The fantastic origins of your favorite games

Back when Rare – GoldenEye, Conker’s Bad Fur Day – was on top of the world in the N64 days, they developed Banjo-Kazooie (and its sequel, Banjo-Tooie). The charming platformer about a bear and his irritating, yet lovable bird friend expanded upon Mario 64’s 3D gameplay and had all sorts of collectable gidgets. Now available on XBLA in high-res glory for 1200 MS points.

Above: Who the hell is that? That ain’t a bear

Would you believe that Banjo once started life on the SNES… about a rather normal human boy… named Edison? A Banjo retrospective in Retro Gamer indicates that the adventure game, Project Dream, was in active development for the SNES directly after work was completed on Donkey Kong Country 2. The original story had Edison as a boy adventurer getting tangled up with evil pirates, led by Captain Blackeye. That actually doesn’t sound like a bad premise, considering the track record Rare was beginning to lay.

Above: Cool – early concept art! But he’s not wearing pants

As soon as the N64 was introduced, development shifted towards the newer platform with few pains. Development continued on Project Dream for another year, but by that time the scope had changed so much that release was still years off. Oh, and Edison became a bear with a backpack, y’know, to keep all his adventuring items in. Now that Dream was so different, the visual scope shifted as well. It was then that work began in ernest on the new game, Banjo.

Above: Final hi-res work

One area of gameplay design that Banjo excelled in over Mario 64 was an expanded move set – egg shooting, butt slams and double jumping. Well, double jumping was thought of, but Rare had no idea to make a bear look reasonably able to jump once more at the height of the first jump. So, they added wings that come out of his backpack for the added oomph. They wanted Banjo to run quickly, so Rare added legs that sprouted from the backpack for running. Pretty soon, it was decided to have a whole bird living in that backpack.

Above: Ahyuck!

But what to name the bird? During the hoedown opening, every character gets in instrument. Banjo gets a banjo, Mumbo Jumbo gets a number of instruments, and the bird gets the incredibly irritating kazoo. From that you can derive how Kazooie’s name was picked.

Ken Levine’s incredible story of a plane crash victim seeking refuge in an underwater anti-utopian world is inspired by the works of George Orwell and Ayn Rand. With older weapons and magic powers in tow, you’ll slowly traverse the haunted, decrepit society filled with wayward souls and protective behemoth Big Daddies while navigating a power struggle between the city’s founder and upstart anarchist.

Above: Early concept work of an underground bunker

BioShock’s inventive story about dueling idealists and the utopian city that realistically crumples wasn’t always completely figured out. In fact, Ken Levine had a number of elements he wanted to convey in a game, which ended up changing over time. The trifecta of dominant character AI featured in the game however was developed the earliest.

Above: Early looks at the Big Daddy

In an interview on Rock Paper Shotgun, Ken Levine states, “The notion of the simulated environment and the three interacting AI types – the aggressor type, the resource gathering type, and the protector type – that came from watching nature shows.” The ideas of the Splicer, the Big Daddy and the Little Sister already existed, however weren’t fully developed. In fact, the Little Sister used to be a sea slug early on.

Above: The Little Sister used to look even worse. A gopher? A robot? What the hell?

“The game went through a fair amount of changes. Never the core design principles, but the aesthetic and story evolved over time,” Levine said in the interview. In an interview with Shacknews, two earlier concepts Levine had toyed with came to light. One idea had the story taking place on an island stronghold with Nazis. Another rejected BioShock story was where you assumed the role of a cult deprogrammer – hired by a Senator no less – where you needed to rescue someone from a cult. Hell, in a 2004 preview with Gamespot,  BioShock originally took place in a recently unearthed, underground genetics facility held over from WWII.

Above: Before Splicers, there was BLURRGGHHH

Levine is even inspired by movies. Political thriller Syriana inspired how Fontaine’s character created a charity for the poor denizens of Rapture, just so he could use them for his civil war-like goals. And Levine was always opposed to the two different endings from the starts. Says that was a decision from higher up the food chain.


  • waffledragon33 - September 25, 2010 3:45 p.m.

    i never would a thought
  • gmilf71 - February 18, 2009 7:17 a.m.

    yes, it's true there was another bioshock before. it was called, like, systemshock or something along the lines of that. big daddy in wheel chair?!?! WTF?!
  • uvebeenpwned - February 17, 2009 2:01 a.m.

    the guitar hero actually looked pretty good
  • WayByWind - February 15, 2009 3:30 p.m.

    its Cleveland
  • Bov11 - February 14, 2009 8:07 p.m.

    love the last line about Twilight Princess.
  • Elbo444 - February 14, 2009 7:37 a.m.

    Bioshock in an underground WWII genetics facility would have been awesome, and in my opinion probably quite a bit scarier, i didnt think Bioshock was scary at all
  • GoldenMe - February 14, 2009 2:34 a.m.

    You know what? I'm not going to talk about Zelda in 3-D. Can't make me.........*sigh* "Nintendo wanted to create a 3D version of Zelda for the N64 and indeed they did." WTF LIEZ!!!! reCAPTCHA: SMITH sixteed
  • Spike_the_Dogg - February 13, 2009 10:28 p.m.

    Some how I always knew there would be a 3-D Zelda.LOL
  • Yellowhat17 - February 13, 2009 4:35 p.m.

    I thought the early splicer concept art looked a lot scarier... But I also spotted a Big Daddy in a wheel chair, and a gopher child harvesting ADAM from a dead body.
  • Red - February 13, 2009 3:05 p.m.

    Well that explains why Bioshock had shitastic alternate endings.
  • CH3BURASHKA - February 13, 2009 6:19 a.m.

    Shane Patterpon!!! reCaptcha: children Sells (what the fuck?)
  • iKOemos - February 13, 2009 3:31 a.m.

    I'm so glad TF2 came out the way it did. Great Article.
  • somthing42 - February 13, 2009 1:46 a.m.

    >Nintendo wanted to make a 3D Zelda for the N64 and indeed they did What a surprise Recaptcha: stanley manley
  • marcusfenix22 - February 13, 2009 midnight

    the little sister in bioshock would have been a squirrel? wow, that would have been hysterical! great article!keep up the good work!
  • oryandymackie - February 12, 2009 9:23 p.m.

    BioShock's first plans looked quite good, chuck them in with the splicers we know today and it would've been a lot scarier
  • MeesesGlokmah - February 12, 2009 8:55 p.m.

    Banjo as a boy would have been weird. Good thing they were more creative.
  • SmokeyPerrito123 - February 18, 2009 3:24 a.m.

    there was another BIOSHOCK b4 the so called original
  • Sly_Fox - February 17, 2009 6:35 a.m.

    blurg indeed
  • noobeater - February 16, 2009 11:09 p.m.

    i never knew about the banjo kazooie interesting article...i love the bear bird combo that it came to me...its great how it just 'works' best game ever
  • EvilInkarnate - February 14, 2009 5:10 a.m.

    Damn, and I thought the Bioshock that I played was creepy!! Did you guys see the legless Big Daddy in the wheelchair?? Or the Lil' Sister with almost no hair and the Adam collection tank om her back?? What about the crawlin naked body that's torso seems to be twisted 180 degrees from it's lower half?? Man I hope they go more towards this route for the next one, just without ruinin my fav game of all time.

Showing 1-20 of 31 comments

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