Ex-Rare veteran Chris Tilton has said old favourites like Killer Instinct and Perfect Dark can’t live up to players’ rose-tinted memories of them and big-budget competitors.
“It’s just nostalgia from when you were a child and you went to an arcade. You’d just all gang up on us and hunt me down if we made one wasn’t what’s in your head,” Tilton, now a designer at the independent Starfire Studios, told Eurogamer of calls to revamp Killer Instinct.
“It’s the same as GoldenEye and the first Perfect Dark. Games you played ten years ago, you had a great time playing them. It was probably at a certain time in your life when maybe you were a student or a group of friends came round your house.”
And if developers pander to the fanbase and make a faithful reproduction, Tilton said that the games “don’t hold up” to modern, big-budget productions.
“It’s almost like you need to do a World of Warcraft to it. You can’t just have the traditional thing. It’s like, how can you make it more accessible in a way,” he said of brining back old IP.
Tilton and three colleagues left Rare to start their own studio, and the designer feels Rare is trapped by the pressures of triple A development.
“You can understand the anger of the fans, that they feel they’ve been deserted, but there are two sides to it,” he sympathised.
“It’s just because games are so expensive to make now and management guys’ careers are on the line if they back the wrong one, if they suddenly spent $30 million and got no return for it, that all these extra people have to get involved.
“Things change. Back then a game cost $2 million to make. Nowadays a game costs $20, $30 million to make, and then they add probably the same amount in marketing. It’s a huge risk. Perfect Dark Zero, from a development cost, made four times its money back. The early games made a stupid amount of money back. Like GoldenEye and Donkey Kong, because they cost so little to make.”
Tilton also commented that being locked down to specific, sure-bet projects and enormous team sizes mean individual staff get less input into each game.
“If we did a new Killer Instinct – obviously we don’t own the IP – if we were to make that game nowadays, the original team was six, seven people over the space of a year. Now, you could see how instead of one designer putting in all the moves for all ten characters, you’d have at least a designer per character,” he explained.
“You would definitely end up with a better game. Absolutely guaranteed. But maybe not everybody on the team would get the creative satisfaction from it. And it might not make its money back. That’s the dilemma.
“Once the COD guys have made an amazing game with this many people, it raises the bar. You have to compete against that. It’s like an arms race. Once you get in, you’re in it. It’s even a marketing arms race, where they spend more and more money to get the games out because they know you can make a $200 million bet and make $400 million back, and that’s probably better than doing ten games for $20 million and not all of those making their money back.”
Perhaps the financial stifling of creativity is what motivated the four ex-Rare developers to break into independent, downloadable arena.
“Because the budgets are a lot smaller you can take more risks. The people making the decisions are more comfortable because there’s less risk,” Tilton concluded.
Starfire Studios has just announced its debut release, an XBLA twin stick shooter called Fusion: Genesis. Rare, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Microsoft, is working on Kinect Sports: Season Two and is reported to be focused on the motion control device.