The last time we saw Banjo, Kazooie, and company on home consoles was on the Nintendo 64 way back in 2000. After spending eight long years in the blissful sun under Spiral Mountain, two of Rare's most-loved mascots are back and making their first appearance on the Xbox 360.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Rare's platformer-cum-user-generated-vehicle experience, is racing towards a pre-holiday-season release this year. We sat down with the game's lead technical artist, Neill Harrison, and senior animator Elissa Miller at a recent event in London to talk about some of the wacky racers that Nuts & Bolts will let you build.
GameSpot UK: What prompted the team to have a different shift for this game and go for a user-generated style?
Neill Harrison: We wanted to make another Banjo-Kazooie game, and we actually started doing what people would probably have expected, just a high-def platforming game, and we worked on that for a while and it just felt, as both developers and players of games, a little bit stale and we didn't want to do that...why are we doing the same thing as we were 10 years ago when we could do so much more on the 360? I guess the user-generated thing just came from the fact that traditionally you're given a very complicated challenge but only with a linear solution; that is, to do the level exactly as the designer intended--jump here, grab there, and so on. We didn't want to do that. We wanted it to be a different experience for different people, and that's kind of where the vehicles came in by giving the player the ability to make their own.
GSUK: Presumably you've been developing it for quite a long time. Do you think that users' expectations have changed when it comes to platformers (for example, LittleBigPlanet)?
NH: There are a lot of other people trying to get away from traditional platforming. Platforming originally was the genre of computer games, but it did peak in the '90s, and since then, maybe, I think the sales of platforming has dropped down a little bit because of new genres coming in, but we didn't want to do the same thing again, basically.
GSUK: What kind of audience are you trying to attract to Nuts & Bolts?
Elissa Miller: Really broad. We're hoping it appeals to new gamers and that the old [Banjo] gamers will come on board, and in regards to demographics you can see that with the progression of things it's very open to younger players, but then obviously with the vehicle editing and replayability then Nuts is going to appeal to hardcore gamers. We're just hoping...that it will be open to all sorts of people and all sorts of gamers really.
NH: Anyone really with an imagination who wants something different from a first-person shooter or a racing game. It's something unique, a new experience, just anyone who's open to trying it really.
GSUK: How did you strike the balance between satisfying experienced gamers and catering to beginners, especially with the vehicle editor which could be a bit overwhelming?
EM: With the progression of the game, the designers tried to balance that out. You're not overwhelmed with all these [vehicle] components. The hub world starts out really, really small and you're restricted to that area. As you progress through the different gameworlds you get more components and more places open up to you. We have the [vehicle] blueprints and main chassis and things like that. If you're not a hardcore gamer these things are really going to help.
GSUK: In multiplayer or single-player is there always an advantage to making custom-built (players' choice) vehicles as opposed to using the standard vehicles you unlock?
NH: I would say yes, almost certainly in single-player. The idea of multiplayer vehicles is for people who either aren't good enough to build their own vehicles or don't have time. There is something there for them to use, but if you were playing against better players who have built their own vehicles they'll almost certainly have an advantage over you. However, you can go up to a rival player in the multiplayer lobby and take a photo--press B and Kazooie will come out of the backpack and take a photo of their vehicle and that's then saved onto your account as a blueprint.
Another point to make is that with the replays, on a racing game for example, I could watch the best player in the world. I could watch exactly how he's done it, but it doesn't really help me because I'm not the best player in the world. I'm just not good enough at the game to take the [driving] lines that he's doing. With our game, what's good about it is your imagination and the idea that you've come up with. If you've got the best vehicle in the world I could copy that vehicle and that would almost put us on a level playing field again. The key is actually building the vehicle not necessarily using it, so that's quite important I think.
GSUK: What are some of the craziest vehicles you've seen? You were saying people have made TIE fighters?
NH: They've done all sorts of stuff. There was a space shuttle that someone built. They have all the fuel tanks and then when they take off they detach so you can fly up and then detach the fuel tanks and then flip out some wings to fly. People have built cool things like that--mainly just having fun building stuff. That shuttle is probably absolutely useless in most of the challenges in the game, but it was just great fun to play around with.
You can have great fun in the multiplayer; it's a bit like Wacky Races. We might all be in a race and we could be in completely different vehicles. You might be in a plane and I could be in a tank trying to shoot you out of the air. The sort of combinations you can get is pretty unique from other games because you are in control.
GSUK: The previous instalments in the Banjo series have been critically acclaimed. Do you feel a lot of pressure to live up to that expectation?
EM: I don't think so really. We just make a game that, designwise, we're really proud of and just hope that it's accepted and does really well. That's all you can do.
GSUK: Do you feel that this game has given Banjo a fresh lease on life?
EM: I think so. If people are accepting of it and the gaming experience then definitely there are so many more possibilities that we can push [the series] even further.
GSUK: Thanks for your time.
To find out more, read our recent hands on preview with Nuts & Bolts single-player mode.