GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64 is without doubt one of the greatest and most important video games of all time. However, it got off to a shaky start, and never looked like becoming the resounding success it was.
In fact, it was written off by everyone until it was eventually released, two years late.
Here are five reason why GoldenEye 007 should have failed that actually let to its success.
It was released way too late
GoldenEye 007 should never have been allowed to be a success. At E3 in 1997, the convention’s second year, it was written off as a disaster by most. The movie on which it was based was released over two years ago. The sequel — Tomorrow Never Dies — had finished shooting and was preparing for a release in cinemas before the end of the year. Why would anyone want to play an experimental game based on the old movie?
At E3 in 1997, it was written off as a disaster by most. The movie on which it was based was released over two years ago. The sequel — Tomorrow Never Dies — had finished shooting and was preparing for a release in cinemas before the end of the year.
Doom was still the undisputed king of the first person shooter genre, but already four years old. Numerous clones had failed to make an impact, and the Michael Pachters of the day would have been declaring that there was no future for FPS games on home consoles.
E3 was Rare’s (Rareware at that stage) chance to showcase what it had achieved after two-and-a-half painstaking years of development. From all reports, nobody was too impressed from the showroom demo. Even worse, most E3 goers walked past it.
How on Earth was such a game a success?
For one, Rare needed every second of those 2.5 years. While a licensed game released so late would be a financial disaster for publishers now, the evolution of 3D gaming in 1997 was more important.
Programmers originally envisioned GoldenEye being a 2D side-scroller for the Super Nintendo following the success of the Donkey Kong Country, until the allure of the yet to be released “Ultra 64” was too much to ignore. Still, even then, the early design was on-rails and nothing like the game that captivated a generation.
While the massive delay should have caused GoldenEye to drown in its own misery, it’s actually the biggest reason for its success. What GoldenEye 007 achieved wasn’t possible until 1997.
Developed by a bunch of n00bs
The GoldenEye 007 development team wasn’t of the pedigree one might expect of the third best-selling Nintendo 64 game of all time. Only a handful of people worked on the game during its first year, and when more were hired, eight had never worked on a video game before. Never.
Such inexperience was actually a blessing in disguise. The talented staff tried and did things that more experienced developers would have shied away from. They weren’t afraid to innovate because of previous mistakes.
And even when they almost ruined everything, Nintendo was where to keep them in-check. There was early talk of removing and reinserting a Rumble Pak to reload. As cool as that would have been, it was totally impractical, and too many Nintendo 64 owners didn’t have one at that stage, let alone four. When a man walked into Nintendo’s office suggesting such madness, the elder did the right thing and said, ”Rareware man, you imbecile, that’s rubbish!”
With such brilliance, comes a few bad ideas.
It’s a freaking licensed game
Licensed games still carry a stigma of being terrible. If anything, that was even worse in 1997. The Donkey Kong Country development team would have enjoyed overindulging in free champagne at promotional events for the GoldenEye movie in 1994, but none of them would have been excited about somehow working on it.
Nobody had ever made a good James Bond game at that stage, and “tie-in” was code for cheap cash-in. Actually, it still is. However, with nothing to compare it to, Rare was free to do as it pleased.
The original design report said: ”The game will be similar to Virtua Cop in terms of gameplay,” which was true during the early stages of development. But with nothing to compare it to, and no reputation to uphold, Rare was free to take the risks that would pay off in more ways than anyone could ever have predicted.
Multiplayer was an afterthought
Multiplayer is why we remember GoldenEye 007 so fondly, and it was merely an afterthought. Steve Ellis joined the team 18 months into development as the man responsible for taking the single-player elements and crafting them into a multiplayer game. It was a side project, essentially completed by one man. Sure, it had never been done before, but how hard could it be?
GoldenEye’s multiplayer changed the face of gaming, but nobody could have predicted that during the testing phases before development kits, using a modified Sega Saturn controller. With such tight deadlines, and only just over a year with the final Nintendo 64 technology, Rare couldn’t have dedicated more resources or time to the multiplayer.
One man was all they could afford, and luckily, he just happened to change video games forever.
It was a Nintendo 64 exclusive
Shortly after GoldenEye was released, Half-Life debuted on the PC. Meanwhile, Metal Gear Solid amazed gamers who adopted Sony’s PlayStation.
Both had little impact on GoldenEye’s sales because it was released at a time when being exclusive actually meant something. Nowadays a first party publisher would never secure the rights to a licensed franchise like Bond, and third parties would look to whore it out on as many consoles as possible. Just look at the re-imagining of GoldenEye. It was meant to be a Wii exclusive, but within a year, it betrayed itself for the enticing dirty sales on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
The opposite held true for GoldenEye.
GoldenEye had stiff competition in ‘97/98, but the major releases were exclusive to their respective platforms. It couldn’t have competed against Half-Life as a PC game, but as a Nintendo 64 exclusive, it was the premium shooter.
Likewise, it worked in Nintendo’s favour. Most gamers have at least two platforms now, probably even more factoring in the rise of mobile and PC gaming. The console wars were still alive and raging in 1997, and exclusives like GoldenEye gave reason to pick the Nintendo 64 over the PS1, an expensive PC, or whatever Sega was trying to do. GoldenEye arguably wouldn’t have been successful as a multi-platform release.