From time to time, we like shining a spotlight on the amazing community that's been willing to embark on journeys alongside us. This week is no different as we chat with long-time Rare fan Jephren from Rare & Friends, who was one of the Play It First contest winners featured in our E3 2016 Gameplay Trailer! We don't want to steal his thunder, so we'll let Jephren tell you all about himself, how he ended up being one-third of the trio behind the L.O.G. Cast podcast and a few highlights from his trip across the Pond...

Jephren hanging out with Conker during a Fan Visit to Rare HQ!

[Q]: Tell us a little bit about what got you into gaming.
[A]: As a young child, my older cousin had an NES and I always was fascinated watching him play it whenever we would visit. A couple of years later we got one of our own and I was hooked. I loved the interactivity of video games and the experience of controlling the outcome in a way that TV or movies could never replicate. My love of games only grew as the years went on and we got newer systems with more advanced technological features.

[Q]: What’s your favourite Rare game and why?
[A]: It’s close amongst several of the titles, but I would have to say that my favourite Rare game is Banjo-Kazooie. I think that game came out at just the right time in my life to have a major impact on me. It had such a perfect blend of amazing graphics, memorable music, hilarious characters, and stellar gameplay. I specifically remember being impressed with the water when I first played it. I had never seen individual water droplets create their own ripples on the water’s surface in a game prior to that, nor textures with such detail and blending between them. I remember the songs getting stuck in my head for days and having dreams about the game. It took me a long time to beat the game, but I remember being wowed by the quiz and wacky ending when I finally did best Grunty!

[Q]: What games are you playing currently? Any favourites?
[A]: I have been playing a lot of Minecraft and Rocket League recently. I haven’t gotten into too many epic, narrative-driven games of late, as I just don’t have the time to invest like I used to. Minecraft in particular has been wonderful as it's been a way for my younger brother and I to keep in touch and do something together over the past several years. In addition to those two, I’m still trying to work my way through all of Rare Replay to get all of the stamps. I’m about two-thirds of the way there!

We're thinking this is a sea of games one might want to plunder...

[Q]: How did you end up getting involved with Rare & Friends?
[A]: With the announcement of Rare Replay and Sea of Thieves at last year’s E3, in addition to some of the studio’s alumni getting together to form Playtonic Games, I was very much brought back into the Rare fan community in a way that I hadn’t been since the late ’90s.

At that time last summer, I was listening to a lot of Rare-centric podcasts and was considering starting up my own Rare fan blog (my Rare Fanatic moniker stems from that original idea). I sent out a tweet to see if there were any more Rare podcasts out there that I hadn’t discovered yet. One of the people who responded was Dave from Rare & Friends, saying that he was toying with doing a podcast on his new Rare fan blog. I said that it was a great idea and that I was looking forward to it (and offered my assistance if he needed it!). A couple of months later, he and another long-time Rare fan named Kev started the weekly podcast known as the L.O.G.Cast. I listened to the show every week and engaged with them on the site’s forum and sort of got to know them in a casual way.

In January of this year, they announced that they were looking to expand the team and I applied to write articles and possibly do some animations for the site. I joined them shortly after and have been helping out with the site ever since. I even recently got to become the third host on the L.O.G. Cast!

[Q]: Of course, you were also one of the stars of our E3 2016 Gameplay Trailer. What was it like to see that for the first time?
[A]: It was an unbelievably surreal moment. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what was happening in front of my very eyes. Just to be featured in the gameplay reveal was amazing, but to have that debut during the Xbox Media Briefing was such an incredible honor. I basically started shaking and my heart rate shot through the roof. My phone almost instantly started going off with notifications for everything from friends telling me that they saw me to words of shared excitement from the other Rare fans who were featured in the trailer.

Our piñatas were present to greet Jephren and the rest of our superfans on arrival!

[Q]: It was great having you visit the studio. Can you tell us a couple of your highlights from the trip?
[A]: There are so many, where do I begin?! I’d have to say that the first meeting with folks from the studio during lunch on our first full day was definitely a highlight. To get to meet people that I have looked up to and admired for years was just so incredible. We had such great conversation and it seemed like everyone got along wonderfully. A lot of us said after that day that we would have been happy if that had been the entire trip.

That said, the next and probably biggest highlight was the arrival at the studio for the first time. I had dreamed of seeing Manor Park ever since I had seen it featured in an issue of Nintendo Power just after it had been built. I had played it out in my head dozens of times how I imagined it would be to see it in person, and it absolutely exceeded every expectation. The countryside in which it is built is so beautiful, and the grounds and facilities are kept in such pristine condition.

Already overwhelmed by the countless emotions I experienced during drive up to the main building, I was not prepared for what happened when we walked through the front doors. We were greeted by three floors of thunderous applause from employees in the reception area. I feel like I was having some sort of out of body experience – I couldn’t believe that I was standing there in person.

[Q]: If you had to choose a pirate name, what would it be?
[A]: I’ve struggled with this question for years. I’ve just never been able to come up with a good one that is either a clever pun or a cool-sounding name. For my Play It First Contest entry, I just went with Dread Pirate Jeph as a nod to The Princess Bride, one of my favorite movies. I’m also now fond of the one that Gregg Mayles gave me at the end of the visit – Peg Leg Perez!

During his trip over, Jephren got his Sea of Thieves flag signed by the studio! Another addition to his Rare collection...

[Q]: What kind of hobbies do you enjoy outside of gaming?
[A]: I enjoy trying new things and tend to give new experiences a shot as often as I can. I really love photography, drawing, and tinkering with technology. I’ve recently been taking online courses to learn how to make games in Unity and have really been enjoying that. I also enjoy playing sports, camping, and travelling.

[Q]: What are you looking forward to most in Sea of Thieves?
[A]: I’m really looking forward to exploring the game world and searching for tiny details and Easter Eggs. I’m a stickler for little details, and as I mentioned before with the water in Banjo-Kazooie, I love seeing technical details that go the extra mile. I feel that Rare has always been a studio to do that, and from what I’ve seen already, Sea of Thieves will certainly not disappoint.

[Q]: Share a fun fact about yourself. Anything is fair game!
[A]: I learned how to engineer antique steam trains while working at Walt Disney World! I have always had a love for trains, so to have had the chance to operate a fleet of 100-year-old engines was a dream come true!

And there you go!

That's the end of the line for this week's Community Spotlight! We'd like to thank Jephren for taking the time to talk to us and for being one of our most dedicated supporters. We'll definitely be looking forward to seeing him live up to his pirate name in Sea of Thieves and expect him to be flying his pirate flag aboard his ship! We'll be back again soon with another spotlight, so keep tabs on our Facebook and Twitter pages and our forum for the latest updates.