect's limitations. Its reviews were average, but it was a commercial success, selling three million units by May 2011. Rare and BigPark, another Microsoft studio, collaborated on the development of a sequel, Kinect Sports: Season Two. In March 2011, Scott Henson announced that Craig Duncan, who had worked on Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and the Colin McRae Rally series, was hired as senior studio director. Simon Woodroffe, who had worked at several studios (including Adventure Soft, Midway Games, Ubisoft, and Sega), became the studio's creative director in April 2012. A Rare property, Killer Instinct, was revived in 2013. The company had a supporting role in its development, assisting lead developer Double Helix Games. Another Rare mascot, Conker, was also featured in another Microsoft game, Project Spark as episodic downloadable content. Known as Conker's Big Reunion, it was cancelled in 2015. Rare released Kinect Sports Rivals in 2014. The game was worked on by 150 staff members and a new game engine was developed for it. The game was a commercial failure and following Microsoft's announcement that Kinect would no longer be a priority, about 15 Rare employees were laid off. On 10 February 2015, a group of former Rare employees announced the formation of a new studio, Playtonic Games, and planned a "spiritual successor" to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise titled Yooka-Laylee, which was released on 11 April 2017 with mixed reviews. According to Rare composer Robin Beanland, the year 2015 would be significant for the company. At E3 2015, a new compilation game, Rare Replay celebrating the studio's 30th anniversary, was introduced; it was released in August. The compilation, with 30 of the studio's published games, only included games that Rare owned the intellectual property to. Because of this, Rare's operations director Drew Quakenbush explains why GoldenEye 007 is not included in compilation. Rare Replay became the most pre-ordered game shown at E3 that year and received critical acclaim upon launch. A new game, Sea of Thieves, which was a multiplayer adventure game marketed as "The Best Game That Rare Has Ever Made", was introduced at E3 that year. It was delayed at the following year's conference and was released on 20 March 2018. The game received mixed reviews, but was a commercial success; in January 2020, Microsoft declared it the most successful IP it released in the eighth generation, with more than 10 million players. Since 2018, Rare has been working with Dlala Studios on a Battletoads revival for the Xbox One and Windows. Microsoft and Rare also collaborated with Nintendo in 2019 to add Banjo & Kazooie as playable characters in the crossover Nintendo Switch fighting game Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. At the X019 event in November 2019, Rare announced it was developing Everwild, an action-adventure game for Windows and Xbox Series X. As of January 2020, Rare had more than 200 employees, after growing at a consistent pace for five years.