Xbox 360 Interview

Shaun Reed on Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Rare's lead designer on the bird and the bear's return

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts will be arriving exclusively on the Xbox 360 very soon now, the game marking the reemergence of a series Rare and Microsoft hope can enhance their console's mass market credentials. With the significance of this debut not to be underestimated, we posed a few questions to lead designer Shaun Reed.

How does this new take on Banjo differ from past iterations of the series? Is the heart of the gameplay the same?

While ‘Nuts and Bolts’ shares many features with its predecessors, the core gameplay is new and very different. We all loved the first two games but felt it was time to take the bear and bird somewhere new. By giving the player the power to create their own gameplay in such a new and unique manner, we believe we’ve developed a game worthy of the Banjo name.

Are you worried that older fans might not like the new direction you've taken, or was the innovation regarded as essential to attract new audiences?

Once people start to play the game, we’re sure that even the most hardened Banjo fans will learn to love the new direction we’ve taken. Not meaning to come across as arrogant, but we’re that confident in our game. It’s just great to have worked on a title that can provoke such passionate views even after all of these years.

How has the Xbox 360 empowered you in developing Nuts & Bolts?

The power of the 360 console has been fundamental at every level. Not until now have we had the ability to provide the player with the level of creative freedom that we’ve manage to pack into Nuts and Bolts. This is also the first Banjo title to embrace real-world physics and from the very start we wanted to push this area as far as we could (too far at times, according to our physics guys!) When you play Nuts and Bolts it becomes that this type of game would have been impossible on previous generations of hardware.

How easy to use is the vehicle creation functionality; and how key is this side of things to the overall game experience?

We like to think that the vehicle editor is incredibly easy for new players to pick up, while at the same time offering the level of functionality that we originally envisioned for it. When we first started the game, a period of six months was allocated to the development of the editor. This turned into three years, virtually the entire length of the game's development. Without doubt it has been the hardest thing to get right but we’re now confident our perseverance has paid off. While the editor is key to playing the game to its full potential it is by no means essential to completing it. Various features are present in the game that allows players with no interest in building vehicles to complete the game and have a great time in doing so.

The game worlds look more than a little whacky - from where did you draw the inspiration for this, and how difficult is it mixing open world and platforming elements?

The majority of platforming is done on our hub world, Showdown Town. On this level the player is restricted to controlling a single, pre-built vehicle. This was a key design decision that allowed us to design a more traditionally structured level without having to worry what crazy contraptions the player may be taking on it. This provides two very distinct styles of gameplay that constantly gives the player a varied and unpredictable experience.

The game worlds are indeed wacky but are really just an evolution of the crazy places that Banjo has spent his entire career exploring. Rumours of us having to create such fantastical worlds to counteract our existence in Twycross are entirely fabricated.

How important is user-generated content; and where do you see it going in the future?

Well, for our game, very. User-generated content is something that has always intrigued us and was one of the first ideas to be put forward for the new game. As well as the obvious vehicle building, we’re extremely pleased with how other features such as blueprint sharing, replays and photo mode have all turned out. However, I think it’s a technology that has its own individual place in gaming and won’t necessarily redefine the way future titles are made. Many players aren’t interested in creating stuff, they just want to be given a game they can play and enjoy. Hopefully Nuts and Bolts hits the sweet spot and offers both type of player an all-round fun experience.

Does the story follow on from past releases, and where will it take our rejuvenated heroes?

Obviously a few years have passed since the last game and time hasn’t necessarily been kind to the Banjo characters. Bear and bird have been piling on the pounds on a diet of Pizza and crisps (much like the Banjo dev team, really) and Grunty has gone as far as to lose her head, quite literally. I won’t give too much away right now but hopefully the new story will relate to old Banjo fans and new-comers alike.

Xbox Live action sounds promising. How have you put a 'Banjo-twist' on the proceedings, to ensure your new game stands apart online?

Xbox Live designer, Gavin Price: We’ve tried to keep the presentation and kind of action you’ll be playing over Live very Banjo like. I would say on Live it’s very much a core experience at the moment with all of the (admittedly fun) deathmatches and drifting and ramming but there’s not so much light-hearted tomfoolery going on. The Banjo franchise just isn’t suited to such a war-like, winning-is-everything kind of experience so without alienating the current Live crowd we’ve tried to provide a mix of game styles that will appeal to many different types of players. We’ve setup our playlists for ranked and player matches so that you can pick the type of experience you want so you can start out in the 'Banjo 101' playlist where the less difficult games are using L.O.G.’s choice vehicles (so everyone is in the same vehicle for an even playing field) and then at the other end of the scale there are the more hardcore playlists like 'Speed demons' and 'Fightin' Talk' in which anything goes and players can use any of their own creations!

In between there is a mix of sports and race style playlists including team variants if that’s your thing rather than a free for all. In team mode the brown team is Banjo’s Buddies and the green team is Grunty’s Goons (consisting of red eyed, robotic Banjo avatars!) And after all that talk of playlists for Ranked and Player matches we also have a simple to use Party system so joining in with your friends and just playing with them is quick and easy – you can play any game in team or solo mode and in either L.O.G’s choice of vehicle or allowing all players to use any of their own vehicles so there are plenty of different games to play in a variety of ways. What’s really cool about the party system is that it puts all players in a shared Test-o-Track in which you can all drive around and visit Mumbo’s Motor’s to build and mod your vehicles whilst the host is setting up the next game (or league – you can even play preset leagues or create and save your own!).

The shared lobby is also a great place to come up with your own methods of playing (e.g. we sometimes just use it to have a ruck, play tag, etc) so we’ll be certainly keeping an eye on the community to see what games they come up with themselves and who knows, they may even become fully supported game modes in the future. So to summarise there’s a very large Banjo-like online experience to be had and one of the things we’re very proud about is that a lot of the feedback we get from people who have played it is that it’s still a lot of fun even when you're not winning all the time (due to the nature of building your own vehicles and how the games are set up) which I hope means we have created a really fun and inclusive online experience for Banjo and Xbox Live fans, and really sums up the 'Banjo-twist' we have added to the online portion of the game.

Do you have any DLC plans (perhaps vehicle-related?), and, speaking generally, does this title set up the Banjo series for a bright, new future?

DLC is something we’d like to see happen but no concrete details are yet in place. And yes, hopefully it won’t be another ten years until we see the dynamic duo back in action.

Can Banjo draw new players to the series, and is this your aim for the 360 in general (given that it sometimes viewed as a 'hardcore' games system)?

Absolutely. Here at Rare we love a challenge and changing the console's perception as a ‘hardcore’ games system is our ultimate goal. When it boils down to it, I honestly believe a truly good game appeals to everyone, regardless if it’s a ‘blood and guts’ shooter or features a bear in tight yellow shorts.

Lastly, which element of Nut & Bolts are you most proud of, and why?

It’s a difficult one but I would have to say I’m delighted with how the vehicle editor has turned out, mainly due to how big the challenge ended up being. That along with having the opportunity to work on such a well loved franchise with a great team. Look, you’ve got me going all sentimental now...

Thanks for your time!

E3 Trailer