I. Pérez, A. Riol, H. Hall


Interview with the Piñata team

It seems that it happened last year, but actually MundoRare met Steve Brand, Neill Harrison and Elissa Miller from Rare only a couple of weeks ago in Madrid. They were there to present Viva Piñata for the first time in Europe, and our enviable duty was to interrogate them. Steve Brand is the game's Producer, whose job can vary from scheduling the team's duties to edit all the video sequences. That's when he is not flying to New York to arrange meetings with the representatives of Fox TV. Harrison was responsible for several technical aspects of the artwork, as well as the background's and the environment's of the main area. And Miller was an Animator, so thanks to her our piñata community will be fresh and unique; she took the concept models and bring them to life by injecting a personality into the characters.

Black Francis, Joey Santiago and Kim Deal from The Pixies

Part I: Steve Brand and Viva Piñata

MundoRare: Viva Piñata Director Gregg Mayless said that the team "had no preconceived rules of how things should be done." So where did the main first idea come from?

Steve Brand: It was about four years ago when Tim Stamper, Director at Rare, just had an idea for a garden game. Initially it was going to be Pocket PC, so it's been code-named Pocket throughout development. It was basically going to be for a handheld. But as it progressed into a bigger idea, we went onto Xbox and from there we went onto 360, because we realised that we couldn't do, graphically, what we wanted to do on Xbox.

MR: Are there any ideas or features from the early stages of development that didn't pass the cut, or that it may have evolved into different things?

Steve: There's a stack of features that get put to one side and there's lots of stuff that we would have liked to put in the game as well, but you just run out of time in the end. So yes, there are certainly things that aren't in the game that would have been in the game four years ago, so it's definitely evolved as we've gone.

MR: Why did you decide to use piñatas as the characters in the game?

Steve: Initially, we had to decide on a style for the animals so we didn't just want them to be normal animals. So our Concept Artist came up with the idea of piñatas, which in England is not a massive thing at the minute. Not everybody knows what a piñata is in England so, for us, it was very fresh and it also allowed us to have new ideas in the design – for the sweets inside - that play a part in the game. The life sweets are the piñata so it opened a few avenues for us.

MR: Does the customization of the piñatas have anything to do with the objectives in the game or is it just a funny addition?

Steve: Basically, that is a way of personalising for yourself, but it also makes your piñata more valuable if you trade it or sell it back to the shop if it's got accessories on it. But, in terms of the whole goal of the game, no, it's just something for you to experiment with. However, some of the piñatas actually need to have certain accessories.

Three consoles to run one game, take that HaloMR: We know that you can trade online with you piñata collection, but how relevant can these online features be in terms of global gameplay?

Steve: Well, we wanted the game to be available to the biggest market. Obviously, we wanted everybody to play it, so the Xbox Live features are a bonus, really. It's a single-player game, essentially and first, it's a single-player experience. But the Xbox Live features are just a bonus in case you are connected, because we're hoping that people who aren't connected to Live can still enjoy the game.

MR: What can you tell us about the TV series?

Steve: That's part of the bigger picture – we see Viva Piñata as more than just a game. It's a whole IP foray, it's a new thing from Microsoft and they basically signed an agreement with 4Kids TV in New York, the guys behind Pokémon, and they looked at Viva Piñata and said "yes, we want to do a cartoon of Viva Piñata". So, we sent them the game assets, we sent them the game models and they've created the CG cartoon from the game.

(According to Microsoft Ibérica in Spain, Microsoft Europe is already trying to reach an agreement with several networks in every country to expand Viva Piñata TV series beyond the US territory. However, they don't expect to see a release before the coming Christmas season.)

MR: Is the free will of the piñatas something the player will be able to control somehow?

Steve: It's part of the game, you have to learn how to control them. You can build fences and keep them inside those if you want, but they do have their own minds. As we've been developing the game more and more we see things and we're like, "now how did that happen? We haven't programmed that!" – but they start doing stuff off their own accord so that's very much part of the game.

MR: Nearly one half of the achievements of Viva Piñata are secret achievements. What should we expect about them?

Steve: There are various goals in the game. Obviously, the top goal will be to get everything in the game. I mean, there's a lot of hidden stuff that we're not going to tell you about today as well, so to be 100% will take you a long time but there are certain challenges you can do.

MR: Can you tell us about anything in particular?

Steve: Just show you this [Steve points out to the screen where a beta version of Viva Piñata is being played, there it can be seen a huge mountain with a system of cannons at the top]. This place is Piñata Central, this is where all piñatas go to be fired out to parties so if you look at the top, you'll see the cannons shooting the piñatas out.

So, basically, they live in the garden and they fatten up on sweets and then they go to Piñata Central and get shot out to parties – it's their destiny. So, every now and then, Piñata Central will say "we need help, we need 5 toes" or something, and then you can go in and do that if you want and you'll send them off and they'll deliver them back when they come back from the party and they'll be much more valuable so they'll be worth a lot more.

MR: Finally, how many people worked on Viva Piñata?

Steve: Probably about 50, around 50. But around the last moth the team became smaller because, obviously, the artists were finished – like Neil and Elissa, whose work is already done, so some artists are moving off onto different projects.

MR: Like Banjo 3?

Steve: Er... there are different projects.

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