Goldeneye 007 is arguably the biggest example of a late-’90s gaming sensation that has remained trapped in its era. Unlike other hits from the same period, which have received remasters and digital-download options ad nauseum, this 1997 Rare game has laid dormant on the N64, likely due to a tangled web of licenses and company-ownership issues.
Three years ago, however, we finally saw hard proof of what many had suspected: that original developers at Rare worked on, and nearly re-released, an Xbox 360 remaster of the 1997 original. (Don’t get that confused with the ho-hum Goldeneye “reimagining” on the Wii in 2010.) We took a hard look at a 2016 leak, which confirmed the Xbox 360 project’s existence. At the time, we had ourselves a hard cry and moved on.
But this week, a massive video leak has reopened the wound of wondering what could have been—and it comes during arguably the most amicable period that license holders Microsoft and Nintendo have ever shared.
The most exciting footage is a pair of documentary videos, which add up to 30 minutes of polished, professionally edited interviews with members of the original Goldeneye 007 development team. One of the video files is titled “Rare Replay: The Making of Goldeneye 007,” and it has been put together in a nearly identical format as the documentaries in that Microsoft-published Rare gaming anthology from 2015. While the video footage isn’t dated, one interview includes a mention of fans thanking the development team “17 years later,” which would pin at least one of its interviews to 2014—arguably a reasonable window to have prepared a video for that disc’s launch the following year.
Some of these development stories have made the rounds over the years, including information about its SNES side-scrolling origins and how its four-player mode came near the end of development as a lark. But many of the stories will likely still be new to series fans, including stories about Rare’s photography of the film’s original sets and the allegation that a slew of skins for the series’ original actors as multiplayer characters nearly made it in… until Sean Connery’s licensing hold-up meant all other classic actors had to be removed. Original producer Ken Lobb also offers some interesting business minutiae: that he convinced Nintendo to send extra rental copies of the game to Blockbuster Video stores in order to boost the game’s visibility (a crazy move, considering how anti-rental Nintendo had been for years) and that the game’s Christmas 1999 sales outsold the game’s sales during Christmas 1997 and Christmas 1998… combined.
“We’ve always given up”
This week’s leak paired these documentary clips with a 30-minute explosion of B-roll taken from the Xbox 360 port of Goldeneye 007, which is even clearer and more demonstrative than the 2016 leak. After running through the entirety of the game’s opening level, the gameplay footage revolves around the port’s “graphics toggle” button, which would have allowed players to swap between the original N64 version’s textures and an updated slew of higher-res textures. Most impressively, this toggle showed a serious reworking of every major character’s face so that each film character now actually looks like his or her real-life actor.
But why would Rare and Microsoft have produced a substantive documentary about a game that didn’t see inclusion in Rare Replay? The collection included documentary snippets about unreleased games, and the company uploaded one mini-doc onto YouTube about a single game not on Rare Replay (the Game Boy Advance curio It’s Mr. Pants). But by and large, Rare Replay‘s documentary content centered on games on the disc as opposed to missing games like Wizards & Warriors, Donkey Kong 64, or Taboo. Did Microsoft expect the stars to align for Goldeneye in time for Rare Replay‘s mid-2015 launch?
Neither Microsoft nor Rare have publicly commented on the classic game being close to retail launch on Xbox consoles, beyond Xbox chief Phil Spencer saying in late 2015 that “Goldeneye rights are so challenging” and “we’ve always given up.” After Goldeneye‘s 1997 launch, EA picked up the film series’ gaming rights, which Activision consequently grabbed in a deal meant to expire in 2014 (which possibly expired a bit earlier). There’s really no telling exactly why the licensing powers that be haven’t joined forces to print money with a Goldeneye re-release, other than the likely answer that everybody wants a piece of the pie.
If it’s just a matter of Nintendo and Microsoft butting heads, that conversation takes on a different tone in 2019, a year in which former Xbox-exclusive releases like Ori and the Blind Forest, Cuphead, and Super Lucky’s Tale have found their way onto Nintendo Switch. But this week’s leak doesn’t include substantive information about why things didn’t quite work out, nor does it include any speculation on whether there’s an increased likelihood of a future Goldeneye remaster coming out.
Listing image by Rare