A Rare Find

See how the little developer that could became a crown jewel for Nintendo.

By Matthew Tidman. Posted 07/09/2010 12:13 2 Comments     ShareThis

Battletoads Screenshot

After reading our roundtable of which companies– and titles– the Nintendojo staff wishes were still developing for  Nintendo machines, you see that Rare is something special. Fantastic franchises and hardware-pushing games were staples of a company that did a lot of good for Nintendo. But where did this company come from? Let’s take a look back at the story of how a British developer impressed a very Japanese company.

Rare started off as Ashby Computers and Graphics Ltd., a small company started by Chris and Tim Stamper to fulfill their dream of going from developing other people’s games to developing their own games. In 1982, a year before the video games crash, the Stamper brothers struck out, developing titles for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, a personal computer that was popular for its gaming abilities. Rather than publish games as “Ashby Computers and Graphics Ltd.”, they used another, more marketable name: Ultimate Play the Game.

Jet Pac Screenshot

But by 1985 the Stampers found a new platform of choice. They’d managed to get their hands on a brand-new Famicom system and after looking at the slowly declining computer game market, they knew that the ZX Spectrum was not going to be their company’s future. A subdivision of Ashby Computers and Graphics Ltd. was formed with a focus on Famicom. This subdivision was given a code name that would stick with the company for the rest of its life: Rare.

But Nintendo didn’t just give a dev kit to this unheard-of developer from Leichetershire, England, so the Stamper brothers did the next best thing. Getting every Famicom game they could, Rare set out to reverse engineer the Famicom hardware. They succeeded and put together a few software samples to present to Nintendo. Then they took the next step and flew to Kyoto, Japan to show the heads of Nintendo what they could do. Said heads were suitably impressed, and the Stamper brothers were rewarded for their bold move. Rare was given an unlimited budget to produce as many games a year as it wanted. The company was not limited like other third-party developers.

Perfect Dark Screenshot

And produce it would. Rare would go on to produce such well-known titles as BattletoadsKiller InstinctBanjo-Kazooie, and Perfect Dark. Rare would also develop the Donkey Kong Country series, some of the most widely praised games on SNES. Nintendo would, at one time, own 49 percent of the company, making it the minority shareholder, until 2002, when those shares were sold to Microsoft.

Rare may not be at the top of its game any longer, having not garnered major critical praise for any of its games since the GameCube era. However, many amazing games and franchises came from the company, and few developers are held in such high regard by Nintendo loyalists. Rare’s dedication to its games truly made it such a rare find for Nintendo.

For more information about Rare, be sure to check out the sources used to write this article:
IGN Presents the History of Rare – IGN
History of Rare – UGO
Rare, Ltd. – MobyGames

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