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How the fans made Goldeneye’s 25th anniversary one to remember

Martin Hollis, Brett Jones and Karl Hilton on the 25th year reunion

GoldenEye 007 is an iconic game.

It was the N64's best-selling title outside of Japan and topped the Blockbuster rental charts for two years. But away from sales metrics, its influence on the industry was pronounced. The console shooters that followed – the good ones, anyway – lifted many of the game's innovations. And what's more, it inspired a generation of kids.

I was one of those kids. Christmas 1998 I received my N64 and GoldenEye. What followed was an obsession that saw me (and my friend Simon) set up fansites and fanzines, all devoted to the Nintendo 64. It was a moment I can legitimately point to as the reason I am here doing this today.

I am just one of many. There are numerous developers, journalists, publishers, marketers and more who were motivated to get into this industry because of the hours spent slapping each other in multiplayer.

The game's development is a remarkable story, in many ways. The studio had been approached to make a James Bond game, but after looking into it, decided against it. That was until Martin Hollis – whose only previous experience was working as the third programmer on Killer Instinct – heard about it and approached management with a pitch. He then built a team of novices. Out of the 11 people that worked on GoldenEye 007, only two had made a game before.

"It's bizarre to be a cultural icon and show up in The Guardian"

Brett Jones

It arrived almost two years after the launch of the film. The game's defining multiplayer mode was added in just a few months before release, without any involvement from senior management.

The mere idea that a group of graduates were given free reign, and three years (unprecedented at the time) to make a James Bond game with very minimal oversight would be an absurd idea today. But not only did that happen, GoldenEye 007 delivered on a level nobody expected.

GoldenEye 007 is a gaming legend. Yet, unlike other such titles from the 1990s, it remains an N64 game. A few games bearing the GoldenEye moniker followed, but that original, era-defining shooter is still only playable (officially, anyway) on an N64 console.

The reason for this is because no single company 'owns' GoldenEye 007. Nintendo published and funded the game, while Rare developed it. Rare is now 100% owned by one of Nintendo's rivals: Microsoft. Meanwhile, James Bond is an IP controlled by EON Productions, who have since tightened up their rules around James Bond games post-GoldenEye's release.

It means that over 25 years there has been no ports or remasters (despite some valiant attempts) of that original game. And there is no single company who would be able to put together a 25-year celebration of GoldenEye 007, either.

Nevertheless, a celebration has happened anyway. Those kids that were inspired by GoldenEye are not kids anymore. They run gaming expos, they curate museums, produce books, film documentaries and write for The Guardian. And it's this generation that has made sure that GoldenEye 007's 25th year didn't just pass by without comment.

The Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, UK, held two GoldenEye 007 events. There was a World Championship tournament in August, and an excellent talk with the developers in May. The latter even featured the ability to play GoldenEye multiplayer on four screens, and the museum managed to get hold of the unfinished GoldenEye remake (initially planned for Xbox 360 before it was canned) and had it running on a 360 development kit. If I could have spent all evening playing it, I would have.

Elsewhere, Boss Fight Books created its most ambitious history book so far, with significant input from the game's developers (I eagerly await my hard copy). Many of the GoldenEye team also appeared in the Goldenera documentary, which aired on Sky Documentaries in September. As well as telling the GoldenEye story, the documentary also featured extensive pieces on the fandom that exists to this day.

And I got involved, too. I invited the team to EGX, the UK biggest consumer event that our parent company operates, to take part in a panel and a signing session. Every seat was filled and you can watch the session below. Afterwards, we even held an on-stage GoldenEye tournament, featuring the recently crowned World Champion. There's a 13-year-old boy inside me who cannot believe his luck.

The original development team played a massive part in making the GoldenEye 25th year a special one. And it all began with a reunion, organised by Hollis, which took place at the end of last year.

"We all met up for dinner at an Indian restaurant, where a lot of the development happened during the three years that we made the game," says Brett Jones, who worked as a character artist on the shooter. He also handled motion capture along with various other jobs. "So we got back together and had a lovely meal, in a weird way, because it was 25 years later."

Hollis quipps: "It was surprising how much everybody looked the same."

The year has been a bit of a whirlwind for some of the team, who have travelled around conducting talks and interviews. One of the celebratory pieces, penned by Simon Parkin, even appeared in The Guardian.

"It's bizarre to be a cultural icon and show up in The Guardian," jokes Jones.

Hollis adds: "Brett keeps reminding me it's in the Culture section. We're like, 'Okay, we'll take it.'"

Karl Hilton, who was environmental artist of the game, continues: "The affection and apparent longevity of the game continue to surprise and delight me. It's wonderful and very humbling to have been involved in creating something, especially a video game, that wasn't short-term or transitory but something that has had such lasting impact on people. It's great."

Of course all the panels, signings, tournaments, documentaries, books and articles have made for a special year. Yet it turned out we were wrong to doubt the ability of Rare, Nintendo and EON in being able to come to terms on a new release.

The team at Rare may be focused on new IP these days. There's the upcoming Everwild, and the ongoing support for Sea of Thieves – its current major first-person action game. Yet it found the time to get the various parties to come together and agree on releasing GoldenEye from its N64 prison. 'Soon' a port will be available on Nintendo Switch (featuring online multiplayer) and a remastered version will be coming to Xbox Game Pass. Both versions were announced simultaneously in September.

"It looks like [Rare has] done a very straight port, which I think is absolutely the right thing to do"

Martin Hollis

"It's quite weird really but also very nice to see it again," Hilton tells us. "I'd love to see the game running at a good framerate."

Hollis concludes by saying he thinks Rare is doing the right thing with the new GoldenEye release, even if some of us are still hopeful for that full remake somewhere down the line.

"How do I feel? Where's the cheque?" he says laughing.

"It feels fine. It is 2022 and the game came out in 1997. There have been a lot of games that have come out since 1997 with the name GoldenEye. Initially it was a bit difficult for me because you feel an attachment. But nowadays, it's fine. It is nice to see [our work come to other consoles].

"It looks like they've done a very straight port, which I think is absolutely the right thing to do. As soon as you touch any of the geometry in the game, it'll start to mismatch the game mechanics. I think it's just safer to do what I think they're going to call it, a remaster."

Author
Christopher Dring avatar

Christopher Dring

Head of Games B2B

Chris is a 15-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who