GoldenEye 007 has been back in the news lately thanks to the confirmation that it's coming to Nintendo Switch Online and Xbox Game Pass. However, it's been known for a long time that Rare planned to produce an Xbox Live Arcade remake of the acclaimed shooter during the 360 era and, courtesy of Youtuber Graslu00, we got a full look at what that could have looked like. Since then, several people have managed to get their hands on the leaked remaster and play it themselves, either on modded Xbox 360 systems or via emulation.
As you might expect, the emergence of "GoldenEye XBLA" has led many to speculate on why it never happened. The complex rights relating to the game (it was commissioned by Nintendo and developed by Rare, but other companies – such as Activision, Microsoft, MGM and Eon Productions are also involved along the way) would have made it a tricky project to complete, and, since the remaster leaked, something of a blame game has taken place.
Some fans believed that it was Nintendo which caused the remake's cancellation, being the N64 version's original publisher (a fact perhaps not helped by Graslu00's video opening with "Do you expect me to remove this Nintendo logo screen? No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die"). Graslu00 was even accused of misunderstanding this situation, leading them to release a statement in which discusses the rumour that MGM and Eon weren't happy with the level of violence in the game, and imposed restrictions on future Bond titles relating to death and the amount of blood on-screen.
Former Rare staffer Nick Burton seems to back up this stance. He talked about the legal issues preventing a release back in 2008, saying:
That was a tricky one. To be fair, I kind of wished that the differences got sorted out, but obviously there's the licensing issue for Bond, even if it's something that's already come out. It's incredibly hard to solve because there's so many license holders involved. You've got the guys that own the license to the gaming rights now, the guys that have the license to Bond as an IP, and there are umpteen licensees.
It's a situation also not helped by the Bond licence holders, MGM and Eon Productions, who handle the film series based on Ian Fleming's literary super-spy. Speaking with MundoRare over a decade ago, game designer Duncan Botwood confirmed:
Licences are, by nature, highly restrictive agreements, and while GoldenEye 007 slipped past under the radar of the licence holders, the success of our game meant that subsequent games have been less fortunate, and probably less free from that kind of oversight in their development than those teams would have liked.
Furthermore, in 2016 Xbox head Phil Spencer said GoldenEye 007 had "always been a rights issue" rather than anything else. Case closed, right? Wrong.
A more contemporary interview with former Rare artist Ross Bury has given us some extra insight. Speaking with Ars Technica, Bury revealed how the game had been approved by everyone at Nintendo – or so they thought – until one company executive (who remains unknown, but it's not the late Hiroshi Yamauchi, we know that much) apparently brought the project to a halt when it was almost complete:
When it was put to Nintendo, everyone there approved it, except they didn't check with the one guy who mattered... I believe I was told his response went along the lines of, 'There is no way a Nintendo game is coming out on a Microsoft console."
Bury adds how this one guy's "orders trumped everything", which is believed to have included MGM and Eon's handling of the Bond video games at the time, according to Ars Technica.
Bury's comments have gained more weight with a recent interview with the core "GoldenEye XBLA" remaster team by Video Game Chronicle. Speaking to co-project leads Mark Edmonds and Chris Tilston, VGC backs up the sentiment that Nintendo was the main reason the game never saw the light of day.
Tilston explains the origins of the project:
In 2007 [Rare founders] Tim and Chris Stamper had left Rare and without their protective blanket the game we were working on at the time was shuttered. From my perspective, I felt a bit of a responsibility for the guys that followed us. We had a contact at Microsoft who said, ‘there’s this opportunity where Nintendo want to release GoldenEye, and in return you can do whatever you want with GoldenEye on Xbox’.
It seemed like a really good opportunity to give the team something to get stuck in to, because we were only a small team of eight. Nintendo reached out to Microsoft via our contact there [producer Ken Lobb], who we’d done a lot of games with before.
Everybody wanted it. For Activision it was free money, for Microsoft they saw it as a way of having a really large hit on Xbox Live Arcade, when there really hadn’t been a million-seller before. We weren’t privy to the details, we just thought Nintendo got to do what they wanted. Potentially they thought we were going to do a straight port on our side.
It would seem that the team began work before the ink was dry (or, indeed, before there was any ink on the contract at all) and Tilston recalls how the question of the project's feasibility was a running theme throughout development:
We’d send a weekly report to Microsoft to keep them updated and happy, but the issues on our side were always, ‘have we signed the contract?’ And it became a running joke for a while, because things were going so well apart from this one aspect that we didn’t have control of. We’d sync up every month and ask, ‘have they signed yet? Is this a done deal?’
The longer it went on, the more you started to think, ‘hmmm, there’s something not quite right here’. We started off with the understanding that Nintendo were perfectly happy, and Microsoft were perfectly happy. Rare were I assume happy that we were doing it and they just let us get on with it.
Instead of having eight people doing nothing all day, we were trying to be proactive and get something positive done for the company. It was only towards the very end that we realised that somebody at Nintendo had not asked or got permission of really whoever needed to be asked.
Edmonds adds that the team was under the impression that approval had been gained:
I’m sure at some point that we were all told as a team that everyone had approved it. I can’t remember when that was, but I remember somebody telling us everyone had approved it and it was good to go. Something must have changed after that.
That "something" is believed to have been Nintendo getting wind that the project – which it still hadn't officially approved, it would seem – was still in active development. When pushed on the definitive reason for the game's cancellation, Tilston replies:
From our side, we just heard that one group didn’t want to do it anymore – or was unhappy that the game that they believed originated on their platform was going over to Xbox. I can understand it. If you look at it from a purely mechanical point of view, Nintendo paid for the game originally for their platform – it wouldn’t have existed without them.
But we thought everybody was fine with it, otherwise we wouldn’t have jumped on board. Well, I think we were pretty quick jumping on board – we started it off pretty quick and lots of people were diving in before they could be dispersed to other teams. We started it before it was approved, but a couple of months in we were convinced that everybody was up for it and we had all their backing.
Tilston adds that, in his understanding, Nintendo was the reason for the game's cancellation rather than Activision, MGM or Eon. Edmonds concurs:
I don’t remember us hearing anything from Eon or MGM. I’m not even sure they were involved at all. I don’t even know if they would’ve had to give approval or not for the project.
It's worth keeping in mind that Tilston and Edmonds wouldn't have been involved with high-level discussions between Nintendo, Rare, Microsoft, Activision or any of the Bond rights holders, but given that they saw no evidence that MGM and Eon had a problem with the content of the game, it would seem that Nintendo is ultimately the company that is most responsible for GoldenEye XBLA not being released.
So, will the GoldenEye remaster ever officially see release? Speaking to Ars Technica, Edmonds says:
I can't see it happening, unless Microsoft buys Nintendo.
With the news that the 2022 re-release of the game is based on the N64 original and not the remaster (the Xbox version doesn't even have online multiplayer, oddly), it now seems that this lost gem will remain lost forever.
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Tue 9th February, 2021.