This year marked 25 years since the launch of GoldenEye 007, and to celebrate, there has been a book, a documentary, numerous panels, tournaments and the news that it’s finally leaving the N64 and coming to Nintendo Switch and Xbox.
I’ve attended a few of these events, I backed the book, bought the documentary… I even programmed and hosted one of the panels, the one that took place in front of a packed crowd at EGX in London.
You’ve probably heard the story before; the story of how a novice team was given free rein and three years to make a licensed James Bond game, deliver it two years after the film came out, and managed to create something industry-defining – a game that went on to become the biggest N64 title outside of Japan.
But there are countless little details and stories from the game’s development that continue to surprise. So after speaking with the devs at EGX, and hearing them talk during a 90-minute panel at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, I bring you 39 fascinating facts from the making of GoldenEye 007. Enjoy!
1) The Donkey Kong Country team was asked to make it first
Nintendo had been approached by the James Bond makers around the prospect of making a GoldenEye game. This opportunity was passed to UK developer Rare, a studio that Nintendo had a stake in and had experience with licensed games.
Rare founder Tim Stamper took members of the studio’s most famous team – the Donkey Kong Country team – to Leavesden Studios. This is where ‘Bond 17’ was being made, and a press event was taking place, with the cast in attendance. But the Donkey Kong creators weren’t interested.
“In the end, they decided not to make a GoldenEye game,” Martin Hollis said during the EGX panel. “I had heard this, and I went to Tim and said I'd like to make it. And that was it. It wasn't just a nod. He said 'make a game design document', so I made one, and he said, 'yeah, you can get started'.”
2) Nine of the 11 developers had never made a game before
Most of the GoldenEye development team were complete novices. Several had come straight out of University. Martin Hollis, the man in charge of the project, had worked on one game previously… as the third programmer on Killer Instinct.
Environment artist Karl Hilton told us: “We learnt almost everything about making games on GoldenEye. We honestly didn’t know what hurdles and difficulties we’d need to overcome because we hadn’t done anything like that before as we were all new to the industry.”
3) Character artist Brett Jones lied to get his job at Rare
“Karl Hilton and I were on the same post-graduate course at Bournemouth University. We sat next to each other,” Brett Jones told the audience at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge.
“He got a job at Rare, and I saw him at Graduation, and he said, ‘have you got a job?’. I said no. And he said: ‘You can come work at Rare, all you have to do is tell them this, this and this’. So I told them how much I liked Virtua Cop and things like that. And I got offered a job before the interview finished. It was a complete fib.”
Hollis responded: “I am very glad you lied.”
4) Dr David Doak was on the verge of quitting before GoldenEye
Dr David Doak is synonymous with GoldenEye for his appearance in the game. Yet before working on the project, he was getting ready to leave Rare. His job was to look after the graphics machines, and he hated it. He even had another job lined up in New Zealand.
“It’s like going to work in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but you’re the guy who fixes the fuses,” he recalled to the crowd in Cambridge. “So you’re seeing all these amazing things with Oompa Loompa’s dancing. And you’re there going, ‘what’s wrong? Oh, the plug has come out.’
“There was also a culture of constantly being there. And I got dissatisfied. I wasn’t creating anything. So I was going to leave. Martin said: ‘Don’t leave. Come and work on GoldenEye’.”
5) The team never saw that initial design document
Hollis was tasked with creating a design document for Tim Stamper, which got his approval. But he then failed to show it to most of the team.
“Mark Edmonds got to see the design document, he was the first person on the team,” Hollis said in Cambridge. “But the rest of the team... the first time Dave Doak heard about this document, I could tell he seemed sceptical. As if I’d written it after the fact. It’s not a proper way to run a project, really.”
6) GoldenEye could have been an on-rails shooter, but that was never the intention
A frequently told story is how GoldenEye was going to be an on-rails shooter, but that’s not strictly true. The game was always envisioned to be the one we received, but Hollis knew it would take a long time to make. If management didn’t give them the time to make the game they wanted, they had a backup plan to get it finished faster: make the game on-rails.
“We hedged our bets. Quite a lot of the rationale behind saying 'on-rails' [in the initial pitch document] is that we knew it would take quite a long time to create a big game with the adventure element that we wanted to have,” Hollis explained to a packed EGX room. “The fallback was to make it on-rails first because you use a lot of the same technology. Either it was a point where we could have terminated the project early, or if management gave us enough time, then maybe we could do everything we wanted.”
7) Sega's Virtua Cop was a huge influence, but Doom wasn't
GoldenEye is often praised for some of its innovative elements, such as how the guards would not just ‘run’ at you like they did in other shooters. And the fact that enemies had hit points, where things would play out differently depending on where you shot them. But Hollis didn’t think this was innovative because they just “copied it from Virtua Cop”.
8) At the start, they didn’t know anything about the N64
Part of GoldenEye’s development was based on guesswork. At the beginning of production, they didn’t know what the machine would be able to manage, they didn’t know what the controller would be like… they didn’t even know about the four controller ports.
“The key information was missing,” said Hollis at EGX. He also revealed that the initial design document even suggested ‘linking consoles together’ to enable multiplayer. When the full ability of the N64 was revealed, some levels needed remodelling, but thankfully, they got most of it right.
“We took a gamble that it would be able to do something like 1,000 - 2,000 triangles in a frame at 30 frames per second. And it pretty much paid off,” Hollis added.
9) Management left them alone
“We were on the back lot. We were out of sight and out of sound. The bosses didn’t come over every six months,” Hollis told the Cambridge crowd.
At the EGX talk, he added: “We didn't really go to management for say so for anything. I don't remember getting approval from them at all, except for if I wanted to add someone to the team, or to buy a piece of software.”
10) They weren’t allowed to feature the character of Jack Wade
The development team was able to use the characters and sets from almost everything in GoldenEye (and even past Bond movies). The one exception? The small side character of Jack Wade, played by Joe Don Baker.
“For some reason [Joe Don Baker] had negotiated a good contract,” said Hollis. Doak added: “We were specifically not allowed to have him. So that’s why he just comes up with some text in the Caverns level.”
11) They wouldn’t pay for use of the Eurocopter
Part-way through development, Martin Hollis received a rare phone call from outside the company. It was from a Belgian man representing Eurocopter, a helicopter used in the GoldenEye movie. They were demanding money for use of the helicopter in the game.
“We just renamed it the Euro Chopper,” Doak reveals.
12) Rare banned listening to music during the day
“We worked in dead silence,” Jones said. “There was no music. It was like a library. And that’s stayed with me my whole life. I can’t work and listen to music.”
Hollis explained: “There is a lot of information that travels between people in an ambient way. Someone grumbles, someone else is in the room, and a conversation gets started. They said you could listen to music from 5:30. Which was about halfway through our day.”
13) The team watched James Bond films over lunch
Martin Hollis borrowed the complete collection of James Bond VHS tapes from Tim Stamper, and the team would often watch them during their lunch breaks.
“We had half an hour for lunch, so we’d pile into Martin’s room, watch half an hour of whatever James Bond film we had, and go back to do some more work,” Jones said.
14) They kept a close eye on Turok
Nobody had made a console FPS before with an analogue stick. It was uncharted territory. The team was interested in what others were doing with their control schemes, and they were particularly fixated on Acclaim’s N64 title Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.
“We were always wondering what Turok was going to do,” said Doak to the Cambridge attendees. “The thing that they had shown was the dinosaur models, and they were nice and well-animated. And Turok was nearly always moving at a good frame rate when we saw it.”
Hollis added: “It was well engineered. It was like a racing game, because the stuff you’re going to see is pretty constant so that the frame rate could be pretty constant.”
15) Rope was hard to animate, so Bond dives to his death on the dam
In the movie, Bond leaps from a dam with a bungee rope. In the game? There was no rope.
“Today, you have very complex rigging tools to make rope work,” Jones told the EGX crowd. “At the time, you didn't. So what it would have been was one square that got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, which was not nice. It would have been very small, as well, because the camera was so far away. So in the end, we decided we're just not going to show it.”
Hollis added: “I am surprised that we didn't get an issue from anyone [in testing]. People can just use their imagination.”
16) The team wanted to channel the Roger Moore era
GoldenEye is a funny game. From shooting the hats off guards, the ‘no James Bond’ sign in Facility, the development team dressing as Russians and hiding themselves in the game, shooting people in the backside… the game certainly had its comic moments – and this was partially due to the team’s love of the Roger Moore era.
“Most of us were relatively fresh out of university, so I think we still had a slightly irreverent sense of humour and sense of fun that we brought into Rare every day,” Hilton said. “Putting slightly silly, self-deprecating things, such as the ’No Bond’ sign, just felt like a good way to keep the game light-hearted, which I felt echoed the way the Roger Moore films had gone. The films were action movies with a sense of fun, it seemed the game should try and have that too.”
17) Designer Duncan Botwood was beaten up during development, on purpose
“It was the best part of my day, really,” laughs Jones. “With GoldenEye, we had a motion capture system called Flock of Birds. What we wanted to do was make sure there was no anticipation when we were doing the motion capture. I would get Duncan Botwood into the motion capture suit, tell him to close his eyes, and then approach from different directions and just hit him. And hit him. And hit him.
“There are about 1,000 animations in this game, and it's pretty much Duncan getting whacked every single time. To the point, when you see [guards] getting pulled backwards, that is me with a rope around Duncan's middle yanking him off his feet. He did work hard for that game.”
Surely not the groin shots, too?
“I am sure that was hand animated… I am pretty sure,” Jones said, smiling on stage at EGX. Hollis added: “The one time we spared Duncan.”
18) The motion capture suit never got washed
Jones remembered: “Because the markers were sewn onto the suit, it never, ever got washed. It was used for Killer Instinct, then it went onto GoldenEye... Duncan was in that suit, and it did not smell good. It was like an old rubber smell.”
19) The team mostly censored itself
The GoldenEye team knew it had to walk a line between the violence of a shooter and the family nature of Nintendo. At one point, they had a test where a guard spewed huge amounts of blood when he was shot. But it was never anything they planned to use.
“It was awful. Wonderful. And Awful,” Hollis remembered. “It just kept on coming. Where is he keeping all this? It wasn’t right for Nintendo, or the Bond universe, either.”
Hollis said the team also shortened death animations and made sure bodies faded away so that corpses didn’t just pile up. He also decided against putting dogs in the game. “I thought there was no way on God's earth that Nintendo was going to allow us to shoot dogs.”
20) Sean Connery was (probably) the reason they had to remove the other Bonds
The team was given a document full of things they could use from GoldenEye and past movies. This included previous Bond actors, and in multiplayer, they had created models for Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore and Sean Connery. But late on, they were told to remove them.
“My surmise was that the film people were worried how much Sean Connery would ask for,” Hollis told me.
The development team gave all four Bonds an epic send-off with a four-player, first-to-100 deathmatch.
“I think it might have been Mark Edmonds who won,” said Hollis, responding to a fan question at EGX. “It may have been me. It could have been Dave Doak... let's just leave it.”
21) The developers relied on books to help with weapons and artwork
In a world without the internet (there was one PC with an internet connection within Rare at the time), the development team relied on books to help them with design. Jane’s Infantry Weapons book was used significantly as it featured firing rates as well as imagery. In one instance, Karl Hilton may or may not have scanned in images from a coffee table book on temples when designing the textures for the Aztec level.
22) They were told to use the Monty Norman theme as much as possible
“Howard Lincoln came around once during GoldenEye's development, the president of NOA,” Hollis remembered. “He didn't say much to us when he came down the corridor, but he did say, 'we paid a lot for this track, make sure you use it'. And we were like 'ok'. The work the guys [Graeme Norgate and Grant Kirkhope] did with all the music, it was just incredible. The amount of material they got out of that track...”