GoldenEye World Championships Golden Gun Trophy
GoldenEye pro Graslu (left) with me, your humble scribe — Image: Martin Watts / Time Extension

Last week, GoldenEye 007 celebrated its 25th anniversary. To mark this momentous occasion, the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, UK hosted its very own GoldenEye World Championships. Presumably taking its name from the fictitious tournament featured in the mockumentary film, Going for Golden Eye, the World Championships would confirm once and for all who the greatest GoldenEye player in the world is.

As grandiose as it all sounds, Jason Fitzpatrick, CEO and founder of the Centre for Computing History, told the audience at one point that the name was really just their way of having a bit of fun. Nevertheless, the tournament certainly attracted an international crowd, with players coming from Ireland and Spain to compete.

Every match was played on a CRT TV, ensuring good picture clarity and zero input lag. And while you could bring and use your own N64 controller, the museum’s own pads were all in really good condition

As a diehard N64 fan myself, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to partake. After all, the winner would take home a 3D-printed Golden Gun trophy. Who wouldn’t want that stunning piece sitting pride of place on their mantlepiece? (My wife, it would seem).

Martin Hollis (lead developer) and Brett Jones (character artist) also made an appearance, providing pertinent – and sassy – commentary during the finals.

Unsurprisingly, a museum dedicated to computing history is an excellent venue for hosting a retro gaming tournament. The Centre’s staff and volunteers made all the right choices concerning equipment. Every match was played on a CRT TV, ensuring good picture clarity and zero input lag. And while you could bring and use your own N64 controller, the museum’s own pads were all in really good condition. If you lost a game, it certainly wasn’t down to a loose joystick affecting your aim.

Entering the tournament was straightforward enough. Up to 64 players could sign up via the website and pay an entrance fee. Spectators were also welcome. Both ticket types provided entry to the rest of the museum, which is well worth a trip in its own right. To celebrate the occasion, the Centre put out special displays containing development documents and concept art provided by Martin and Brett respectively.

Sadly, only half the total number of competitors took part in the end – but this didn’t dampen the excitement of the day, as evidenced by the plentiful cheering and applause that accompanied each round.

So, how did it all play out?

Do You Expect Me to Talk? No, Mr Bond, I Expect You to Qualify!

GoldenEye World Championships -- qualifers
Image: Martin Watts / Time Extension

The festivities kicked off with a series of qualifying rounds during the day. These all took place in Centre’s quaint '80s-styled classroom, where many players received an education in the harsh reality of competitive GoldenEye.

The single-elimination format for this stage was punishingly brutal. Everyone was assigned a round, group and screen corner. Each group comprised four players, who competed in just one – yes, one – five-minute match against one another. Coming first secured you a spot in the semi-finals; second place or lower meant instant knockout. Needless to say, I sighed with immeasurable relief when I discovered I was in a different group to pro GoldenEye YouTuber, Graslu.

Logistically speaking, this format undoubtedly made things a lot simpler for the people running the tournament. But for some of those participating, it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to pay £12 and only get one very short game (it’s worth noting you could stick around for freeplay sessions afterwards though). One guy accidentally picked the wrong control setup before going into his match. Understandably, restarting wasn’t allowed. But without another chance to redeem himself, his tournament experience can be summed up as five minutes of staring at the floor of the Basement map. I hope he hadn’t travelled too far to be there.

One guy accidentally picked the wrong control setup before going into his match... his tournament experience can be summed up as five minutes of staring at the floor of the Basement map. I hope he hadn’t travelled too far to be there

Nevertheless, this intense format resulted in some undeniably exciting matches. Quickly, a clear gap emerged between the people who still play GoldenEye 007 and those who last picked it up over 20 years ago. If you wanted to come out on top, you had to throw yourself straight into the action with almost careless abandon.

I quickly realised this in my own qualifying match. While I was happy with the 'Automatics' weapon set, the Library map was far from ideal. This arena merges two other maps, Stack (upstairs) and Basement (downstairs) into one multi-levelled one. As a result, it’s bloody huge, and the action tends to be more spread out. Undeterred, I grabbed the first D5K Deutsche I could find and used my radar to charge directly towards the nearest player.

Five adrenaline-fuelled minutes later, I emerged the victor with eight kills and zero deaths. Not bad, but I had gotten lucky. Two of the players in my group hadn’t played in years. The other put up a very good fight, even forcing me to retreat in search of body armour at one point. But ultimately, I would win each shootout we had, enabling me to move on and start gunning for the others while he waited to respawn.

I was through to the semi-finals along with seven other players. Graslu had comfortably earned his spot. Another semi-finalist had matched Graslu’s record of 11 kills – the highest achieved in a qualifying match. Things were only going to get tougher from here.

With the qualifiers decided, the tournament took a break until the evening. Of course, that didn’t stop attendees from continuing to play the game together throughout the day.

No One Lives Forever

GoldenEye World Championships - Martin's qualifying round
Image: Centre for Computing History

The Centre’s team had done a fantastic job of transforming the venue for the high-stakes evening ahead. All the action would now take place in the main exhibition hall, which housed a remarkable multi-CRT TV setup for spectators. Coloured lighting and a large projector screen complemented it all, giving the tournament a slick, professional feel.

Before the action got underway, there was time for refreshments and a chat with the other players and spectators. Martin Hollis and Brett Jones were now in attendance, doing a brilliant job of making everyone feel welcome. Martin spoke to a group of us about how he would’ve liked to have included a tank mode in the game’s multiplayer, followed by a technical explanation as to why it wasn’t feasible. Another semi-finalist thanked Brett for their childhood. “You’re very welcome – thank you for my house,” Brett wittily replied.

The semi-finals comprised two 10-minute matches of four players, adopting the same knockout format as the qualifiers. The winner from each match would go on to compete in a head-to-head final of three rounds. Thankfully, the semi-final matches were limited to the Automatics weapon set – the last thing I needed was explosives. Brett and Martin, now acting as compères, started calling up the first group.

Another semi-finalist thanked Brett for their childhood. “You’re very welcome – thank you for my house,” Brett wittily replied

Up until this point, I had been praying to the GoldenEye gods I wouldn’t be in the same semi-final group as Graslu. He’s a lovely man, but I’d already seen firsthand how GoldenEye turns him into a relentless killing machine. If only he were in another group, perhaps someone else would knock him out and I’d have a clear run for the final? To paraphrase the classic GoldenEye quote: half of everything is luck – the other half is fate. I was in the first round, and I would be playing against Graslu.

Regardless, I went in with a hopeful spirit. As Graslu astutely pointed out to me after the tournament, it’s much harder to control the map in a four-player game compared to a head-to-head. With no turning back, I selected Alec Trevelyan, my go-to GoldenEye character. “WHAT!? Don’t pick Sean Bean – he always dies!” bellowed Brett into the microphone. “I’ll be fine,” I casually responded.

The game began, and the four of us found ourselves in GoldenEye’s Basement map. Not the map I wanted. That’s because all the action revolves around a single body armour spawn point, located at a T-junction connecting three very narrow corridors. What followed was messy, but it was also one of the most intense, thrilling GoldenEye matches I’ve played in 25 years.

A GoldenEye 007 multiplayer match in the 80s classroom
Image: Martin Watts / Time Extension

A minute or so into the game, I came to the realisation it had been unwise to ignore Brett’s sage advice. I was the first to die. Brett made sure to let the crowd know – and all 12 other times I died too. Despite this, I wasn’t doing too badly. At one point, I even killed all three other players in a row. But it was child’s play compared to Graslu, whose Ourumov stormed around the map at an astonishing pace. The considerable amount of time I spent in 00 Heaven waiting to respawn gave him plenty of time to mop up the two other players uncontested.

The game ended. I had come second with 14 kills – six of which were Graslu! But he’d taken me down eight times, and secured a whopping 22 kills overall. My GoldenEye World Championships journey had come to an end, and it had been a blast. I could sense my wife's relief now that she knew there was no way that trophy would be appearing in our living room (sometimes, there's just no accounting for taste).

The second group were up next, playing on Stack. Much like my own match, a clear frontrunner, Vince, emerged early on. His devilish accuracy with the D5K Deutsche easily won him the game, and it looked like Graslu would have stiff competition in the final. Or so I thought.

The Final Countdown

Semi-final - round one
Image: Martin Watts / Time Extension

As soon as the first head-to-head match began, it was clear that Graslu had it in the bag. Playing on Stack with the Cougar Magnum weapon set, he controlled the map with brutal efficiency, cutting off access to the body armour locations whenever he could. Vince put up a valiant fight, but it was all for nought.

For the second match, Vince got to choose his map and weapon set of choice. He picked proximity mines, which drew a loud “ooh” from the crowd. Perhaps this was his chance to turn things around?

It wasn’t. Graslu once again proved to be a merciless foe. After securing a comfortable lead, he even had the audacity to slap poor Vince to death. I pondered whether I had gotten off easy by going out when I did. At Brett’s request, both competitors played a final round of The Man with the Golden Gun mode. By this point, Graslu had already won the tournament, but that didn’t stop him from going for it. He decisively won the match.

With no one left to oppose him, Graslu was declared the GoldenEye World Champion. Brett and Martin shared the joint honour of awarding him the Golden Gun trophy. Later, I asked him how it felt to have won. “It’s great! And mostly a relief, to be honest. Imagine if I had to go home and say I lost in front of all my GoldenEye followers?” he joked.

The tournament was over. But it had generated such a buzz within the Centre that the celebrations continued for another hour. After almost 12 hours, people still wanted to play the game. Others congregated in the foyer with a beer (or a Cornetto in Brett’s case) and chatted away.

Ultimately, the Centre for Computing History achieved what it set out to do with its GoldenEye World Championships. It marked the 25th anniversary in style, doing so in a way that was true to the game's legacy. It was a cheerful reminder of good times gone — when multiplayer was as much about meeting up in person as it was duking it out in a virtual space. And while GoldenEye 007 is now dated in many ways, this tournament proved that it’s still incredibly fun to play in 2022.