Multiplayer Wasn't Planned in 'GoldenEye,' and Other Things I Didn't Know
The iconic multiplayer mode almost didn't come together at all.
Image captured by author
Open Thread is where Waypoint staff talk about games and other things we find interesting. This is where you'll see us chat about games, music, movies, TV, and even sports, and welcome you to participate in the discussion.
I’ve been nursing a deep fascination with GoldenEye 007 lately. I loved the game as an eighth-grader back at launch, playing each stage endlessly. I was enamored with its weird post-soviet vibe and mission-based gameplay, which, at the time, felt like a major sophistication from other FPS games (or, DOOM Clones, in the parlance of the day). And, like any other 13-14-year old at the time, I played countless hours of its brilliant multiplayer mode with my friends, trotting it out at parties for a solid three years post launch.
But lately, nearly 21 years after launch, I’ve gone back to the game with a sort of new fascination. I’ve been watching speedruns every day, and learning about the tricks runners employ to shave milliseconds off of their best times. There’s something wonderful you can learn about game design from the art of speedrunning, since it ekes out every seam and hole in a game’s structure and code, showing any observer what it’s made of (sometimes in very literal terms).
I recently went back and watched designer Martin Hollis’ classic game postmortem from GDC Europe 2012 on the game, where he talked about GoldenEye 007’s inception, development, and reception for about an hour.
He could’ve gone on for six. In his modest tones, he talked about the small team’s wildly ambitious design. He introduced each team member with a recent conversation he had with them (collected for the talk itself) on what they remembered most about their time with the game.
Here’s maybe the most ridiculous tidbit that came out of that talk: the multiplayer mode, which came to define much of the conversation over the game’s success, didn’t exist until the last couple of months of development. “Really, we just threw in the multiplayer,” Hollis says. Steve Ellis, in a slide, says, “It really was put in at the last minute—something you wouldn’t dream of doing nowadays—and it was done without the knowledge or permission of the management at Rare and Nintendo.” He notes that if it had been in the original planning docs, or really, in the larger conversation about the game, it never would’ve made it in, since the game was already running late.
One of the most iconic multiplayer modes in gaming history was basically a throwaway add-on that Nintendo never really approved ahead of time. That’s WILD.
And there were no balance patches for N64 games from the 1990s. They had to build everything and get it right the first time, which is even more astounding, given that compressed timeframe.
Is Oddjob (the short character from the game, who was notoriously harder to shoot) a balance issue? Hollis laughs and claims that “to me, that’s a social dynamics issue! You should be putting pressure on your friend to not be a cheater!”
I’m not here to pretend this is a hot scoop. This talk was out in 2012, and I remember watching part of it back then. But that little tidbit evaded my conscious memory, somehow. It sounds like the team worked their butts off on the game. I can only imagine the unholy crunch that occurred. But I can really only speculate.
Hollis does remark on having incredible freedom from both the film production company, from Rare itself, and from publisher Nintendo, which allowed the project to go so long (at almost three years in development, which I understand was pretty intense for the mid-90s) and be so incredibly ambitious in scope.
Ok dear readers, it’s your turn. Do you have any special GoldenEye (or general multiplayer) memories? maybe some house rules around Oddjob? Sound off on the forums.