Donnchadh Murphy chats about Rare

Donnchadh Murphy (also goes by the name of Don Murphy on some game credits) is an extremely talented 3D modeler from Ireland who worked on games at Rare Ltd such as Killer Instinct Gold, Donkey Kong 64, Jet Force Gemini, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Kameo: Elements of Power, Perfect Dark Zero, Diddy Kong Racing DS, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Perfect Dark for Xbox Live Arcade, and Kinect Sports.   He currently works at an animation studio in Dublin, Ireland, and he has worked for over 16 years in both the games and film industries.

Due to his busy schedule, we weren’t able to ask him every question possible.

But we are extremely grateful that Donnchadh Murphy could give us a tiny bit of his time to answer at least a few questions regarding “Savannah”.  He also shed light on Rare’s attempts to create a new Killer Instinct, and whether he thinks the rumor about Donkey Kong Country 4/Banjo Kazooie on Nintendo DS has any truth to it.

Click here to check out all of Donnchadh Murphy’s amazing 3D models at his official website.


I don’t think in the latter years that talent had many great opportunities to shine, but in its heyday it was truly the place to be. 

For over 13 years, you had a very impressive career at Rare.  What were the most valuable things you learned about game development from your time spent at Rare?

Working in Rare was great, I worked on about 12 or more titles in my time there. I was privileged to work with a lot of very talented people, I don’t think in the latter years that talent had many great opportunities to shine, but in its heyday it was truly the place to be.

From working in games I found that passion and belief in a game is crucial.  If the team aren’t behind, it it’s hard to motivate them. Having a team that communicates well and has a strong game designer leading the team is very important.

Most importantly realizing that the people that make the games are also gamers themselves, so their opinion should be taken into consideration. Everyone there was passionate and excited about games and just wanted to make the games the best they could be.

Rare is a company with a long and colorful history that has been a major player in the gaming industry for decades. As someone who has worked at Rare across several different console generations, how do you feel Rare has changed over the years?

There [were] numerous projects that were put forward that I believe would have been huge hits, but MS rejected them one after the other.

When I started in Rare they had already released a number of wonderful titles including the ground breaking Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct. I started on KI2 for the arcade, at the time the other projects that were going on were GoldenEye, DKC2, Ken Griffey Jr.’s Winning Run, and Blast Corps.

It was an exciting time, I was fresh out of college and Rare was one of the number one games companies at the time.

Back then the Stampers were running the show, and having a huge input across the projects. We were all very motivated and we used to work crazy hours.  I remember feeling guilty if I needed to leave before 11pm, we worked 7 days of the week then, and it was the norm.

The big change in Rare came when the company went up for sale, people were unsure of the future of Rare. When they announced Microsoft was buying, a lot of people were unsure if it was a good or bad thing. For one, MS had deep pockets so financial security seemed assured, but on the other hand they were relatively new to the games market, and complete infants in the console market. Personally I don’t think it was a great mix. At first it seemed that they wouldn’t interfere much, but it was soon clear that they were more interested in using Rare to help aim at a younger market. This stifled a lot of creativity, Rare was renowned for their diverse portfolio, so to not be involved in making Mature games was a real blow.

When the stampers left it seemed that Microsoft was losing faith in Rare, it was hard to take when all around were incredibly talented people, with massive amounts of experience. There [were] numerous projects that were put forward that I believe would have been huge hits, but MS rejected them one after the other. I remember seeing a couple of prototypes that Chris Seavor had designed and was working on, that looked amazing, but alas they got shelved. It seemed that MS didn’t want to take the risk in Rare doing anything outside the younger demographic, they quickly forgot the company’s heritage. We started to lose a lot of great talent then, people were losing job satisfaction, so they just left.

Obviously Kinect Sports has come along now, and has done really well.  So my hope is that MS will start regaining their faith in Rare and let them get their feet back into the wider mainstream market and put Rare’s name back on top.

Best of luck Rare!

Are there any Rare games you would like to see as HD remakes on Xbox Live Arcade?

Probably the same game every Rare fan wants to see and that’s KI3 (Killer Instinct 3). We all wanted to make KI3, but Microsoft [was] more interested in broadening their demographic than making another fighting game.  So it never got made, I doubt it ever will.

You have worked in creating game graphics for multiple console generations.  You saw the leap in graphics from Nintendo 64 to the GameCube/Xbox.  You saw the leap in graphics from Xbox to Xbox 360.  Do you see the next gen consoles (Next Xbox, PlayStation 4) being a huge graphical leap over what we have now (Xbox 360, PS3)?

Every time a new console came out, it was so exciting, the limitations that we struggled with in the previous console made us appreciate the new jump in tech even more.

I have no doubt that the new consoles will be an equally exciting leap. The graphics in games now have become so impressive with the current limitations that I can only imagine what lies around the corner for the next gen.

You have some amazing 3D models in your portfolio.  What really stuck out to me were the 3D models of realistic animals.  There was a leaked video on the internet of a Rare game called ”Savannah“ that featured many of your 3D models.  The game ended up being cancelled.  Could you provide details on the game’s genre, concept, and gameplay to give gamers a better idea of what this game was about?  Also, was this game far along in development before getting cancelled?

 Above: Rare’s cancelled Xbox 360 game called “Savannah”.

“Savannah” was the brain child of Phil Dunne. Phil’s concept was to create a realistic savannah environment where you raised a lion cub from birth to its adult life, teaching it survival and social skills to survive the harsh life in the wild. We knew of the Kinect coming out but we had no real info on how good it was, but the plan was to try and use that technology in “Savannah”.

It was an interesting concept and it was fun to work on, we really tried to push the technology of the 360 to get the most out of the graphics.  The lions and Hyenas were using a custom shell system for the fur, and with the help of a great programmer called Cliff Ramshaw, I think we got some of the nicest looking in-game fur I’ve seen.

It was only ever a prototype, and it never got a green light.

Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power started out on the Nintendo GameCube, then moved to the Xbox, and were eventually released as launch titles for the Xbox 360.  What did it feel like to work on two games that had been developed on three different consoles before finally being released?

It was a bit demoralizing to work on a game, and then to have to rework everything to match the new technology advancements of the new console. It was not an ideal way to work. Obviously there was huge graphical leaps through the different consoles, but it would have been preferable to start a fresh project with the release of the new consoles.

Another video that came from Rare was this video about a butcher.  What cancelled game is this from?  Are there any specific details that you can give about this cancelled project?

I remember a friend of mine called Gary Talbot working on some of those animations, not sure what project it was from though.  Rare was secretive even to its own employees.

You were the lead artist and character designer for Conker’s Bad Fur  Day.  There were lots of crazy characters like “The Great Mighty Poo”,  the boiler with brass testicles, the sunflower with big breasts, and “Tediz”.  Were there any crazy or interesting ideas for characters, boss fights, movie parodies, or humorous scenes that were scrapped and didn’t make it into the final game?

I don’t remember much being cut. Most of those ideas came from Chris Seavor, he was the twisted genius who came up with them.  I do remember us joking about the mighty poo, saying it would be hilarious if we had a giant pile of poo that sang classical music.  Like a lot of the gags they started out as a joke, and then Chris would announce that it was going in the game, so I’d draw up some concepts and model up the characters and the rest is history.

Originally, Conker began development as a family game called Conker’s Quest/Twelve Tales, and then changed into a violent platform game with raunchy humor.  Was Nintendo supportive of Rare’s decision to make such a dramatic change to the game?  Or did they distance themselves from the project?

I’m so glad it did change, because “Twelve Tales”, to put it politely, was not a good game.

Back in those days Rare was the golden child, so when they announced that we were changing direction there was no objections, none that I knew about anyway. I’m so glad it did change, because “Twelve Tales”, to put it politely, was not a good game.  Chris Seavor took the reins in BFD and took it a direction nobody expected.

Rare registered a trademark for “Conkers Other Bad Fur Day” after the first “Bad Fur Day” was released.  Chris Seavor said that not only did they start working on a sequel with that title, they also  had a full storyline ready with many new movie references in mind.  Were you involved on a sequel to “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” before it was cancelled, and is there anything you can share about that project?

I wasn’t involved with the sequel, I moved over to work on Kameo.  I’m sure Chris Seavor had a catalog of twisted ideas and parodies lined up, he had a great imagination.

Diddy Kong Racing DS and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise were released on Nintendo DS .  There was an article talking about how Rare proposed an idea to Nintendo for Donkey Kong Country 4 and Banjo Kazooie on the Nintendo DS. The rumor suggests that Nintendo passed on both ideas so Rare could work on Diddy Kong Racing DS.

Since you were involved on Diddy Kong Racing DS, do you know if there was any truth to these rumors?

To be honest, I’m not sure of the truth in those rumors. Sounds likely enough though.

I’d like to ask about another racing game featuring monkeys. Donkey Kong Racing was a game that got cancelled pretty early for Nintendo GameCube.  We saw a pre-rendered trailer at E3 2001 but no gameplay was ever shown.  (Link:   A big mystery on the internet is whether any real gameplay footage of this game actually exists.  Would you happen to know how far along this game was in development before it was cancelled?  Did you see any beta versions or prototypes of Donkey Kong Racing’s gameplay actually up and running?


I believe the concept was to encourage the teams to be more competitive between themselves, therefore pushing the boundaries all the time. But it often led to people feeling a little distrusted.

Sorry I can’t shed more light on this, Lee Musgrave was leading the project, but I never actually got a chance to see it.   As I said before Rare was very secretive, the employees didn’t have access to the other buildings, so projects were going on internally that you may never see in full or at all in some cases. It was actually one of the things I disliked about Rare at that time.  I believe the concept was to encourage the teams to be more competitive between themselves, therefore pushing the boundaries all the time. But it often led to people feeling a little distrusted.

Since you worked on the first Kameo, I wanted to ask you about Kameo 2.   Based on the screenshots/video, it looks like Kameo 2 was taking a more realistic approach compared to the art style of the first Kameo.

Kameo 2′s more realistic look.

Did Kameo 2 begin development as soon as Kameo 1 was released?    How far along was Kameo 2 in development, and was Rare planning to go into a very different direction with the next Kameo’s gameplay and art direction?  In one part of the videos, Kameo 2 looked more like Assassins Creed and less like the first Kameo’s gameplay

I didn’t work on Kameo 2, I moved onto Perfect Dark Zero  at the end of Kameo.

Kameo 2 was definitely taking a darker turn, which I personally think would have been a good thing.  The graphics were looking great, but I never saw any examples of game play.


You are currently working for an animation film studio in Dublin making kids TV series for companies like Disney.  What are some similarities and differences between working in film/television compared to working in the games industry?


Actually I was surprised with the similarities between games and TV and film production. I first started in Brown Bag films as a modeller on a Disney series called ‘Doc McStuffins’.

Coming from games background I already had huge experience in efficient poly modelling, it was clear that low poly was being used even in TV production to keep scenes light. The subdivisions were applied at render times so obviously that was where the real difference in the look is.

I then moved onto Rigging, again the games experience was a huge benefit, back in the day you had to know how to draw, model, unwrap, texture, shade, rig and animate models.

I’m now working as a Technical Director on another Disney series called ‘The Huggle Monsters’. It’s exciting stuff, but I might to do a bit more work in games in the future, always good to keep your options open.

Thanks to Donnchadh Murphy for giving us his time to interview him.

Don’t forget to check out his official website.

Feel free to discuss this topic on our message board.

2 years ago by in Feature Articles , Interviews | You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

20 Comments to Donnchadh Murphy chats about Rare
    • blade
    • great job microsoft…u should fukin stick to making computers….instead of screwing over the whole RARE NAME….fantastic job…azz holes

    • Rendermonk
    • That really is sad to hear. Sounds like some great talent got shut down and stifled due to M$ choice to “broaden their demographic.” Seems to me they should have specified to Rare that the acquisition of Rare was to work on kids/casual games. Giving Rare a chance to say “no, that’s not what we want.” Then M$ could have bought a different studio for that purpose, and not ruined Rare. Shame really. But, that’s what big business does, screws the little guy to get what they want. Lesson to be learned, be careful who you get into bed with, especially if they’re a big money hungry corp like M$

      • Emily Rogers
      • The good news is Rare is currently expanding to make AAA games based on some of the recent job listings. So hopefully Rare can go back to making the type of games they use to be known for.

        Thank you for reading the interview and giving your feedback. I really do appreciate it.

        • bigevilworldwide
        • Most of the original Rare employees are gone now though…There are a couple of people but it seems like most of them were brought in by MS once the employee numbers got low enough…They would have totally been better off with Sony if Nintendo didn’t want them Sony seems to nurture visions for games rather than stick an extremely talented company into the Kinect and avatarded corner

    • ariessiren
    • this is why i got rid of my xbox. they pretty much cancel anything artistic and stick with FPS. 360 started out great. Kameo was awesome.but creatively, went downhill. while the 360 has been successful as a online social medium, and FPS dominate, artistic wise, its bone dry. you will never see games like kameo, beyond, ni no kuni, ico, puppeteer, heavy rain, zelda, eternal darkness etc on microsofts console. if you want great storytelling you need nintendo or ps3. seeing rare go this awful route was horrible. 360 sucked the life and talent out of them and its a damn shame.

    • Andre
    • To be fair I agree with some of what this article seems to say that Microsoft killed Rare. But after reading the whole article, i have my doubts about the legitimacy of the Rare employee who from reading seems to be more of a lower level employee than someone closer to the higher chain of command. i used to work at walmart and as a low level employee, the perspective is that higher command is crap and doesn’t care about the little people. Our perspective is a bit skewed and can’t see the whole picture and thus our narrowed viewpoint on the matter is negative. The employee interviewed from my perspective was not part of the in-crowd in terms of project leaders so I have to take his perspective with a “grain of salt”, for those who don’t know what it means, I won’t fully trust his opinion.

      • Emily Rogers
      • Edit: Removing this comment and replacing it with an apology because I think the tone of my comment came off slightly rude. My intention for the original post was to explain that Don Murphy had been at Rare for over a decade, and while I appreciate your feedback, I would advise checking out some of his work to see what his contributions were at Rare.

        I appreciate your feedback on the article, Andre. Thank you so much for reading it. I apologize to you if my last message had a rude tone because that wasn’t my intention at all.

        • Chris Ralph
        • Wow Emily, thats really rude of you the way you tore that guy up… I agree working at Wal-Mart and Rare are tooootally different, however the fact is that your a writer for this website and shouldnt degrade people like that.

          Either politely inform the commentor that he is incorrect, or STFU

          Telling people to do their research is quite frankly pretty mean.

          • Emily Rogers
          • Hey Chris Ralph,

            You are correct, and I apologize to Andre if my tone was rude or unprofessional. I have deleted that comment, and replaced it with an apology to Andre. My intention was not to tear down or degrade, but if it came off like that, then I must apologize. I’ve sent Andre a personal apology via email and I’m glad he accepted it.

            I appreciate that you both are reading the interview and sharing your feedback in the comments section. NotEnoughShaders appreciates and values the feedback and opinions of all of our readers.

            • Chris Ralph
            • Good Stuff Emily :)

              I think when he was talking about being at the lower level of command, he was referring to Microsoft basically telling Rare what to do.

              But thanks for apologizing :) I really enjoy your work


      • InfernoShade
      • Well said Andre. I have actually worked in TV for small and large companies, so I get where this guy is coming from. But to your point, he’s voicing what amounts to sour grapes. When you’re not in a leadership role it’s always leadership’s fault. Companies change over time. I’ve been at networks that were all about creativity and then they get bought and it’s seemingly all about money and directives. But guess what you can still be creative. And you can certainly still be creative even if your target audience has changed ages.
        This articles is about a guy who’s sad a company changed in a way he didn’t like. Yep, MS may have had a hand in this, but sometimes companies change all by themselves. He complains they went from adult games to to children’s entertainment, but them he goes to work at another company that is still focused on kids shows. It seems he’s saying now it’s still creative. Well why wasn’t he able to feel creative at Rare with a similar audience?
        This is a very subjective point of view, from someone who wasn’t steering the ship. I get it, as I’ve been there. But it’s not a balanced perspective.

    • Gustavo
    • Very good article which finally explains how Microsoft led to the downfall of Rare.
      However there are still some unclear points.
      -Can anyone tell me when the Stamper brothers left Rare? Didn’t they know what Microsoft intended to do with Rare before selling it?
      -Had Rare’s relationship with Nintendo deteriorated and that was what led them to sell it to Microsoft? Or was it only the brothers decision to sell their share to Microsoft that caused Nintendo to also sell theirs?
      - I read somewhere that a lot of talented people at Rare were leaving the company by the time that Perfect Dark was released (in the middle of the year 2000). Can anyone tell me if this is true?

      • Dave
      • All I know from articles I have read is that Rare’s relationship with Nintendo was still very good, but they wanted to go with MS’s offer because they were big into the online gaming part of console evolution. The Stampers obviously wanted that three hundred something million from MS as well. It sounds like Rare was doing fine until MS started wanting them to do things their wayand began forcing them to do child focused games. It had to be a pretty shitty situation for all those talented people to leave Rare.

    • Wanda
    • HOLD on a minute guys…. Rare started doing crap at blast corps, conker 1 and star fox dinosaur planet.

      all of which were on NINTENDO consoles…. look at killer instinct GOLD i mean really what a waste of time.

      please please please DONT tell you any of you think rare would have done better on the wii than the Xbox?? I dont! Viva, kameo, perfect dark 0 were all better than the last 3 games for nintendo! Kinect sports is great fun and for me banjo was AMAZING! it just wasn’t the same as all the others.

      As for crushing games studios thats CRAP look at Bungie they got free reign to create a fantastic game and a universe that rivals star wars… 343 a brand new team has been trusted with that universe now but have been allowed to change it as they see fit. Rare also had that chance… lets not forget MS let them do what they wanted with Perfect dark 0, kameo and grabbed by the ghoolies was it really MS fault if they didn’t set the console on fire? If halo didnt work do you really think bungie would have made so many? lol

      No matter how you look at it. for me the Xbox 360 has been a success because of rares early day support / dash board creations / kinect and family games and retro arcade releases. it has supported MS and given the console brand identity that it lacked so badly.

      • John
      • Are you referring to Conker’s Bad Fur Day with “Conker” or the unreleased protoype version (Twelve Tales)? Because I’d like to argue that Bad Fur Day is anywhere near “crap”, in fact, it’s among the best 10 games I’ve ever played. The game didn’t earn its reputation for nothing and it’s easily the climax of what Rare has accomplished in terms of sheer creativity, let alone the fact how the project evolved compared to when it started out.

        As for Blast Corps and Star Fox Adventures, I wouldn’t consider them bad games either. Blast Corps had a really fun premise and brought out my inner child when I got to wreck lots of stuff with all those crazy vehicles ans Star Fox Adventures may be a Zelda clone and the entire Star Fox theme may seem a little misplaced at first glance, however the gameplay is great and the graphics hold up even to this day (imo).

        And why would KI Gold be a waste of time? Not everybody has an arcade next to where they live and I’m sure that there are sufficient people who are thankful for this port so they can play it at home.

        I feel Kinect Sports is Microsofts effort to emulate the success of Wii Sports with the Kinect device and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It just bugs me that Rare, probably the greatest developer of my childhood whose products have shaped my interest in gaming itself – I wouldn’t work in video game journalism if it weren’t for titles like DKC, Banjo or Conker – is being reduced to a supplier of casual stuff while there is a fan community out there waiting for a sequel of the series they’ve come to love or a proper original game that doesn’t have to be taylored for a younger target audience. Those directives imposed by Microsoft inhibit the creativity of the staff so it doesn’t come as a surprise that most key personnel has left Rare. To me, Rare is nothing but a name these days because the heart and soul has already left the company. Anybody remember the farmhouse in Twycross?

        Also I don’t think you should compare Bungie and Halo. At the time Microsoft took over Rare, 2D-fighting games were starting to lose their popularity because the market was oversaturated, that’s why I can somehow understand that KI3 was denied. FPS games on the other hand were on the rise at that time and Halo was as much a revolution in terms of console FPS games as Golden Eye on the N64. Needless to say, the XBOX owes most of its success to the Halo Franchise because countless people bought one just so they could play Halo, that’s why it’s probably the most important brand for MS.

        I’ll admit that it was a bad decision to release Grabbed by the Ghoulies as the first game, if they would have gone for either the Conker remake or even Banjo Threeie first, things might have gone another way. Of course there is no way to predict this with certainty but it’s safe to say that the way things went proved bad for Rare.

        In my opinion, Microsoft should either shut Rare down or rename the studio because to me, Rare has died several years ago.

    • Issac solis
    • I just hope M$ goes down the drain for what they did to Rare if I were you ppl anybody out their stop buying M$ things maybe then when they get in a financial crisis they won’t think twice about making all of rare games and up coming projects I mean the control layout for Xbox sucks especially the D-pad how could anyone play KI3 with that piece of shit D-pad I’d rather play it on the ps3 I got rid of my Xbox they charge you for everything

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