Tasting piñata sweets before Halloween
Despite Halloween never being a tradition in Spain, this year we have felt the experience of tasting sweets before All Saint's Day. We were invited by Microsoft Ibérica to the first specific presentation of Viva Piñata in Europe after the X06 (that took place a month ago in Barcelona). The company is expecting to spread the piñata seeds across the continent in the coming weeks, as a prelude for the game release worldwide in early December (Microsoft doesn't have a date yet, but we were told that both, the PAL and NTSC versions of the game, will arrive within a week between them - good news, isn’t it?
For the event, Microsoft chose a little garden itself: a floristry in the center of Madrid called Floristería Lola de Castro, the older flowers shop in the capital of Spain, built back in 1889. Outside, an old tree was the first host for the press, while a stoned path guided to the main door. It was perfect for the kind of game that we were about to discover that gloomy and rainy morning. Despite the ideal and really nice appearance of the building (a greenhouse with walls made of glass), it was a bit narrow to hold 20 journalists from Spanish media; the whole MundoRare dome among them.
The day began with a coffee breakfast with Microsoft Ibérica’s staff. There were all kinds of snacks that we could taste, as well as digital sweets from the game itself and also a basket with some pumpkins, but no Halloween ones this time. Oscar del Moral, chief for products of Microsoft in Spain, took then the protagonism to talk about the new Microsoft gadget for the 360: the Xbox Live Vision, a webcam that gamers are already able to connect to their console and use to talk with their Xbox Live pals around the world, customize their avatars and even play some specific games in a new fresh way (who said Microsoft didn't care about the new gaming style?). Anyway, the webcam didn't have a direct (nor indirect) impact in the Viva Piñata gameplay, so let's get into the very interesting stuff: the game presentation.
Three members of Rare from the Banjo/Ghoulies/Piñata/(whatever) team came to Spain just to show us the demo and tell us everything about the game. "Everything," would you say? Yep. That's it. We have talked with them, we have played the game and we have lots of answers to your questions. The Rare guys that so nicely attended the press were Steven Brand (producer), Neill 'Neo' Harrison (artist) and the new candy from Twycross, Elissa Miller (animator).
Just in case you were already wondering yourself: yes, the Banjo team that made Piñata is the kinda the same Banjo team that is already working on Banjo-Kazooie 3. As our first exclusive, we can assure you that the team suffered an offshoot, pretty much as the Ghoulies team a couple of years ago (three members started the new game for themselves: Vive Piñata). So, if the people behind Ghoulies started working on Piñata before finishing that game, some of the Piñata developers have been working on BK3 for some time. Moreover, Steve Brand told us that the piñata team has had over 50 people, but now –in the final stages– has over 20 members.
Another detail that we didn't know before is that Viva Piñata was once also a Nintendo title; it was started just before the Microsoft buyout, when Rare considered making a game for a Pocket PC (the codename for the game was, in fact, Pocket). So, the game has also passed over some platforms and, as Steve said, the powerful possibilities of the 360 made the change to the new system, with the Piñata we all know as the final result.
Brand was smart enough to tell us about the number of teams that he believes that Rare has at the moment: "four or five," he said. When asked if they already have another couple of secret titles in the works, the whole Rare staff giggled. Well, we had to ask, didn't we?
Steve also said that they don’t have any control over the backwards compatibility of their games, so he couldn't say if we'd be able to play Conker Live & Reloaded on our 360s sometime in the future. The Rare guys were a bit resigned about the poor attention that the media pays them because of the kind of games they develop, which Steve sorted out with a "we are the same Rare, we haven't changed," while Elissa added that she "didn't like hardcore games." Cool!
After our very first contact, Steve and Neill turned on a developer kit of the X360 (it had a Rare logo over it, along with a serial number) and the colours of Viva Piñata covered a couple of plasma TVs. Neill chose an easy tutorial mode, while Steve described every single detail we could see at the screens. It was much about discovering the main characters and piñatas, with the little worms being the first to arrive to the new Eden. Then, those tiny creatures would discover love and get a baby piñata, while the surprised audience laughed with the romance dance; "they obviously like hip hop," Steve joked. After some explanations of how the shovel and other items work, Neill switched to a more advanced garden, in which they had spent around nine or ten hours of gameplay, and both Neill and Steve changed their roles. The new tutorial gave us another example of how piñatas get a baby, this time with a couple of ducks in a more complex area with tons of animals and sour piñatas.
We know you'd probably want to read deeper about this stuff, so we won't enter into details at this moment, because we want to upload a video of the tutorials in the coming weeks (cross your fingers!), along with some in-game impressions.
Anyway, after the Rare guys had played the game it was the time for questions and interviews. We made both of them. You can read what each member had to tell us about Piñata, other Rare games and the company itself in the next page of our feature.
Acknowledges: Thanks to everybody at Rare (Steve, Neill and Elissa ahead), Microsoft Ibérica (specially Lidia Pitzalis and Oscar del Moral), María Martínez Fesser and Eva Quijano Lloréns for their collaboration on making this feature possible