GoldenEye 007 (often mislabeled GoldenEye 64) is often rightfully cited as one of gaming’s classics. Great design, addictive gameplay, actual objectives other than reaching the end of the level, reloading (!), and a multiplayer mode like nothing else ensure that it always holds a place in the canon of the first-person shooter.
But one point I often feel is seriously overlooked is the game’s sheer faithfulness to the film. This is not faithfulness in the way we currently assume film-to-game faithfulness works. It doesn’t have any cutscenes worth mentioning, no audio dialogue, and it commits the great adaptation cliche of inserting filler where there was none in the film. A ten second fight with Xenia in the film turns into a ten minute traipse through the jungle in the game, for instance.
Instead, this is faithfulness in a spatial sense. For a game released in 1997, it really is remarkably similar to the sets used in the film. Martin Hollis, producer and director of GoldenEye, has some very interesting points to make about this:
Karl [Hilton] constructed levels based on the film sets, which we visited several times. And Bea [Jones] constructed characters based on the photos of people and costumes we had. Later on Duncan Botwood joined the team and constructed levels. All of us immersed ourselves in the Bond universe.
One important factor was this. The level creators, or architects were working without much level design, by which I mean often they had no player start points or exits in mind. Certainly they didn’t think about enemy positions or object positions. Their job was simply to produce an interesting space. After the levels were made, Dave [Doak] or sometimes Duncan [Botwood] would be faced with filling them with objectives, enemies, and stuff. The benefit of this sloppy unplanned approach was that many of the levels in the game have a realistic and non-linear feel. There are rooms with no direct relevance to the level. There are multiple routes across the level. This is an anti-game design approach, frankly. It is inefficient because much of the level is unnecessary to the gameplay. But it contributes to a greater sense of freedom, and also realism. And in turn this sense of freedom and realism contributed enormously to the success of the game.
After all these years of playing GoldenEye, I can’t watch the film without somehow feeling like I’ve been there before. I’m continually surprised by Bond’s ‘wrong’ turn in Facility, minutes into the film (watch it – you’ll see what I mean), and I always feel like there is so much to the Bunker scenes not shown in the film.
In short, I’m not surprised that one of the most routinely lauded adaptations of all time concentrates on an approach to space. It also intrigues me that both of my entries to this series of posts so far have been adaptations, when we so routinely criticise the genre. I have a few suspicions as to why, but I might save them for a later date.
Therefore, what better way than to let the game make my argument for me? I’ve got some images for comparison below. Apologies for the poor quality of some; finding images of GoldenEye 007 online is harder than you think. They all follow after the jump.