Bond is back, and this time he's back in two new games. One of them is an entirely new venture in the form of Blood Stone the other is a relaunch of one of the most iconic games ever made, GoldenEye 007. While the former is terribly exciting the latter is obviously a bit more high profile thanks to its namesake. Thus it was with great interest and trepidation that I got the chance to toss some questions at Julian Widdows the Executive Producer at Activison Blizzard UK.
He actually addressed a lot of interesting things about how much the game was being remade and why they chose to dive back into GoldenEye on the Wii. Moreover he gives a fantastic response to whether or not you should play the game with the Classic Controller Pro or the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Read on for the full interview.
Destructoid: At the reveal for the game at Nintendo's press conference at E3 a variety of research panels were shown to show off how interested people were in a new GoldenEye. Other than a demand for the game what else was garnered from these and how have the ideas been implemented in the game?
Widdows: The reveal event movie showed just one of dozens of focus tests we’ve carried out on GoldenEye 007 at Eurocom; other UK Activision studios such as Freestyle Games and Bizarre Creations; at our Head Office in Santa Monica; and in other parts of the publishing organization such as the offices in Quebec and Minneapolis. Some helped inform the overall creative direction, others were to look at specific gameplay features such as the smartphone; the covert/firefight mechanics; the innovative control scheme that aids player accessibility; level flows; game balance; multiplayer functionality and playability. It’s been a hugely important part of development that‘s informed all elements of the game – our litmus test to ensure we’re reimagining ‘GoldenEye’ in the right way, and are delivering the AAA gaming experience people have the right to expect.
Will GoldenEye Wii do anything to win over people who hate the original N64 game?
Widdows: People who hated the original should understand that although our game respectfully tips its cap to the 1997 original, it is a completely new experience re-imagined for 2010, in the world of Daniel Craig’s Bond. The mechanics, levels, gameplay beats, and story, have all been designed from the ground up for the Wii platform. Walking that line between nostalgia and creating a fresh, relevant experience, has been a key part of the game’s development, and we’re really comfortable with the final balance. The expectations of modern players are very different now and exceeding those expectations has always taken priority over any sense of needing to be like the original – Eurocom have delivered a game that stands on its own feet.
The trailer had plenty of iconic scenes from the original game (bathroom ventilation kill FTW), but there are obviously major changes in the levels. What are you doing to change up the single player experience?
Widdows: Firstly, this is a much more cinematically driven experience when compared to the original GoldenEye. In-game cut-scenes, many of which are fully interactive and blend seamlessly with the gameplay, punctuate the experience and provide narrative drive through the levels. The levels themselves have been designed around re-imagined mechanics, such as the melee takedowns, the covert system, and the smartphone, and as such although they contain iconic moments, offer an entirely different experience over the original. During focus testing we’ve found that the majority of people who play the game really get the direction that’s been taken, and like the balance.
A lot has changed since Bond landed on the N64. What do you think it takes to make a successful
competitive FPS today, compared to what it took back in the N64 days? Which style are you shooting for
with GoldenEye on the Wii?
Widdows: Absolutely. The shooter genre is largely an evolutionary one, and things have evolved a great deal since the original game was released. As such, you’re generally building on your own learnings as well as those of other games makers. In a general sense, I think it comes down to four main things: Giving the player an accessible, tactile, rewarding core experience – the game has to feel fun in the hand, with the player always feeling in control; delivering levels that are designed to support the core mechanics, offer constant visual interest, and lots of payoffs for exploration and progress; the game needs to exceed player expectation by offering regular surprises, through cinematics, wow moments, set-pieces and varied encounter design; and lastly deliver a compelling narrative experience supported by incredible voice over and an audio score. In all of these areas production values need to be polished and slick in order to give the gamer the experience they now rightly expect. In terms of style, ‘GoldenEye 007’ is a blend of covert and firefight gameplay designed to give the player a choice of playing styles throughout.
Eurocom have done a great job of ensuring the behind the gun experience is tight, fun and engaging, whilst delivering an experience that rewards replay and experimentation. Every time you play there’s a new route to discover, a hidden area to find, or a setup to approach differently. More than anything, Eurocom have a great sense of the factors that help make a game fun, which is evident as soon as you pickup the controller.
In line with this, GoldenEye is a little dated. The game is obviously still a blast to play as a throwback, but what are you doing to bring it up to date other than the obvious graphical change?
Widdows: I think this is pretty much covered above. This is an entirely new GoldenEye experience for 2010 with new gameplay, new levels, great graphics, and destructibility. The answer is ‘everything’.
In that same vein what are you doing to improve the multiplayer or offer something new up?
Widdows: Aside from the 4 player split-screen, we now have 8 classic characters including Baron Samedi, Rosa Klebb, Jaws, Oddjob, Red Grant and Blofeld; 44 other characters including Bond, Trevelyan and Onatopp; a host of split-screen hosting options and game modes such as GoldenEye control - a territory possession mode; You Only Live Twice; and Golden Gun. Then we have the 8 player Wii online experience, the XP system, weapon attachment unlock, online specific game modes…
In an event that will most likely never occur again, people are probably looking forward to split-screen multiplayer over online functionality. Still, you're implementing online on the Wii. Not the hottest spot for online gaming. What are you doing to make sure this works and dare I bring up Friend Codes?
Widdows: well as split-screen. This is 2010 after all, and to deliver a shooter experience that draws people awayNever again? I hope not! We really felt from the outset that we had to include online support as from their HD consoles to Nintendo’s white box we knew we had to bring the compelling and fully-featured gameplay people have come to expect of the best-in-class shooters to ‘GoldenEye’. To make sure this works we’ve focus tested, BETA tested, and focus tested some more. Ultimately polish comes from extensive playing, and the online game has had a lot of play time.
All right, I know the arguments against the Wii as plenty on the web have been shouting them since the announcement, defend GoldenEye's release as a Wii exclusive (aside from the DS, of course).
Widdows: Because the console and its audience deserves a cutting edge shooter; because Eurocom and ATVI have something to prove - that Nintendo’s machine is underestimated in terms of its ability to deliver serious, credible, mature experiences - and because it feels so natural to bring GoldenEye home to Nintendo.
Classic Controller (in gold!) or Wii Remote and Nunchuck?
Widdows: CD or Vinyl?
Daniel Craig's Bond is very different from Pierce Brosnan's. The story has been reworked, but are you making any attempt to work his take on the character into the game are you leaving it Brosnian?
Widdows: It’s Craig through and through. Working with Bruce Feirstein (one of the writers on the original GoldenEye) was essential in this respect, as he helped us translate all those story arcs into the world of Daniel Craig. The gameplay is also all Craig – less gadgets and one-liners, more hand-to-hand combat and agility. This was a really key decision as it helped us differentiate the gameplay and the overall aesthetic from the original experience.
Did you add any beach sequences in the game? We want pecs; Daniel Craig's pecs. Possibly also a small speedo.
Widdows: Ha ha. No, no that would have been, ‘challenging’ to have handled delicately in a videogame. I don’t think we do speedos well. Pecs, maybe, but pecs don’t often come out in the middle of a Russian wilderness. We have some biceps though. Would biceps do?
People (read: me) are pretty religious about Bond. How daunting has it been to take on such an iconic character on top of an iconic game and make it all work? What has been the biggest challenge?
Widdows: Keeping people (read: you) happy, is incredibly important to us. We all grew up watching Bond films – my first cinema trip was to watch ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ – and so this property is incredibly dear to us. I guess this has made the task daunting, but also given us a good creative centre. We know what we think works and what does not, and hope that you’ll agree. Thankfully we have three of the most ardent protectors of the franchise scrutinizing our every move: the Producers of the Bond films, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, and David Wilson, have worked with us closely to help us understand what can and cannot happen in Bond’s universe. Combine this with the collaboration with Bruce Feirstein, and I think you have one of the most authentic, respectful and relevant Bond experiences in years.
You've renamed the Klobb to Klebb. For a Bond lover that is an awesome reference, for a GoldenEye lover that's a sin. There are almost two competing icons here, has it been tough to balance them? Anymore cool little references like that being worked in?
Widdows: It’s one of those things. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. As long-time fans of the Bond films we think we’ve made the right decision although you folks will be the final judges. And yes, there are plenty of cool little references throughout.
With MGM's current financial woes and the news of the next Bond film being put on hold, GoldenEye and Blood Stone are the only way that people are going to be able to get a Bond fix for a while. Do you see the games as stepping up to fill a void? Do you think that the Bond games could be considered as important to the Bond mythos as the films are? Should they be?
Widdows: Yes, I do, and I know the Producers at EON feel the same way. Although cinematic releases are
the lifeblood of the property, games are becoming increasingly important, and the level of involvement
we’ve had with the production team over at EON is unprecedented in the history of Bond games. This
authenticity is clear when you play the games, and is important to maintain the integrity of the property.
We’re really proud of both the titles and hope gaming fans and Bond fans alike enjoy these Bond stories.
What are the chances, if any at all, of DLC happening?
Widdows: None. Sorry.
Could we be seeing more GoldenEye sequels if this takes off? Almost a franchise within a franchise?
Widdows: At the moment all our energy is focused on finishing GoldenEye 007. World domination can wait a week or two…
Obligatory question is obligatory, but who's your favorite Bond. Has a vote gone around the office yet?
Widdows: I don’t have one favorite Bond as they’ve all brought something new to the character. Moore and Connery are obviously key icons to me as I grew up with them, but I love Craig’s interpretation of the character. I’ve been a fan of his since Layer Cake – superb performance – and I think he’s developed the Bond character in a really interesting way.