Chris Seavor develops games by instinct. He always has.
He began his career at Rare, where he helped create games like Nintendo 64's Conker's Bad Fur Day, a popular and uniquely adult-themed title released in 2001. Seavor and Rare parted ways a few years ago. Today, as an independent developer heading Gory Detail, he's on the verge of releasing his first independent game. Parashoot Stan, an iOS game whose skydiving protagonist who moves with a combination of on-screen and motion-based controls, is primed for release this month on iOS.
Seavor told Polygon in a recent interview about the lessons he's learned during his decades of feisty development and why he believes that independence is the best route for an iterative developer whose games are, in his words, "as much about the characters" as they are about the gameplay.
"I started out in the industry back in 1994 when I just happened to literally stumble across Rare just as they were expanding to deal with the increase in work and skill sets needed to make a new breed of games they'd agreed to make for Nintendo," he told Polygon via email.
Nearly 20 years ago now, Rare and Nintendo were partners. The companies collaborated to develop games like Donkey Kong Country and GoldenEye 007. Seavor's stumble into Rare found him working on his first game, Killer Instinct, with a "small core team of only eight people with support as needed."
He describes that scrappy setup, in which a tiny team worked on a new intellectual property, as "trial by fire," but the challenge suited his personality. It served him and the games well. The corporate culture he remembers wasn't beholden to corporate pressure or strict deadlines.
"Rare was always known for the 'Fuck off, it's ready when its ready' style of development," he wrote.
"Before Mario 64 came out the idea of such a game was just that: a nice idea."
When Nintendo released Super Mario 64, the genre-defining 3D platformer for Nintendo 64, it changed him and Rare. Its proof of concept would influence his and the developer's games over the next several years.
"You have to remember, but before Mario 64 came out the idea of such a game was just that: a nice idea," he wrote. "Mario  really changed the focus of Rare at that point, and I'm pretty sure everyone looked at it thinking the same thing: 'Superb gameplay. Imagine that with Rare's graphic prowess in play.'"
Using Super Mario 64 as inspiration, a team at Rare began working a project called Dream, a 3D platformer of its own. It never saw release and ultimately morphed into Rare's 1998 3D platformer, Banjo-Kazooie. The game was both a critical and popular success and led indirectly to Seavor's pet project, Conker's Bad Fur Day.
As the Banjo-Kazooie team worked on its game, Seavor told Polygon that he and the Killer Instinct team had been working on a 3D platformer of their own, a kid-friendly game "very much in the mold of Banjo." There wasn't room in the studio for both.
"I'm a big believer in iterative development."
"Admittedly there was also a bit of politics and 'fisticuffs' for want of a better word," Seavor wrote, "but in the end I got dramatically dangled over the precipice of team lead with the proviso of creating a game sufficiently different to Banjo to justify even making it. So, in a roundabout way Conker's [Bad Fur Day] was born. And that was then my life for the next two and a half years."
Seavor's preferred pattern of development, which he first saw when he was working on Killer Instinct, remained intact.
"I'm a big believer in iterative development, i.e. have an idea then try it," he told Polygon. "Don't write it down; sit with the programmer, plug it in then play the bloody thing to see if it feels right. Just keep doing that and the ideas will keep coming too."
It's not just a philosophy. It produced results. Rare released Conker's Bad Fur Day and its 2005 sequel, Conker: Live & Reloaded.
Rare's partnership with Nintendo came to a close in late 2002, when Microsoft purchased the British developer. Despite the influx of investment capital, Seavor says that he found it difficult to develop a rapport with Microsoft employees as he had with Nintendo. He learned that Microsoft wasn't as willing as Nintendo to accept the "it's ready when its ready" philosophy.
"One minute everything was hunky-dory, the next the new guy had different ideas about your future."
"One minute everything was hunky-dory, the next the new guy had different ideas about your future," Seavor remembers.
"So as you probably guessed I'm not big fan of being 'organized,' preferring to make stuff by the seat of my pants and trusting to experience, instinct and maybe a little bit of hard work. Sometimes it's enough and sometimes not. One thing led to another and then the time came to leave, ably assisted by a bag of cash and a boot up the arse."
He'd stumbled out of the job he stumbled into. Out of work but with funds to hold him over, Seavor told Polygon that he took a break.
"I played a ton of games I'd not had time to in the past, and generally I was a bum! Fucking brilliant and highly recommended!"
Eventually, a combination of boredom and his developer's instincts resurfaced. But he didn't return to a studio. He understood that, by working independently, he could develop in the way that always worked for him.
"I noticed an itch that kept getting worse so I started doing some scribbles, chatting to people about maybe doing something small, and eventually we did," he wrote.
That "small thing" is his first game as an independent developer, the soon-to-be-released Parashoot Stan. Development of the iOS game incorporates his longstanding philosophy and wry sense of humor, just as the Conker titles did at Rare.
"Parashoot Stan as a first project arose from practicality, pipeline test and turn-around," he told Polygon. "Initially it was a much simpler idea ... of a Spaceman escaping from his ship (which then explodes) above a gas giant and slowly but surely gaining speed. Forever, or until you hit something or the explosion catches up."
But that initial concept felt tired, so he iterated. Just as he had created Conker the drunken squirrel by taking the 3D platformer concept born with Mario 64 and continued with Banjo-Kazooie, Seavor "plumbed for something or someone with a bit more personality, and Stan was born.
"Some of the best stuff comes out of tinkering and trying things. Just keep doing that, over and over, and you'll get there in the end, even if 'there' is someways away from the initial concept," he wrote. "That's always happened when I design, but it's also always been a good thing in the end. Certainly was the case with Stan, and all the better for it."
Parashoot Stan shares both a development style and a sensibility with his previous games. The similarities are more about the "ethos, rather than the content," he wrote.
"Personality: That was the hook. Take a tried and tested genre and inject bit of humor, some pretty visuals which hopefully hark back to the Rare of old, and make it as slick and polished as we possibly could."
"I don't have to do the bidding of people who have less experience and knowledge than me. Pretty much a no brainer."
Now, as the game awaits App Store approval, Seavor revels in the advantages of independent development, particularly when contrasted with his experience working for a developer.
"I don't have to justify every fucking pixel I put down," he wrote. "I don't have to do the bidding of people who have less experience and knowledge than me. Pretty much a no brainer.
Seavor is already designing Gory Detail's next games. As with Conker, the hook is "ethos, rather than the content." The key to achieving that, as it always has been for him, even when he worked at a large developer, is to stay small, agile and iterative.
"Gory Detail is just the beginning of what I hope will develop into a really creative, solid and respected developer," he told Polygon. "But never a big one. Small is the key. As I said, we have a long term plan (although the crystal ball starts to fail after five years or so, plenty of time), so the thing to remember about Parashoot Stan is it's just a small and very personal beginning. We are making the games we want to make, without interference or pressure from publishers, etc. Creative freedom. It's the way to go. Keep watching."