Disclaimer: This interview contains some strong language. Anyone who is offended by such content is advised against reading this interview.
The fifth generation of gaming is one of the most beloved periods in the medium, with consoles such as the Nintendo 64, the original PlayStation, and the Sega Dreamcast going on to become among the most popular and well-received platforms in the history of video games. However, come the end of the fifth generation, as the transition to the sixth was being made, among the last games published by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 was Conker’s Bad Fur Day; a game which garnished critical acclaim upon release and has since gone on to become a favorite among fans of the console.
I was lucky enough to have an interview this week with the lead programmer of the game; Chris Seavor. Chris joined Rare back in 1994, where he was tasked with developing for the Killer Instinct series initially; he then went on to not only work on many Rare games on the programming side of things but also voice many characters created by Rare, such as Spinal from Killer Instinct, Gruntilda of Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie, and of course several characters in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, including Conker himself.
After having left Rare in 2011, he most recently established Gory Details Ltd with former Rare collaborator Shawn Pile, and together have developed both Parashoot Stan and a dark adventure game named The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup, and as of this writing, there is also a new game in development from Gory Details, said to be a twin-stick dungeon-bash title. I had a lot of questions for Chris concerning his early life, his time at Rare, the development of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, as well as the ultimately canceled sequel, and of course, his work at Gory Details Ltd and what gamers can expect from their new project. Here’s our in-depth interview: The Twelve Tales of Chris Seavor:
Where did your passion for video games originate from?
Playing them as a kid… That and board games…. A friend had been bought Dungeons and Dragons for Christmas (the pink edition which I still have) and he couldn’t understand it so he gave it to me… It was a revelation. This is where my love of ‘game mechanics’ came from which then evolved into video games when I had access to a BBC Micro and eventually the eponymous Spectrum 48K.
What games would you play as a child and how would they go on to influence you as a developer?
Ironically the first game I ever bought was Knightlore. I got it from a mate for half price. 5 quid I think. My favorite game from childhood though is RebelStar Raiders which was a turn-based squad game where you had to infiltrate a base on the Moon. Still holds up. Obviously, Ultimate games were in there, but also John Ritman’s variants on the genre like Head Over Heals, which brilliantly introduced a second character to add a cooperative element to the puzzle solving. Quite groundbreaking. The list is huge though; Elite, Paradroid, Out of the Shadows, The Hobbit, Lords of Midnight, Bards Tale, Chuckie Egg, Monty Mole, etc. Oddly though, I never really liked Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy as I found them too difficult. What a scrub eh?
What consoles did you own early on?
None. I was at college when the NES and SNES and Mega Drive came out, so had little money and was too busy drinking and dossing around on the beach (I was at college in Cornwall for 4 years, then Bournemouth for 1). Games kinda left my life for a long time…… Next device I bought after my C64 was a SNES whilst working at Rare just to play Zelda and DKC, so yeah!
What is your earliest memory of game design?
I would design whole RPG systems for tabletop gaming. My 2 favorite systems were MERPS and Warhammer Fantasy RPG. MERPS for its crazy crit tables (and the lore) and WHRPG for the gothic world-building. Loved em to bits. I stole from both. I also wrote a Fighting Fantasy novel, but only got as far as about 100 entries before losing track. Those things are hecka-complex to write.
Were there any development companies you aspired to work with before you went to work with Rare?
Psygnosis. I didn’t know who Rare were, to be honest… Psygnosis were in Liverpool as well, so I could stay with the parents and save some cash. Lazy fucker I was. I had an interview with a few; EA, Psygnosis, and Rare included. Not sure what happened with Pysg, but EA offered a job eventually but I’d already started at Rare and liked it. Mainly because I’d made some friends and to be honest, that’s always the most stressful part of starting out somewhere new: being alone. The job turned out okay too 😉
Where there any other careers you attempted to pursue before going into games design and game voice-over work?
Not attempted, but I’d always planned to go into the film industry. My actual skill set was 3D graphics (a career path very much in its infancy in ‘93, unlike now) so film / TV seemed a natural fit. Games I never considered and in the end just sort of fell into it with a chance conversation with a long time friend Ady Smith (Rare, Eidos). Ironically Ady is teaching game stuff down at my old college in Cornwall now.
What was your upbringing like? Did your parents have any positive or negative reaction to your enjoyment of games, or was there even an element of that during your childhood?
I’d have to say it was pretty negative when I was 13 -15. I always like to remind my Mum of a comment she made once after I spent a whole day playing The Hobbit on the big TV.. ‘You’ll never make any money playing games all day…. It’s not a proper job’. She’s right about one thing though… It’s not a ‘proper job’, thank the maker!
Did any facet of your childhood go on to influence you as a developer, similar to how traveling through the forests of Kyoto inspired Shigeru Miyamoto to create The Legend of Zelda?
Not directly. I’ve always loved the cinema experience and would watch every movie I could… I guess that helped in later life. I read a lot of Horror and SciFi, not so much fantasies apart from Prof T the bulk of it back then was, to be blunt: Shit. I read a lot of Fantasy today though, the grim, dark stuff. It’s so much better nowadays.
What was it like for you to experience the medium of gaming taking off back in the 70s and 80s?
It just was… You don’t really know you’re IN something when it’s happening around you… Like DKC or the N64 period at Rare. It was just a job, and you were hoping your game would sell more than the other Barns did. Only now looking back do you realize the fondness people have for that time, and the games we’d made as a company… It’s kinda weird as I don’t think of it in those terms.
Was the aspiration to become an actor or voice-over artist from an early age as well, or was that something that manifested later on?
Nope. I’m not a voice actor, I’m a 3d Artist / Game Designer. The voice work was a time saver and for practical issues. It seems to be its own thing now in games, with big names getting involved… Fair enough I suppose, but I think it’s a waste of money. Keanu Reeves is a great guy by all accounts but he can’t act for shit. Spend the money on some unknowns who need the break instead…
To be honest, I think the influx of big Hollywood names into the games industry is largely down to the egos of the Production Managers, Execs, and Bosses… It’s the only chance these people will ever get to hang out with the Stars!! Also, BAFTA can try and inject their dull game awards ceremony with a bit of glitz and glamour… Game development has little glitz, even less glamour. And then of course there are Mr. Keighley’s Game Awards… I mean, really? I rest my case, your honor. Here’s the proof it’s a bullshit waste of money .. Name me one person who bought Cyberpunk 2077 because Keanu Reeves was in it? You found one?? They’re a fucking liar.
Who were your inspirations where your voice acting was concerned?
Again, no one really. I just did some silly voices based on accents and the range of my voice. Conker’s voice came pretty easily, in fact, I think I just did it instinctively the first time Robin and I were in the studio.
Were there any teachers you had at school who would have a lasting impression on you where your career was concerned?
Absolutely not, Fuck those idiots.
My teachers tried to tell me that the best years of my life would be my school years, but I disagree with them; my best years have been everything that came afterward. But did you enjoy school when you were a kid?
Absolutely not. Fuck those idiots even more… School was shit. Sadists and morons. I fucking hated it with a vengeance. Imagine trying to encourage 14-year-old lads to enjoy reading then dumping Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park in their lap. WTF!? Stephen King, Tolkien, Sven Hassel first… THEN Jane Austin, in later life, when you have enough life experience to relish in its satire.
What was the best piece of advice you were given as a child?
That kind of thing only happens in YA fiction… I never much paid any attention to adults as a kid. I think I became aware of how flawed they all were at a very young age. The one bit of advice I do remember was from my Nan: ‘Christ lad, don’t get old…’
Rare had been renowned for their sense of humor with hidden jokes and Easter eggs in their games and Conker was no different. But where did your sense of humor stem from early on?
I wasn’t particularly funny as a kid. In fact, I was and still am almost terminally shy. I still find it stressful to group up with people in games and be expected to have a conversation, even in chat. (except when I’m shouting abuse 😉 I think my humor stems from looking at life’s absurdity and just laughing at it all. People can be so fucking dumb, so finding comedy gold in the actions and words of others is a never-ending resource. I’m a pessimist and a cynic. That’s where my humor comes from I think….. Plus I’m a bit weird and apparently lacking intact (although I am usually told this after the fact…)