July 28, 2008 - Most game developers play it safe by specializing, or even over-specializing, when it comes to their output. They stick to a precious few genres and systems they know, and if they try to jump their licenses to unfamiliar platforms, most often they'll farm the job out to another specialty developer. Everybody sticks to what they know. Finding a company that drifts from shooters to platformers to sports to fighters, racers, adventure, puzzle games and more, jumping from PC to console to mobile with wanton glee is, indeed, Rare.

For most of its history, Rare was the singular vision of two brothers driven by their love of games and need for success. They brought a new philosophy to both game design and production, setting records that are likely to stand for decades to come, and achieved rockstar status while shunning the limelight completely. And on the way, they produced some of the seminal titles in video game history.

It's not just anybody who can do that.


So Unusual

1982 was a major year in videogame development. In a spare Menlo Park venture capitalist office, Trip Hawkins finished his business plan and incorporated Electronic Arts. To the north, George Lucas partnered with Atari and created Lucasfilm Games, a new division of his fledging empire. Thousands of miles across the Pacific, Yasuhiro Fukushima changed the name of his company from Eidansha Boshu Service Center to the more curt Enix, and held a game programming contest to help shift its product line over to video games.

In Leicestershire, England, brothers Tim and Chris Stamper founded Ashby Computers and Graphics Ltd. They'd spent years programming dozens of arcade games while working for others; now they wanted to work for themselves, making and owning their own titles in the home market. Their platform of choice was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, an 8-bit personal computer popular in the UK. For their first release, elder brother Chris designed a game based on their action-arcade sensibilities while Tim coded the graphics. The result was Jetpac, a busy and addictive game that combines platforming and collection with a lot of shooting pesky aliens. Rather than publish it under ACG, the Stampers created another pseudonym: Ultimate Play the Game.


Over the next two years, Ultimate became the top game developer in the UK with an unbroken string of hits. Most game companies at the time were interchangeable and invisible to the gamers who bought their products, but Ultimate's singular style made them instantly recognizable to anyone to who took their gaming seriously. The quality is amazingly consistent from Pssst and Trans Am to Sabre Wulf and Jetpac sequel Lunar Jetman, and the unique, strangely cryptic introductions that preface each one stick in the memory.

A rabid fanbase formed around the Ultimate brand, made even more rabid by the Stampers' apparent seclusion. The brothers attended no conferences, seldom gave interviews, and came off as universally media shy. While the Stampers weren't exactly eager to step into the public spotlight, they also didn't really have the time. They were renowned for working eighteen hour days, seven days a week, only knocking off between the hours of 2:00-8:00 a.m. Their philosophy was that a part-time employee resulted in a part-time game. By contrast, they committed totally and required their team to do the same as well... the first true crunch mentality in the industry. Nobody was held to that philosophy more stringently than the Stampers themselves. In the three years they slaved to Ultimate, they only ever took two days off. Both were Christmas mornings.