Image: EON Productions / MGM

Editor's note: This piece was originally published in December of last year, but to mark the arrival of GoldenEye 007 on Switch and Xbox, we're republishing it. Enjoy!

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”.

“I don't think I'd even played Doom when I wrote the document,” he said in Cambridge. “I just played Time Crisis, and a lot of Virtua Cop. Mark and I loved those.”

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.”

Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

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.”

Your humble scribe (left) speaks with Martin Hollis (middle) and Brett Jones (right) during a talk about GoldenEye at EGX — Image: Chris Dring

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.”

Goldeneye's development team celebrating the AIAS award for the game — Image: David Doak

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...”

23) They recorded the sound effects of getting shot in a corridor

GoldenEye didn’t have voice acting, but there were sound effects whenever a guard was shot (or crushed by a tank). And this was recorded within the barn the team was working in.

“There was a corridor that went down the side of the rooms in the stable,” Hollis explained. “Graeme Norgate put a lot of blankets over it to dampen down the sound, and then he got everybody on the team to come and make noises into a microphone. I think everyone on the team did it.”

24) Nintendo was furious when they missed the Christmas 1996 deadline...

A three-year development cycle for a game in the 1990s was almost unheard of, let alone one based on a movie released two years earlier. The team were given the time to make the game they wanted, but that didn’t mean management was happy about it.

“Howard Lincoln sent a very lovely fax telling us off for missing Christmas,” Hollis remembered. “I think I'd forgotten the deadline even existed. It was a three-page fax telling us off, saying it compromised Nintendo's relationship with retailers and so on. It was quite severe. But really, there was nothing to be done, other than carry on.”

Karl Hilton's desk at Rare — Image: David Doak

25) ...but Nintendo actually helped a lot

“I think sometimes the whole team was cross by some of Nintendo’s feedback, but I tend to think they know what they’re doing,” said Hollis during his Cambridge panel. “I think Nintendo added a lot with the feedback they gave us.”

Doak added: “Especially Nintendo of America and the Treehouse, which was their testing and design feedback. I remember coming in to a fax about one of the Surface levels. We just added the thing where the level starts and there’s a camera in the world giving you a little taster. And it was the night-time one, and the camera view was the satellite dish at a reasonable distance, and it’s foggy. I remember getting a fax with the bugs, but with the message ‘we really liked that, it sets the level up’.

“It felt like we had these other team members. At the time, a lot of us felt it was ten of us who made this game. But actually, there was an enormous support system outside of the room. And those guys really helped."

Hollis added: “No question.”

26) Steve Ellis really did perform miracles with multiplayer

With four months to completion, Martin Hollis turned to his latest recruit – a brilliant programmer called Steve Ellis – to try and get a multiplayer mode working.

“I wanted it to happen,” Hollis said. “We had run out of time. I had forgotten how many deadlines we had gone through. I was confident Steve would be able to do it. So I asked him if he could bang it out. Just get it working. It doesn’t need to be done well. And he did it, and it worked, and it was good.”

But a lot needed to be done. Specialist maps with lower polygons needed to be created because the single-player maps were too big for split-screen. They had to optimise the characters… and they had to work out how to do crouching.

“James Bond can crouch [in single player], but you don’t see it because it’s first-person,” Hollis said. "But in multiplayer, you can see it. So we did a bodge where they kneel down, and you sort of skate around. Nobody cared and nobody filed a bug. Because it was fun enough, and if it’s fun enough, you can win people around.”

27) Brett Jones ‘only’ did 6,000 hours of overtime

“You'd come in at 8:15 and leave at 9 at night. That was normal,” Jones said during our talk at EGX in London. “You'd have lunch and dinner there. We were in Twycross. And Twycross is a village in the middle of nowhere. There is no village shop. There is nothing outside of a zoo. There was nowhere to go. So you stayed at Rare and you did your work. I did over 6,000 hours of overtime on this game, and I was right at the bottom of the overtime list.”

Hollis joked: “Brett was one of the slackers on the project.” Then added: “Mark probably did the most, and I was probably second. We pretty much didn't do anything else except work and sleep.”

Hilton continued: “I remember never ever feeling it was unpleasant in any way. Making the game was generally hugely fun, and as my first job in the industry, I was very happy to being paid to work on the latest console with the latest software making a game from a film series I liked a lot. I even remember telling myself to remember how much fun it was as I suspected I might not be so lucky in the future.”

28) The team mocked up their own box

As the deadline neared, the dev team was sent a file of the box art for their approval.

“We were so excited,” Doak remembered. “Because we realised… they are actually going to make this. It was exciting to print something in colour those days. And we cut it all out and taped it together. And we did this Checkpoint Charlie handover in the entrance to the stable, where [Martin] was handing me the box and I was wearing a Russian hat and an overcoat.”

Hollis adds: “It was a team morale thing. One day it will be in a box.”

29) The team had to make a few final cuts from the game

The Hunting Knife was removed from the Japanese version of the game due to real-life horrific murders in Japan (the Kobe Child Murders). Brett Jones was also asked to remove Baron Samedi’s cross as it was religious iconography, which is why the character is wearing a bar instead. “That was the only feedback I got with any of the characters,” Jones said.

David Doak hard at work at Rare's HQ — Image: David Doak

30) They tried to add opening credits, but it was too much

Right at the end of development, Jones started to create a sequence akin to GoldenEye’s opening musical number. But it didn’t run well, and there were space considerations, too.

“It was only a 12MB ROM. I get emails bigger than that now,” Hollis said. “GoldenEye [the film] did refresh the titles and had a nice render of the gun barrel sliding around, so we replicated that. But we couldn't [get the credits] to run at 30 frames, so it was the easiest thing to just [does cutting motion].”

31) David Doak had plans for Ourumov’s briefcase

General Ourumov carries a briefcase in GoldenEye that he can drop if you shoot him. The idea initially was from Doak, who wanted fans to collect items on certain levels and get some form of acknowledgement by the end.

“It was a great idea. But whatever you do from level 1 doesn’t flow to level 2,” Hollis said. “The level is either unlocked, or it is not. Things like weapons don’t carry through. So, unfortunately, we couldn’t do it.”

32) Brett Jones wanted to have female guards

“I made female Moonraker guards, but they came out because we weren't allowed to shoot women,” Jones said. “But that changed with Perfect Dark. You could shoot anybody in Perfect Dark.”

33) The Killer Instinct team got illicit ROMs made

The ‘Killer’ barn were huge fans of GoldenEye’s multiplayer mode and got the QA team to create illicit ROMs so that they could play it at lunchtime.

“I ended up walking down a corridor and saw them playing GoldenEye at lunchtime,” Hollis recalled. “That was an endorsement.”

34) Nintendo’s QA team asked to do overtime on GoldenEye

The game was such a hit with Nintendo’s testers that they were clamouring to do overtime in order to play the game. This was Hollis’ “first inkling” that the game might actually be well received.

Rare's former Manor Farm HQ, where GoldenEye was made. The development team was based in the converted 'cow shed' at the top of this photo — Image: Time Extension

35) The team had no idea the game was good as it was

Despite a little internal positivity from testers, the GoldenEye team had no idea that they’d made something special. “Our heads were down 12 hours a day,” Jones told me. “There was no internet, you had no contact with the outside world. There was no social media or checking your contacts. We had no idea.”

Hilton said: “I was too close to it for too long to be a good judge. Because it was a movie tie-in and previous movie-based games had generally been awful, I expected there to be some reticence or negativity to the game. It wasn’t until E3 [two months before release] when it started to get some positive previews from gaming magazines that I thought it wasn’t going to be a failure. You can never predict the sort of reception it eventually had, though. That was a surprise to me.”

Hollis added: “All I can say is that a few of us on the team really liked playing the game. But there was no exterior judgement over the course of the project that was fed back to you. Nobody said it was a good game.”

36) Finishing the game and returning to normality was surreal

When asked about the weirdest thing that happened during development, Jones said at EGX: “You mean outside of being locked in a barn for three years and not seeing anyone?”

Hollis continued: “That's a pretty good candidate for the best possible answer. When the project was finished, I remember walking outside in some street and thinking, 'this is what it must feel like to get out of prison'. You see people walking around, and it's very unreal. It was absolutely normal but felt completely weird.”

37) Blockbuster played a big role in the game’s success

GoldenEye topped the rental charts in Blockbuster for two years, but it was all part of a shrewd marketing move by Nintendo.

“Nintendo’s Ken Lobb, who was like our fifth Beatle, he did a deal in the States where they put the carts into Blockbuster, into rental, on a no-charge thing,” Doak revealed in Cambridge. “And rental sales were converting into purchases. People might play it and complete it, but they can’t play the multiplayer again if they rented it.”

38) David Doak forgives people for shooting him

One of the most common things fans say when they meet Dr David Doak is ‘sorry, I shot you’, due to his appearance in the Facility level.

“There’s this Catholic thing where I absolve people for shooting me,” he laughs.

39) GoldenEye DLC might have included cars and a volcano deathmatch level

GoldenEye 007 came out at a time before DLC. But what if they could have added to the games?

“I wanted to do the submarine base inside the Icarus tanker from The Spy Who Loved Me and the volcano base from You Only Live Twice,” Hilton said. “They would have been a challenge, but really cool.”

Hollis doesn’t think they would have done DLC, but there was one concept left on the cutting room floor: “One of the things is that we could have made it a racing, skiing, shooting game. Then you'd get the cars. We made the decision 'no cars', because it was hard enough to make a good shooting game without trying to make two other types of good games at the same time.”