The game's Bond: 007 on the consoles
GoldenEye was a blockbuster in the gaming market as well as at the box office. So will Quantum of Solace be a worthy sequel? Rob Sharp dons his tuxedo and goes undercover
Wednesday 22 October 2008
It is understandable to be nervous when meeting a man who shoots first and asks questions later. An agent who mainlines Martinis and sleeps with a Walther PPK under his pillow is generally not known to be the most sympathetic of company. So it was no surprise that when game developers Treyarch arrived to meet current Bond actor Daniel Craig for the first time at Pinewood Studios earlier this year, the usually tough technology experts were filled with trepidation. The developers' mission was to get Craig to approve early shots of forthcoming Bond game Quantum of Solace, so that they could use his likeness and voice in their product. If the pictures failed to meet his approval, the lack of continuity between the game and the eagerly-awaited Bond movie of the same name could prove deadly. When Craig turned up late for the meeting, it only compounded the designers' anxiety.
Thankfully, the thespian had a good reason for his tardiness. "He had been playing Guitar Hero III on his PlayStation," says Adam Gascoigne, co-design director of Quantum of Solace, who was at the meeting. "He is a bit of a gamer. People often don't believe that but he is. He said to us that he would need to sit down and play the game a few times and work out whether he was satisfied with it before he could let his image be used. It is unusual for the lead in a title to be into gaming so we knew our work would have to be up to scratch." Thankfully it passed muster. Craig, along with the film's other main actors – including Bond girl Olga Kurylenko and Dame Judi Dench, who plays "M"– all lent their talent to the finished product.
While cinema-goers look forward to the latest instalment of the Bond movie franchise, released on 31 October, gamers are just as excited by the tie-in game, released on the same day. Bond games have a history of shaking – not stirring – things up. N64 game GoldenEye 007, based on the 1995 James Bond film Goldeneye, sold more than eight million copies worldwide after it was released in 1997. With its multiplayer deathmatch mode, it is considered one of the most influential first-person shooters (FPS) ever.
Gascoigne hopes to repeat GoldenEye's success with Quantum of Solace, which was two years in the making. The developer says the game was easier than those built from scratch because its plot is based on a fusion of the forthcoming film and 2006's Casino Royale, which was the first Bond film to feature Craig and marked a grittier, more realistic turn for the series. The game begins and ends at the same points Quantum does, and tells the story of Casino Royale through flashbacks.
"We have something called the Bond Bible, which is a very long document that details everything you could possibly want to know about the Bond universe," he says. "It discusses how Bond dresses, how he behaves, what he likes to drink. To begin, we were using that to develop a game based solely on Casino Royale. But while doing that, in late 2007, we got the first draft of the Quantum script from the screenwriter Paul Haggis. We took crucial elements of that script and used them when designing levels for the game. It continued for the next 15 months." The game-makers spent hundreds of hours photographing the film's locations and sets which were then digitally recreated. Producers also furnished them with pictures of costumes and props, which were also used to inform their designs.
While the game's "engine" – the fundamental means by which its characters are powered and controlled – is the same one used in another hugely successful FPS, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare which like Quantum of Solace is published by Activision, the artificial intelligence of Quantum's baddies is superior to anything seen before. "They do things like take cover and blind fire [shoot at Bond by pointing their gun around a corner they are sheltering behind]," says Gascoigne. "There are many more actions from a much more mercenary enemy. They do a lot more things people might not usually notice. For example, they are more likely to charge at you when you are reloading."
When playing the game, much of it is spent with Bond taking cover. The user can flick between viewing the world "first person" (from Bond's eyes) or "third person", being able to see the character, and those around him. This latter viewpoint can be used in these sheltering scenarios. Enemies can be aimed at, and Bond will fire around a corner or over a desk, say, before retreating to safety. "The cover is necessary because of the advances in artificial intelligence," says Gascoigne. "But you can't just stay hidden, you will need to break cover to advance. It is much more like the Bond character. He leaves nothing to chance, and deliberates before he does anything. However, we like to counteract this slowness in the game. Every so often he will enter an area and all hell will break loose."
The game is already winning fans from those who work in the real-life security services. "I am a gamer, like a lot of guys in the security industry," says Will Geddes, one of the world's leading experts in counter-terrorism and head of his own private security firm. "Our heads are usually filled with stuff because the job is 24/7. You have to switch off. This game will be sold out in the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes of Afghanistan in a couple of days because a load of the troops have PS3s and Xboxes. Games get your brain off topic. The testimony of a good game is how involving it is because you forget where you are."
Former MI6 agent Harry Ferguson says that Bond's character mirrors the changing climate in which members of the security services find themselves. "The new Daniel Craig Bond is getting into firefights," he says. "Now the war on terror is happening, the gloves are off. That can involve dealing with al-Qa'ida in downtown Karachi which turns into the kind of situations you see in Bond, unlike during the Cold War, where there were moments of civility."
Ferguson says that shoot-'em-ups might give people the idea that agents only trained to kill using guns. In fact, like Bond does in the film and game, they are likely to use the most efficient means of ending someone's life. "Even here, I could find something to kill you," the former agent says worryingly, while seated at a table. "It would depend on what I had in front of me. Here, there's lots of glassware for a start. The key thing is, if you are in an operations situation, be aware of all your surroundings. At the moment we've got hot drinks in front of us. If you move first, my first move would be with the tea because it's nice and hot and if I catch you right it will do some damage and it will distract you from pulling a gun."
Geddes only has one criticism of the game. "The only thing I would say is, it features a mobile phone that has a radar reading of everyone in the region. If only," he pines. "But if it does come out Harry's mob and our good friends [government surveillance experts] at GCHQ will try and build something like it. They get a lot of their ideas from movies. There was a detonator watch once featured in a Bond film that is not unfeasible. The advances in technology in the last two years are just astounding." So maybe Bond's latest foray into gaming will have repercussions in the real world, as well as the virtual one.
Quantum is released on 31 October on multiple formats. See www.007thevideogame.com
Spyware: DIY 007
GoldenEye (1997) N64
Sold over eight million copies, and a seminal example of a first-person shooter (FPS). Players were encouraged to employ stealth, as well as blasting their way through levels.
Agent Under Fire (2001) GameCube, PS2 Xbox
Another FPS which also had driving levels. These vehicular levels were dropped by Bond game-makers for 'Quantum of Solace' because it was felt they spread the developers' resources too thinly.
Nightfire (2002) GameBoy Advance, GameCube, PS2, Xbox
Featured Pierce Brosnan's likeness, but not his voice. Saw Bond thwart the evil Raphael Drake, head of the shadowy Phoenix Corporation, who was intent on world domination.
Everything or Nothing (2004) GameBoy Advance, GameCube, PS2, Xbox
The first game that Brosnan lent his voice to. However, it attracted some criticism for being too easy to complete.
From Russia With Love (2005) GameCube, PS2, PSP, Xbox
A third-person shooter which allowed gamers to drive the classic Bond Aston Martin and whizz around in his famous jet pack.
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