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I was a lead on Dinosaur Planet and this week’s leak brought back great memories
The newly-uncovered N64 ROM offers a glimpse at what we had planned before Star Fox Adventures
This week I was as surprised as anyone to see a build of Rare’s cancelled N64 game Dinosaur Planet – the project I was art lead for 20 years ago – appear on the internet.
Seeing it up and running again brings back terrific memories of working on the game, at a time when game development was just starting to become more sophisticated with specialised roles for concept artists and animators, rather than a small bunch of guys trying to do everything themselves.
Fans seem to be most surprised by the fact that this particular N64 build features Fox McCloud – the eventual star of Star Fox Adventures on GameCube, as it became known – and not the original hero Sabre (Wulf).
This particular model was made by a superb artist called Johnni Christensen, as I was more focussed on Krystal and the dinosaur characters at the time. But Fox wasn’t actually the second protagonist we tried for Dinosaur Planet, but the third…
After finishing work on Diddy Kong Racing in 1998, I started work on a project that was to become a 3D adventure game based in a fantasy style world, similar to that of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time but in a prehistoric environment.
The main character was originally going to be – believe it or not – Timber, the cute tiger from Diddy Kong Racing. That’s because he was intended to be the star of the previous year’s racing game, when it was originally known as R.C. Pro-Am 64.
“In Dinosaur Planet, Timber was going to be a ‘time-travelling tiger’ with a rucksack, little fingerless gloves, a baseball cap and a small dinosaur for a sidekick.”
However, due to a last-minute rebrand which saw Diddy take pole position as the main character, Timber had to accept second place and never really made the leading role. I wasn’t too disappointed about this, to be honest, because luckily Diddy was also my character design too. In fact, I was quite excited to have a game coming out which was pretty much named after him as the main man!
In Dinosaur Planet, Timber was going to be a ‘time-travelling tiger’ with a rucksack, little fingerless gloves, a baseball cap and a small dinosaur for a sidekick.
Actually, I even tried out Timber in a project prior to DKR, where he walked around on all fours like a real tiger cub. It was an early 3D platforming test and I wanted him to use his claws to scale walls. But this project was abandoned and so he was moved into DKR and that’s as far as his career went!
After rethinking the design a little, it was decided to change Dinosaur Planet’s main character to a wolf (Sabre), and also to include a 2nd playable character (Krystal), each with different abilities. At this point, there were no comparisons drawn with Fox Mcloud, and it never even crossed my mind that there was already a very popular “Star’ fox out there in a universe of his own.
We were so busy focusing on the Dinosaur-themed aspects of the game that it just didn’t occur to us that there may not be room for two Canine heroes in space, so we pushed on and developed the story. We had big plans for making a lot of cinematic cutscenes and plenty of dialogue throughout to really pull it all together. It was always the plan to make an epic adventure!
About a year into development, we put a demo together for E3 2000 and I was looking forward to the game being shown. But once we got out to Los Angeles for the event, we were told that we were going to keep a lot of our work under wraps because we had a meeting scheduled with Nintendo to discuss the demo.
“We were to work with Shigeru Miyamoto and Takaya Imamura ironing out design issues and coming up with a new storyline to make things flow smoothly, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Apparently, NCL were very impressed with what they had seen of the game and so during the show we met and discussed the possibility of a ‘marriage’ between the “Star Fox” and “Dinosaur Planet” IPs to create something really special. The idea was to create Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet (as it was initially known) for the N64, but of course we eventually ended up transferring to GameCube as that platform released.
I thought this was amazing at the time, although I was also concerned about how we were going to make the story work with the existing characters from the already established Star Fox series. This apprehension remained when I got back to Rare following the show, but [co-founder] Tim Stamper reassured me that it would be fine and we’d work it out.
It wasn’t long after that I was asked if I’d like to go with Lee Schuneman (Dinosaur Planet’s main designer) and Phil Tossel (lead software engineer) to visit Nintendo in Japan and spend a week working out the best way to tie the two IPs together.
Of course, I was extremely pleased to do this, and couldn’t wait to go. We were to work with Shigeru Miyamoto and Takaya Imamura ironing out design issues and coming up with a new storyline to make things flow smoothly, and that’s exactly what we did.
I still have a fair amount of concept scribbles (see above) from the meetings we had, and when I look at them I remember the discussions we had and think we actually did a pretty good job between us all.
I never thought I’d ever see the original demo again. For me it’s another of those nostalgic trips back into game development that makes me smile because like so many other demos I worked on, they were created so long ago that I’d forgotten they even existed.
Every once in a while something like this comes along and jogs my memory! The game was looking good at the time on N64. It wouldn’t have had all those lovely cut scenes that eventually made it into Star Fox Adventures, and the world was a bit empty, but I think it was very cool for the N64 hardware.
Now, if only somebody could dig up that really old demo with Timber in his rucksack… Come on, give the guy his own game after 25 years!
Kev Bayliss joined Rare in 1987 and has designed many of the characters of Killer Instinct, Diddy Kong Racing and more. Visit his YouTube channel for more stories on his past work.