Exploring James Bond's Uneven Video Game History
The James Bond franchise is one of the most famous, most lucrative, and longest-running film series in the world. The franchise has been hugely influential, affecting almost every form of spy fiction written, filmed, or developed since the 1960s in some way. Moreover, the brand has stayed relevant for far longer than most comparable mega-franchises: Marvel’s 80-year existence and Disney’s seemingly perpetual presence on Earth pre-date Bond’s 1953 print debut, and they stand as some of the only similar properties to prevail. Conversely, attempts to reinvigorate big IP such as Back to the Future or The Mummy have not been successful enough for studios to continue making them.
To remain part of the zeitgeist for so long is no easy task, and despite some missteps, James Bond has defied the odds time and again, reinventing itself repeatedly to avoid being left behind. Some of those reinventions are obvious, such as the changing of actors, writers, and directors, or even come in the form of distinct reboots–the hardest of which came in 2006 with the 21st Eon-produced film, Casino Royale. Others, however, are a little more tricky: Bond has had to change even more drastically to fit new media, such as for the first 007 video game, a 1982 text adventure title for the ZX Spectrum named Shaken but Not Stirred. Unfortunately, the Bond games have endured an uneven run over the years, with some great games, some poor ones, and none at all since 2012’s poorly received 007 Legends.
To dive deeper into the continued evolution of the British spy, I spoke to Bruce Feirstein, screenwriter of three Bond films–GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, and The World is Not Enough–and writer of the video games From Russia With Love, Everything or Nothing, Blood Stone, and 007 Legends.
GameSpot: How does writing a Bond game differ to writing a Bond film?
Bruce Feirstein: It’s not all that different. You’re still trying to tell an interesting story, with unique settings and compelling characters. So the actual process isn’t that different. It’s just as collaborative, and in some aspects easier. For example, in Everything or Nothing, the original sequence was written in Hong Kong. There was some problem having to do with visual rights–I think some of the buildings were trademarked, and we’d need permission–so I suggested putting the opening sequence in Athens. Everyone agreed, and in ten minutes we moved forward. A change like that in a film could take a month to get through all the decision makers and the clearances.
How did writing for Sean Connery differ to writing to Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig?
Each is a little bit different. I was writing the Brosnan Bond that I wrote in the films, so it wasn’t much of an adjustment. Daniel Craig’s is terser, so his dialogue was cut back to reflect the Bond he created on the screen. And Connery was the Bond I always had in my head, having been the first Bond I saw. He and I actually talked about this.
Can you talk a little more about the creation of Judi Dench’s M? What was your reaction when you saw her death in Skyfall, and how do you think Ralph Fiennes is handling the role now?
While I was working on GoldenEye, [director] Martin Campbell and I met at the studio one morning to discuss what we should do about updating M. I said it was just a bunch of guys talking in a room, and Martin replied, “Why don’t you try it as a woman?” So the idea came from him. I wrote the “sexist misogynist dinosaur” scene in three hours, and pretty much what you see on the screen is what I wrote that first morning. As far as her death, Judi Dench brought great grace and originality to her role as M. She was amazing, and always took what we wrote and made it better. So I was sad to see that she wouldn’t be playing M anymore, but that’s the inevitable process in these films. And just as Judi defined the role in her way, Ralph Fiennes is bringing his own touch to the role now. He’s a terrific actor.
Is there anything you would have changed if you’d been involved in the films and games since you stopped working on the franchise?
No. If the franchise hadn’t evolved over the past 55 years, it wouldn’t exist anymore. Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson have created–in my opinion–the perfect Bond for the post 9/11 era. Along with Daniel Craig, of course, and the writers, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. I wouldn’t change a thing. They’ve done an extraordinary job, and all deserve huge credit.
Which game do you think, looking back, offers the truest representation of Bond?
I think they all represented Bond well. But the most influential game was the original GoldenEye. I didn’t work on that game–but it had a huge impact on gaming. Funny enough, these days, I keep meeting people who are let down when they find out I only co-wrote the GoldenEye movie, and not the game.
I remember Everything or Nothing really resonating with players, too. Why do you think that is?
I suspect that this is because it was an entirely original story, with a new villain and all new supporting characters. So the whole experience was new. And we got very lucky in having Willem Dafoe as the bad guy. He gave a great performance.
How does working on an original story for a game compare to converting a film into a game? Which do you think works best for a game: creating a bespoke story or converting the iconic films?
An original story is more fun because you’re working from a clean slate. Anything is possible. With an adaptation, you’ve got to adhere as much as possible to the source material. Both are enjoyable experiences, but creating something new is more interesting.
From a writing perspective, what defines Bond as a character?
Bond is a lone warrior with a license to kill who hides his inner conflicts about what he does by striking a cool, dispassionate demeanor, and never allowing anyone to get too close to him.
We’ve seen the series tackle text adventures, first-person shooters, third-person action games, strategy, and more. In your eyes, what’s does a hypothetically perfect Bond game look like?
In any format, the perfect Bond game allows the player to enter an alternate reality of James Bond’s world, and experience a James Bond adventure. The platform is less important than the execution.
Were you involved with the canceled Casino Royale game?
There’s a lot of misinformation and speculation on the internet about Bond games that were cancelled or didn’t exist in the first place. As I recall, what some think of as a canceled Casino Royale game was actually an earlier version of either Bloodstone or Everything or Nothing that was stopped at one developer and moved to another. But I could be wrong.
Why do you think there hasn’t been a Bond game for a while?
I can only speculate here, as I haven’t discussed this with Eon. I don’t know why there hasn’t been a recent Bond game. But I do know that in general, there are fewer games based on movies these days. I’ve heard lots of reasons for this: 1) Huge game makers like Activision or Electronic arts would rather develop their own franchises. 2) As it now takes 18 months to make a first class game, day/date releases (meaning the game is released on the same day as the movie) aren’t practical. 3) The market for original games–Halo or Call of Duty–is much larger than the market for game tie-ins. Again, I don’t know how much of this impacts Bond, or has anything to do with Eon’s plans for future games. I’m just talking about movie games in general.
Would you like to be involved in another Bond game or film if the opportunity presented itself?
Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson have been incredibly loyal to me over the years. Being asked to write the games was flattering, and a great gift, for which I am very grateful. If they asked me to write another one, I’d be there in a minute. And if they didn’t, I’d be the first in line to buy it, and cheer them on, and hope for it’s great success. I am blessed to have been a small part of the franchise in any way at all.
Finally, as a bit of fun: who’s your favourite Bond actor from the film series? And who would you like to see take on the role after Craig steps down?
They say the first Bond you saw is always your favorite Bond. Connery was my first Bond, but the truth is that I like, respect, and admire everyone who has played the role. They were all perfect a reflection of their time: Connery in the cold war, Roger during the Reagan years, Tim Dalton during the end of the USSR, Pierce in post-cold war era, and Daniel Craig in the post 9/11 era. And, more importantly, from someone who worked inside the franchise: Every one of them made the next one possible.
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Exploring James Bond's Uneven Video Game History