Interview with chris seavor conker
We love Rare. Today and back in the day. That company had (some are there still) people like the Stamper brothers, Grant Kirkhope, Martin Hollis,
It would be impossible to understand Conker, its genesis, humour, and irreverence without knowing Chris Seavor. He had the idea, led the project, designed it, co-wrote the script with Robin Beanland, made the graphics and almost all the voices in the game. He IS Conker himself.
With the freedom and perspective that gives the time (Conker was released a decade ago) we wanted to do a special article about Conker, so we contacted Chris Seavor and we’ve asked him to tell us everything about Conker. Guess what? He does.
Can we go back for a moment to the mid-nineties? If Wikipedia is right, you were born in 1979 so at that time you were very young, you worked in Killer Instinct when you were only 15 years old (It’s that legal in UK?) How did you become, few years later, director, writer, leader and designer of one of the biggest projects of Rare in N64?
I was actually born in 1968 and i started at Rare straight from my Masters in January 1994 My first proper friend (i was a lonely child, sob) was Martin Hollis, who later went on to do that little known indie hit, oh what was it called? Goldeneye, that’s it… who i met playing Mortal Combat at lunch. Rare used to buy whole arcade machines for ‘research’. Martin did the the effects and stuff on Killer. By trade i’m an artist and at the time 3D was very much in its infancy (in games) so my particular skill set was in short supply as most 3D artists tended to go into the film business, which was where i expected and intended to go…
Hmm, I See… [Mental note: Who the hell wrote that birth date in Wikipedia?]
Then by chance my friend Dave got an interview at Rare and (i expect to save on petrol, heh) he invited me along… I didn’t actually have an interview i just turned up and said Hi, i didn’t even know who Rare was and was surprised to see a load of Ultimate posters everywhere….. The penny then dropped..A couple of days later they offered me a job which, and i’ll be honest here i was cautious about because EA were still to get back to me… Luckily for me EA were a bit lax and i ended up in Twycross, the ass end of nowhere wondering ‘What the fuck am i doing in a barn ?!!!’
[Note: Twycross is a small village in Leicestershire, UK where Rare has its headquarters]
Of course, i was then handed a sparkly SG machine (i even remember its code name : Mariner) and wondered who i was having to share it with.. (they were a premium at Bournemouth University) . ‘Nope, it’s all yours…’ said Simon and I was suddenly very happy. Alias was then dutifully installed for me by a grumbling man with crumbs in his beard (Beardy) and so began my work on Killer Instinct and the beginnings of a hard and fractious 11 months when the rest of the world just disappeared and all i could think about were werewolves, aliens, fireballs and the like… A great time and i made the first of some great friends in that first year, Noz, Martin, Kev, and Robin.
[Note: He is talking about Graeme Norgate, Martin Hollis, Kevin Bayliss and Robin Beanland, composer, programmer, designer and composer on Killer Instinct, respectively]
Anyway, after Killer 1 which was a massive hit in America sure enough Williams wanted Killer 2, and they wanted it fast… 6 bloody months in fact !!!! Now, that was a hard time, not least because the deadline was tight but also the head of Williams looked like a mafia don and pretty much sounded like one too… (i’m joking, he was a lovely man). So that got done, then i worked on Killer Ultra (N64) which was also tough because for the first time i was working with in-game 3D rather than rendered sprite… Anyone remember MultiGen ? Ningen….. ? Not with fondness is my bet !! Also remember that at the time no one was doing this kind of stuff, so from a code / graphics POV we were right on the frontier… Quite exciting though.
After Killer Instinct you worked in Conker’s Twelve Tales. In early development, it was about a lovely squirrell, in a beautiful landscape full of nuts, sunflowers and that kind of things. Exactly the type of game Nintendo loves, and I am sure that would be a great game. But, suddenly, it disappeared from the games magazines, and returned some time later as a mature game with a drunk squirrell. For what reason the game changed so much?
There were a few problems with this game, but overall the main problem was Banjo being a similar type of game, and BOTH being a take on the Mario 64 format. A crowded market indeed…Something had to give, so i had an idea and went to see Chris and Tim about it which they seemed to like, and then when opportunity knocked i took it… You often see things like stardoll hacks, which i don’t understand.
The name Bad Fur Day was one i’d suggested during the Twelve Tales cycle, but as usual was ignored, so when the opportunity came to take over the reins (so to speak) i resurrected it. It’s a good name, and became the premise of the game; a sort of day in the life. The initial idea was a simple one; Conker is an innocent who wanders into difficult situations and inadvertently causes even more mayhem, before wandering off not looking back. Conker genuinely wants to help people, but doesn’t quite manage it .. I thought that would be funny. It sort of evolved from there really.. As Tolkien once said, ‘The tale grew in the telling’… or in other words, ‘i made the fucker up as i went along’ !! . You try doing that now in the industry, bugger me, ‘The Planners’ would have an epileptic aneurism.
I ended up doing Bad Fur Day because i had an idea, i was available and i was willing to do it. At the time, and i’ll be honest, i don’t think management had any expectations about what we’d produce but that only drove us harder to prove people wrong. A lot was at stake for me personally , and i guess in the long run it paid off. Sure, i would have made more money on Diddy Kong Racer texturing a tyre, or DK64 modelling a blade of grass, but no one was to know that at the time. (OK, they did know that on DK64, the buggers…)
In summary. Crowded market, not least within Rare itself… The trick with any new game when you’re trying to pitch it, and this applies across the board, whether you’re doing a FPS, MMO whatever is : What does this game do that’s different to its competitors? Humour, toilet or otherwise, was ours.
In fact, due to the new focus of the game, Nintendo refused to promote and publish the game. It even didn’t release in Spain! I can imagine the “facepalms” in Nintendo Japan seeing the intro with the protagonist breaking the N64 logo and cleaning the Rare one. How did you took knowledge of that lack of support from Nintendo? Did you feel disappointed?
Nintendo published the game, so if they had any doubts we’d never have got that far. They were absolutely behind it, the problem was i think the restrictive nature of how you position a game like this… It couldn’t be advertised in certain places, couldn’t even be reviewed in certain media because of the publications target audience. This restriction didn’t help at all with promoting the game.
Could more have been done to ‘get it out there’ ? Well perhaps, but you can say that about any game within reason. The madness of marketing is this paradox : The more successful and popular the franchise, the more money is spent on advertising the bugger !!! I mean look at the shit they do to market Call of Modern Duty 4, 2 + 3 , (whatever the hell it’s called)… It’s crazy.. If the only advert for that game was a tattoo on the arse of Glenn Miller it would still ship 12 million !!, so why not spend some of that budget giving new IP’s more exposure.
Did you thought, at some point of the development, about to change the game to make it more “family friendly” and get the promotional support of Nintendo? Did anyone in Rare of Nintendo asked you to do that?
Would i ever have toned down the content of Conker…? Hmm, let me see… Never… Never ever ever… EVER (okay, except for when I had too for ‘legal’ reasons..hrumph!!). The very idea of diluting anything i’ve worked on goes against every thing i learnt working at Rare. Stuff in Bad Fur Day did get censored, whole cutscenes in fact, but on reflection i could see how some people might be offended. Pokemon had to come out, and i was annoyed about that one because it was quite a funny cutscene. Gone forever now. Pretty much 99.9% of the game remained however.
Oh yeah, there was a joke at the expense of the KKK, which had to come out too. Hmm, never did understand why Nintendo were apprehensive about offending a group of curiously dressed racists, odd !! … Anyway, I always considered Conker’s Bad Fur Day less about giving offence, more a morale tale with an important underlying message: ‘If in doubt, stay in bed’. I’m joking by the way, I was trying to offend as many people as possible.
Also the ‘Never.. Never, never ever, etc’ answer might in some ways go to explain why i’m now a ‘free agent’, incidentally…. This is just a theory, a guess even, but i’m thinking a parody about Nazi Teddy Bears in womens underwear, a cigar with eyes and a tub of lemon curd (probably with eyes), wouldn’t be in the ‘Safe Zone’ for a derivative sports based game….’Come in Number 5, your time is up !!!
The game is full of fun details, such as jokes and film references. It’s impressive to see how many crazy ideas you put in Conker. Looking back, 10 years later, is there something you would have liked to add, remove or change?
The original game i wouldn’t change at all. Not a sausage… It all came together very nicely and i’m glad i had the opportunity to help make something that lots of people remember with fondness.
Conker had another chance on Xbox and I once read that there was even a sequel planned. It would have been great, but I don’t know if the sequel was canceled or it never was more than an idea. Were Microsoft afraid of what came out of your mind after the first Conker?
Conker Live & Reloaded was a different beast altogether and tbh i can’t even remember how it came about… We just seemed to start working on it, no one said stop and eventually it was finished… Heh, maybe i’m simplifying a bit.
There’s no doubt in my mind, that had everyone taken a step back, including myself and said ‘What are we doing here..?’ if at that point everyone agreed another Conker game was to be made, the question should have been asked.. ‘Why the fuck aren’t we doing the sequel then instead.?’ I honestly wish now we were talking about Conker’s OBD (Other Bad Day, we even tm’d the name) rather than Conker L&R. Consider also, that Other Bad Day would certainly have been pushed onto the next-gen console (what eventually became the 360) so graphically all that mental shit Ray Kerr was playing about with on the graphics side would have given the artists an impressive foundation to create a killer looking launch title.
Do you think the industry has changed, or Conker would meet today with the same problems?
Conker being made now, well sad to say but I expect I wouldn’t even get an audience these days with the initial idea, let alone a consideration for a budget. Safe Bets only in the big budget mainstream i’m afraid. It’ll back fire one day, just give it a bit of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mainstream ‘event’ games sometimes just for the sheer joy of seeing the crazy shit artists can now do with a bunch of triangles and some paints, but my tastes have definitely changed.
I was going to ask whether there was any possibility of returning to see Conker in a game, but I just saw a rumor of a new release of Conker in a hypothetical Xbox720 in 2012 … Do you think today’s Rare would be able to make it without you? Or you are in?
There is definitely no version of Conker being made today. Definitely not. Although, if it turns out there IS (which there definitely isn’t), I’m fairly confident i’d be the last bugger to know.
In view of your twitter, you are a person who speaks openly. Recently you left Rare for whatever reason, and many people too, even the Stamper have left the company, and everyone can see that the games that Rare make now are not, either in quality or quantity, comparable to what Rare make a few years ago. What happened there?
Unfortunately i’m not really at liberty to talk about where Rare is now or where it’s going and tbh, i have no idea where it’s heading in terms of portfolio anyway (but i suspect the word ‘Sports’ figures largely in that picture). Rare has a rich , extremely rich IP pool on which to draw, and this in no small way defined the type of person who applied to work at the company.. They wanted to work at Rare not because they paid the best cash, or the hours were good, or for the local night life (Tasha’s excluded). It was because they were fans of the games and wanted to be part of making more of them. Personally, I don’t think that motivation applies so much nowadays. People create things like star stable cheats and hacks, which i’m not a big fan of.
Some time ago Rovio said that Angry Birds will be more important than Super Mario. I think that you, like me, get sick when you hear something like that. I also believe that you don’t keep a Farmville in your spare time, or am I wrong? Sometimes I think that nowadays games are, or like large hollywood movies or small like Zynga
games to kill time, with less and less room for creativity and traditional games. Do you have the same impression?
As you may have gathered i’m a big fan of Nintendo , not just their games but also their way of doing things which incidentally sits very much in line with how Rare used to do things… ie: They make the games they want to. They take as long as they need to take. They make hardware purely to support the needs of these aforementioned games.
The hardware is slave to the software, and not vice versa.. This is a very important distinction between Nintendo’s approach to the market, and how the others do it.
Here’s a little anecdote i was told once by someone who would know…. The original design for the wii controller was on 1 side of A4, and this initial outline and the basic essentials of that controller never changed. It also inclusively came from 1 person. Now imagine if you will a focus group, no doubt the usual cross section of yahoos out for a free lunch and a day in the ‘nice shiny building’.
Imagine ‘these people’ being asked to come up with a new controller based on ‘Whatever They Want’ ? Just imagine what they’d come up with? Miyamoto was the 1 guy who sketched out the Wii and it was sublime……Now, hypothetically what do you think the focus group would have come up with ? Here’s a clue : Utter Fucking Garbage!!! I personally don’t want to create ‘new experiences for broader audiences’, i couldn’t give a fuck about ‘emergent demographics’, and as for ‘greenfield opportunities’ whatever that means, it can kiss my arse.
Conker was a great game, but it’s been ten years since its release and we want more crazy stuff from you. So, what is Chris Seavor doing now?
As for me now, like anyone gives a shit, but I’m working mainly on expanding my home brew project from partial grain to full. I currently have 4 beers on the go. I write and illustrate when i can be arsed, a long term project which i can’t decide yet is a comic with lots of text or a book with lots of pictures.. somewhere in between. It’s dark, it’s not for kids, and it’s definitely not a comedy. I also play a shit load of games (which ironically is next to impossible to do as a FT developer),. I also smoke a pipe from time to time, grow my own veg, bake my own bread. Basically I’m living my long term dream of being a Hobbit (the height and feet aspect of this, already ticked)
Do you have new projects in video games?
I’m also making a game which (after exhaustive focus testing) is a highly derivative FPS SANDBOX MMO that ticks all the boxes and the final level involves a Big Gun and Dancing on Mars with the Kardashians (whoever they are…). ONLY JOKING !!!!.. It’s small, only slightly derivative, has some funny moments, two heroes one of whom is extremely bad tempered. And the final level is on Mars.
At this point, I can’t decide if I want to try first the beer, the comic or the game. Meanwhile I’ll be thinking why aren’t there more people like Chris Seavor in the game industry. No, seriously… Why?