Stampede's Sorrowful Swan Song
In Rare's history, there have been a significant amount of unreleased titles, titles that have been in development for many years only for production to stop for whatever reason. Some of these titles are very well known (Goldeneye XBLA), while others have been kept away from the public domain with very little information (Urchin, Arc Angel). This feature is about a title that is an example of both: the story of a title that was not only well known since it was first revealed, but a title that has also been hidden in secrecy regarding its existence, rise, and fall that we will never get to play.
The tale of this editorial goes back to the year 1997, the year that Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64 was released. When players completed the game, they were treated to the ending credits, which ended with the words "To Be Continued." Ever since that time, fans have been clamoring for a sequel to the hit Nintendo 64 game. Rare has, for many years, denied the existence of a Diddy Kong Racing 2 through their Scribes page and their now-defunct "Ask Uncle Tusk" page, but has not completely dismissed the possibility of having a sequel to the game. However, thanks to Scribes, we know that Diddy Kong Racing 2 eventually became Dinosaur Planet, which eventually became Star Fox Adventures. Despite the franchise changes, 2001 showed that a sequel could've been possible, but with a different protagonist.
At E3 2001, a sequel to the game was unveiled by the name of Donkey Kong Racing for the GameCube. This time, Donkey Kong took over Diddy's starring role from the first game, along with the fact that there were to be no vehicles used at all. The cast, ranging from Kiddy Kong to Tiny Kong, was to ride on animal steeds, emulating the three different styles of racing from Diddy Kong Racing: Enguarde-like swordfish for the water races, Rambi-like rhinos and Ellie for the land races, and Zingers for the air races.
Alas, nothing else of Donkey Kong Racing came to be seen in the public eye besides that one promotional video. When Microsoft acquired Rare in 2002, the GameCube version was permanently cancelled as well as having the Donkey Kong license stripped from the game.
After Rare was acquired by Microsoft, fans had hope that somehow, some way, they would be able to live a legal form of the joy that was shown in Donkey Kong Racing's E3 2001 trailer. Here at MundoRare, we believed that Rare listened to the requests of those that waited for so long in the form of Sabreman Stampede, the supposed sequel to Diddy Kong Racing that was never announced, or properly acknowledged (Scribes doesn't count) after its cancelation as Donkey Kong Racing. Without further ado, we will present to you the evidence of SS existing over the past few years, the final say on the game, and information on what truly happened.
May 3, 2002: This edition of Scribes had the question as to whether or not Sabre Wulf GBA would have sequels like the original did in the form of Knight Lore and Underwurlde. Loveday's response is quite possibly the first hint towards the existence of Sabreman Stampede: "Further updates? Who knows... but don't think this is the last we'll be seeing of Sabreman."
May 7, 2002 - Edge Magazine had an advertisement for job applications at Rareware. The advertisement showed various drawings of Sabreman from the Sabre Wulf series surfing the web and drawing on a drawing table. All of Rare's previous advertisements have had a character from a console game promoting the company. As of 2002, Sabreman didn't have a current-gen console game in the works. From that advertisement, one would assume that a Sabreman console game was being planned on, at the very least.
May 20, 2002- After a year of not seeing anything Donkey Kong Racing related, especially not during the infamous E3 2002 that only had one Rare title shown, a letter was written in to Scribes asking what became of the game. Loveday's final comment on it before the acquisition was, ironically, "As for Donkey Kong Racing, you'll see soon enough..."
November 29, 2002- Raretopia presented an article that showed the timeline of Rare's game development over the years. In the article, it mentioned that Donkey Kong Racing was still in development, contrary to the belief that Nintendo owned the rights to the game. The article also mentioned how it's probable that the game has changed to a Sabre Wulf license from the conversion to the Xbox. Raretopia also revealed an unofficial codename, Stampede, and that the people responsible for the development were former Jet Force Gemini and Mickey's Speedway USA team members.
December 9, 2002- Raretopia has speculated for nearly 2 weeks that the Donkey Kong license was switched to the Sabre Wulf license and Stampede was a possible codename for the game. At that time, we were aware that Stampede was, in fact, not a registered title. Still, Raretopia was a very trusted source for us.
January 24, 2003- Computer and Video Games posted that Rare was planning a Sabre Wulf title for the Xbox. This seemed to closely relate to what Raretopia speculated less than a month ago.
April 17, 2003- Computer and Video Games affirmed that Donkey Kong Racing had been converted into Sabreman Stampede. It also affirmed that the game would still be a sequel to Diddy Kong Racing and that the concept of racing on animal steeds was still intact.
April 23, 2003- At the D.I.C.E. conference, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto mentioned how Donkey Kong Racing was still in development, even though it was more than half a year since Microsoft acquired Rare. Personally, MR chalks Miyamoto's statement due to possible senility. It's highly doubtful that the Donkey Kong racing game that eventually did come out, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast, was the game Miyamoto was referring to.
June 9, 2003- It was on this day that Microsoft finally registered the name Sabreman Stampede, technically making this the first true mention of Stampede's existence and proving Raretopia's credibility.
June 23, 2003- Raretopia believed that Stampede would be unveiled to the public by the end of 2003 and shortly being released thereafter, just as Diddy Kong Racing did back in 1997.
October 14, 2003- A year had almost passed since the move to Microsoft, and Rare had to restructure their priorities regarding their projects. In response to Microsoft wanting Perfect Dark Zero and Conker: Live & Reloaded, Rare supposedly cancelled two games: one being an unannounced space shooter MMORPG called Quest. The other: Sabreman Stampede. It wasn't until later that we found out, through Raretopia, that SS wasn't the cancelled game. Instead, the second title was Arc Angel.
October 15, 2003- In the edition of Scribes that came out that day, a letter was dedicated to David Wise. One of the questions asked was regarding the next game his works could be heard in. The answer was an interesting "Hopefully, it will be - (Er, that game we haven't announced yet. - Ed)." While it's possible that he could've been referencing DKC2 GBA, one must remember that since Nintendo was handling publishing duties of the DKC GBA trilogy, Rare wasn't in any legal position to announce those games. It's safe to say that he was referencing Sabreman Stampede. And, as you'll see, it wouldn't be the last time.
November 23, 2003- Rare's very own Leigh Loveday alluded to Stampede's existence through their letter page at rareware.com. When asked about a sequel to DKR, this is what he had to say: "As for a sequel to DKR, like you said, a couple of the major characters are out of our jurisdiction these days, so rather than attempt to do a straight sequel we might as well go for something with a different licence and a bunch of different characters... oh, hang on."
"We do still own the rights to most of Diddy Kong Racing after all (minus Diddy and Krunch, obviously), so bang goes that excuse."
It's debatable that he could've been referring to Banjo-Pilot instead of the supposed dead Stampede. It was around this time that we wondered if the restructuring of priorities really caused the games to be cancelled instead of being put on hold temporarily.
December 30, 2003- Through Scribes once again, Loveday implied Stampede's existence by denying the possibility of a Banjo racer. This is Loveday's take on the matter: "Why would an upcoming racing game automatically be Banjo-related? There's Banjo Pilot, yeah, but you already know about that one. So don't bet your house on an Xbox Banjo racer."
January 12, 2004- A Rare employee (or employees) posted on the FatBabies forums claiming that Kameo: Elements of Power for the Xbox 1 would be cancelled. Alongside that, the employee claimed Sabreman Stampede was still in development. We know now that the man was right; Kameo was cancelled for the Xbox as development switched to the Xbox 360.
March 3, 2004- Rare commented and confirmed Sabreman Stampede's existence through Scribes. When asked about the status of Donkey Kong Racing, Loveday responded as such: "Well, yes and no. It's not called Donkey Kong Racing any more, it's not for the GameCube any more and by this point I'd imagine so little of the original art and code remains that it's barely even the same game any more, but yes, it's still coming out. In some form. Wait and see, if you haven't already picked up on the new title that's been unofficially floating around the electrical interweb for months now."
"Yes and no"? If Rare really did cancel the game as once thought, why not just outright deny its existence?
More evidence of another Sabreman game besides the GBA version released in 2004 lies in the render released that year. Instead of the fully yellow garb that Sabreman wore, the render that came out was a bit darker in color, detailed, and a tad more realistic. As players of Sabre Wulf GBA can attest to, the 2004 render was not representative of Sabreman's appearance. Sabreman also had a sword in this render, which was definitely not present in the GBA version. Something was definitely going on behind the scenes.December 23, 2004- Rare's latest Tepid Seat at the time focused on the Rare musicians. When someone asked what David Wise was working on at the time, his answer was simple: "I'm now working on a game for Xbox and a revamped version of DKC3 for Game Boy Advance." Considering that Sabreman Stampede was hinted at earlier in the year, it was likely back then that the game that Wise was working on was indeed SS. We wouldn't get an answer, as vague as it eventually was, for over three and a half years.
March 11, 2005- In the Snippets section of Scribes, David Wise answered that the "game for Xbox" that was mentioned in the Rare Musicians Tepid Seat "might have to wait a little longer than E3" to be properly announced. Considering that the Xbox 360 was revealed that year, it's all the more proof that the game wasn't going to make it to the original Xbox.
November 17, 2005- MundoRare was the first to find out that "The Stampede Team" was separately credited in the instruction manual of the Xbox 360 game Kameo: Elements of Power. The appearance of the team in the manual heavily implied that they postponed development on Stampede to help the Kameo Team release their game in time for the 360's launch and that Stampede was still on its way.
December 22, 2005- By this time, Microsoft announced two games to be unveiled at E3 2006. One was presumed to be the long awaited third console installment to the Banjo-Kazooie series. The other game was to be Sabreman Stampede. Or so we thought, as Rare unveiled their new IP in March of 2006: Viva Pinata.
February 19, 2006- MundoRare had the special opportunity to interview Microsoft's very own Ken Lobb regarding some of Rare's games. When asked about Sabreman Stampede's supposed existence, all Ken Lobb said was: "Uh. [smiles] We don't comment on rumors! Sorry, can't say any more on this one."
The insinuation that he couldn't say anymore on Sabreman Stampede, in accordance to the question asking for either the cancellation or the confirmation of the game speaks volumes.
At the original time of this writing, it was heavily believed that Sabreman Stampede would be revealed sometime soon. Fate, as it seems, proved us wrong with the new IP Viva Pinata and the announcement of Banjo-Kazooie 3. The story continued... for a year.
December 13, 2006- In the January issue of EGM, the magazine reported that a Viva Pinata racing game was in development, starring the multiple pinatas of the franchise. Nothing more was ever specified, nor has the rumor continued in any shape or form. When thinking about the racing elements of the non-Rare developed Viva Pinata: Party Animals, MundoRare's inclined to believe that the rumor EGM was referring to was just one of the many gameplay elements of that game.
August 30, 2007- After more than 5 years of playing the "will it/won't it" game with Rare fans, Rare (through Leigh Loveday) has seemingly placed the final nail in Stampede's coffin. When asked once more what happened to Stampede, Loveday had this to say in the September edition of Scribes: "At the time, it was still coming out in some form. What's to redeem? You can only work with the facts you have."
In the Snippets section of the same Scribes edition, when asked about the "game for Xbox" that David Wise said he was working on back in the Music Edition of the Tepid Seat, Loveday once again responded that "There were monkeys and rhinos in it". What racing game at one point had monkeys and rhinos? Donkey Kong Racing. What's more is that, when asked if it was a secret project for the 360, the response was that it "was for a while, but then it wasn't." This indicates that, just like Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero, and Viva Pinata, the Stampede Team transferred development of the game from the Xbox to the 360.
After a necessary update to this feature years ago, this is where the feature would've ended, with our verdict that it existed. The game has enough evidence to prove that, after all. After 6 long years, the game that we were all entranced with thanks to a 1-minute video shown at E3 2001 in its Donkey Kong guise died an unceremonious death, without any reasonable closure. By then, a YouTube user by the name of transparentjinjo posted 18 seconds of Sabreman Stampede. That was it. The dream was over.
Fortunately, this song has a proper ending.
Thanks to a Rare employee who will remain anonymous, the true story, the chorus and final verse of Stampede's Swan Song, begins here:
As we all know, the game started as Donkey Kong Racing, but it apparently never got farther than the E3 2001 promo video before it became Sabreman Stampede. In the beginning, Sabreman Stampede, like its former incarnation, was a racing game involving jumping from one animal to another, and racing towards the screen. According to our source, "a number of people from the development team consider this [version] to have been the most enjoyable & playable state of the game."
When it moved to the Xbox, it went more into the adventure genre. In this game, we find out that Sabreman had a wife named Flo. They would crash land on the island in a hot-air balloon/blimp (the artwork seen seems to imply that they settled on a plane crash). Sabreman would talk and befriend the villagers, perform tasks for them, and learn how to ride the animals, which could get him to his destinations quickly, and allow access to new areas. These changes happened late in the game's lifecycle; according to our source, it was "somewhere in 2004/2005 that it took on more of a sandbox adventure style."
Judging from the concept art, Sabre Wulf was also on this island. Whether or not he played a heavily antagonistic role as he did in Sabre Wulf and his GBA incarnation is unknown. From the information MR has received in the past, he very may well have not been. In the videos, we don't even see any hints of his existence, so he may just have been a product of concept art.
The concept of the game was "basically Grand Theft Auto with animals. You have a huge open landscape and you can catch animals, and ride them around." As you can see in the video(s), you grab onto an animal, which begins a minigame where the animal drags you as if you were in a rodeo. If you can hold on for a period of time, you can ride said animal. Catching animals was a controversial topic among the team, because the core gameplay "involved catching animals that didn't want to be caught - essentially it's a cruelty-to-animals simulator." There was concern about some specifics in that regard, such as "harpooning animals, and a gun that held a rabbit flopping about on the end which you'd then shoot at a lion to tame." At the same time, this was a late feature in the game and was still being discussed about up to its cancellation.
The game originally had a cartoony style; Sabreman had "a huge head and tiny arms." Tim Stamper sat with the artists and got them to "squash" Sabreman's model body to resemble the original Spectrum model. However, Microsoft suggested that it go from cute to a more realistic look, in which the artists tried to get a compromise between cute and realistic.
So, what went wrong? Why was this game cancelled? According to our source, the game unfortunately wasn't going anywhere: "there was a lack of definite design direction on the team, and programmers and artists were constantly putting in more & more scenery, more animals with different handling, interesting features & mechanics. But, the skeleton of the game was just not there. It was severely lacking in major features, [such as] the game's progress, story, main tasks/objectives, etc."
Because of this, Microsoft saw it fit to put their foot down. "After three years of low productivity from all but 1 of the Xbox teams, [they] ...insisted that Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero be ready for the 360's launch." The Stampede programmers were taken off the team to help on those games. There were still two designers and a few artists that remained, adding more 3D models and scenery. Eventually, they realized that the game was going nowhere, and it was cancelled in late 2005.
And that, as they say, is the rest of the story. For many fans that awaited a sequel to Diddy Kong Racing, Donkey Kong Racing seemed to be that title. Unfortunately, it seems like the E3 2001 video was all that we ever truly had on it, due to the game never getting farther than that one video. There was still hope through what Sabreman Stampede originally was, but due to a lack of direction and the 2002 acquisition, we'll never be able to experience how the game was meant to be, regardless of the IP attached to it. Even now, it seems like we'll never get to know firsthand what the "To Be Continued" message was, as 2007's Diddy Kong Racing DS did not have that optimistic message at the end of the credits. With Rare's current direction with Kinect development, it's even less than likely.
Rest in Peace, Sabreman Stampede and Donkey Kong Racing. We'll hardly know ye.