What is it about RARE and gaming mysteries? All these years later and we're still talking about some of RARE's Easter eggs and other secrets. Now we get even more insight into the inner-works of RARE, thanks to a RareFanDaBase interview with former RARE employee, Paul Machacek.
RFDB: Were there any canned projects that you were particularly fond of that you really wish had come to fruition?
Paul: Probably the most annoying is Super Battletoads on the Gameboy. Heard of it? No, nor has almost anyone else. It was the fourth one I’d written in the serious, was a spinoff from the arcade game of the same name, and was 100% finished and signed off by Test. Then it got cancelled shortly after I moved onto Donkey Kong Land because the arcade game had underperformed in market and Tradewest pulled the plug on the whole franchise.
In 2015, during Rare Replay development, with long term members of Rare saying to me “don’t be silly, that game never existed”, we found it sitting on an old disc. A finished copy of the game. One of the engineers here happened to have a Gameboy emulator and we dragged the file into it and waited with bated breath. It ran! I couldn’t believe it, no one had seen this game in about 22 years, and I was the only person who recalled its existence at all.
Then we needed to see exactly what was there and being a rock hard Battletoad game that no one had played in over 20 years it wasn’t going to be easy. However, I still had the sourcecode (which I had no way of compiling anymore but could look through anyway). I worked out an infinite lives cheat, applied it to the binary file by “poking” it and got one of our team to play through the whole thing in one go and record the video. It took a little over an hour (with infinite lives) but was all there. A 100% completed game. Apparently, no bugs were seen.
RFDB: So you were the mastermind behind Banjo’s infamous Stop N’ Swop. How did it come to be, why was it canned, and what was the overall plan for it?
Paul: …..One day Tim asked me if there was a way to transfer an unlock code from one game to another without using standard codes that could be “printed and typed in”. He wanted something that meant you physically had to have two cartridges to do the transfer (which might boost sales). I quickly came up with a technique based on residual data surviving a power outage on RAM, which I’d got from some effects we used to experience with home computers a decade or more earlier. I wrote a demo the same day, and that night Tim, Gregg Mayles and I sat in my room and went nuts swapping cartridges back and forth and examining the results. Someone subsequently christened it ”Stop ‘n Swap” and we found that a heavily error checked data packet could survive a journey of up to 24 seconds of total power loss.
There are multiple reasons why this worked, but one of them is easily demonstrated if you disconnect a power brick for many gadgets from a wall socket and a little light on it carries on running for some time afterwards before fading out. We did a lot of testing on as much hardware as we had to ensure it was good. The feature was born. Assets went in, a plan was hatched to initially have 8 unlockables within BK that would connect to a notional sequel.
BK was written so that if you completed 8 tasks in the game then codes were dropped into RAM so that this (currently unnamed) sequel could recover and unlock features. However, we then wanted the sequel to send things back, so we got BK to look for incoming codes, and if they were found then they’d unlock access to a bunch of assets we’d baked into the game (seven Easter eggs and an ice key). However, BK was late (should have launched as Nintendo’s Christmas #1 in 1997, but was replaced by Diddy Kong Racing in the end), and Nintendo only found out what we were trying to do right at the end as we were trying to get a final build of the game to them for launch. They didn’t like what we had done, felt it was too risky, and told us to disable it. However, it was way too late to do anything about all the visual assets in the game, so they got left behind and a legend was born. Sorry about that.
We did have a backup plan BTW, there were a series of long text codes we implemented that you could “type” in using the quiz board at the end of the game. Eventually some hackers found them I believe, but it meant that even if the feature hadn’t worked, we could have published the codes and allowed people to unlock things. There’s one more aspect too; we weren’t just thinking about a sequel. We had a plan to connect six games together, each would pass codes to the next and if you completed the “full circle” by getting the last game to send codes back to the 1st (BK), then there was supposed to be an extra special bonus (which we never actually worked out). I don’t recall the exact order that the games needed to be played, but the six titles would have included Banjo Kazooie, Tooie, DK64 and Conker. My memory is hazy right now on the other two, but possibly Blast Corps and Perfect Dark , but can’t fully recall right now.