Feature

Dream Project: The Secret History Of Banjo-Kazooie

by Ben Reeves on Oct 22, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Every game goes through an evolutionary process during development, but Rare's N64 platformer Banjo-Kazooie changed so much during development that it became an entirely different game.

Banjo-Kazooie was one of the N64's premiere platformers, and some people argue that it sits up there with titles like Mario 64 and Donkey Kong 64. However, Banjo-Kazooie started life as a SNES game called Project Dream. The title was first announced in 1995 and only a few images of the title were ever released.

Project Dream was about a boy named Edison who used a wooden sword to battle a group of pirates lead by a man named Captain Blackeye. The game was reportedly too large for an SNES cart, so it was transferred over to the N64 where it was envisioned as a massive 3D role-playing game.

As audio designer Grant Kirkhope talked about on his blog, Project Dream had an "elaborate floor system that meant we could stretch the polygons into any shape to create some really great-looking landscapes that really hadn't been tried before, unfortunately the N64 just didn't have the power to run it at a decent frame rate and we were struggling to make it work."

At the same time, Rare was really impressed with the work being done on the game that would eventually become Conker's Bad Fur Day, so the decision was made to turn Project Dream into a more traditional platformer in line with proven hits like Mario 64. Rare co-founder Tim Stamper also decided that the main character should be changed from a boy into an animal. A bear had been one of Project Dream's minor side characters, so Rare took his design and evolved him into Banjo. Rare loved the design of Banjo so much that they included him in Diddy Kong Racing more than six months before the release of his own game.

One of the few references to Project Dream that made it into Banjo-Kazooie was a picture of the old villain Captain Blackeye, who appeared in a picture in the Mad Monster Mansion level of the game. In Banjo-Tooie, Blackeye reappeared in a pub and talked about how a Bear stole his glory -- a clear reference to the series' development.

Sadly, we haven't seen much from Banjo in the last couple years aside from a few HD remakes of his old games. The last title in the series, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, wasn't even a traditional platformer. Recently a few ex-Rare employees tweeted about an upcoming project where they hope to make a spiritual successor to Banjo-Tooie, but hopefully Microsoft decides to resurrect the licence themselves someday soon.