Microsoft-owned development studio Rare has posted two job vacancies on its official website asking for artists and programmers with experience on Nintendo DS projects.
The move has caused great confusion amongst industry watchers, since the UK-based dev studio was recently purchased by Microsoft with the express intention of developing Xbox and Xbox 360-exclusive titles. Two 360 launch titles, Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo, are currently in development at Rare.
But these job vacancies suggest that the studio is also focussing on creating games for Nintendo's touchscreen handheld. The first job vacancy asks for "experienced 3D artists (Nintendo DS)" who want to join Rare's team "in creating key DS titles."
And the second vacancy is for "games programmers (Nintendo DS)" who will be tasked with "creating high-profile titles for this unique system."
So why is a Microsoft-owned company working on projects destined for a console made by a direct competitor? When we asked Microsoft this question, a spokesperson said, "Microsoft has nothing to announce with regard to Rare revealing titles for Nintendo's DS."
And then a flat-out denial that the suggested DS games would have anything to do with Microsoft: "We have no plans to publish games for GBA and DS."
The plot thickens. If Microsoft won't be publishing these games, why is Rare advertising for staff to work on them? "Rare is constantly looking to hire people with a broader range of skills and experiences in order to remain at the forefront of games development," we were told.
But Microsoft was quick to reassure us that even if Rare is developing DS titles it will
not affect work on Xbox and Xbox 360 projects. "Whilst Rare has a long history of developing great hand-held games, the majority of their teams are focused on the Xbox business," the spokesperson said. "Rare's top priority remains next-generation game development."
One possible explanation is that another publisher could take care of publishing and distribution of any Rare DS game. Given that the developer has a strong history with Nintendo itself - in fact, the dev studio concentrated solely on Nintendo titles including GoldenEye, Perfect Dark and the Donkey Kong Country series until Microsoft purchased it outright in 2002 - there's even the possibility that any Rare DS game could be published first-party by Nintendo.
We've been in touch with Nintendo and are awaiting a comment.
There's no indication at present that Rare could be working on titles for any other Nintendo platform, including the next-gen Revolution.
The unusual move could even lend a pinch of credence to wild speculation last week that Microsoft's next-gen Xbox 360 console, pegged to launch around the world in November, would be compatible with both Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP. Is Rare's seeming involvement with DS development a sign of a deeper tie-up between the handheld and Xbox 360?
"At E3 Microsoft only announced that there would be the possibility for other devices to connect to Xbox 360," said the Microsoft spokesperson. In fact, the speculation is as wild as it sounds - it seems some reporters misconstrued slides shown at the Xbox 360's pre-E3 unveiling where portable devices like Apple's iPod and Sony's PSP were shown linked with the console.
We'll keep you up to date with developments on this unusual story as we get them.