As you’ve probably noticed, GoldenEye 007 is now 25 years old and can legally hire a car in a foreign country. The influence of Rare’s seminal shooter on the FPS genre and console video gaming in general is enormous, and gamers have now been poring over it and picking apart its secrets for the last two-and-a-half decades. It stands as a monolith in the gaming landscape, an artifact that’s spawned endless investigation, discussion, and debate. What is there left to say?
Well, while we’re all on tenterhooks waiting for an official announcement of the long-rumoured remaster — an announcement that seems to have been rumoured at every major video gaming event for the past year — we thought we’d look back on the game’s 25th anniversary with 25 facts you may or may not know, or at the very least might have forgotten! As we mentioned above, this is one of the most discussed video games ever made, with a bunker-full of retrospective articles, historical deep-dives, developer postmortems, and even documentary movies to its name, so forgive us if you’re a veteran who does know some of the nuggets we’ve picked out below.
So, after pausing for a moment to glance at the mission briefing on our natty watch from Q branch, let’s reload the PP7, diagonally sprint-strafe across the dam, and bungee headfirst into GoldenEye once more…
001: GoldenEye was developed by just a handful of people
Compared to the enormous core teams and outsourced staff that contribute to building today’s blockbusters, the core GoldenEye development team at Rare consisted of just 12 people (give or take, depending on precise definitions of ‘developer’, but that’s a conversation for another article). Most of them had never previously made a game, either.
Here’s a role call of the main development team:
- Martin Hollis, Mark Edmonds, Stephen Ellis, David Doak, Duncan Botwood, Karl Hilton, B Jones, Adrian Smith, Graham Smith, Graeme Norgate, Grant Kirkhope, Robin Beanland (elevator music)
It was the team above who worked incredibly hard, and under conditions that would rightfully raise eyebrows these days, for two-and-a-half years on a game which, through iteration and experimentation, would end up quite different to how it was originally envisioned…
002: It started out as a Virtua Cop-style on-rails shooter
Before the developers opted to give players free movement, the original plan called for Bond to wander through the levels on a pre-defined path, with the player only having direct control of his gun.
According to game director Martin Hollis, the first line of his 9-page design document read: “The game will be similar to Virtua Cop in terms of gameplay.” Yes, GoldenEye began life as an on-rails Time Crisis-style affair, minus the lightgun, although other influences exerted themselves over time.
“We couldn’t pretend we didn’t play Doom a lot,” Hollis told Edge Magazine at Christmas 1997, several months after release. “[The game] was pegged as being a Doom and Virtua Cop synthesis at the beginning,” added artist Karl Hilton. Plenty of inspirations, then, including Mario 64, which gave the team ideas around mission objective design, of all things.
Asked by Edge in the same interview if id Software’s Quake — the PC FPS multiplayer phenomenon of the day — had influenced GoldenEye’s multiplayer component, Hollis replied: “No, not at all,” with (Dr.) David Doak elaborating: “In fact we only played multiplayer Quake for the first time yesterday.”
You can briefly glimpse the original on-rails gameplay style in early demo footage used in this Nintendo 64 promo clip:
003: John Woo was another huge inspiration
As David Doak discussed in his presentation at the Norwich Games Festival, John Woo and his movies were another big influence on the game.
“We used to love John Woo and a lot of stuff in GoldenEye is John Woo-inspired. The whole ‘everything explodes’ […] And later Halo came along and suddenly having two guns was some kind of branding thing, like ‘dual-wielding’. And we were just going ‘well, we did it five years ago: it was called double guns!’ But that’s complete John Woo.”
Although you won’t find any slow-motion dove shots in GoldenEye, Martin Hollis also noted the explosive influence of Woo in the early design stages:
“Many of the visual effects and kinetic moments I took from Hard Boiled or other John Woo flicks. Especially, things exploding. Visually, there’s more to that than you might think.”
004: The developers toyed with using the Rumble Pak to reload weapons
Speaking to Now Gamer back in 2011, Steve Ellis confirmed a cool, if impractical, idea that the devs had around reloading your weapons:
“At one point, we were going to have reloading done by the player unplugging and re-inserting the rumble pack on the controller. Nintendo weren’t keen on that idea and I think it might have affected the pacing a bit…”
Slamming the Rumble Pak in with a satisfying click would have been a neat way to give some extra immersion in the secret agent world, that’s for sure.
There would have been multiple drawbacks to this idea, however, not least the fiddly button on the underside of the controller that you would have had to press to remove the Rumble Pak whenever you needed to switch out a clip. There’s also the issue that not owning the force feedback peripheral would leave you ammo-less, although we’d imagine this would have been an optional mode rather than a requirement.
Still, real pros don’t need to reload…
005: You can beat the game with one bullet (and a lot of patience)
A few years back, speedrunner ‘Goose’ proved it was possible to beat the entire game with just a single bullet.
Using various neat techniques worthy of 007 himself — plus a lot of karate chops — the speedrunner slapped and sneaked past guards, and tricked them into destroying equipment and completing objectives for him in order to finish every level of the game with zero shots fired.
The only insurmountable obstacle that required that one bullet? The lock on the gate leading to the dam in the very first level, Dam.
006: The multiplayer was added at the last minute
Okay, okay, you already knew this one. GoldenEye’s multiplayer was thrown in at the very end of production and took just six weeks to make. “It was probably about March or something when I decided that it would be a very good idea despite the deadlines,” Hollis told Edge Magazine. “Everyone was saying at that time that it wouldn’t be any fun with split-screen, it wouldn’t be any good.”
“I remember the first night when we got it playing on four-player and it was running at 8Hz or something,” Doak recalled, “and Bond was running around as if he was on a trolley, and everyone was Bond and it crashed every five seconds.”
“We managed to fit it in,” continued Hollis. “It was Stephen Ellis who had the task of implementing the multiplayer and he did an excellent job.”
Not half! Despite being a last-minute addition, for many of us, it is potent memories of huddling around a big CRT with three friends that define the game and make it such a beloved classic.
007: Martin Hollis regrets the name of the game’s worst gun
Inarguably the least effective weapon in the game, the infamous Klobb was named after producer Ken Lobb, the team’s principal Nintendo contact and a champion of the GoldenEye project within Nintendo itself.
“I do slightly regret naming such a poor weapon after him,” Hollis told Edge Magazine, “since I am tremendously fond of the man. He is astonishingly enthusiastic about games, even after years of working in the industry. It’s a little unfair that we named such a useless weapon after him. And for that I am sorry.”
Doak recalled joking with Lobb when the producer discovered the team’s tribute to him:
“I remember Ken came in excited one day and said, ‘You guys! You named a gun after me!’ We told him, ‘That’s the good news; the bad news is we named it after you because it’s loud and inaccurate.'”
All the guns in the game were based on real-life firearms, although their names were changed to appease a nervous Nintendo. Other renamed weapons include the DD44 Dostovei, another nod to David Doak, and Bond’s iconic Walther PPK. Where does ‘PP7’ come from, you ask? A combination of PPK and 007, perhaps?
“It just sounds good,” said Hollis.
008: As a movie tie-in, it arrived incredibly late
GoldenEye the film was released in November 1995; GoldenEye the game launched in August 1997, a full 21 months after the movie.
It seems unimaginable that the powers that be would give the developers nearly two years of leeway, but that’s exactly what happened. That’s not to say there wasn’t pushback, with Nintendo reportedly attempting to cancel the game at one point, but ultimately the dev team was given the time required. It ended up benefiting from publicity for the next film, Tomorrow Never Dies.
And hey, From Russia With Love arrived 43 years after the movie! GoldenEye’s release was positively rapid by comparison.
009: Oddjob players were officially cheating
It’s become part of GoldenEye lore that picking Oddjob — who is significantly shorter than any other character in the multiplayer portion of the game — is only for absolute cheaters or, at a push, younger siblings who you’d been told to let have a go and would be shooting mercilessly regardless.
Debate raged on playgrounds across the globe as to whether the Goldfinger henchman was fair game or not, but for the devs that added him to the roster there was no question.
“It’s definitely cheating to play as Oddjob,” said programmer Mark Edmonds in an interview with Mel Magazine. “But that can just add to the fun when you’re all sitting there next to each other and berating/poking/hitting the person who chooses him.”
“It was too much fun to take out and there was no impetus from any of us to change it,” added artist Karl Hilton.
In his GDC classic postmortem (which is definitely worth a watch), Martin Hollis said:
“To me, [Oddjob] is a social dynamics problem. You should be putting pressure on your friend to not be a cheater […] These little quirks, bits of sketchiness, I really strongly feel bring personality to the game.”