How did GoldenEye's multiplayer grow from a single paragraph of a 10 page design document?

Director of the N64 hit Martin Hollis talks about the game’s now legendary multiplayer mode.
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Illustration by Sam Richwood 

Illustration by Sam Richwood 

“No Oddjobs, yeah?”

This was the rallying cry in living rooms and university accommodation up and down the country after Rare’s 1997 hit GoldenEye released on Nintendo’s N64 console. But just how did the diminutive, much despised, bowler-hatted henchman make the final game?

To explain that we have to wind back a bit. Martin Hollis, the game’s director, starts by telling us about how multiplayer grew from its original seed: a bare paragraph in the design document that suggested two consoles could be connected together to allow two players to duel.

“I was thinking that [multiplayer] would take a lot of horsepower.” Hollis says. “It seemed it wouldn’t be practical to fit two players on just one console.”

At this early stage, Rare’s development team didn’t even know what the N64 was going to be like: the controller, the more unusual features, concrete details on how powerful it was, and even the name of the console were still unknown when development started.

“It was a shot in the dark, with multiplayer just an idea on a bit of paper at the beginning of the project.”

The game, which famously had Shigeru Miyamoto fax the Rare team to suggest the game ended with the player shaking hands with every enemy they had ‘killed’, owes the existence of its multiplayer to something more family friendly: Mario Kart 64.

“Pretty late in the day, we had been playing a bit of Mario Kart in the team. We played a lot of the N64 releases back then for research. Mario Kart provided totally incontrovertible proof that it was possible to make multiplayer, and have it be fun…

Mario Kart 64 was a blast!”

So, the team started thinking about how to add multiplayer in the game, which Hollis admits was partially to help Nintendo out, but also because they wanted it for their own enjoyment. The console had four ports on the front, and a plan was starting to come together.

“We were punishingly late by that point, over schedule,” says Hollis. “But I went to a programmer, Steve Ellis, and I told him to go and add multiplayer to the game: four players over split screen.”

Within a couple of weeks, Ellis had a working prototype. He was the last programmer to join the team, someone Hollis describes as a “very talented” coder. Rare and Nintendo were left out of the loop as, with the game behind schedule, it was hard to say if the management would be okay with it. Though Hollis admits a lot of other aspects of the game flew under the radar, with Nintendo and Rare both supportive and trusting of the team behind GoldenEye.

In short, until around March or April of 1997, there wasn’t multiplayer in the game. That it made it to launch in late August seems to have been largely due to the efforts of Ellis, GoldenEye’s art team and programmer Mark Edmond. He did the character animation and had to go over the system again to make it work for the four-player splitscreen.

“It was a big challenge,” Hollis says. “In the four-player game, you can see up to twelve characters on the screen, because in each of the four windows, you could see three other characters. So it’s very taxing on the machine to do all that. It’s not something we really envisaged, or budgeted for, from the beginning.

“A lot of the project was: ‘it would be great to have this. Oh, it doesn’t work. It’s running a bit slow, maybe hammer it down?’,” says Hollis with a chuckle. “So we’d squeeze it down, make it go just a bit faster, cut off a few of the edges.”

Many of the problems with GoldenEye’s multiplayer implementation ended up being technical – the game didn’t have a crouch animation at this point, because you could never see yourself, so it wasn’t important. Adding extra players meant that you could see other players crouch – this created a need for an animation.

“We just sort of did a...” Hollis pauses for a second. “...I’m just gonna say a half-arse job. There wasn’t the time. This meant people used to skate around on their knee when they were crouching in multiplayer. Mostly, people don’t crouch, so it’s fine.”

Another big issue was some of the heavier explosive weapons. In the single-player game, players would be cautious when they got a grenade launcher for example. In multiplayer, people would immediately dump the entire magazine, which created a lot more explosions, and a lot more for the team to do.

While Hollis said he was keen not to include too many Bond-like diversions into the game, at the risk of making it a mess of different elements, he does wish that the team had had the chance to add the tanks from the game’s campaign to multiplayer.

However, Hollis’ biggest regret from development isn’t even something the team did, but a legal issue.

“About halfway through development, we had four Bonds in the game. We had Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. You could play as all those different Bonds in single player, but also in the multiplayer mode.

“So you could have four friends [playing as] the four different Bonds, which was awesome. Because, everyone has an opinion about who the best Bond is. And it’s a very matey moment. So that’s great, but then Nintendo let us know we couldn’t have the four Bonds in, for legal reasons.

“We were very disappointed and chose to see them off with one last game, with the four of us on the team, who were very key in the multiplayer. We chose one Bond each, and we said goodbye to them with a match of first to a hundred kills.”

Speaking of characters, we finally come round to the Oddjob question. How did the much-maligned character make it into the game?

“It was all done in a bit of a rush. We were sat down in a room and trying to think: what characters can we get in? Let’s have a tall one and a short one.” says Hollis. “This was implemented, and when I played as Oddjob, it seemed pretty acceptable. My recollection, honestly, was that if I was Oddjob I’d just get shot in the head loads because I was running around at that height.”

Hollis says that on reflection it’s disrespectful to players to provide something that creates a social problem for them: “How do you deal with that person who chooses Oddjob?”

Hollis admits that there was someone in the Rare office on a team assembled after GoldenEye’s release that played Oddjob religiously.

Hollis wouldn’t name them, but they knew the rules. They know what they did wrong.

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