"We're not going to go and remake the same game, which I think when people comment is what they say they want."
The story of Rare has almost become a cautionary tale: the studio created some of the most beloved Nintendo titles of the SNES and N64 era, such as Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, GoldenEye 007, and Banjo Kazooie. Dozens of people even maintain, to this very day, that Diddy Kong Racing is superior to Mario Kart 64. This incredible assortment of titles has in many ways plagued the developer for years, with some high profile staff exits and less-than-stellar titles making the studio seem unable to recover its critical and commercial momentum since being acquired by an eager Microsoft back in 2001.
I'll wager you've probably thought about how you'd love Rare to make another GoldenEye, another Donkey Kong Country, another Jet Force Gemini, or another Banjo Kazooie a few times in your life. People certainly ask for these games a lot. "But I'm not sure it's really what they want," continues Craig Duncan.
Duncan has been the head of Rare for a "fun-packed" three years now, with roughly 120-odd full-time staff (and anywhere between 30 and 80 freelancers) currently putting the finishing touches on Kinect Sports Rivals, its Xbox One debut, at the studio's leafy UK studio in Twycross. But surely there's more to Rare than Kinect Sports Rivals? "We've always got things bubbling," said Duncan. "We've always got a level of things at a concept phase. The key thing is when do we get it from what we call labs to something that's in incubation? And even then it still may not ever see the light of day. We might create a prototype and then kill it because it's not good enough."
"From a creative point of view, we've always got a number of ideas that we're bubbling around, and it's really about picking the right one for the right time in the industry."
"The key question is: what's Rare going to release next? We've always got a number of ideas there," Duncan adds, "and it's just aligning the right one to the right console opportunity, to the right market opportunity."
How many projects does Rare have in that incubation stage right now, then? It certainly feels like Microsoft has a platformer-shaped gap in its lineup that Rare could feasibly fill with a new Banjo title. "We're about to put new teams together for new projects beyond Kinect Sports Rivals, so we definitely have things we feel pretty good about."
A new Rare game for an E3 2014 debut, then? "I'm not going to answer that question."
But surely there must be a desire for the creative types at Rare to work on a fresh project after developing three Kinect Sports games in a row? "Different people are motivated by different things," Duncan says. "We've got a lot of technologists that are really focused on the 'can we do this?' My job is easy in a lot of ways, because my job is just to create an environment where our best and brightest people can go and do their best work, and make sure they've got the resources and the backing, and the budgets, and the space, and the creative freedom to go and build awesome.
"From a creative point of view, we've always got a number of ideas that we're bubbling around, and it's really about picking the right one for the right time in the industry. Look at where trends are going. Where do we think the industry is going, where do we think Microsoft platforms are going?"
As a first-party studio, then, I ask Duncan where he thinks the industry is going. "Microsoft is now a platform company with platforms, with an 's' at the end," he says. "We do think about how we do have touch with Windows 8, we do have PC, we do have Xbox 360, which is still buoyant for us as there's still millions of 360's out there, and then if I think about Xbox One, we've rocketed out of the blocks and there seems to be a great demand for next-generation content. So for us, it's really... what are the right franchises? What are the right games? And to go and light up Kinect, and to go and light up what Xbox One could do, was a challenge that any developer worth its salt would love to go and run at."
"We'll look at other projects, and what's the right platform for those? Kinect might not be the right platform, or touch might not be the right platform, and you've got to fit the right game to the right kind of console."
While Kinect Sports Rivals might not be enough to win over some of Rare's doubters, then, it's worth remembering that the UK developer has managed to stay commercially successful and afloat in a tumultuous climate that has seen many studios closed up and down the country over the last few years. Duncan also points out what the team has accomplished: "We've made the best bowling ever. The best bowling that's ever been, ever ever ever, on any platform."
"If we can't do something creatively that's different to what's been done before, and what I can say with Kinect Sports Rivals is, the reason we did that is we could go and do a load of things creatively that we hadn't done before, and no-one else had done, so I can justify that it's the right thing for a studio to do."