Friday, May 22, 2020 May 22, 2020 at 02:00AM - Perfect Dark: the oral history of an N64 classic

It was never meant to take as long as it did. As far as the GoldenEye team were concerned, Perfect Dark should have come out a year or two after their seminal console first-person shooter, a quick-fire follow-up to one of the greatest games ever made. But it wasn't long before trouble knocked on the door of Rare's countryside farmhouse in Twycross. First, Martin Hollis, the genius programmer who led the GoldenEye team to stardom on the Nintendo 64, left the company at which he had become a legend. His acrimonious exit set off a chain reaction that led to the Free Radicals - Dr. David Doak, Karl Hilton, Steve Ellis and Graeme Norgate - walking out soon after to form their own studio. Those who remained were left to pick up the pieces. Struggling to cram a game bursting at the seams with ambition into the Nintendo 64's tiny memory limit, the developers of Perfect Dark achieved what once looked impossible: the highest-rated Rare game of all time.

20 years after Perfect Dark was released, I asked 10 of its chief creators, as well as then Nintendo of America producer Ken Lobb (Rare co-founders Tim and Chris Stamper could not be reached), what it was like to make. Perfect Dark was a visual feast when it launched in May 2000, pushing the N64 so hard it required the console's 4MB expansion pak for everything but a stripped down multiplayer. Its Blade Runner-influenced graphics and sound, its super cool spy heroine Joanna Dark, and its X-Files-inspired story won plaudits from N64 owners and reviewers - despite the shocking framerate. Though it seemed Rare could do no wrong in the '90s, with N64 mega hit after mega hit seemingly effortlessly spewed forth from the company's secretive headquarters in the English countryside, developing Perfect Dark was anything but easy.

"Turmoil is the only way I can describe it," says Duncan Botwood, a game designer who was part of the original GoldenEye team and who stayed with Perfect Dark until the bitter end. "There was turmoil everywhere."

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