“Project Dream”, an unfinished project living on through Banjo-Kazooie

Sitting at my laptop at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon while listening to an old Stardust Drive Podcast from the summer, I casually scan my regular social media outlets. During the podcast I’m listening to, Carter brings up a discussion on Kingdoms of Amalur and the three names behind the collaboration. There was R.A. Salvatore, Todd McFarlane, but he forgot the third name.

Curious, I decide to look it up. Grant Kirkhope was the third name that popped up, thanks to Wikipedia, and upon checking out his bio, I discovered Kirkhope’s work on a number of popular Nintendo 64 titles of the 90s, including Banjo-Kazooie, Goldeneye 007 and Donkey Kong 64, for which he was a composer and occasional voice actor.

This is the only known screenshot from “Project Dream”, featuring an early image of its protagonist, Edison.

Under his list of games released in order was a title called “Project Dream“, developed between 1995 and 1997, and says “revamped into Banjo Kazooie” under the notes tab. Out of sheer curiosity, I clicked the link, and began to read up on the game.

Kirkhope started at Rare Ltd. in 1995, during Rare’s huge domination on the video game industry at this time, where it was pumping out hit after hit. For more information on the history of Rare, you can look back at an older article I published a few months ago.

He ended up developing more than 100 songs for Dream, which never ended up getting released because it was considered “too big” for the SNES, and would later be revamped and turned into what we know as “Banjo-Kazooie” today. But just what is this Project Dream, and how did it lay the foundations for one of the most popular games of my 90s childhood?

Project Dream” follows a young wooden sword-wielding kid named Edison, who just happens to have bad luck when it comes to dealing with pirates. The pirates are led by their leader, Captain Blackeye, who wanted to capture Edison, though the main base of the story is unclear, and it is assumed the story follows Edison’s adventure trying to end his troubles with the pirates.

A number of secondary characters in the game, including Banjo the bear (who would eventually become the leading protagonist in his own game), and Gruntilda (who played a giant in Project Dream, and who would eventually go on to be the primary antagonist in the Banjo series) would’ve made appearences along Edison’s journey. Other characters included Madeline, Edison’s girlfriend, and Ella, Edison’s younger, high-pitched voice sister. Tiptup and Tooty were also prevalent in this game, but when it was revamped for Banjo-Kazooie, they were given newer roles, much like Banjo and Grunty. Kazooie was never mentioned.

On Grant Kirkhope’s website, he talks about the history of Dream in his post, “Dream: The Game That Never Was”. In his last paragraph of the story, he explains how “Dream” was canned.

Then Tim (Stamper) was unhappy with the whole boy/hero thing and said we should change it to an animal. A bear was our first creature and “Banjo” the bear was born. So now we had “Banjo” running around in an RPG, I really can’t remember when we added the back pack and “Kazooie” but it was around this time. Again Tim still didn’t think it was all good enough and after seeing how good “Mario 64” was and with Rare’s platforming heritage it was decided to scrap “Dream” and do a platformer with ” Banjo” as the main character. Because I was writing RPG styled music it just didn’t fit, and I had to find a more humorous approach. The first piece I wrote for “Banjo” was “Click Clock Woods”, the spring version actually. It was until later that I started experimenting with the oddball style that became the signature sound for the “Banjo” games.

So that’s the story of the game that never was…….. sad really, but if it hadn’t have been canned we’d never had made “Banjo-Kazooie”!

That’s very true. Without the concept of Dream as a title, we wouldn’t have the lovable bear and bird story we’ve grown to love. Sadly, Banjo hasn’t seen much spotlight since the N64 era, and with a growing popularity in online multiplayer shooters and much more detailed story-driven games, it may be hard for Banjo to find a fan base with the younger, growing generation.

But history stands strong, and another mystery is uncovered. To read Kirkhope’s story of “Dream” and to listen to some of the music developed for the game, you can click here.

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