The Rebirth and Death of GoldenEye

The Rebirth and Death of GoldenEye

Written by Sean Colleli on 5/20/2008 for

After the shock and awe of Super Mario 64 wore off, it was clear that the N64 was off to a rough start. Troubled by software delays and technical issues, The N64 was losing more and more ground to the versatile and popular Playstation. Nintendo needed another killer app to buy them time.

They turned to one of their oldest allies, UK developer Rare. The British development house had a secret weapon in the works. It was an old project, starting life as a movie-licensed rail shooter for the SNES, but after a year in the oven it was now a full-fledged first person shooter. A small team of inexperienced developers toiled for two and a half years, finally releasing their game long after its movie counterpart had left theatres and gone to rental stores. GoldenEye 007 was born.

The game was a sleeper hit in every sense. The obscure little shooter began to get a reputation, as enthusiastic word of mouth spread throughout the gaming community. No one expected a movie tie-in game to change so much, but here was GoldenEye, quietly, modestly upending tea tables, to the surprise of even Nintendo.

Rare gave the N64 the life it needed, to keep going until Ocarina of Time was finished. Rare would continue to pull Nintendo’s behind out of the fire, releasing consistently great games that made Nintendo’s chronic software delays tolerable, but GoldenEye would stand out as their killer app. Its many innovations single-handedly revolutionized console first person shooters, and pioneered the concept of FPS deathmatch on a home console.

GoldenEye did for console shooters what Half-Life did on the PC—it showed people what was possible. It’s safe to say that Halo, Resistance Fall of Man and many other shooters owe their existence to GoldenEye. At the very least, the modern shooters we enjoy today would be very different without the influence of Rare’s pioneering FPS.

To this day, GoldenEye still has a strong and dedicated fan base, who explore the game’s code with ROM editors, hold multiplayer tournaments, and relive its memorable single player campaign.

So what happened to this legendary game? Where is its legacy? Rare’s spiritual follow-up, Perfect Dark, played similarly but was not set in the James Bond universe. The later Timesplitters series, made by ex-members of the GoldenEye team, was also similar but had an original story that satirized FPSs. Electronic Arts purchased the James Bond license soon after Rare gave it up, and made several games that tried to imitate GoldenEye but never quite replicated the magic of the original.

With so many games being re-made, from old classics like Metroid and Metal Gear Solid to recent games like Chronicles of Riddick, you would think that GoldenEye would be an obvious candidate for a facelift. There have been numerous rumors of remakes and sequels since the game’s 1997 release, but any hope of the game’s resurrection were stopped cold by a myriad of legal hurdles. Rare is now wholly owned by Microsoft, and the Bond license passed from EA to Activision. GoldenEye’s revival has been trapped in a mess of red tape for years, preventing it from being reworked or even offered on current download services, like Nintendo’s Virtual Console and the Xbox Live Arcade. That is, until recently.

When the Xbox 360 and Wii launched a couple years back, there were rumors that GoldenEye might show up on either console’s respective download service. It had happened for arcade classics like Pac-Man, and Nintendo was re-selling its old games, but for a year or two there was no word of a GoldenEye revival. In late 2007, the rumor returned with a vengeance, fueled by leaked reports that Rare was working to putting GoldenEye on Xbox Live Arcade.

Fans grew more hopeful as more information leaked out, and events came to a head in early 2008.  Based on information gathered from blogs and mainstream game journalists, I’ve constructed a timeline of GoldenEye’s supposed resurrection.  Keep in mind that none of this information was ever officially verified by Microsoft or Rare.  That said, the evidence is pretty compelling, and corroborated by numerous sources.  Below you’ll see how the serpentine sequence of events unfolded, with all of the sources linked in the entries.

Timeline of events:

November 26th 2006—Reginald Fils-Aime, COO of Nintendo of America, is interviewed by MTV’s Stephen Totilo.  Reggie comments: "Would I love to see [GoldenEye] on virtual console? Absolutely. But there are a lot of issues there. Suffice it to say we would love to see it, so we're exploring all the rights issues."  Nothing ever comes of these statements, and the interview is largely forgotten by the gaming community.  Joystiq reports on the interview, which has since been removed from the MTV website. 

November 28th 2007—A man calling himself Oddjaw2 starts a thread on the Penny Arcade forums, posting information about a full-fledged GoldenEye remake for Xbox Live Arcade, and includes a screenshot from the Facility level.  He says that he is a developer at Rare, and explains the origin of the project and why it was cancelled.  He makes some strong and surprising allegations; supposedly Reggie Fils-Aime was enthusiastic about the project, knowing how much it would mean to American gamers, but Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata shot it down. 

Despite having no legal power in the decision, Iwata supposedly threatened Activison with loss of Nintendo licensing, which was enough to make them pull out and thus kill the whole project.  Oddjaw2 alleges that if Nintendo had cooperated, Rare would have allowed GoldenEye to be released on the Wii’s Virtual Console, in addition to their other N64 games like Perfect Dark, Jet Force Gemini and Banjo Kazooie.

Oddjaw2 seems frustrated that Nintendo blocked the release of the project, which was near completion, seemingly out of pride and arrogance.  Oddjaw2 is ridiculed by some forum posters, and after challenging some of the statements made in other posts, he leaves the thread.  The other posters debate the validity of the info and the screenshots, making comparisons to the GoldenEye Source mod for Half Life 2.  The thread continues for six pages before being locked by a moderator. 

Oddjaw’s screenshot is presented below:

 

January 9th 2008Joystiq and Kotaku report a rumor that GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie and possibly other Rare games will be coming to Xbox Live Arcade.

 January 11th 2008— the rumor reappears in Electronic Gaming Monthly. EGM says that the Xbox Live Arcade version of GoldenEye is not a simple port but a remake, with enhanced graphics and Xbox Live supported multiplayer.  Unfortunately, financial disagreements between Nintendo and Microsoft killed the project.  1UP posts on the story, also implicating Nintendo in the death of the project.  They encourage readers to tell Microsoft and Nintendo how much they want the remake to be released.  Joystiq and Kotaku report the same news two days later on the 13th. 

January14th 2008—Kotaku allegedly speaks to sources within Microsoft, who were closely related to the GoldenEye remake project. These sources say that the project was mere months from completion, but Nintendo was responsible for halting the project.  Blame lies directly with Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata, who didn’t want any game that was previously exclusive to a Nintendo console to be released on another platform, period.  Kotaku advises that this is a one-sided source.  They also post the same screenshot revealed by Oddjaw2, and say that their sources “pointed [them]” to its location.

January 22nd 2008—Joystiq reports on a video posted to Gametrailers.com that purports to show the remade GoldenEye.  The video is a comparison of the Silo level from the original game and the new enhanced remake.  During the footage of the supposed remake, a frames per second counter is visible in the upper left corner of the screen.  The graphics and effects, particularly the guns that Bond is carrying, match those in the screenshots provided by Oddjaw2 and other sources.

February 21st, 2008—Kotaku reports that a European gaming magazine, Xbox World 360, promises to disclose major details about the GoldenEye remake in an upcoming issue.  The Xbox World 360 blog had been teasing its readers for a week by releasing pieces of a screenshot from the remake.  The next day on February 22nd the Xbox World 360 blog reveals the whole screenshot.  Joystiq confirms this on February 22nd, linking to the screenshot and the blog post.  Here is that screenshot:


February 25th 2008—The Xbox World 360 blog reiterates that the next issue of their magazine, set for release on Weds. February 27th, will have a four-page expose on the GoldenEye remake project and its demise.  They also say that they have confirmation from Microsoft, and include two new screenshots in the blog post. 

On the same day, Eurogamer reports that they spoke with Microsoft Games Studios.  Microsoft flatly denies any involvement with such a project, says that Xbox World 360 and their article are mistaken, and that they never spoke to them.  Joystiq and Kotaku report on Eurogamer’s remarks.

February 27th 2008—the issue of Xbox World 360 is released, containing the promised feature.  It begins by summarizing the forum posts by Oddjaw2 and the information he gave.  There is no commentary from Microsoft in the article, aside from the usual “we do not comment on speculation,” but the article does contain several high resolution screenshots and details about the remake.  The article ends by urging readers to contact Rare and Nintendo, and petition them to resume work on the project.

If the reports by these media outlets are true, then they document a truly exciting and ultimately disappointing event in gaming. None of the inside sources can be completely trusted without confirmation from Microsoft, Rare or Nintendo. Still, the long-lived nature of the rumor, substantial evidence like screenshots, video and numerous corroborating testimonials give this rumor far more weight and validity than common industry hearsay. The implications are staggering—such a remake would have sold millions of Xbox Live downloads and maybe even consoles, and with GoldenEye kicking off a series of Rare classics on the Virtual Console, Nintendo would make money hand over fist as well. Unfortunately, all evidence points to Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata giving the project a kiss of death.

Nintendo is known for being proud to the point of foolishness when they’re on a winning streak. The company’s former CEO, Hiroshi Yamauchi, was a visionary leader and brilliant businessman, but he made his mistakes. His pride caused him to burn bridges with Squaresoft around the time of the N64 release. Years earlier, Yamauchi pulled out of a cooperative deal with Sony at the eleventh hour, infuriating the company and causing them embarrassment at E3. This indirectly led to the birth of the Playstation; burned by Nintendo, Sony decided to make their own home console, and created the most formidable rival Nintendo has ever known, beating them soundly in two hardware generations.

Iwata should be proud that he guided Nintendo in a phenomenally successful new direction with the Wii and DS, but he should also be careful that he doesn’t repeat the mistakes of his legendary, but still human predecessor.

If Iwata didn’t want a once-exclusive game to appear on another console, he’s a little late on the trigger—Rare completely revamped Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Xbox a few years ago. In any case, threatening Activision to keep the GoldenEye remake down is foolish. Activision is currently the most profitable international game publisher in the world. Threatening them might solve Iwata’s rather trivial concerns in the short term, in the long run it might sour otherwise good relations with such a major industry player. Besides that, the threat itself seems childish. Pressuring Activision was really the only way Iwata could halt this project, and it looks like he almost did it out of spite.

It certainly doesn’t help Nintendo any. Besides the possible threat to relations with Activision, Iwata’s decision just doesn’t make good business sense. Nintendo has nothing material to gain from barring the release of a GoldenEye remake, and a lot to lose by doing so. Iwata is missing out on untold amounts of money by refusing this deal, from the millions in Virtual Console sales that Rare games would undoubtedly deliver. On a less material level, his rather stubborn and prideful decision is further damaging Nintendo’s reputation among hardcore gamers, who are already annoyed with the Wii’s overabundance of minigame collections, and serious lack of engaging material. The end result is the death of a legendary game, a squandered opportunity at huge profit, and the disappointment of legions of fans.

But it shouldn’t end there. If such a project was really that close to being finished, then it’s probably mothballed on some server deep within Rare headquarters. There is still hope.

This is a call to action for GoldenEye fans, owners of Xbox 360s and Wiis, and gamers in general: let’s make sure it doesn’t end this way. GoldenEye deserves to be reborn, and it’s time to vote with our wallets. Contact Microsoft, Rare and especially Nintendo. Let them know how badly you want this game to see the light of day—that you’d gladly pay for it. Tell them, respectfully and intelligently, that they are making a big mistake. Tell Nintendo that this is their chance to score big with American gamers, and make untold bundles of cash in the process. For such an epic remake, many hardcore fans would probably buy it for both consoles, and at a higher price than the going rate for VC or Live Arcade games.

What would’ve been a win-win situation was turned no-win by an arrogant mistake. Let’s show them it doesn’t have to be this way. Everyone can win.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

The Rebirth and Death of GoldenEye The Rebirth and Death of GoldenEye The Rebirth and Death of GoldenEye The Rebirth and Death of GoldenEye

About Author

Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.

Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile

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