Beloved N64 FPS Goldeneye 007 is out today on Game Pass, and a wonderful excuse to revisit this all time classic postmortem on the game from GDC 2012 Europe. In the talk, creative director Martin Hollis walks through his history making games (and an amazing James Bond video he made with his brothers as a kid), his creative inspirations for the game, and about two dozen incredible anecdotes about how various aspects of the game came together. For fans of the game, whether you are revisiting on Xbox or not, it’s a treasure trove of GoldenEye, Rare, Nintendo and general 90s development lore.
One of the wildest parts, to me, is just how little the team knew about the N64 hardware (and controller) at the start of the project. Hollis mentions a “rumor” that the new system would have an analog stick on its controller, and muses early on about the possibility of a 007 light gun game (in the vein of 90s arcade staple Virtua Cop), which is listed in some of the early notes he shared in the presentation.
Hollis speaks to a lot of the foundational player experience goals and tone: at the very beginning, he asked how much humor and violence should come to play in the game. He makes a point about aiming for a very “Hollywood” tone of violence: exaggerated but relatively “clean,” without much gore. He references a pretty amusing (to me, at least) rundown, where he says “Street Fighter is less violent than Virtua Cop, which is less violent than Doom, which is less violent than Pulp Fiction.”
There’s also something sort of wonderful about how much the early design documents reference Virtua Cop but with much more (more characters, more scenarios, etc.). GoldenEye is, I think, much more fondly and widely remembered than the arcade shooter, but one can see it was an easy reference to a crowd that actually made arcade games at the time (Hollis was coming off of the arcade version of Killer Instinct when he started up the GoldenEye project). Nascent “formal” design notes are a fun anecdote for us in 2023, especially looking at how early the language of FPS games really was, even four years in. The main “idea” section mentions Virtua Cop, then states “Bond will move around the 3D environment, with a first person perspective screen-shot, and a weapon or item at the bottom of the screen.”
There is also mention, even earlier on, of having some adventure game elements, which you could argue do show up in the final design, in the form of mission objectives where Bond needs to talk to certain characters to get devices to unlock new areas (think of the infamous Dr. Doak in the Facility stage here, and the door decoder gadget).
Hollis is candid in the talk about the long hours he and the team pulled on creating the game, and just how ambitious a project it was. The game infamously launched well after the movie was out (well over a year and a half later), but it was also a rousing success, one of the platform’s all-time best sellers.
Key to that success, no doubt, was the game’s incredible multiplayer mode, which saw four players duking it out on the same system (this was revolutionary at the time, and thanks to the N64’s built-in four controller ports), in a wide variety of deathmatch variants. It’s forever one of my favorite anecdotes, just how hot multiplayer came in. According to Hollis and programmer Steve Ellis, there was no multiplayer to speak of until March or April of 1997 (the game launched in August).
Ellis is quoted in a slide here, noting “It really was put in at the last minute—something you wouldn’t dream of doing these days—and it was done without the knowledge or permission of the management at Rare and Nintendo. The first they knew about it was when we showed it to them working. However—since the game was already late by that time, if we hadn’t done it that way, it probably never would have happened.”
That is… incredible.
I fired up the game again today and sprinted around the first few levels, with mild trepidation that I’d find some familiar sights and sounds (I was a huge fan in 1997, mind), but a disappointing core. Thankfully, there was no need to fear, the porting team did a great job and the core experience holds up nicely. The pacing is still fantastic, the action is fast and relatively smooth for a 26-year-old FPS, and the vibes are low-poly immaculate. I played hundreds of hours of this game as a young teen, with friends in the multiplayer mode and by myself, exploring every nook and cranny of its evocative levels.
I was never an obsessive achievement (or cheat, excuse me) hunter in those days, in fact, I never even beat the game on Secret Agent or 00 Agent difficulty. But I loved it nonetheless: the way the music, graphics and overall atmosphere combined with the “make you feel like a spy” mission structure spoke to me much more than any other FPS at the time (or ever would, until I started playing Immersive Sims). Here’s to this wonderful, weird game (and its last-minute multiplayer mode), and to all the players who get to experience its fun twists and turns for the first time.