Customisation, though, has proved to be a double-edged sword in the aftermath of the game's release, with some sections of the Xbox community decrying the practice of releasing premium downloadable accessories that appear, at least, to be stored on the disc and not on Xbox Live itself. "I know what you're talking about, and I can't... to me it's not really an issue, because if you don't want it don't buy it," says Cook. And in fairness to him, you can at least preview these accessories by looking at the graphic that accompanies them on Marketplace. It's pretty obvious whether you'll want them or not. "The other thing was we knew we wanted to go after these new people, and you know 360 sells in two formats, so if you haven't got a hard drive where do you put all the stuff you downloaded? So that kind of solves that problem - some of it's already on the disc." We're not sure the Internet will like that one, but you do have to have some sympathy - after all, all of Pinata's Xbox Live options are available to Silver users, rather than forcing people to adopt the subscription-based Gold service.
What's more, you get the impression that Rare had a say in this - and you also get the impression that they had a say in how the game has been marketed in general. It comes back, again, to that sense that it's more their garden than Microsoft's. For example, Cook tells us, the game doesn't rely on the hard disk the way many others do. "We knew if we wanted to attract this new audience of people, they were going to go in and buy the cheapest machine they can and the game... Quite a few of the decisions we made were like that," he tells us. "If you want to sell a game to families you've got to make it good value to families, and I strongly believe we've done a good job of making a great-value game." They even had a hand in the box design - the curvy-topped special-edition one. It was designed so mums and dads would have no trouble finding the game if the little ones asked for it. "As far as we're concerned that's what we wanted," Cook says of the box. "It isn't like all the other boxes here [he points at imaginary shelving and counts them off]. Axe, goblin, wizard, ninja... Look! Gay animals!"
They fully intend to support those gay animals too, and by the sound of it not just with downloadable hats. "When we designed the game, we designed the game as a whole. What you'll see when you get the DLC is they're not bolt-on bits - they're part of the original game that we wouldn't have had time to make, or time to test. It's just at the end of it all, what you'll get is our complete game as we designed it originally," says Cook. "There'll be some features we've already started working on that you'll be able to have; and then there's some other stuff as well, some new stuff as well." New pinata is the obvious suggestion - something that's hinted at during our tour - but what about the option to allow people to visit their friends' gardens? Was that part of the original "whole" plan? "Very much so," says Cook, laughing nervously. Will we see it added to the game? He pauses. "You'll have to wait and see. But yes. We had plans that we wanted you to be able to share your garden more than you can at the moment."
Viva la Rare volition!
Right now though, Rare is relaxing, and watching how the game does in the US and, on 1st December, Europe. What though, when the holidays are over and the figures are in, will be next? Is Rare to form part of Microsoft's "Games for Windows" putsch, for example? "From Microsoft's view they just want to see how popular the 360 game is," producer Steve Brand offers, "and then obviously future plans will then be pursued I suppose." We joke about there being a secret PC team lurking in a guarded office somewhere. "We'll stick to doing what we do best and that will be console," he adds. "Unless we had a really, really great idea for something," says Cook, skewering his friend's deft handling of the subject. "I mean, that's the thing - if somebody had a great idea for a project on a PC and we took it to Microsoft I'm sure that would be okay." Brand leaps back in. "But this is... We're a first party for 360. They want us to drive that platform, so that's where they want most of our attention focused." Naturally.
How well the game does will also then tie into whether Rare develops more downloadable content (Simon Farmer later tells us that "the jury's still out" on DLC for Rare), and indeed if there's to be a sequel. "I think everyone that worked on the game would probably say yes because I think it's been quite an enjoyable process," says Brand, "but again it's all down to success in the meanwhile."
One person at the Pinata party who doesn't appear to be having much success though is the lowly beggar, who occasionally wanders onto your plot of land and asks for some money. I typically beat him with a spade. I tell Rare this, and ask what he's for. "Well look, if you don't know the secret of the beggar I'm not going to tell you now am I?" says Cook, convincing me I now need to start the game over and look after the poor bastard. I protest though. I like the beggar. "You didn't like him enough not to hit him, did you?" No, but then he wanted my money, and I didn't have a lot of money that day, and I couldn't just walk past him into the Tube station. Errrr. "I feel sorry for the beggars on your road to the tube," says Cook. I don't hit them with spades, I counter. "But it's okay to do it in the game?" So, I say, suddenly feeling the mighty power of the pullquote throbbing in my dictaphone, you're saying you designed the beggar to encourage people to hit beggars? Is that it? Is it? "I've never hit a beggar! You're not supposed to hit a beggar," says Cook, thoughtfully. Well, trying not to cry as my word-daggers slice into his ears, obviously. "I should probably stop talking now."
Indeed. And remember, kids: use the beggar to target Rare's weak spot for massive damage! It's the only language they speak.
Viva Pinata is due out exclusively on Xbox 360 from 1st December. The 4Kids TV show is currently airing in the US, and we're told that we may see it over here in "early 2007".