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Remembering Goldeneye 007 – 20 Years Later

by Team VooksSeptember 8, 2017

Last week Goldeneye 007 turned 20 years old and it made us all feel a little old. To celebrate we’ve got the team together and some special guests to ask about their memories of the game and the effect it had on their lives and on the industry as a whole. This first part has our contributions and some contributions from people in the media.

Stay tuned for our next part as we’ll have two fine people who worked on the game itself.

This game was the cornerstone of my love for gaming and my N64. I was a fledgling writer for N64 Gamer magazine and was given GoldenEye as my very first review. I went in without any expectations and was utterly flawed by its atmosphere and depth. Having the honour of explaining to Australia why this game was so revolutionary and why they should all play it was pivotal in my decision to turn my back on my law degree and spend the following 20 years as a games journalist.

I was a young uni student, seriously neglecting my studies in favour of playing Goldeneye with my mates. So when I got the opportunity to write for N64 Gamer and my first review turned out to be Goldeneye, I was thrilled beyond words. I thought Goldeneye was the greatest videogame I’d played in my life. So the opportunity to tell 100,000 Aussies about the game was an honour I took very seriously. I felt convinced this game was years ahead of its time and provided hundreds of hours for players, so I did my best to convince as many people to play it as possible in my review.

Since then I’ve been lucky enough to work at a range of media outlets, including IGN, Twitch and ABC TV’s Good Game. I’ve helped create hundreds of hours of broadcast TV and live-streamed video online, both in studio and in the field.

Screen looking – back before the days of full-screen online gaming, playing Goldeneye with four players all on the one TV led to a very different dynamic since everyone else could see where you where on the map and what gun you had. I remember trying to be sneaky by looking at the floor or walls to intentionally make it harder to guess my location if I was being hunted by someone with a far better weapon. To prevent screen-looking we even once went to the trouble of using a video-out socket on a TV to run the game across two TVs, then we put newspaper over half of each TV. Lots of trouble to go to but when you play a game for hundreds of hours you get creative.

Proximity mines – A friend of mine was obsessed with proximity mines and would lay them everywhere as traps whenever he had some. Unfortunately for him he wasn’t the best at leaving himself an exit from his minefields. I lost track of times I would hear the noise of the proximity mines… ‘thwack, thwack, thwack’ then ‘oh shit’ followed immediately by explosions, after he’d accidentally blown himself up yet again.

I’m not entirely convinced that Goldeneye, which I loved deeply and will always think of fondly, was actually a good game. I think what Goldeneye did – and what makes it worth remembering and talking about 20 years later – is sketch out and map the way forward.

Goldeneye launched at any interesting time, when 3D console development was still a relatively fresh concept and developers were working out how to map an FPS to the N64’s weird three-pronged controller. Goldeneye showed off what Nintendo’s new machine was capable of – while we had Turok already, here was an FPS game that felt grounded, to some extent, in the real world. The smeared textures on your enemy’s blocky heads were recognisable as faces, the levels closely resembled sets from the movie (by 1997 standards at least), and it was relatively believable that you were a spy going on secret missions. Crucially, it was also a Nintendo published game explicitly a game not designed for children, which represented an expansion of the company’s audience and image. The weird design quirks, empty narrative beats, and bad design decisions were secondary to the game’s ability to actually realise the complexity it was aiming for. This maybe doesn’t excuse the fact that one mission opens with an unarmed Bond being interrogated, with a loaded gun left on the table immediately in front of him, but few felt the need to complain.

The multiplayer was fun, but also, I’m sure, pretty broken. Oddjob was much shorter than the other playable characters, making him harder to hit, and any player who picked up body armour had double the health of the others. If one player just hovered around the body armour spawn point, it was very hard to do anything about it. Weapon balance was not really something taken into consideration, and most of the maps were just single-player mission maps with certain doors locked. But wow, did it eat up a lot of my time anyway. The core mechanics of Goldeneye were solid enough to make the frustrations worth dealing with.

For whatever faults it may have had, Goldeneye worked. Its iconic moments – the Facility toilets, the tank bit, the huge open control room full of destructible televisions – showed off what the N64 was capable of. The escalating difficulty system, which gave you more objectives depending on your difficulty level, was extremely clever. ‘Hold R to precision-aim’, the forbearer for down-the-sights aim schemes and a holdover until controllers adopted a second stick, allowed you to aim where you wanted easily. When Bond and Natalya made out in the jungle under the end credits, it felt earned, even if the game didn’t invest much time or effort into their relationship (killing the truly great Sean Bean on the Cradle level is, I suppose, its own reward).

Goldeneye also launched at a point where games criticism was in flux, and our ideas of what games could do were constantly shifting. It’s hard to imagine now, considering each game’s respective cultural impact, but when Turok 2 launched it was considered by many to be a superior FPS game. Perfect Dark, which was a huge step forward for Rare as a piece of FPS design, made Goldeneye irrelevant in some people’s eyes. At the time, I was reading three different Nintendo magazines that would regularly reappraise games and shift scores depending on how they held up over time. Super Mario 64, Goldeneye, even Ocarina of Time, shifted in estimations over the console’s lifespan, dipping in esteem as new games released.

All of those games are very fondly remembered now, of course, but Goldeneye has definitely aged worse than most of the console’s other classics. Perhaps that doesn’t really matter, though. Perhaps, twenty years later, we should remember that Goldeneye showed us that games could do amazing things now, that Nintendo was more open to embracing adult audiences, and that cutting-edge FPS experiences weren’t just for high-end PC users anymore. Plus, of course, the game’s worst gun (the Klobb) was named after Nintendo’s Ken Lobb, and it’s hard not to love a game so willing to take the piss out of someone.

I remember the first time I played Goldeneye pretty well. My parents were hosting a dinner party with all their friends. Usually when this happened it wasn’t a big deal if us kids were hanging around, but tonight was meant to be a classier affair. In order to keep us out of the way, we were given five bucks and sent to the corner deli to rent out a game of our choosing. Naturally, that game was Goldeneye.

We were hooked from the get go. We’d never really played a game like it, especially multiplayer. We must have played it for about seven hours straight, falling in love with the Stack map the most. We played it so much, that night my brother and I both mentioned how when we closed our eyes we could still see the green and grey walls of Stack moving around. Later I learned this is called the Tetris effect.

The greatest weapon, of course, was remote mines. Sure, you could strategically place them about the map in hallways you think your opposition will travel down, but what I liked to do was run at them, throw a mine towards their face and detonate it mid flight. Speaking of weapons, we had a house rule that you could not kill each other unless you both had a weapon. This meant you could hunt down the gun of choice to start the next battle. That was until we agreed you could slap the other person to death if they didn’t have a weapon.

Goldeneye was also the game that taught me how to camp — without even know what camping was. I’d position myself on the catwalk above, in a particular corner that gave me a view of every door and entry way into the main center square. I became especially deadly here with the grenade launcher.

In the single player mode we also discovered we could play cooperatively, thanks to the dual controller setup option. One person would move and the other would aim and shoot. This also allowed our dad to enjoy the game. We would just have to shout “SHOOT! SHOOT!” to make sure he’d kill the bad guys.

As a youngun I did play a lot of Goldeneye, but I don’t think I ever managed to beat all of the missions alone. This year however, I sat down and committed myself to doing so. I was pretty happy that I was skilled enough to beat it. On Agent of course. I can hardly beat the Dam level on Secret agent, let alone any of the others.

It boggles my mind to think about this, but I was eleven when Goldeneye came out and despite it being so long ago I can think back to times we played it and remember it so vividly. I didn’t get Goldeneye on release, I don’t even have a Nintendo 64 until 1998 but back in those days kids actually went to their friend’s houses to play games and we played the crap out of Goldeneye. What’s even weirder his parents wouldn’t allow them to have the game, so we rented it – every week until they got it. Really, they only have FIFA98 – Road to the World cup!

Goldeneye multiplayer was rough, having now learned how it was developed in a matter of weeks you can see why its the way it is, how the Nintendo 64 struggles with it – but you didn’t care back then. There wasn’t anything (on consoles at least) that was any better and being able to see where your friends were just wasn’t a problem. There were ways around this like hiding in corners, filling your 15cm square screen with low-resolution textures to hide and watching them try to find you.

The game wasn’t just about multiplayer either, it’s what everyone talks about when they reminisce about the game but the single player was a revolution for its time. Branching difficulty levels, punishing fail states, advanced AI, and location based damage on enemies. Goldeneye was one of the first games to adjust the amount of damage taken by enemies depending on where you shot them. Some other games had different rates for headshots, but nothing else had arms, legs, chest and head damage. It added a bunch of strategy to a game and could make the difference between you surviving and mission and failing.

Goldeneye is still one of the few games I’ve ever actually gone back and completely finished and with good reason – cheats. Different missions on different difficulties completed under a set time would unlock cheats for both single player and multiplayer. It would take multiple runs to get these missions done perfectly.

There’s so much to touch on in Goldeneye, the soundtrack, the cheesy dialogue, set-pieces, unique missions and throw back bond secret levels. Goldeneye built the standard upon all first person shooters were built on from that point on.

It’s really hard to back to now, but Goldeneye remains in my heart as not only a great memory but a precursor to making video games better in general.

During my upper-primary school years, I was obsessed with anything and everything James Bond – in addition to gaming, of course. I watched all of the movies that were out at the time, taking a particular liking to From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me. I even got those 007 newsagent magazines that included trading cards and ridiculously specific Bond trivia. In year six, I made a film based on the 2005 game adaptation of Russia – with no legitimate props and locations to speak of, and using my neighbours (ranging from 5-11 years of age) as actors, my film was an absolute mess. A beautiful mess. But that’s a story for another time.

Point being, James Bond was my life. And GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64 was the catalyst for it all.

My Mum (bless her cotton socks) was always wary of my brother and I playing violent games, especially those featuring excessive blood and gore, so I never played the popular shooter until some years after its initial release. I first got my fix of the 90s classic at a friend’s place, where we stayed up late into the night alternating between single-player and the legendary multiplayer. All of this, on a school night! I was drawn in by the thrill of completing objectives in high-pressure situations and it was endlessly cool running around as Pierce Brosnan, who I had seen in Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough – bizarrely, I had not yet seen GoldenEye. Then, when I finally saw Brosnan’s first foray as the MI6 agent, my love of the N64 game increased tenfold. I could actually play the exact scenes I saw in the movie, which was an incredible experience.

People far more qualified than myself can discuss the mechanics of GoldenEye 007 and how it revolutionised the first-person-shooter genre, but my adoration of the game is from a very simple place. The game captured the thrill of being a secret agent like no other title did at the time or for many years to come. The likes of Agent Under Fire, Nightfire, and Everything or Nothing had their moments – even the Wii remake of GoldenEye was solid – but none ever reached the authentic Bond experience of GoldenEye 007.

“For England, James?”

“No. For me.”

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About The Author
Team Vooks

When more than one of the Vooks team writes something together we use this account to publish it. No mere single account can hold us all.

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