Rareware ice

Donnchadh Murphy (also goes by the name of Don Murphy on some game credits) is an extremely talented 3D modeler from Ireland who worked on games at Rare Ltd such as Killer Instinct Gold, Donkey Kong 64, Jet Force Gemini, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Kameo: Elements of Power, Perfect Dark Zero, Diddy Kong Racing DS, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Perfect Dark for Xbox Live Arcade, and Kinect Sports.   He currently works at an animation studio in Dublin, Ireland, and he has worked for over 16 years in both the games and film industries.

Due to his busy schedule, we weren’t able to ask him every question possible.

But we are extremely grateful that Don Murphy could give us a tiny bit of his time to answer at least a few questions regarding “Savannah”.  He also shed light on Rare’s attempts to create a new Killer Instinct, and whether he thinks the rumor about Donkey Kong Country 4/Banjo Kazooie on Nintendo DS has any truth to it.

Click here to check out all of Donnchadh Murphy’s amazing 3D models at his official website.

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Over 13 years, you had a very impressive career at Rare.  What were the most valuable things you learned about game development from your time spent at Rare?

Working in Rare was great, I worked on about 12 or more titles in my time there. I was privileged to work with a lot of very talented people, I don’t think in the latter years that talent had many great opportunities to shine, but in its heyday it was truly the place to be.

From working in games I found that passion and belief in a game is crucial.  If the team aren’t behind, it it’s hard to motivate them. Having a team that communicates well and has a strong game designer leading the team is very important.

Most importantly realizing that the people that make the games are also gamers themselves, so their opinion should be taken into consideration. Everyone there was passionate and excited about games and just wanted to make the games the best they could be.

Rare is a company with a long and colorful history that has been a major player in the gaming industry for decades. As someone who has worked at Rare across several different console generations, how do you feel Rare has changed over the years?

When I started in Rare they had already released a number of wonderful titles including the ground breaking Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct. I started on KI2 for the arcade, at the time the other projects that were going on were GoldenEye, DKC2, Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run, and Blast Corps.

It was an exciting time, I was fresh out of college and Rare was one of the number one games companies at the time.

Back then the Stampers were running the show, and having a huge input across the projects. We were all very motivated and we used to work crazy hours.  I remember feeling guilty if I needed to leave before 11pm, we worked 7 days of the week then, and it was the norm.

The big change in Rare came when the company went up for sale, people were unsure of the future of Rare. When they announced Microsoft was buying, a lot of people were unsure if it was a good or bad thing. For one, MS had deep pockets so financial security seemed assured, but on the other hand they were relatively new to the games market, and complete infants in the console market. Personally I don’t think it was a great mix. At first it seemed that they wouldn’t interfere much, but it was soon clear that they were more interested in using Rare to help aim at a younger market. This stifled a lot of creativity, Rare was renowned for their diverse portfolio, so to not be involved in making Mature games was a real blow.

When the stampers left it seemed that Microsoft was losing faith in Rare, it was hard to take when all around were incredibly talented people, with massive amounts of experience. There [were] numerous projects that were put forward that I believe would have been huge hits, but MS rejected them one after the other. I remember seeing a couple of prototypes that Chris Seavor had designed and was working on, that looked amazing, but alas they got shelved. It seemed that MS didn’t want to take the risk in Rare doing anything outside the younger demographic, they quickly forgot the company’s heritage. We started to lose a lot of great talent then, people were losing job satisfaction, so they just left.

Obviously Kinect Sports has come along now, and has done really well.  So my hope is that MS will start regaining their faith in Rare and let them get their feet back into the wider mainstream market and put Rare’s name back on top.

Best of luck Rare!

Are there any Rare games you would like to see as HD remakes on Xbox Live Arcade?

Probably the same game every Rare fan wants to see and that’s KI3 (Killer Instinct 3). We all wanted to make KI3, but Microsoft [was] more interested in broadening their demographic than making another fighting game.  So it never got made, I doubt it ever will.

You have worked in creating game graphics for multiple console generations.  You saw the leap in graphics from Nintendo 64 to the GameCube/Xbox.  You saw the leap in graphics from Xbox to Xbox 360.  Do you see the next gen consoles (Next Xbox, PlayStation 4) being a huge graphical leap over what we have now (Xbox 360, PS3)?

Every time a new console came out, it was so exciting, the limitations that we struggled with in the previous console made us appreciate the new jump in tech even more.

I have no doubt that the new consoles will be an equally exciting leap. The graphics in games now have become so impressive with the current limitations that I can only imagine what lies around the corner for the next gen.

You have some amazing 3D models in your portfolio.  What really stuck out to me were the 3D models of realistic animals.  There was a leaked video on the internet of a Rare game called “Savannah” that featured many of your 3D models.  The game ended up being cancelled.  Could you provide details on the game’s genre, concept, and gameplay to give gamers a better idea of what this game was about?  Also, was this game far along in development before getting cancelled?

“Savannah” was the brain child of Phil Dunne. Phil’s concept was to create a realistic savannah environment where you raised a lion cub from birth to its adult life, teaching it survival and social skills to survive the harsh life in the wild. We knew of the Kinect coming out but we had no real info on how good it was, but the plan was to try and use that technology in “Savannah”.

It was an interesting concept and it was fun to work on, we really tried to push the technology of the 360 to get the most out of the graphics.  The lions and Hyenas were using a custom shell system for the fur, and with the help of a great programmer called Cliff Ramshaw, I think we got some of the nicest looking in-game fur I’ve seen.

It was only ever a prototype, and it never got a green light.

Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power started out on the Nintendo GameCube, then moved to the Xbox, and were eventually released as launch titles for the Xbox 360.  What did it feel like to work on two games that had been developed on three different consoles before finally being released?

It was a bit demoralizing to work on a game, and then to have to rework everything to match the new technology advancements of the new console. It was not an ideal way to work. Obviously there was huge graphical leaps through the different consoles, but it would have been preferable to start a fresh project with the release of the new consoles.

Another video that came from Rare was this video about a butcher.  What cancelled game is this from?  Are there any specific details that you can give about this cancelled project?

I remember a friend of mine called Gary Talbot working on some of those animations, not sure what project it was from though.  Rare was secretive even to its own employees.

You were the lead artist and character designer for Conker’s Bad Fur  Day.  There were lots of crazy characters like “The Great Mighty Poo”,  the boiler with brass testicles, the sunflower with big breasts, and “Tediz”.  Were there any crazy or interesting ideas for characters, boss fights, movie parodies, or humorous scenes that were scrapped and didn’t make it into the final game?

I don’t remember much being cut. Most of those ideas came from Chris Seavor, he was the twisted genius who came up with them.  I do remember us joking about the mighty poo, saying it would be hilarious if we had a giant pile of poo that sang classical music.  Like a lot of the gags they started out as a joke, and then Chris would announce that it was going in the game, so I’d draw up some concepts and model up the characters and the rest is history.

Originally, Conker began development as a family game called Conker’s Quest/Twelve Tales, and then changed into a violent platform game with raunchy humor.  Was Nintendo supportive of Rare’s decision to make such a dramatic change to the game?  Or did they distance themselves from the project?

 

Back in those days Rare was the golden child, so when they announced that we were changing direction there was no objections, none that I knew about anyway. I’m so glad it did change, because “Twelve Tales”, to put it politely, was not a good game.  Chris Seavor took the reins in BFD and took it a direction nobody expected.

Rare registered a trademark for “Conkers Other Bad Fur Day” after the first “Bad Fur Day” was released.  Chris Seavor said that not only did they start working on a sequel with that title, they also  had a full storyline ready with many new movie references in mind.  Were you involved on a sequel to “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” before it was cancelled, and is there anything you can share about that project?

I wasn’t involved with the sequel, I moved over to work on Kameo.  I’m sure Chris Seavor had a catalog of twisted ideas and parodies lined up, he had a great imagination.

Diddy Kong Racing DS and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise were released on Nintendo DS .  There was an article talking about how Rare proposed an idea to Nintendo for Donkey Kong Country 4 and Banjo Kazooie on the Nintendo DS. The rumor suggests that Nintendo passed on both ideas so Rare could work on Diddy Kong Racing DS.

Since you were involved on Diddy Kong Racing DS, do you know if there was any truth to these rumors?

To be honest, I’m not sure of the truth in those rumors. Sounds likely enough though.

I’d like to ask about another racing game featuring monkeys. Donkey Kong Racing was a game that got cancelled pretty early for Nintendo GameCube.  We saw a pre-rendered trailer at E3 2001 but no gameplay was ever shown.  (Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ThbbN3o5yw)   A big mystery on the internet is whether any real gameplay footage of this game actually exists.  Would you happen to know how far along this game was in development before it was cancelled?  Did you see any beta versions or prototypes of Donkey Kong Racing’s gameplay actually up and running?

 

Sorry I can’t shed more light on this, Lee Musgrave was leading the project, but I never actually got a chance to see it.   As I said before Rare was very secretive, the employees didn’t have access to the other buildings, so projects were going on internally that you may never see in full or at all in some cases. It was actually one of the things I disliked about Rare at that time.  I believe the concept was to encourage the teams to be more competitive between themselves, therefore pushing the boundaries all the time. But it often led to people feeling a little distrusted.

Since you worked on the first Kameo, I wanted to ask you about Kameo 2.   Based on the screenshots/video, it looks like Kameo 2 was taking a more realistic approach compared to the art style of the first Kameo.

Kameo 2’s more realistic look.

Did Kameo 2 begin development as soon as Kameo 1 was released?    How far along was Kameo 2 in development, and was Rare planning to go into a very different direction with the next Kameo’s gameplay and art direction?  In one part of the videos, Kameo 2 looked more like Assassins Creed and less like the first Kameo’s gameplay

I didn’t work on Kameo 2, I moved onto Perfect Dark Zero  at the end of Kameo.

Kameo 2 was definitely taking a darker turn, which I personally think would have been a good thing.  The graphics were looking great, but I never saw any examples of game play.

You are currently working for an animation film studio in Dublin making kids TV series for companies like Disney.  What are some similarities and differences between working in film/television compared to working in the games industry?

 

Actually I was surprised with the similarities between games and TV and film production. I first started in Brown Bag films as a modeller on a Disney series called ‘Doc McStuffins’.

Coming from games background I already had huge experience in efficient poly modelling, it was clear that low poly was being used even in TV production to keep scenes light. The subdivisions were applied at render times so obviously that was where the real difference in the look is.

I then moved onto Rigging, again the games experience was a huge benefit, back in the day you had to know how to draw, model, unwrap, texture, shade, rig and animate models.

I’m now working as a Technical Director on another Disney series called ‘The Huggle Monsters’. It’s exciting stuff, but I might to do a bit more work in games in the future, always good to keep your options open.

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Thanks to Donnchadh Murphy for giving us his time to interview him.

Don’t forget to check out his official website.

Feel free to discuss this topic on our message board.

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