Lead Designer Gregg Mayles has worked at Rare for the past twelve years, starting with the Donkey Kong Country series for Nintendo. More recently, he's designed games like Banjo-Kazooie, Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Kameo: Elements of Power.
Justin Cook hails from the local area around Rare and Twycross. After training for four years as a teacher at Exeter University and teaching for three at a primary school, he joined Rare seven years ago as a Tester. Since then Justin has worked on everything from Perfect Dark to It's Mr Pants, and in the last few years moved up to a Designer role on Viva Piņata.
Piņata seem like an unusual creation for a British developer. Why did you choose to make your animals out of paper
JC: We knew from the structure of the game that we needed wild animals and we also knew that we wanted a strong theme that was completely new and fresh. Our concept artist Ryan came up with the Piņata, and we loved the idea of breaking them open and dropping sweets. These elements added to the themes of the original game.
What games did you work on before Viva Piņata?
JC: I worked in testing for quite a while. The first game for me was Perfect Dark 64, and then all the releases up to Starfox Adventures.
GM: I've been around a bit longer than that...all the way back to our NES games. I worked on Donkey Kong Country, the Banjo series, Grabbed by the Ghoulies.
How big is the team currently?
GM: We're up to 50 now. The game originally started with three people at a prototype stage and remained like that for about a year.
There must have been a lot of Piņatas designed for the game. Did you create a lot more than you actually ended up using?
GM: I think we had about 166 to start with, all arranged into this wonderful food chain. But we looked at how much work that was going to create, and scaled it back down. When you play the game now, even 60 seems like a lot. I think we'd still be making the game in ten years time if we'd stuck with 166.
What's the strangest Piņata that got rejected during the design process?
GM: There were sub groups of the different Piņata. We had one group for spiders, and another for beetles, each with several species inside. But in the end we tried to keep the best ones and throw out all the ones that were duplicates.
Is Viva Piņata primarily a kids' game?
JC: I like to think we've made a game that anybody can play. We wanted children to play it, so obviously some of the design decisions we made reflect that. Parents can give this to their children and they don't have to worry about it. A lot of the press you see about games over the last twelve months has been about how nasty and evil games are so this is a kind of reaction to that.
We've also had a really positive response from women. When we demoed the game at E3, we probably got the highest ratio of women to men to come and watch it. It's just something fresh and new and something they can relate to. Well...I don't exactly know that's the case!
GM: I think the secret to making it fun for adults and children is to make sure the first part of the game is very friendly towards younger people. They tend to play the first part of a game until it gets too hard, and then start over from the beginning. So we had that in mind, because the first bit can be enjoyed time and time again by everybody. But beyond that point the game increases in difficulty so that players will find it more enjoyable. All the challenges start appearing and the dangers to your garden will be introduced.