As part of our end-of-year celebrations, we're digging into the archives to pick out some of the best Time Extension content from the past year. You can check out our other republished content here. Enjoy!
Kev Bayliss is famous for working on Rare titles like Battletoads and Killer Instinct and is currently working at Playtonic Games, home of Yooka-Laylee and friends. Today marks the 25th birthday of Diddy Kong Racing, another of Bayliss' titles, so now is the perfect time for him to recount the development of the N64 classic that gave Mario Kart a run for its money.
It might surprise you to learn that I hold such affection for Diddy Kong Racing, given that I'm the person who designed the Battletoads and Fulgore from Killer Instinct! But it's true, and it all started a little something like this. Shortly after completing work on Killer Instinct II, I started creating a character for a platform game on the N64 with Chris Tilston, the lead designer for the Killer Instinct series.
The character was a Tiger cub who walked around on all fours, and we had some tests of him climbing around on a level. I then created a ‘Mouse’ character wearing a space suit and rendered a few shots of him; I nicknamed him ‘Astro Mouse’, and I had high hopes for him being the main character and the Tiger cub being his sidekick. However, as things began to change in development, Chris was earmarked for another project, so I was at a bit of a loose end.
Meanwhile, Rare co-founder Chris Stamper had started putting together a small team to create a racing-themed adventure game over on the top floor of one of the newly-converted barns at Rare's Manor Farm HQ. It was all very secretive, and Chris wanted to keep it under wraps. After discussing with Tim Stamper which project I should now work on, he thought I should get involved in this new racing project. However, Chris was reluctant to have me on the team because I’d only recently created "Nasty" (his words, not mine) characters in Killer Instinct 1 and 2, and he wanted the racing game to be ultra-cute, not ultra-violent. I was a bit annoyed by this, as I loved racing games – but to be fair, he had just seen my picture of ‘Astro Mouse’ flipping the bird, and I remember him saying, "I hate that mouse!"
Anyway, Tim eventually convinced Chris to have me on the team, and actually told me that he had said to his brother, ‘I would be banging on the door to get Kev involved in developing the racing game characters’. I’ll always remember that, and I was touched by the compliment – so I was really happy when I moved over to the team shortly afterwards. Then there was a bit of a re-shuffle, and Chris went on to take on an overseeing role of the various games at the company, rather than work on one directly.
I was appointed as the new character developer, and there were the two 'Lees' - Lee Schuneman on design and artist Lee Musgrave, who had previously been working on character designs. Soon, Richard Gale, Rob Harrison, Martin Penny, John Pegg, Paul Mountain, David Wise, Keith Rabette, Dean Smith, Johnni Christensen and more amazing devs joined what was originally a team of two or three people to form a great family who all had a similar interest in racing games. We all got on extremely well, and it was a fun place to be.
One of the first things I remember doing was designing the car vehicle. I had a yellow sports car at around that time, which was eventually destroyed in a car accident – and as I missed it so much, I wanted to create a similar car for the game to race around in. It went through a few different shapes and designs, but eventually, the design was settled upon, and we ended up with the ‘kiddies ride’ style mini formula one ‘kart’ design. I decided to give it red tyres rather than black to make it look more like a kid's toy, as I knew that Chris Stamper would like it when he came to see the game’s development from time to time. He really wanted it to be super cute, so I thought this would help.
As far as I remember, we had no plans initially to have an aeroplane or hovercraft, as we didn’t want to mess around perfecting the dynamics and controls of other vehicles – but I came in one day, and Rob had a crude aeroplane flying around which felt great to fly around in. So I created a proper plane, and then eventually, the hovercraft was added.
Rob Harrison had the fantastic idea of using sprites to reduce the need for a large number of polygons to create wheels for the car and came up with some code to reuse the animated sprites on each vehicle. This mixing of 2D sprites and 3D polygons was something we knew would work because we had previously mixed them together in Killer Instinct, and when we tried it in Diddy Kong Racing, the results were amazing.
So, the wheels, propellors and fans on the vehicles were all sprites, saving us a lot of polygons which helped with the game’s frame rate. If you can imagine, several polygonal cars all on a screen – multiplied x4 if you played in multiplayer, and then generating the background 4 times too – this was a lot to ask of the N64. So, this idea was a lifesaver and actually improved the look of the cars, avoiding ‘boxy’ faceted wheels.
It wasn’t long before the story and design progressed, and there was a need for support characters, such as Taj, and of course, the main villain. Lee Schuneman and I decided to use a nasty ‘wild boar’ as the big bad boss, but he 'read' better with a brighter colour, so I just created a pig. We called him ‘Wizpig’ because he was a ‘fast’ (Whizz!) evil wizard. (And a pig.)
As the story developed, we needed to create sequences which helped pull everything together. So, Rob Harrison asked me what I needed to create animations. We worked together on making a cut-down animation event editor, which worked in a similar way to how I’d do things in Maya, but it allowed me to directly put things down on the N64 and instantly see the results. I could trigger events, move characters along a path, cut the camera and do almost anything I wanted to do.
At this stage, the game had moved on from being called Adventure Racers and had adopted the RC Pro-AM 64 title. I rendered out a logo of my tiger (from the experimental project), and eventually, I created more characters (cute and colourful!) to race against, including a revised version of ‘Astro Mouse’, which eventually became ‘Pipsy’.
Using Rob’s editor, I started playing with it to make animations with accompanying music, I created a short sequence showing Timber (The tiger) in a car racing around a Nintendo logo on the floor. As the camera panned round and zoomed out, it revealed that a much larger Timber was operating a radio control unit, running around the track excitedly, so he was operating a small ‘RC’ car with a mini Tiger inside.
It looked great, and I will always remember on that particular day, Chris Stamper just happened to be passing the barn; he walked past my monitor as it was playing, and he stopped, turned around, and came back. He started laughing and said it looked fantastic. He then made the comment to Tim, ‘Rob has done this one thing, and Kev is just doing his thing, and it’s just coming together and looks wonderful'. I knew that when Chris used the word ‘wonderful’, he was happy, as it was his favourite ‘kudos’ word.