The Sound of the Future

One loss that was keenly felt in a certain part of the studio was Graeme Norgate. Eveline Novakovic, who worked on the Rare music team contributing to multiple projects and also provided the voice for Joanna Dark, lamented the loss of his unique musical style. “It was fresh, so personal to him, never predictable nor formulaic,” she says. “Losing him from the music department was a huge shame.”

But Norgate’s departure reunited the team with the composer of GoldenEye, Grant Kirkhope. Working on both Banjo-Tooie and Donkey Kong 64 at the time, Kirkhope then added Perfect Dark to his duties. While Norgate had scored the logo, the opening level and other sections of the game, the rest of the score is pure Kirkhope. That includes the main theme, which he performed himself on guitar.

I loved doing Perfect Dark. I’d been doing a lot of platformers – Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong, that sort of thing – so to do something totally different was really good for me. I loved writing sci-fi

“That was in my metal days, of course,” he says. “There’s still a bit of Graeme in the game. He created a lot of the sample set in the game. I added to it, but a lot of the wacky sci-fi noises came from Graeme. I loved doing Perfect Dark. I’d been doing a lot of platformers – Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong, that sort of thing – so to do something totally different was really good for me. I loved writing sci-fi.”

Stepping into a new area, and unable to rely on a famous film theme this time, Kirkhope drew inspiration from hit sci-fi properties, using Terminator-esque synth and The X-Files’ famous whistling sound. He even dusted off some of his own earliest, unused material. “Chicago Stealth was my favourite tune in the game,” he says. “That was my Blade Runner thing. So in my head it was a mish-mash of Blade Runner and X-Files. Not sure if people picked up on that, but that’s how it was in my head. I actually wrote that riff before I was at Rare. In fact, I wrote it while I was trying to get a job at Rare. It was my attempt at a Crockett’s Theme, Miami Vice type of thing. So when I was on Perfect Dark, I finally got to use it.”

As well as the music, voice acting was also handled internally. There was talk of bringing in professional voice actors but Rare’s preference to develop everything using the talent already at its disposal eventually changed these plans. Plus, as Novakovic points out, it was more practical and less expensive to record everything in-house.

Perfect Dark© Nintendo Life

“With our own purpose-built recording studio, studio time was not a limiting factor,” she says. “We had the luxury of being able to record the scripts over weeks, trying out different ideas before we settled on the one, as a result these evolved until they were right. In the end, me becoming Jo started as a simple knock on the door. As a member of the music department, being asked to help out with vocals was just par for the course. It was as much a part of our day as composing and sound design.”

Many of the characters were voiced by members of the development team. For example, Jones performed as Cassandra De Vries, primarily building it around an impression of Penelope Keith as Mrs Leadbetter in classic BBC sitcom The Good Life. As with the visual design of the characters, some of the vocal performances were modelled on celebrities – although no one is quite sure how much Sean Connery inspired Chris Sutherland’s Daniel Carrington.

Team Players

The voices are just one example of how the developers put themselves into the game. As with GoldenEye, many of the guards’ heads were based on members of the team – they would even pick certain people to play selected guards in cutscenes or strategically placed around the levels. The enemies don’t always resemble the developers’ actual likenesses – one with buck teeth and a bad haircut is Duncan Botwood pretending to be Duane Dibbley from the cult British TV show Red Dwarf.

In a way, every human character in the game is based on the team as various members performed the motion capture required for the animation. Chris Darling was a key test subject, capturing the animation data for when enemies are shot. This was a repeat of the process used on GoldenEye, whereby Jones told Darling “Close your eyes and I’ll hit you” in order to get a spontaneous reaction.

I think I said we could really do with some black women, because there were no black people at Rare at the time and we were using the faces of people that worked there

Prior to Laurie Sage being brought in to perform as Joanna, Jones says the game’s protagonist was initially mo-capped by Duncan Botwood in high heels, although Botwood shatters this image. “They weren’t really high heels,” he says. “It was more like, ‘Can I walk on tiptoes without my foot falling away?’ You have to remember we were an amateur outfit. It was me and Brett, and I had to try and do as much as I possibly could to get something up and running. We were in the middle of the countryside without access to professional organisations. We didn’t even pursue that, it would have been expensive and we didn’t have the budget.”

One famous inclusion was legendary Nintendo developer Shigeru Miyamoto, who appears as the first guard in the Pelagic II mission and its opening cutscene. This was arranged at E3, where he attended the same party as the Perfect Dark team. Jones simply took a photo of the front and side of his head, then used a pixel editor to create the full 3D model. Miyamoto’s wasn’t the only face Nintendo provided. The platform holder ran a competition for a gamer to appear as a guard in Perfect Dark, and it solved a potential issue the team had been concerned about.

“I think I said we could really do with some black women, because there were no black people at Rare at the time and we were using the faces of people that worked there,” Jones explains. “Funnily enough, the person that won was a young black lady and she brought her black friend with her, so we suddenly got two black faces in the game.”

Perfect Dark© Nintendo Life

Team members didn’t even need to use their full faces to become immortalised in the game, as Chesluk explains. “I’m the evil Dr Carroll! Someone said we needed evil eyes. Rare was really concerned about security, so we didn’t have internet and digital cameras weren’t a thing. I think we had a scan of me on my first day that was sent round to introduce me, so I just used the eyes from that. They just happened to look a bit evil.”

The sinister persona of Dr Carroll – the AI and flying laptop players must rescue in the opening missions – is primarily featured in the Deep Sea mission. For the rest of the game, kinder eyes are used for his display, which members of the team say were taken from photos of a popular pin-up model of the time – although no one can quite remember which one.

Chesluk’s role filling in much of the in-game text gave him other opportunities to find a place in the game. Each of the weapons, for example, have a manufacturer listed in their descriptions, but for guns that didn’t quite suit the ethos of Datadyne or the Carrington Institute, he created Chesluk Industries. This fictional firm is responsible for the Cyclone, RCP-120 and MagSec – the latter of which Chesluk helped to program.

“The weird thing was when I found Perfect Dark fanfiction referencing the boss of Chesluk Industries,” he says. “I think he got killed off, too.”

Multiplayer Evolved

Naturally, the multiplayer mode became a significant pillar of Perfect Dark. The game’s heritage demanded it. “It was always going to have multiplayer,” says Doak. “If GoldenEye hadn’t had multiplayer, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful as it was. That’s people’s enduring memories of it, it’s killer feature was solid multiplayer on a console.”

But GoldenEye’s deathmatch was, in Doak’s words, “very bare bones” with only a few varieties on the basic objective of ‘kill the other players.’ There wasn’t as many configuration options as he would have hoped for – in part due to how late in the project multiplayer was added. That was something Doak and his fellow Free Radical founders could explore more with the TimeSplitters series.

The Perfect Dark team that remained also had their own ideas for how multiplayer could be improved. Not only were there more scenarios to tackle, but many concentrated on more than just players’ killing skills. Hold the Briefcase and Pop a Cap awarded points for surviving as long as possible, while Hacker Central challenged players to find a Data Uplink then a randomly placed computer to hack in order to achieve a high score.

In a move that was rarely heard of at the time, the entire single-player campaign was available as two-player co-op, but perhaps the most ambitious multiplayer mode was Counter-Op. This tasked player one with completing the single-player missions as normal, while challenging a second player to stop them as one of the in-game guards.

Perfect Dark© Nintendo Life

“It was asymmetrical and it was great fun,” recalls Botwood. “You don’t have the same tools the spy has [as the enemy] but you’re basically a meat shield that can hinder their progress. And you have a human brain, and in the context of the game, that was really exciting. It was a shame that it didn’t take off as an idea, but it worked very well in that situation.”

Tilston says the mode was inspired by 1999 sci-fi blockbuster The Matrix and the insidious agents that could download themselves into any other person. In Counter-Op this was accomplished with the suicide pill, which enabled player two to die and respawn as a random guard elsewhere in the map, reducing the chances of them being too far from Joanna to impede progress. Other Matrix influences can be felt in the combat boost item, which triggered a blurry period where your enemies moved in slow motion, and the lobby from the famous shoot-out was recreated in the multiplayer arena Grid.

Playtesting the multiplayer modes is among Tilston’s fondest memories of the project. “Every so often we would gather together and test some of the latest additions in multiplayer to a point where you thought it wasn’t really work anymore and felt guilty about play sessions going for a couple of hours. That and finally beating level 30 on the challenges – we felt we had to be able to beat anything we put out to the players so doing that one with a group of three other team members took a while.”