The team at Rare had already established themselves as marque video game developers by the mid 90’s. Previous titles like Battletoads, Knight Lore and Sabre Wulf had earned the company’s founders Tim and Chris Stamper critical acclaim. Not happy to rest on their laurels when Nintendo bought up a majority share in the company in 1994. The brothers saw it as a chance to take on one of Nintendo’s characters and innovate on the medium. The character of their choice was Donkey Kong a Nintendo IP that had remained on the self for nearly ten years at that point. The team at Rare wanted to take Donkey Kong in a new direction not just gameplay wise but also innovate on how the character looked.
“Tim and Chris Stamper founded Ultimate Play the Game in 1985; the company would later be re-established under the new name Rare Ltd., producing many memorable games along the way”
Prior to Nintendo’s buyout of the company Rare had been on a development marathon producing over 50 games in a five year period most of them for the NES console. An astronomical development rate by today’s standards but it helped Rare make enough profits to invest in some computer graphics hardware that would benefit the company going forward. The Silicon Graphics workstations that they purchased allowed them to create advanced 3D models and push the bounds of what was possible for video game graphics at the time. After the buyout they were tasked by Nintendo to use the new technology to create a 3D CGI game that game would become Donkey Kong Country. Due to the limitations of the 16-bit era of console gaming there was no way Rare could make a true real-time rendering 3D game so like others at the time, pre-rending the assets was the way to go. Myst was one of the first games to pioneer this method of creating a pseudo 3D game with pre-rendered graphics. The process for Donkey Kong Country involved modelling and animating the main characters and enemies on their graphics workstations. Then they would save of a series of image stills and turn them into 2D animated sprites that had the appearance and lighting of 3D models. The Finnish developers Bloodhouse had used a similar technique for their 1993 game Stardust. The limitations of the hardware also made it difficult when implementing some of the games other graphical elements. The games 3D backgrounds also taxed the SNES consoles limited memory so the team had to carefully arrange backgrounds that repeated elements but trying to make them appear as natural as they could. These techniques helped the game stand apart from most of its competitors and rivals when the game went on the market in November of 1994.
“It was the work by Rare on Donkey Kong Country and the team at Cyan Inc. with their Myst that helped push forward the era of 3D gaming.”
Nintendo’s 16-bit SNES console was always under pressure from its main rivals Sega who boasted 32-bits and a CD-ROM drive with their SegaCD console. Nintendo needed a title that would show off their consoles hardware potential and compete with their high memory rivals. The launch of Donkey Kong Country helped them do just that with the game becoming an instant hit with the gaming community. The game would go on to reach over 9 million in sales and pick up a host of video game awards along the way. It helped Rare gain international status and cement the relationship between them a Nintendo that would carry on for the next number of years. The Donkey Kong franchise now given a new lease of life would continue to see regular video game releases over the following decades with an iconic look that is still influenced by Rare’s original character designs.