Rare HQ Manor Farmhouse
Image: DJP Drones / Time Extension

These days, Rare is a very important part of Microsoft's game studio network, overseeing the incredibly successful Sea of Thieves as well as working on Everwild, one of Xbox's key exclusives. It was also instrumental in the creation of Microsoft's avatar system on Xbox 360, as well as the Kinect controller-free interface platform.

However, for an entire generation of gamers, the name 'Rare' evokes very different memories; this is the company behind the likes of Donkey Kong Country, Battletoads, Killer Instinct, Blast Corps, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini and GoldenEye 007, as well as seemingly countless other NES, Game Boy, N64 and SNES titles – many of which have sold millions of copies.

All of the games listed above were developed not at Rare's current purpose-built Manor Park HQ – which it has occupied since 1999 – but in a quant farm complex which resides just a few miles up the road and, for almost a decade and a half, was the company's base of operations – making it arguably one of the most important places of video game development in the world.

It's not hyperbole to claim that some of the most iconic and commercially successful titles of the 1990s were made here, but there's precious little information available online or in print about the incredible work that took place on this site – until now, that is.

Rare's History

While Rare began life as Ultimate Play The Game in Ashby-de-la-Zouch – a prolific creator of innovative software for home micros such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 – its founders, Tim and Chris Stamper, quickly identified home consoles as a growth market. They sold the Ultimate name to US Gold and set up Rare Ltd, relocating their base of operations to the nearby village of Twycross soon afterwards.

With a population of around 850 people (according to the 2011 census) and sitting right on the county border between Leicestershire and Warwickshire, Twycross is hardly what you'd call a bustling location; it is perhaps most famous for its internationally-acclaimed Twycross Zoo World Primate Centre. However, this has been the base for Rare for the past few decades – making it a truly notable location in terms of video game history.

The Stampers decided to explore the potential of working on Nintendo's Famicom, a system which was not available in the west at that point. Rare's team famously reverse-engineered the console, impressing Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa so much that he awarded the company the first western development licence for what would become the Nintendo Entertainment System. Rare's first game for the NES was Slalom, released in 1986. By this point, Rare had fully relocated to Manor Farm on the southern edge of Twycross, a Grade II listed 18th-century house surrounded by a vast array of associated outbuildings on its grounds.

From Farm To Hit Factory

"The farmhouse changed over time," recalls Paul Machacek, who joined Rare in 1988 and still works there today, serving as the company's Test Manager. He's the perfect person to give us a whistle-stop tour of how the complex evolved over the next decade. "When I joined. only the main house was usable, and the outbuildings – barns and cow sheds – were mostly derelict. In the farmhouse itself, the ground floor held a reception, meeting space and a couple of rooms that had the artists in, one of which was Tim Stamper's office. On the 1st floor, there were two large rooms connected by an archway in a wall where all programmers sat. When I joined and got a game, there were eight programmers, so eight games in production – and all in those two rooms. I recall Paul Proctor sitting near me doing pinball games, Simon Hallam close by working on Time Lord (I think), and Chris Stamper had the desk next to me, where I think he was finishing an American Football game, which might have been John Elway's Quarterback."

Machacek says that desk reshuffles were commonplace, and he soon ended up on the floor above Tim Stamper's office. "Late at night, he'd play loud music below me, and I'd play loud music above him. I think the rivalry got to the point where I briefly placed my speakers face-down on the floor."

Rare Manor Farmhouse HQ
Rare's former HQ as it appears today. The Grade II listed farmhouse served as the hub of the company in the early years before Rare was forced to expand into the surrounding buildings — Image: DJP Drones / Time Extension

The main house became a sprawling hub of development – both for software and hardware, it should be noted, as Rare was experimenting with its own hardware projects at the time, including the unreleased 'Play Boy' handheld. "Off the two dev rooms and above reception – which was in an extension on the side of the main house – was the IT department, or to put it simply Pete Cox," Machacek explains. "He built all of our dev gear, ROM/RAM boards, and so on. Actually, the room I described as 'Reception' was originally a farmhouse kitchen. Every day Beryl – Tim and Chris' mum – would cook us lunch in there, and we'd all sit around the table for 30mins, which is all we got to eat. It was a really small team at that point, so this was not an issue."

This wasn't just a place of work, either; the upper floors of the main house actually served as living quarters for the Rare bosses at one point. "On the top floor, there were two rooms and a toilet and shower room," continues Machacek. "Chris Stamper lived in one, and his brother Stephen lived in the other. They eventually bought houses and moved out, and the larger room (which had been Chris') became our first testing department. The other room was used as a creche for a while when Tim's kids were young, and a couple of nannies were employed. The testing room also had a hatch in the ceiling which, if you climbed on a table lead, through a small access way to the roof where the views were fantastic. I recall looking out towards the site we'd eventually buy in the mid-'90s and build our current studio on."

As the '80s drew to a close, Rare's output became prolific and it produced a host of titles for the NES, including the likes of WWF Wrestlemania (Acclaim), Wheel of Fortune (GameTek), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (LJN), Silent Service (Ultra Games), Ivan "Ironman" Stewart's Super Off Road (Tradewest) and Captain Skyhawk (Milton Bradley). With the arrival of the Nintendo Game Boy in 1989, Rare began supporting that platform, too; The Amazing Spider-Man (LJN), WWF Superstars (LJN), Sneaky Snakes (Tradewest) and Wizards & Warriors X: The Fortress of Fear (Acclaim) were just a handful of the titles it developed for the monochrome handheld.

Rare games
A selection of Rare's titles, the vast majority of which were produced at Manor Farm — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Despite the products being produced by the studio, there were constant reminders of Rare's rustic setting. "The farmhouse and most of the outbuildings surrounded a square farmyard which was used as a car park," Machacek says. "On the side of the car park, against the perimeter wall with the road, was a chicken house with chickens everywhere. It was a lottery each day to see who might accidentally park on a chicken. I believe it did happen on one occasion."

As more staff were taken on, parking became tricky – given that most people commuted to the studio's remote location, almost everyone had their own car. "You didn't come in first in the morning and expect to get out at lunchtime for a dental appointment because people would have to back their cars out of the way, and the only place to eventually take them was the main road outside," recalls Machacek with a grimace. "Eventually, an outbuilding in the corner of the farmyard and adjacent to the road was converted into a larger kitchen and dining area, and the old one in the farmhouse was a reception after that. About one-quarter of the site was an open field where Tim kept a couple of shire horses. The Stampers also had a bunch of dogs, German Shepherds, which wandered around all the time."

Paul Machacek
Paul Machacek — Image: Paul Machacek

As the '80s drew to a close, it quickly became apparent that the Stampers had backed the right horse. While the NES was being beaten in the UK by Sega's Master System and 16-bit home computers like the Atari ST and Amiga, in North America and Japan, the system ruled supreme – and Rare's reputation for producing quality NES (and Game Boy) software allowed the company to consistently secure the work required to expand dramatically in a relatively short space of time. Rare created over 45 games for the NES alone – as well as a dozen for the Game Boy – and it soon became clear that the main Manor Farmhouse building had become a limiting factor to growth. Thankfully, there was plenty of room to expand.

"As the studio grew in the early 1990s, we had to start refurbing the outbuildings and also reroute the driveway to its current location," says Machacek. "The drive went around the back of a barn and the first row of outbuildings and in front of a couple of old skeletal barns and the rear row of outbuildings and came out onto the A444 opposite the entrance to the church. The old entrance was actually bricked up with a small door put in so that we had easy access to cross the road and buy ice creams at the freezer centre that used to be by the church – this was knocked down years ago, and houses are there now."

Growing Pains

As more people joined the company, the existing farm buildings were converted to a new use. "The cow sheds and stables and the main barn alongside the car park were prime candidates, as they were structurally the most complete, just needing an internal refurb mostly," says Machacek. "But eventually, the outer skeletal barns had to be rebuilt into something more usable."

The converted outbuildings would house the teams behind some of Rare's most famous titles. "The GoldenEye, Killer Instinct and Conker teams were in the outbuildings on either side of the old driveway," explains Machacek. "Donkey Kong Country was in the farmyard barn upstairs. When we all got SGI machines and rendering went nuts, we had two giant SGI systems the size of double-height fridges which were known as 'The Deathstar' and 'Jabba'. They'd be rendering art 24/7 and would often crash at night when no one was around to restart them. The only air conditioning system we had at Rare was put into that room to look after those two machines."

Donkey Kong Country marked the beginning of a much closer relationship between Rare and Nintendo, with the latter eventually buying a 49 percent share in the former. Donkey Kong sequels followed on the SNES, as did a port of the arcade hit Killer Instinct – all of these titles were million-sellers. When Nintendo released its N64 console in 1996, Rare was one of the key developers involved and crafted some of the platform's best games, such as GoldenEye, Blast Corps, Banjo-Kazooie (and Banjo-Tooie) and Jet Force Gemini.

Rare might have had the most up-to-date graphics technology at this point, but it's important to remember that the world of computing and development was very different back then. "The company was totally offline," says Machacek. "We were pre-internet and early on had no network internally, either. In the early days, art and audio files were hand-carried on floppy disks (which we managed to recover during Rare Replay), and eventually, an internal network went in to transfer files 'properly'. in 1998, a single PC was set up in a room and connected to the outside world. For many of us, it was our first experience of the internet."

Given its remote location and the moderate distance from the large towns of Nuneaton, Hinckley and Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the staff at Rare had ample time to hang out when not working. "With all the game teams competitively locked away from each other, the one time everyone regularly got together was lunchtime when we'd all hang out in the car park," recalls Machacek. "It was (briefly) quite social but became more difficult towards the end with the place rammed with cars. Not only the farmyard car park was full, but the whole length of the old driveway was parking, two cars wide, and then we converted part of the field for this purpose. Cars were even parked on one side of the new driveway, and it was not regarded as cool to be seen to be doing it as it meant you'd come in later than everyone else."

Rare HQ
A photo on the day of Chris Stamper's wedding, showing the converted barn in the background where Donkey Kong Country was created — Image: Chris Sutherland

Some staffers spent almost their entire waking day on-site, and this could result in some unexpected surprises. "Just inside the bricked-up old entrance, we built a brick and concrete BBQ area which was used during the summer," Machacek says. "It was home-built, but unfortunately, whoever did it didn't fully have the skills (or knowledge) to do it properly. They build a red-brick base and put some random patio concrete slabs across the top. They should have used ones with no air bubbles in them. One day, there was a massive bang heard from all offices, and then a load of concrete rained down on the building roofs. Apparently, the kitchen staff were heating the BBQ up, and the patio slabs exploded. The person cooking had only just walked away and was very lucky."

In keeping with the culinary theme, Machacek recalls that the company's Christmas parties could often get rather raucous. "In the early days, when we were small, we'd have our Christmas party at a local restaurant in Ashby or Market Bosworth or somewhere. Unfortunately, each year we'd get banned from that establishment straight after and eventually, word got around that we 'weren't a safe booking'. So one year, we hired a marquee tent and put it in the field. Unfortunately, we had a massive food fight and destroyed it, so had to buy a new one. We also had our fireworks there every year. It was quite common for some years for at least one of the emergency services to arrive at these gatherings."

Despite the incredible commercial and critical success Rare would experience during its time at Manor Farm, Machacek admits that it wasn't always plain sailing. "We worked very long hours, but it seemed like a paid hobby, and I was doing those anyway before joining Rare. I loved developing games, but you can't work at that level without sacrificing other things. There are projects I have fond memories of, but there were also difficult times for people and the studio as a whole. There was one year in the very early 1990s when only two games shipped and earned any money, and Kev Bayliss and I wrote both of them – WWF and Battletoads. Also, getting appropriate credit for things was not handled well at all. In the early days, we couldn't put credits in the game (visibly), so I used to hide my name in the binaries without knowing the internet would eventually allow people to find and share such stuff. In hindsight, I should have hidden the names of others I worked with, such as Kev, in those binaries too, but I was young and naive, and it just didn't occur to me. Some people got too much credit and reward for what they did, and others not enough. It was a haphazard system influenced by friendships and relationships within the studio. I'm quite critical about how things were run at the farmhouse. However, it went on to be successful, and you wouldn't be asking me such questions if we hadn't created all those games under those conditions back then. The Rare of today is run much more efficiently, I should add!"

Memories Of Manor Farm

While this feature began life as a friendly chat with Paul Machacek about working at Manor Farm, it quickly grew in scope and began to pull in recollections from other Rare staffers who worked at the location.

We'd like to thank everyone who took the time to offer up their valuable memories!

David Wise

David Wise
Image: David Wise

Wise served as a composer at Rare between 1985 to 2009 and was the company's sole musician up until 1994, when he was joined by Graeme Norgate and Robin Beanland. He left Rare and established his own studio in 2010 and has since contributed to the likes of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Yooka-Laylee. He recently created Salamandos with Kev Bayliss.

I enjoyed working at the Manor Farmhouse. It was very much a family business with a focus on creating something truly great. It had a real buzz about the place.

I was based in a converted cow shed. No windows, except for a skylight. Quite isolating, but then that also helped me focus on work, which was incredibly technical without the luxury of the tools we enjoy today.

Favourite memories: The fireworks and Christmas Parties. They were always extravagant. And, working alongside other passionate creatives. It was quite competitive but ultimately very rewarding on many levels.

My least favourite memory is the parking. The studio was miles away from effective civilization - so we all had to drive. And if we were late, or needed to leave early, finding a suitable parking space was incredibly stressful.

Martin Hollis

Martin Hollis
Image: Martin Hollis

Hollis joined Rare in 1993 and worked with Chris Stamper on the coin-op Killer Instinct before serving as the lead designer on GoldenEye 007. He rose to the position of Head of Software at Rare but left in 1998, having worked on GoldenEye's then-unreleased successor, Perfect Dark. Hollis worked as a consultant on the development of the GameCube at Nintendo of America before establishing his own studio, Zoonami, in 2000.

It was a pleasant rural location with no distractions. Twycross is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, except that it is on the A444. The Rare buildings were centred around the farmhouse, which was a mid-sized house with extensions, and set around the yard were barns of various sizes. These were converted by the firm into nice offices as the firm grew. In my time, there was a building for the Donkey Kong Country team, a barn for the Killer Instinct team, and so on.

Goldeneye Exchange
Doak (left) and Hollis (right) performing the famous 'Russian exchange' of GoldenEye 007 — Image: David Doak / Martin Hollis

After starting in the Killer Instinct barn, I moved to be beside the music people. GoldenEye team started as just myself, Mark Edmonds, and then Karl Hilton, if I remember correctly. We were tucked away on the back edge of the site, and as the rooms were converted in the barn the team could grow.

One of the nicest things was the surroundings which were very pleasant indeed. It was always a bit odd having all the security cameras so that it felt something like a cross between a homely farmhouse and a high-security complex hidden away from the roadside.

The vibe was sort of helpful for making a James Bond game, to be honest. Rare took a lot of care over security because their relationships with their customers, including Nintendo, required absolute secrecy.

Kev Bayliss

Kev Bayliss
Image: Kev Bayliss

One of Rare's earliest employees, Bayliss joined the company when he was still a teenager and worked on many of the firm's early NES titles as an artist and character designer. He also worked on Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct (including motion capture for some of the fighters) and Battletoads. Bayliss was also the lead character artist on Perfect Dark Zero. He now works at Playtonic (Yooka-Laylee), a studio formed by ex-Rare staffers, which is based in the nearby town of Burton-On-Trent. He recently created Salamandos with David Wise.

Working at Manor farmhouse initially felt like I was visiting some really cool relatives in the countryside. The building itself was a large Georgian house which, from the exterior, appeared to be just a regular farm. However, the upper floors inside had been converted into bright offices filled with artwork, video game hardware, computers and technical drawing desks.

Immediately after joining the company, I was made to feel very welcome and often ate home-cooked meals along with the other devs that had joined at around that time. I guess you could say that it kind of felt like a 'home from home', because it was a very comfortable place to work. If you wanted to take a break, you were in a very calm location, and so you could take a wander around outside and play with the dogs, watch the horses, or venture over to the tiny post office that used to be there – to stock up on chocolate and treats.

It's because the place was so comfortable to work at that most of the young staff that joined probably spent so much time there. On a Saturday morning (once I could drive my own car), I'd often take a drive into the local town and perhaps Leicester to the local Toys 'R' Us to grab one of the latest games before heading back to Twycross to continue working on whatever I'd been doing during the week – as did most of the other guys there.

This was often repeated on a Sunday, but usually a little later. Tim and Chris's parents would provide breakfast for those who were giving up their time at the weekends to come in and work – it was a lovely atmosphere and very relaxed, but at the same time, we worked hard on our projects during the weekends while listening to our favourite music.

As the company grew, we were often moving around to form different 'departments', which enabled us to work together more easily. The top floor, which was once the sleeping area for Stephen Stamper, was eventually transformed into the testing / Q&A room, and slowly all of the outbuildings were converted into really lovely offices, a gym, a canteen, and a games room. This process went on for quite a while until we'd taken on so many employees that we needed to covert the additional barns which had previously been empty or used for storage.

I started work on the 1st floor in an office with Tim, which was soon all knocked through to form an open plan working area for software engineers. At this point, I moved downstairs, which kind of became the graphics department and reception area. This continued for a few years before the outbuildings were converted, and I then remember moving out into those to begin working seriously on Killer Instinct. This was a really great time, we were able to choose our carpet colour and paint on the walls of our offices which were big enough for two people, and we'd customise each one with whatever wall art we owned.

Rare Manor Farmhouse HQ
Image: DJP Drones / Time Extension
The Dutch Barns on the left and right of this image were converted into offices as Rare expanded. The right-hand barn was used to store cars before its conversion. "The garage block was converted, and Conker development was in there," says Kev Bayliss. "That was the place we found a kitten, which had fallen about 10 ft down into a wall cavity of hollow bricks. We rescued it with a vacuum cleaner hose, sucking it up by its head. We called it hoover!"

Trying to make your way from the car into reception first thing in the morning was often a bit hairy, as sometimes you'd be met by three large geese that used to raise their wings and charge at you. I guess that was the morning exercise for the day and probably the only exercise a lot of us took before we eventually decided to get a corporate membership at the gym / spa at the nearby Bosworth hall. This was a great team-building experience, as at 5pm, we'd all race to our cars three days a week in groups, head to the gym and spa for an hour or so, and then come back to the farmhouse for food that had been prepared for us by the cooks, and then we'd continue working there, often until 9 or 10 at night, before heading home, getting some rest and repeating the process again the next day!

I have so many memories of the place, but I was there for quite a few years and saw the buildings change, the company grow, and the quality of our work improve so much that it made me really proud to work there. I also made a lot of friends with a lot of really talented people who I'm still in touch with today, and even work with at Playtonic or on other projects in my spare time. I guess you could say that Manor Farm kind of brought us all together, and I'm grateful for that, for sure!

David Doak

David Doak
Image: David Doak

After studying biochemistry at Oxford University and a brief stint as a research scientist, Doak joined Rare and provided network support for Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! on the SNES before working on the legendary GoldenEye 007. He left the company in 1998 to start Free Radical Design.

It was certainly memorable. An absolute hive of activity, with some great laughs and camaraderie. A bit of a monastic / boarding school institution, though. Almost all male, and the rules could be a little quirky.

I started on the top floor of the Farmhouse with QA / Testing when I was doing just Sys Admin, briefly moved to the ground floor of the DK barn – then was in the north stables (Bond Block) for the rest of my time at Rare. Also, because of my sys admin / support role, I had access to all of the buildings on site – which was unusual for most employees.

Martin Hollis and I shared an office for a lot of my time at Rare; we had a lot of dark laughs together. One thing that others may not have mentioned was the kitchen and the support / cleaning staff – they really looked after us. At one point, Sean (chef) used to do some wonderful specials once a week – the Bond Team always signed up.

My least favourite memory was probably just the amount of time spent there – while I was at Rare, that was pretty much where I was if I wasn’t in bed.

David Doak
Doak hard at work — Image: David Doak

Robin Beanland

Robin Beanland
Image: Robin Beanland

Arriving at Rare in 1994, Beanland has composed music for many Rare games and is still employed by the company at its new Manor Park HQ, just down the road from Manor Farm. In 2001, he won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for his work on Conker's Bad Fur Day (he also co-wrote the game's script with Chris Seavor) and his work on Sea of Thieves earned him an Ivor Novello Award for Best Original Video Game Score.

For me, it was just absolutely magical (it still is at Manor Park, Rare's current HQ). I’d been trying for many years to make a steady living out of music – playing in bands, writing music for TV – then in early 1994, my brother showed me an ad in EDGE magazine for a video game company in Twycross looking for composers. I sent a demo tape in, got an interview and landed the job. I started working at Rare (along with Graeme Norgate) on April the 5th, 1994. Initially, myself and Graeme shared an office together, but then I moved into the office next door.

Because our offices were part of a converted barn, the ceilings were quite high. This proved to be quite challenging when we came to record the character voices for Killer Instinct (our first game) as the rooms were pretty echoey. So Stephen (Stamper) built a makeshift vocal booth at the end of my office out of washing line and heavy army and navy blankets. We actually used this vocal booth for Killer Instinct and Killer Instinct 2. Stephen later built a much more substantial recording booth that we used, right up until we moved to Manor Park down the road.

Rare Manor Farmhouse HQ
This aerial image shows the rough locations of key buildings at the Manor Farmhouse location at the close of the '90s, just before Rare moved to its new purpose-built HQ down the road — Image: DJP Drones / Time Extension

But it really was (and is to this day) a proper 'pinch-me' moment. I couldn’t believe I had an office with all this amazing audio kit and that I was getting paid to write music and make sound effects all day.

I actually moved offices five times in the five years that I was at manor farm. I was in the audio block, but we all moved out of there so that the GoldenEye team could move in. Then we moved to one of the converted 'Dutch Barns', and I had an absolutely massive office. I was downstairs, and the Conker team had the floor upstairs. But as space got tight as the company expanded, I needed to move out of that office to make way for the Game Boy team who could all fit into that space quite comfortably. So my last office at Manor Farm was Kev’s old office from when he worked on Killer Instincts 1 & 2.

I have so many happy memories – and I’m sure there’s even more to be made – so it’s very hard to pick one specific moment in time. For me (aside from the mates I’ve made) I think it’s always those magical moments where you see an idea start to form and crystallise and then in turn see the team become inspired and fired up. I’ve witnessed it so many times over the years, and it’s nothing but magical each time. I think it’s because Rare has such a wealth of creative talent and you can’t help but get inspired by it.

Chris Sutherland

Chris Sutherland
Image: Chris Sutherland

Sutherland worked as a programmer on the likes of Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie and Kinect Sports during his time at Rare; he's also famous for providing the character voices to many of Rare's '90s hits. He left to co-found Playtonic Games in 2014, along with fellow Rare staffers Steve Hurst, Steve Mayles, Gavin Price, Jens Restemeier and Mark Stevenson.

I was interviewed there in 1989, and there seemed to be all these little pockets of cool game developers squirrelled away in the house and outbuildings.

For whatever strange reason, prior to joining, in my head I thought that game development would be a super scientific process of evaluating and discussing different techniques and ideas before implementing them, but it was quite unlike that! It was much more a case of “off you go, start making a game”, and you’d be nudged with appropriate feedback as you went along to keep the project improving.

So, for example, on my second day there I was handed a folder from Carole Stamper with some Spider-Man information and told “this is the game you’ll be working on”! Initially, you could wander around into most other areas of the buildings, but that changed a bit when we started Donkey Kong Country.

Rare HQ
Sutherland at Rare's Manor Farm HQ — Image: Chris Sutherland

Rare was generally considered a secretive developer anyway, but then (perhaps for contractual reasons) DKC development was kept under wraps even from other parts of the studio, with all the team operating in one ‘barn’.

Graeme Norgate

Graeme Norgate
Image: Graeme Norgate

Norgate joined Rare in 1994 as a composer and worked on the likes of GoldenEye 007, Blast Corps, Diddy Kong Racing, Jet Force Gemini and Perfect Dark before leaving to join Free Radical Design, creator of Timesplitters.

There were certainly no distractions. Unless you really like tractors - there was a tractor showroom up the road from Rare. We had a strict 30-minute lunchtime, so if you floored it in your car, you could get to the post office and back, but that was about it.

I had three offices during my time at Rare. The first was the music block. This was a 4-room barn shared with David Wise, Eveline Fischer and Robin Beanland. Robin's room also doubled as a makeshift recording booth. Then I was moved to what I reckon was the smallest room at Rare during my time working on Diddy Kong Racing. Originally known as the 'Dutch Barn', it has been converted into offices when Rare needed more space. Whilst on that project, the music block was broken up and each musician would work alongside the team rather than together. So after Diddy Kong Racing, I moved in with the Perfect Dark team. They had taken over the original music block and the adjacent rooms that housed the creche and the Blast Corps team. I think I was basically back in my original room. Robin's room had been converted to a full-time vocal/recording booth, so I had easy access to that.

Rare HQ
Norgate (black shirt) with Chris Seavor — Image: David Doak

My least favourite thing about the location was probably the parking situation. To work at Rare, you had to drive; there was no other option unless you lived close by and had a bicycle. As the company expanded, the car park stayed the same. You could end up rounding up six or maybe more people to move their cars to allow you to leave in the evening. The whole place resembled one of the sliding blocks puzzles where one space was empty, and you had to manoeuvre each car to allow the person to leave. If you were working late, you could be called to move your car several times whilst people went to the gym, or God forbid, actually went home on time.

My favourite memories have got to be the comradery. There was a strong team spirit and pride of the game you were working on, and for me, there was an especially strong bond with the audio team; we all made friends for life working there.

Chris Seavor

Chris Seavor
Image: Chris Seavor

Seavor joined Rare in 1994, with Killer Instinct being his first game. He also worked on Donkey Kong 64 and was the driving force behind Conker's Bad Fur Day, one of Rare's most infamous (and beloved) titles. He left Rare in 2011 to establish Gory Detail with fellow Rare alumni, Shawn Pile.

One morning on the way into work in 1994, we were stuck in traffic, and I noticed a pair of legs sticking out of a bush in a layby just as the coppers arrived. It was quite a famous case in Nuneaton – a bank manager was murdered by her husband; it was on Crime Watch and everything. I think that was within my first few weeks; I was like, 'What the hell is this place?' Despite that, I have really fond memories of the Farm. It was like an extended family all mucking in together. That pretty much evaporated when we moved down to Manor Park.

Other key memories: Watching Hollis and Doaky dressed like Russian agents stalking around the graveyard opposite on a ciggy break. I'm amazed the cops weren't called on them!

The custom-built barbeque didn't leave any expansion for the bricks it was made from, so one day it exploded... This would definitely have killed people had it happened 10 minutes later!

KI Team
The Killer Instinct team, photographed in Rare's motion capture room around 1994. Top row, from left: Rob Harrison, Martin Hollis, Mark Betteridge, Chris Tilston, Robin Beanland, Ken Lobb. Bottom row, from left: Chris Seavor, Graeme Norgate — Image: Robin Beanland

Grant shouting 'BALDY!' at Norgate across the car park just as Chris Stamper walked across. The funny bit was Grant's attempts to point out it was directed at Noz, making things much, much worse...

Amazingly, there were no fights at the Christmas parties, despite how much all the teams loathed each other!

The Killer Instinct barn had a good vibe. You got your head down till 5pm, then it was more relaxed until midnight. We had take-out Chinese food most nights! To be honest, I did my best work during the evenings. Conker: Twelve Tales was made in that location for a while, then we moved to a recently-converted Dutch barn, next to the music block. That's where Twelve Tales set fire to itself, and Bad Fur Day rose from the ashes.

The one thing I don't miss was the stupid hours!

Grant Kirkhope

Grant Kirkhope
Image: Grant Kirkhope

Kirkhope joined Rare in October 1995, thanks to his connection to Robin Beanland, whom he had played with in the rock bands Syar and Maineeaxe. He has composed music for the likes of GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark, Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Viva Piñata. He left the company after working on the music for Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and would compose the soundtrack for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, moving to the United States in order to do so. He became a naturalized United States citizen in March 2017 and recently worked on Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope.

I thought it was awesome. As somebody who'd been on the dole for 11 years, more or less, to actually get a job and to be somewhere so fantastic was amazing. It felt like this kind of family business; the canteen was there, where the Stamper's mum and dad worked, Tim and Chris' brother looked after the grounds, Tim's wife Carole worked in the office, as did their sister, Carole's dad worked in the admin department – it was totally family run.

I felt it was like Disneyland. I had no idea what a video games company would be like. I did the interview and got the job; Robin (Beanland) was there, and I knew him before from playing in bands together, but I had no idea what it would actually be like to work there.

Rare HQ
Paul Machacek: "Brick thing on left is the chicken shed. The raised grass area here was flattened in '90s to increase parking (The Morgan was Tim Stamper’s). The top left 1st-floor window in the farmhouse was our first internet room from 1998; a terminal was installed that we could go online with. Also, I recall sitting at that window in the mid-'90s for about three months whilst playing with a Virtual Boy, which we dropped after I got headaches." — Image: Paul Machacek

Your key was coded so you couldn't get into any of the other barns – you could only get in the one you were working in. I was in the room called the chicken shed because the music block was full of people – it had David (Wise), Robin, Eveline Novakovic and Graeme Norgate in it; there was no room for me, so I got put in this little rectangular room. I think it used to have arcade games in it, but they cleared it out for me to be in there. It was next to the canteen... there was a room next to it that I think they used for motion capture, but it was tiny. I remember Kev Bayliss saying he jumped about in there for motion capture stuff.

The worst bit was the parking, as I'm sure everyone else will agree. You had to get there early to get a space, which meant that you couldn't leave at a reasonable hour at the end of the day as you'd be blocked in. If you got there late, you couldn't get a space. There were lots of expensive cars in there as people got paid a lot of money... so, for someone like me, seeing cars made by Ferrari and Lotus in the car park was pretty amazing.

Rare HQ
Image: David Doak

Twycross Zoo is just up the road. It's quite a famous zoo; when I was a kid, there used to be a show called 'Animal Magic' which Johnny Morris used to present, and he always used to go to Twycross Zoo to see the monkeys!

We had these very powerful Silicon Graphics machines and they had guest accounts so you could log into someone else's machine and play audio out of it. So, you'd copy a sample across, you'd log in, and there was a set of code you could type to make sure the audio was turned up to 10 and unmuted. I used to be working there by myself, so I'd have my speakers turned up quite loud.

One night about 8pm I was sat working away when all of a sudden, I hear this enormous chimpanzee-like screaming sound, and I nearly had a heart attack – I thought there was a monkey in the room! I nearly shit myself. That, of course, was Robin playing monkey noises out of my machine. From that point onwards, it was all about how could play what out of each other's machine at full volume – and we created lots of little jingles about people and played them out of each other's speakers.

Manor Farm was a really magical place. I couldn't believe I was there. Getting that job changed my life. Up to that point, I was just a bloke playing in rock bands. Some did well, some did shit. So to end up there, at that particular company at that particular time, was such a fluke. If Robin hadn't have done it, I'd never have done it.

Steve Mayles

Steve Mayles
Image: Steve Mayles

Local lad Mayles – who is from nearby Coalville – joined Rare in 1992 aged just 18. He worked as an artist during his time with the studio on titles such as Battletoads & Double Dragon, Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Kazooie and Grabbed by the Ghoulies. He departed Rare in 2014 to co-found Playtonic Games. His older brother, Gregg Mayles, is currently creative lead director of Rare.

I thought it was a very characterful place - and cool to have a hi-tech industry like video games being made inside a historic Elizabethan house. As the home of Rare, it had already been elevated into legendary status in my mind, anyway! Having grown up playing Ultimate games on the Spectrum, to be working for the geniuses that made those games... it was amazing. In the early days, it was very much a family business, with the Stamper's Mum doing the cooking and Dad a constant, enthusiastic presence! The house may have had character, but with character comes draughty windows – it was pretty cold in the winter!

I was a car fan, so it was hard not to be impressed by the fancy cars on display – I dreamed if I worked hard enough maybe I could upgrade my old Mk1 Ford Fiesta!

As the company grew, the small rooms and multiple floors weren’t suited to larger teams, so we slowly spread to some of the many outbuildings as they got developed. This was the time secrecy increased, with certain employees having access to certain areas via a specially coded key – most people only went where their project was based. It was really, really frowned upon to be caught in another outbuilding without express permission!

GoldenEye Team
The GoldenEye team with visitors from Nintendo, standing out side the converted outbuildings — Image: Brett Jones / Bea Jones

Music wasn’t allowed during regular work hours at all, so when 5 o’clock rolled around, people would crank up their personal stereos and treat anyone left working to their often dubious taste in music. When I hear certain songs, it takes me right back to late night working on Donkey Kong Country. As you’d expect, the work after hours had a more relaxed feel to it, and the Stampers were always appreciative of any extra work that people did.

Around 1993-94, the Killer Instinct team was based in the stables, whereas the Donkey Kong Country team was on the top floor of the barn. Downstairs in the barn was the famous Silicon Graphics Challenge supercomputer that served us so well in the early days of 3D rendering. Around 1996, the 'Dutch Barn' was ready – upstairs was the Diddy Kong Racing team, and downstairs was Dream (which, of course, turned into Banjo-Kazooie). I was downstairs and only went up once or twice, and it would be a specific invitation to look at how something was done – the security doors ensured no one could just wander around. It seems quite draconian now, but at the time, it was the norm, and we were putting out hit after hit, so it didn’t really bother me.

Rare HQ
A newspaper clipping from around the time of Donkey Kong Country's development — Image: Chris Sutherland

Some of us worked very long hours, putting everything we could into making the games as good as possible. When teams were still fairly small, any extra work made a huge difference. The Donkey Kong Country and Banjo games you know and love wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good without this extra effort. But it was up to individuals; only during the very end of the project – or to meet a specific deadline for a demo – were people expected to go the extra mile. I was always there because I loved what I was doing and the games we were making felt special; I wanted to have as much content in them as possible!

There were four or five German Shepherd dogs that lived on the grounds – you’d be working away late at night on Donkey Kong Country, it’s all quiet, and then, all of a sudden out of nowhere, there is a bear-sized dog snuffling at your arm! I never quite got used to the stealth dogs...

Violet Berlin

Violet Berlin
Image: Violet Berlin

Famous as a presenter on the groundbreaking children's video game TV show Bad Influence, Berlin has produced, written and presented several successful TV and radio shows across all of the major U.K. channels and now works in the field of interactive storytelling and scriptwriting, covering films, video games, 360-degree environments, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality. In 1994, she was one of the few games journalists to be granted access to Rare's Manor Farm HQ in a segment which appeared on Bad Influence.

The trip to Rare was a highlight of my time on Bad Influence! One of my fondest memories across all four series. I mean, I travelled to Japan, the States, seeing the latest games and hardware, but who knew what wonders were going on in Twycross!

The Stamper brothers and the entire team at Rare also were just amazingly welcoming. So full of warmth and fun. It was such a vibe! Afterwards, they sent me a Xmas card, signed by all, and a framed picture of Donkey Kong with their signatures, which I treasure to this day.

Violet Berlin's signed DKC picture, which has been hanging in her hallway "for decades" — Image: Violet Berlin

Leaving Manor Farm

Rare Manor Farmhouse HQ
Image: DJP Drones / Time Extension

They say all good things come to an end, and as the millennium drew to a close, it had become abundantly clear that Rare had outgrown Manor Farm. "Since Rare started in 1985, it expanded, initially slowly (I was employee #17 in 1988) and then more rapidly as generations of consoles expanded team sizes," recalls Machacek. "4 acres ultimately is not enough for more than 200 people, and this problem was seen coming. Manor Park came up for sale in the mid-1990s, and it was our neighbour, lots of space, an 'easy move' – but it had a dilapidated old house (Cliffe House) and a new office facility needed to be built."

"There was an old couple living at Cliffe House, and they were Names [a 'name' contributes limited cash when joining a syndicate and accepts unlimited liability for its obligations] at Lloyds of London," recalls Machacek. "There was a really bad year for Lloyds – oil tankers and satellites crashing or something – and lots of people lost large amounts of money, including this couple. They were forced to sell Cliffe House. I didn’t go inside, but I was told it was an absolute mess. It was a relatively large house, but the couple only lived in one part of it, a flat if you will, and the rest of it had been 'sealed up since WWII' is how it was described. It was hidden behind the trees that border the A444, so you couldn’t really see it from outside, somewhat like you can’t see much of our buildings today."

Christmas at Rare
"Not sure of date, somewhere around 1989/90 I guess," says Machacek. "This is the field at Manor Farm, notable here for having no trees, it was empty, unlike today. You've got Gregg Mayles with Stephen Stamper (Right) and Tim Stamper holding Joe Stamper. The snow in the field melted, but this thing practically became a block of ice and it took ages to finally go. The trees in the distance in the top/left corner are the Cliffe House site, which became Manor Park. Those trees hide our car park today" — Image: Paul Machacek

To secure the land, Rare had to jump through quite a few hoops. "The original driveway came out onto the main overtaking straight on the A444," continues Machacek. "Which wasn’t a problem as it was a legacy thing, and there were hardly any vehicle movements through it; however, when applying for planning permission, the council didn’t want hundreds of cars a day queueing on that straight, so we had to put a new driveway in through the grounds and a new entrance on Watery Lane, where there was already a junction at the end of the A444 straight. We also 'persuaded' the council by funding the building of a small roundabout at an awkward junction at the other end of Twycross between what is now 'Turpins Bar & Grill' and 'Starin' Tractors'. Remnants of the old driveway exist today, and the space is used for storage by the ground staff. The old gates are still there, rusting, chained up, looking like ghosts."

Manor Park, the building in which Rare resides today, wasn't going to be a repeat of Manor Farm. Rather than try to fit Rare into an existing structure, the decision was made to create something entirely from scratch – although the influence of the old farmhouse complex could still be felt. "Tim and others worked with the architects to design something state-of-the-art around the concept of a main admin building with satellite 'barns' for development teams to be locked away," Machacek continues.

"These barns were considered to be sized for N64-size teams, which wasn't very future-forward thinking. I do know there was an early plan that the barns would be circular, with a central services/kitchens/lift/stairs core surrounded by offices on the perimeter and spread over two floors. I recall a Saturday at Manor Farm where Tim marked out the footprint of a round barn's actual size in chalk in the car park and divided it up into two-people offices, and we had to give opinions on what we thought of this. The new facility was planned much the way you see it today, although, during construction, Barn A was not built due to cost and need at that time. A couple of years after moving in, we finally built Barn A and also extended Barn D by a couple of office lengths."

Rare HQ
Karl Hilton's desk during the production of Perfect Dark — Image: David Doak

In March 1999, Rare finally bid farewell to the place it had called home for almost 15 years. "The day we moved was well planned," recalls Machacek. "We hired some vans that we could drive – the largest ones I think we could hire without special licences – and we packed everything up into marked boxes, loaded vans, moved them up the road and unpacked again. The staff were split into teams. Some teams moved boxes out of all buildings into the vans at Manor Farm, others drove the vans, and others unloaded the vans at Manor Park and moved boxes to their designated rooms. I drove a van with Gregg Mayles. We raced it as fast as possible on the short stretch of the A444 between the old and new blue gates."

As you might expect, Machacek wasn't immune to emotion as he finally said goodbye to Manor Farm. "The last time I ever stood at Manor Farm was when I went back to collect my car. I walked around this empty husk of a studio, seeing the tranquil private residence it would become. It was full of ghosts; very melancholic. It was an exciting day; an exciting future lay ahead, but also sad to walk away from a place I'd spent 11 very long years of my life. I can't imagine I was the only person feeling that. Looking around, you had flashbacks of key meetings, games developed in certain places, parties, arguments, power cuts, fast cars being jetwashed on weekends, running RC cars and trying helicopters, too. Chickens, dogs and horses. But most of all, the people – people you'd worked with, known, some moving with you, others gone already. There was also a sense of the unknown, where we would be going in terms of products and success?"

Rare HQ
One of the Rare offices around the time of Perfect Dark's development; it would be one of the final games created at Manor Farm before the move to Manor Park down the road — Image: David Doak

The start of a new millennium saw Rare and Nintendo's previously harmonious relationship begin to break down. According to Tim Stamper, the rising cost of development meant that Rare needed a partner which could match its own ambitions and make a significant investment – but Nintendo, for some reason, decided against purchasing the remaining 51 percent of the company, something Tim Stamper still doesn't understand. So, it was decided that another potential partner would have to be found. That partner was Microsoft, which purchased Rare for $375 million in 2002. Star Fox Adventures would be final game to be produced under the Nintendo/Rare partnership, although Rare would continue to develop games for the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. 2003's Grabbed by the Ghoulies was Rare's first Xbox effort.

It's fair to say that while Rare as a company has changed since that day in 1999, much remains the same. As we've already established, Machacek and Beanland are still with the firm, retaining that connection between the glorious past, the successful present and the exciting future. "Most of my time at Rare has now been at Manor Park – we've been there for almost 24 years," explains Machacek. "Manor Farm is a bit like my old school; glimpses of memories, some good, some bad, and a faded sense of personal history. In some ways, when there were only 20 of us, I miss the sunny Saturdays washing fast cars and grabbing ice creams from across the road in between the long working hours. We were young, and the future was long."

Rare HQ
Rare's current HQ, Manor Park, which it moved to in 1999. It's just a short way down the A444 from Manor Farm — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension