Goldeneye 007 and Adaptations
StoryScan: Critical Hit
StoryScan: Critical Hit highlights specific aspects of individual game narratives that are exceptionally well done. In this essay, we’re covering Goldeneye (Nintendo/Rareware, 1997), the classic Nintendo 64 shooter based on the James Bond movie of the same name. This essay will cover content up through the end of both the movie and the game. Players who have not completed the game (or seen the movie) may want to set this article aside until later, as it contains substantial spoilers for the main storyline.
From child-friendly Super Mario to grim-and-gritty Grand Theft Auto, video game history is overflowing with long-running franchises of every genre and style. Video games aren’t the only medium with fabled franchises, however. Every sector of the entertainment industry has its tentpole intellectual properties, and there’s no better example than Hollywood’s long-standing love affair with the movie series. Properties like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominate the current cinematic discourse, but they’re not the first franchises to capture the imaginations of movie-goers worldwide. The series has been a mainstay of movie theaters for decades, and few long-running franchises are more famous than James Bond.
Based on a series of novels by British novelist Ian Fleming, the James Bond series spans twenty-five movies produced over seven decades. Each film follows the eponymous spy James Bond, an agent of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency, as he travels the globe subduing enemies and seducing women. This simple yet entertaining formula has given the franchise worldwide recognition, and with that recognition comes merchandise, copycats, and countless adaptations. One such adaptation is the 1997 Nintendo 64 game Goldeneye 007 (Rareware/Nintendo), a reimagining of the Goldeneye film as a console first-person shooter. Developed by a team of fledgling programmers and released almost two years after the tie-in movie, Goldeneye 007 defied middling expectations and sold millions of copies, becoming the highest-selling Nintendo 64 title in the United States.1 Although there are many reasons why Goldeneye 007 did so well in the west, one of the contributing factors was the creative freedom the developers had to adapt the source material for the medium. Rather than attempting to match the movie’s script beat-for-beat, the developers added and subtracted from the material at will. The result was a story that fit the needs of both the genre and the medium, paving the way for the best possible gameplay experience.
From Theaters to Consoles: The Adaptation of Goldeneye
The Medium is the Message
Movies and video games can both tell stories that follow similar conventions, but some elements that work well on the silver screen don’t translate well to the game-pad, and vice versa. Different genres within both media forms have their own needs, and specific franchises come with their own expectations. As an action series with roots dating back to the earliest parts of the Cold War, the James Bond series has built up an elaborate list of identifying markers. Any given Bond movie is guaranteed to feature fast cars, loud gunfights, dazzling set-pieces, bombastic villains, clever gadgets, and scantily-clad women in dire need of seduction. Each of these elements requires some amount of screen-time (along with a healthy budget). One of the difficulties in creating a successful Bond movie is balancing these elements to support a coherent narrative. Sometimes, it works spectacularly2; other times, not so much3.
Stand-out video games may share many elements with the best Hollywood has to offer, but there are critical differences between a great movie and a great game. At the 2017 Game Developers’ Conference, Deus Ex director Warren Spector summarized the central tenet of game design succinctly: “A pretty standard rule of gaming is that if something cool happens in the story, the player should get to do it.“4 This runs counter to the style of most modern screenplays, where scenes don’t need to feature the protagonist to be compelling. Video games also come with unique development constraints that aren’t an issue in film, resulting in audio and visual limitations. Every character, object, and location must be designed from the ground up, and the hardware can only display so many items at a given time. Game budgets weren’t always comparable to Hollywood budgets, either. While the film version of Goldeneye cost $60 million to produce5, Goldeneye 007 had a total budget of $2 million: just three percent of the production costs of the film.6 As a result, the ten-developer team7 behind Goldeneye 007 had to make numerous cuts to the script to stay within budget, but they balanced out the subtractions with several clever additions that made the game as memorable as is today.
Addition and Subtraction
At the highest level, the stories of Goldeneye the film and Goldeneye 007 the game are roughly the same, but drilling down to the details reveals a multitude of changes. The most obvious difference is the switch from one continuous sequence of scenes to eighteen discrete levels (and two bonus stages), each with multiple player objectives. To ensure each stage centered the gameplay, the developers cut all the scenes focused exclusively on dialogue. However, many of those scenes contained exposition players needed to understand the story, so the team solved the problem with a two-pronged approach. They changed the script to move exposition-dispensing characters into action-driven scenes when they could, then offloaded any leftover information to the paratextual mission briefings at the start of each level. Together, these changes patched most of the holes in the story, resulting in a narrative that was just cohesive enough to keep the player moving.
Eliminating dialogue-driven scenes was the first step in adapting the Goldeneye narrative for gameplay, but it wasn’t the only hurdle developers had to overcome. Several pivotal scenes in the film’s first act had no Bond in them whatsoever, including an extended shootout in the secretive Severnaya Bunker. To get players into Severnaya early without separating them from Bond, the developers replaced the Bond-free Severnaya scenes with an original mission that sends Bond to inspect the bunker himself. Although the inspection takes place two years before the main narrative begins, it successfully introduces key side characters and plot elements without disrupting the timeline. By making similar tweaks throughout the game, the developers created a successful adaptation that integrates the gameplay into the story, satisfying both players and Bond franchise fans.
Almost twenty-five years have passed since gamers first got their hands on Goldeneye 007, and it’s still remembered as a classic of the genre and a stand-out adaptation. Thanks to the artistic freedom granted by the license-holders, the developers were able to adapt the movie to fit the needs of the technology and the genre. By carefully adding and subtracting scenes to emphasize player actions, the makers of Goldeneye have ensured that their creation will be fondly remembered for decades to come.
Adapting a story from one form to another requires respect for both the medium and the audience.
Different ways to dispense must-know information without losing the audience’s attention.
Paratext is the material that exists to support, contextualize, and promote a creative work.
1 Hollis, Martin. “The Making of Goldeneye 007.” Zoonami, 2004. Presented at the 2004 European Developer’s Forum, 2004-09-02.
2 “Goldfinger.” Rotten Tomatoes, 2022.
3 “A View to Kill.” Rotten Tomatoes, 2022.
4 Hbomberguy. “Deus Ex: Human Revolution is FINE, And Here’s Why.” YouTube, 2022.
5 “Goldeneye.” Wikipedia, 2022.
6,7 Stuart, Keith and Jordan Erica Webber. “GoldenEye on N64: Miyamoto wanted to tone down the killing.” The Guardian, 2015.
* Reference Footage: SuperMetalDave64. “GoldenEye 007 N64 – 00 Agent – Full Game Walkthrough!” YouTube, 2018