K. Lobb shoots and gets shot!
We talk with Ken Lobb, manager of Microsoft’s Studio RX, who many of you might remember being killed by Jonathan in Perfect Dark or giving name to the most inaccurate gun ever in GoldenEye. Former and current sidekick of the people at Rare, Lobb tells us about recent releases and faces our conscientious work of investigation regarding the future.
Ken Lobb joined Microsoft in 2002, just after a productive period of time working at Nintendo of America. His long relationship with Rare is very well known and started back in 1993. Since then, Lobb has moved through two major companies being ironically followed by our beloved folks from Twycross. Now he is the manager of Microsoft Studio RX, where he oversees every title in the works at Microsoft’s first party developers.
MundoRare: Since 2002 Rare has been through an adaptation period in which most of its GameCube and Xbox games have been delayed several times. Now that a new generation is here, is Rare ready to get back to the release schedules it had before? (i.e., the N64 years)
Ken Lobb: Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero were consciously moved onto the Xbox 360, as Microsoft and Rare agreed that this was the best place for them, as opposed to being late life cycle Xbox games. When offered the opportunity to play with the latest toys (the 360 development environment), of course both teams jumped at the chance to take their games, and go for launch!!
MundoRare: There were many -maybe intentional- statements about people leaving the company after the buyout. How much of these could really be considered as true? How many people and development teams are there right now, then? Can you tell us the way they are organized?
Ken Lobb: This really is not true. There is normal attrition at any company, and to be honest, turnover at Rare has always been very low. The facility is beautiful, and there are a lot of talented people making great games, so it’s a great place to work. This has not changed with the move to Microsoft. In fact, there is more creative freedom within Rare now than ever before!
Team structure at Rare is pretty flexible. There are core teams and an R&D team. Many members of the core teams move around in order to help finish games as they near completion. Both PDZ and Kameo were huge teams a few months ago, and are now sharing many of those team members with…. Other games [smiles]
MundoRare: Rare has just released not only one, but two games for the launch day of Xbox 360, and Peter Moore recently said the company will announce another couple of them next spring. Disregarding the actual titles, do you have any plans concerning a 2006 release for them?
Ken Lobb: Please stay tuned. There will be some news very soon!
MundoRare: Back in 2002 Microsoft promised 5 games from Rare within 2 years; if we assume that Ghoulies, Conker, Kameo and PDZ are 4 of them, what happened to the fifth one? Was it cancelled?
Ken Lobb: No, again, as stated above. Please stay tuned.
MundoRare: When Rare moved to Microsoft home, some of its games (mostly the DK ones) were changed and released under another license. All of them but one: Donkey Kong Racing.
Rare once said that DoKR had evolved into something new under another license. Microsoft had already registered the name Sabreman Stampede, that was unofficially supposed to be its evolution. But Martin Wakeley, Lead Designer for the team that also brought us Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini and Mickey's Speedway in the past, left the company in 2003, and members from those games have appeared in the credits for Conker and Kameo.
We know Microsoft rarely comment on rumours; but due to the echo this title has had in Rare fansites and the official statements about its existence, we thought this was a good opportunity to clarify this issue or confirm its cancellation.
Ken Lobb: Uh. [smiles]
We don’t comment on rumors! Sorry, can’t say any more on this one.
MundoRare: Another license with a Nintendo origin is the N64 acclaimed Perfect Dark. Rare shooters had its place in Nintendo systems, but this has been taken by Halo series in the Xbox. Do you consider that Joanna can get her own recognition and public while lots of people are just thinking about Halo 3?
Ken Lobb: I am a HUGE Halo fan, as are many of the readers here, and most Xbox owners. However, I also have a large place in my heart for GoldenEye (the real one [smiles]), and Perfect Dark. Just because PDZ and Halo are both FPS style games does not make them completely similar anyway. The style of control is similar, but the game’s feelings are quite different. Where Halo is very fast paced, PDZ is slower, more stealthy and thought out (especially on Perfect and Dark Agent difficulties!!!). In multi-player, PDZ especially in the Dark Ops modes, is a bit more tactical where Halo is more team/squad focused. Bottom line for me is that as a gamer, I am really happy that both are on the 360!!!
MundoRare: Many Rare fans consider that, despite the promotional campaigns, novels and soundtrack, PDZ has suffered unfortunate media promotion. The first images at 1UP, the chaos regarding Joanna’s look, the no-show at E3, and some magazines’ previews with really old media material may have damaged the game. What do you think of it?
Ken Lobb: Launch is hard. PDZ was in development on alpha and then beta hardware when we started to show the game. We knew that the game was REALLY fun, it was for over a year, but the art was in flux as the hardware came in. We had two choices. Show/say nothing until the game neared completion, or show what we had. We chose to be open. Of course, we could have made a “target render”, but we choose to not go that route... [smiles]
As for the reaction of the press/fans. It can be hard being somewhat of a target of both fans of the past that are still a bit hardcore Nintendo, as well as the ever difficult task of fighting against nostalgia! I feel that the finished game is excellent. I LOVE playing on Live, and I play typically an hour a night. I am also enjoying going through perfect again with a friend co-op over Live. It’s the best Live game in my opinion. By far. There are SO many options, and ways to play. My personal favorites are Onslaught with 5k starting funds; and team killcount with my custom weapons (Magnum, mines, RCP, Laptop, FAC-16, Shockwave, no vest). Just writing this makes me want to play more. That is how I personally guage the success more than anything else. Am I playing the game a lot, and really enjoying it. Yes.
MundoRare: To our surprise, Kameo has had an unexpected acceptation from critics and audience. IGN defined it “like playing the latest Nintendo launch on my Xbox.” On the other hand, a good game like Ghoulies didn’t sell very well, probably due to the Xbox audience’s taste about what visuals should look like. Most of Rare licenses are somehow “cartoonish”, like Banjo-Kazooie, JFG, Conker... Does the Ghoulies fiasco mean Microsoft shouldn’t take other “cute” games into consideration in the future? Or does the Kameo relative success open a possible space for these kind of games?
Ken Lobb: I believe that Kameo is one of the best adventure games ever made. It has so much variety, and the combat system is both simple, and yet insanely deep if you are into going for the A ratings. Co-op is a blast, and will be even better soon...
As for Ghoulies, to me, it was a “typical” great Rare game. Like with Kameo, it was both easy to get into, and very deep at the same time. Microsoft purchased Rare because they make great games for all audiences. Games like PDZ on one end, and Kameo/Ghoulies on the other. Rare will continue to make the games that we feel are great, and Microsoft fully supports us in this effort. You’ll see.
MundoRare: With DOA being the mainstay of the fighting genre for the Xbox, do you think that taking the KI license is something that Microsoft should bear in mind?
Ken Lobb: No comment, but as most people know, I LOVE KI.
MundoRare: Finally, we know that Rare can do remakes or even ports of games the company had property of the IP. But we would like to know if Rare is able to make ports or remakes of games that, in origin, were released in Nintendo systems published by Nintendo itself (BK series, Blast Corps, KI games...).
Ken Lobb: Nintendo retained the rights to Donkey Kong, and all the games he was in (DKC/DKR/DK64). Also, Nintendo has the rights to Starfox.