20 Years Of GoldenEye and FPS Mission Design


The 20th anniversary of GoldenEye 007 for the N64 completely passed me by last month. This week is the 20th anniversary of the North American release of Final Fantasy VII but I’ve still never actually played that game beyond the first few hours, so I’m just gonna finally write about GoldenEye.

I imagine everyone else who wrote about GoldenEye a couple weeks ago went on about how everyone around them played it in 1997, how it was the first major console first person shooter, and how its competitive multiplayer was a main pillar of gaming at the time. All that is true, but I also like pointing out how influential GoldenEye’s story campaign may have been for certain kinds of first person action games.

One of the ways in which GoldenEye felt like an absolute revelation to me in 1997 was in how it approached what we considered “levels” at the time. It’s the first game I remember having mission objectives, and I think I’ve described here before how differently it uses them compared to most modern FPSs like Call of Duty.

In short, each mission in GoldenEye elicited as sense that you were placed in a location to complete actual tasks. This felt like a huge difference compared to typical console action games where you just got to the end of the level. There were specific things you were supposed to interact with in certain ways, there were fail conditions other than dying, alarms and other things could alert enemies, and they were all wrapped up in levels that had a realistic sense of architecture to their design. Essentially, GoldenEye was patterned a lot like an open-ended stealth game.

This system had an influence on the mission objective system in the Thief series, and you can make a direct comparison between this structure and that of later games like HitmanMetal Gear Solid V, and DishonoredGoldenEye’s developers at Rare claim it was inspired by the star system in Super Mario 64, but the other aforementioned games probably also have links to the quest systems of classic PC RPGs. It’s interesting to compare it with later popular FPSs like Halo or Call of Duty which string objectives one after the other. This TVTropes article is actually a good example of the differences.

I guess it’s not talked about much because other than the appearance of mission objectives, GoldenEye didn’t really influence a whole lot of later campaigns. Most FSPs today have players just get to the end of the level while some objectives sequentially appear and disappear in the HUD. Games structured more like GoldenEye are actually a bit of a novelty. Whenever one shows up I usually see video game publications comparing it to the first Crysis because that’s the last games a lot of people can remember like that.

In any case, compared to what else was available on consoles at the time, GoldenEye’s entire approach to mission progression felt uniquely “real” and deep. It felt like a smarter, more serious action game.


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