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The Making Of Star Fox Adventures, The Game That Was Once Dinosaur Planet – Feature


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Last week, we got the news that a playable version of Dinosaur Planet had leaked onto the web, giving us a hands-on look at the game which eventually became Star Fox Adventures on the GameCube. Therefore, we thought you might like to revisit this piece from 2012, in which we spoke to the game’s Lead Software Engineer, Phil Tossell. Enjoy!


Although it’s hard to believe now, when Star Fox Adventures launched in 2002 it gained largely positive reviews and shifted 200,000 copies in Japan, making it one of the system’s early smash hits in its native region. However, history hasn’t been kind to the game; over time, its reputation has crumbled and many dedicated Nintendo fans now view it as one of Rare’s less essential titles. Of course, much of this negativity can be attributed to the fact that Star Fox Adventures was Rare’s final game as a second-party Nintendo developer – the year before its release, Microsoft paid a total of $375 million to acquire 100% of the UK-based studio, ending its astonishingly fruitful association with Nintendo.

The game’s dramatic fall from grace may also be related to the fact that it famously had the Star Fox branding added mid-way through development – prior to that, it was an N64 title by the name of Dinosaur Planet. To uncover a little more regarding the fascinating history of Rare’s one and only GameCube title, we spoke to the game’s Lead Software Engineer, Phil Tossell.

Dinoplanet

“I began working at Rare straight after I graduated from University in 1997,” explains Tossell. “I joined the Diddy Kong Racing programming team near the tail end of the project. Around that time GoldenEye 007 was just being finished off and one of my early memories was sitting next to Mark Edmonds – one of the GoldenEye programmers – in Rare’s canteen and talking with him about the game and how excited I was about it.”

When work on Diddy Kong Racing was complete, Tossell was pushed straight onto his next project: the aforementioned Dinosaur Planet. “Work began immediately after Diddy Kong Racing was finished,” he recalls. “The programming team from Diddy Kong Racing split into two, with some members – particularly Paul Mountain who had been my mentor during my first six months – going to lead the Jet Force Gemini programming team. The rest of us began work on Dinosaur Planet. I don’t actually know clearly where the inspiration for the game came from; Lee Schuneman was the designer and I remember him coming up with so many ideas and sketches. The game changed many times in early development before settling down to the eventual idea of a continuous world adventure game based around two interweaved stories. For a long time, Dinosaur Planet had two main protagonists – Sabre and Krystal – and you could actually swap at any time between the two by speaking to Swapstone characters. These survived the transition to Star Fox Adventures but their use changed to being Warpstones. Originally Krystal also had a sidekick character called Kyte – similar to Tricky in the final game, but a pterodactyl that could fly. The story was also quite different.”

Concept artwork for Dinosaur Planet
Concept artwork for Dinosaur Planet

According to legend, Shigeru Miyamoto was shown footage of Dinosaur Planet and suggested that the game should be re-tooled to incorporate Fox McCloud and company. Rumours also abound that the change wasn’t accepted willingly by all of the Dinosaur Planet team, as the plot had to be rewritten in places to accommodate the Star Fox canon. Tossell’s recollection of this period is hazy, largely because he wasn’t directly involved with any of the high-level choices made regarding the direction of the project. “I don’t know for sure where the idea originally came from, but I definitely heard it mentioned that Miyamoto-san had suggested it,” he says. “Of course we were slightly disappointed at having to change Dinosaur Planet as we had all become so attached to it, but we could also see the potential of using the Star Fox licence.” It was around the same time that the choice was made to switch development from the ageing N64 to the new GameCube console.

“We were slightly disappointed at having to change Dinosaur Planet as we had all become so attached to it, but we could also see the potential of using the Star Fox licence”

With the Star Fox branding established, Tossell and the rest of the team worked tirelessly on the game with surprisingly little interference from Nintendo. “On the whole, we worked very independently,” explains Tossell. “We had an initial trip to Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto for about a week where we discussed the changes that would be required to make the game fit in well with the Star Fox universe. Sitting in a room discussing gameplay ideas with Miyamoto-san is certainly one of the highlights of my career and I still have his business card carefully stored away. I also remember going to an Italian restaurant for lunch near to the offices with Miyamoto-san and talking about all sorts of things. I’m not one to get starstruck, but that’s probably the one time in my life where I felt a little bit overawed. We also met with Takaya Imamura, who is the creative mind behind Star Fox originally. Imamura-san came to stay at Rare for around a month I think, where he would work with Lee Schuneman overseeing what we were doing. I think on the whole though, Nintendo was really trusting of our ability to make a great game.”

Working under Nintendo was an eye-opening experience for Tossell, who is full of praise for the Japanese company. “Without doubt of all the time I’ve worked in the industry it was the most trusting and respectful relationship,” he says. “Of course, it helped because technically Rare was independent – Nintendo only owned 49% of the company, as far as I am aware. This meant that the Stamper Brothers [Rare’s founders] didn’t have to do anything they didn’t want to. This contrasts sharply with how it is now where Microsofts own the whole company. Even accounting for that though, Nintendo knows games – it knows them inside and out and knows when something needs to be pushed and prodded and when it doesn’t. And it understands that if you push and prod too much then you destroy any spark that a game may have. It’s a delicate balancing act that Nintendo made look easy.”





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