Twycross-based Rare is the subject of a new exhibition at Conventry's Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, as part of the broader Play: An Exploration of Toys, Games, and Fun event.
Founded in 1985 by Tim and Chris Stamper, to replace their former ZX Spectrum-focused company Ultimate Play the Game, Rare took a risky gamble to get its foot onto the industry ladder: Reverse-engineering Nintendo's Family Computer (Famicom) console, in the face of claims from the company such a thing would be impossible, and demonstrating a range of tech demos to the Japanese gaming giant. The risk paid off: Nintendo granted the pair a reportedly-unlimited budget to develop games for the Famicom and its western equivalent the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
The companies' partnership would grow through the mid 90s with Nintendo repeatedly buying stakes in the company which would eventually see the it owning 49 percent of Rare, allowing Rare to expand considerably. Eventually, though, the money fountain would dry up, despite the increasing cost of game development. The Stampers looked elsewhere, and found interest from Activision but would eventually sell to Microsoft and transition from second-party Nintendo developer to first-party Xbox developer. Most recently, Rare released multiplayer sail-'em-up Sea of Thieves to a mixed reception.
That story, in considerably greater detail, is the focus of a new exhibition at the Coventry Herbert Art Gallery & Museum dubbed Rare: From 8-bit to Xbox One. 'The company has been operating for more than 30 years and is a great success story for the area and for the industry,' claims Rare lead engineer James Thomas of the exhibition's value. 'It began as an independent gaming business – set up by the Stamper brothers – creating and selling games for the ZX Spectrum. Rare has produced some ground-breaking games over the years such as GoldenEye, Banjo-Kazooie and Viva Piñata.
'Our latest release, Sea of Thieves, has attracted more than four million players to date and has more than 200 people working on the game. So this is a great time to be able to share our story with people from the area because this is a really positive period for gaming in the region. I think many people see a distinction between traditional play and gaming but my view is that this is just the next generation and, more and more, games are becoming social activities when friends play together rather than in isolation. It is cementing "real life" friendships rather than detracting from them which, again, isn’t something that is always appreciated or understood.
'The fact that Play is running at the Herbert meant this is a great opportunity to showcase Rare and its games, to show people what goes into making a global hit and, also, to give them an insight into careers in the industry.'
The exhibition, alongside the broader Play: An Exploration of Toys, Games, and Fun, is available through to September 23rd with free entry to all. More information is available on the official website.