In the world of video gaming, the 1997 classic ‘GoldenEye 007’ has maintained its unrivaled cult status for over twenty years. In 2022, the trailblazer of modern first-person shooters will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a comeback on computer screens across the globe. We got an exclusive first look into an early demo.
Do you remember countless hours of shooting your way past Trevelyan and his thugs, blowing them up with sticky grenades and sleepless nights in which you challenged your friends for a round of “slappers only”? Upon its release, ‘GoldenEye 007’ was believed to have a relatively low impact on gamers, but instead became a commercial and critical success. With an average rating of 9 out of 10 stars, units of the game literally sold like hot cakes. Until today, ‘GoldenEye 007’ is the third best-selling Nintendo 64 game with over 8 million copies sold and it is often referred to as one of the best video games ever made.
With its revolutionary gameplay in both single- and multiplayer, the detailed level design and an ultra-high replay value, the game captivated trigger-happy players around the world and thus created an entire generation of first-person fans. A 2010 reimagining of the game for the Wii console, using the likeness and voice of Daniel Craig, was largely received positively by critics but could not match the popularity of the original.
That same year, after five years of development, a team of dedicated game designers released ‘GoldenEye: Source’, a total conversion mod developed using Valve’s Source engine. The graphically detailed game remained faithful to the original levels of the N64 classic, but also offered new maps based on other James Bond films. In 2014 ‘GoldenEye: Source’ was named among the “Ten top fan remade classics you can play for free right now” by PC Gamer magazine. Though still going strong today and providing a more than solid gaming experience for thousands of online players, hungry for rapid multiplayer combat, a single player option remained a dream unfulfilled.
In-between, in November 2007, fans were left shaken and stirred when a Microsoft insider blurted out, that an Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) version of ‘GoldenEye 007’ was in development by Rare. It seemed like a solid deal, especially since not only the then Bond video game licence holder Activision had given its consent, but also Nintendo as the publisher of the original 1997 game.
Promising sleek new high-def graphics in 60 frames per second, fans were naturally hyped to see their favourite being ported to a modern console ten years after the release of the original. However, the project was abruptly cancelled, supposedly because Nintendo was of the opinion that “GoldenEye is a Nintendo product and should only be on a Nintendo platform”. Not wanting to get into trouble with the mighty Japanese video game company, game publisher Activision withdrew permission.
As popular as the classic N64 shooter may still be today, there is the all too modern problem of connectivity. Whoever feels the tingle to once again dust off console and controller to have a multiplayer party on a large screen or beamer, is forced to buy some additional, and often pricey, hardware first. Without an old TV or upscaler, your precious gaming experience will probably remain nothing more than a childhood memory.
This is where Ben Colclough (pronounced “Coke-lee”) from Kentucky, USA, comes in. The self-employed 3D game artist and lead level designer/artist for ‘GoldenEye: Source’ has taken up the immense task of porting and remastering the original N64 game to the Unreal Engine. The Bond Bulletin got an exclusive first look into an early demo of the Facility level, the first tracks of the musical score and caught up with Ben to discuss, how he came up with the idea and what players can expect from the upcoming game.
“Many people primarily played GE64 for the multiplayer”, says Ben. “I actually spent most of my time in single player. The single player design is so amazing, yet there hasn’t been a great remake for the campaign. The XBLA port was shaping up to be just what we GoldenEye fans wanted, but, as you know, it was cancelled.” On the possibility to introduce a single player into ‘GoldenEye: Source’, Ben said that the team did consider doing a single remake a couple of times, but understandably decided it was too much of an undertaking. “I finally decided I better take the initiative to make my dream of a faithful GoldenEye single player remake come true!”
Being a self-taught 3D artist, Ben Colclough earns a living by selling his 3D models on the internet. He has always specialized in models for games because that is where his passion lies. As much effort and expertise porting and remastering ‘GoldenEye 007’ for modern computers requires, it could probably not be in better hands right now. “The levels are built from scratch, but I use the original game’s geometry as a reference”, Ben explains. Most level layouts will be almost identical to those of the original game. The changes are largely visual. In some cases I’ll add more environmental detail. For example, the dish and surrounding jungle will be added to Cradle.”
Judging from the early demo of the Facility level, where 006 is captured by General Ourumov, much hard work and thought has noticeably gone into every pixel. The textures look incredible, the added details are well placed and the lighting, complete with matching shadows and reflections, is fittingly eerie for the soviet era setting (in the film, the Facility scenes are set in 1986). Design on Facility began in December 2017 and four months later, the beauty of the almost finalized level knocks your socks off.
It is a pure joy to just walk through the level, yet undisturbed by enemies. With every digital step forward, both appreciation as well as dedication for the source material become increasingly palpable. “I’m paying lots of attention to blending the original game, modern gamer expectations, the GoldenEye movie, and real world locations in just the right balance. I often think about what details the original Rareware team might have added if they’d had more powerful hardware.”
You can indeed feel that a Bond fan is behind it all. A welcome sight, especially since the last James Bond video game ‘007 Legends’ was a critical and commercial failure, catapulting British game developer Eurocom into oblivion just one month after release. In December 2012, Eurocom finally ceased operations – an unglamorous end to twenty-four years in the business and a total of seven James Bond games including ‘James Bond Jr.’ in 1990, ‘Nightfire’ as well as the reimagined ‘GoldenEye 007’ for Wii.
“The trickiest part is adapting the game for modern PC’s and modern gamers”, Ben explains. “Mouse and keyboard controls are more precise than the N64 controller. The people who play ‘GoldenEye 25’ will probably also have far more experience with first person shooters now than they did when they first played GoldenEye. Thus, it may be necessary to make the game a little more difficult than the original.”
According to Ben, adjusting the difficulty of the game could be done with implementing a better AI and more enemies (snipers placed in the towers in Surface who can see over the railings, for example). “This is just speculation on my part and only thorough playtesting will reveal how much the game needs to be changed for a modern audience.”
For the music of ‘GoldenEye 25’, Ben turned to Swiss composer Yannick ‘GoldenZen’ Zenhäusern, who had previously delivered in-game music for the multiplayer shooter ‘GoldenEye: Source’. Additionally, he scored many 007 fan tributes, event trailers and the first ever James Bond fan documentary ‘A Bond For Life‘ which premiered in 2016 in support of UNICEF. Himself a huge Bond fan, ‘GoldenEye’ has always held a special place in Zenhäusern’s heart.
“First, I only had the original game which introduced me to the film with Pierce Brosnan”, he says. “That immediately turned me into a Bond fan. The film still fascinates me today and I have rarely experienced such an intense atmosphere. The cast, the sets, the dark mood and also how the music works as a perfect symbiosis to the image. Therefore, it is indeed a dream come true to be part of both ‘GoldenEye: Source’ and ‘GoldenEye 25’.”
Missing cues on the official soundtrack prompted Zenhäusern to replay them on a rattly keyboard. This, in turn, led to the passion for composing music for films and games. The many hours of experimenting with different equipment and having a finely tuned ear for the incomparable Bond sound, made him a household name among Bond fans and industry professionals alike.
“Yannick serendipitously offered his amazing skills and I didn’t hesitate to bring him on”, says Ben Colclough. “I was familiar with his work from ‘GoldenEye: Source’ and knew he was perfect for this role. He goes beyond simply remixing songs and breathes his own style into his tracks. We try to work on levels and the music for them at roughly the same time so we can feed on each other’s creativity!”
While you can check out the first track for the upcoming game on Facebook and Twitter, The Bond Bulletin got an exclusive first listen to the finished Facility level music. Unlike the graphics in the game, the music deviates from the original of the N64 game with completely new soundscapes, leaning more towards the soundtrack of the 1995 film. No wonder, given that Zenhäusern is also a big admirer of composer Éric Serra.
“Basically, it is my goal to begin where the GoldenEye soundtrack left off”, says Zenhäusern. “Just as if you discovered a treasure trove of unknown Serra compositions, previously hidden away in his vault. It has taken me many years to emulate and extend the sound, thus creating a modern and yet classic interpretation of it.”
Beside equipping his home studio with some original 90’s synthesizers, this process involved many hours of recreating some of Serra’s most recognizable sounds as faithful as possible, while also inventing new ones to fit snugly into this soundscape. “Just like the graphics of the original 1997 game, the developers were massively restricted by technology. That’s why they were only able to minimally resemble the film score. Now, the gaming experience with its redefined graphics is leaning closer towards the film, so why shouldn’t the music do the same?”
Game designer Ben Colclough is equally impressed by Yannick’s approach to the music. “I love how the new tracks provide the Éric Serra vibes. Even though Yannick’s music is new, it evokes feelings of 90’s nostalgia. The songs have great pacing and add so much to the sense of immersion. They encourage the player to advance without needlessly distracting him.”
Last but not least, there is the important question of whether the game will be available for free or a commercial release is possible. “‘GoldenEye 25’ is completely free in every way”, assures Ben. “We don’t have the rights to GoldenEye or James Bond. This is strictly a fan tribute to the original game. We’re going to remake the game completely from scratch. No assets are taken from the original.”
Having evaluated every aspect of the early demo we were given, the music and overall feel of the remake, the four year wait for the finished game almost seems unbearable. Asked on how fans can support Ben and his team in their endeavour, following them on Twitter and Facebook is just what’s needed at this point. “We seek ideas and input from the community! Eventually we’ll need playtesters and the most dedicated fans will be good candidates for such roles.”
The Bond Bulletin wishes to thank Ben Colclough and his team for this exclusive first insight into a classic being reimagined and we will continue to cover and support the project.