What If Perfect Dark Had Come Out on the GameCube?

A shot in the dark.

by

Perfect Dark is a domino piece whose very existence changed the fate of the entire industry. All right, that's a slight exaggeration, but if there had been just one detour to Joanna Dark's debut, a ripple effect could have had long-term ramifications on our favorite way to spend our leisure time. So let's examine what would have happened if Perfect Dark had been pushed back just 18 months and had been released not toward the tail end of the Nintendo 64's existence, but at the launch of the GameCube. Just a warning, this is pure conjecture. But the prospect of what might have been has been gnawing at me for years, and represents one of my favorite alternate takes on video game history. After all, delaying Perfect Dark just one year seems like it would have had negligible results on the surface, but in reality it could have had a major impact.

How Perfect Dark would have changed:

Would Perfect Dark have worked without an accessory?

Although Perfect Dark was showered with near-universal praise, it had severe technical problems that made it nearly unplayable by our current standards. Extra memory (sold separately) was required to enjoy much of what it offered, and even with twice as much RAM, it still suffered from terrible slowdown. Shifting Perfect Dark to the GameCube would have eliminated those problems, ensuring a smoother experience that wouldn't require you to take Dramamine to keep your lunch safely in your belly. Even without any other changes, moving Perfect Dark to more powerful hardware would have elevated the experience so that it was more palatable to everyone.

Why would Rare have been happy to transport the Nintendo 64 version to the GameCube without any changes, though? With so much time to move the game from one platform to the other, Rare could have implemented a few design tweaks to modernize the action. If you remember the Nintendo 64 controller, it had only one analog stick, but that wasn't the case with the GameCube. Moving Perfect Dark would have given you more precision in shooting, which would have been a godsend considering how much aiming the sprawling levels demanded. Imagine how much more satisfying the FarSight would have been if you hadn't had to fight the controller. So, by pushing Perfect Dark back, we would have gotten a game even better than the one that was already so beloved.

How the GameCube would have changed:

Would Nintendo have changed that yellow nub to a proper stick?

The GameCube was a fantastic console. However, despite housing some of Nintendo's most inventive games and a plethora of the best third-party adventures of the day, it struggled to shed its identity as just a place for families to congregate. Perfect Dark would have injected a hard-edged persona from launch day that would have shifted the perception of the purple lunchbox. Remember, people flocked to the Nintendo 64 to play GoldenEye even if the colorful adventures Nintendo was known for didn't strike their fancy, so a spiritual successor to that classic would have engendered the same competitive spirit. Housing the preeminent first-person shooter of the day would have drawn in those who relish using guns to solve problems, instantly expanding the GameCube's potential reach.

With initial success for Rare's futuristic shooter, we would have seen more third parties willing to create Mature-rated games for Nintendo's console, filling out an important segment of the library the Japanese giant was unable to fill itself. And, as long as I'm dreaming, we might have seen one major change to the controller that would have better accommodated Perfect Dark. Its reliance on a right stick might have convinced Nintendo to upgrade the yellow nub to a more functional form, opening the door for more versatility as the console aged. If Rare had pushed Perfect Dark from the Nintendo 64 to the GameCube, we would have seen a demographic shift in who flocked to the console and a more serious rival to the upstart Xbox.

How first-person shooters would have changed:

This is where things get really interesting. Console shooters began to take off with the generation that started early this century. What was popular back then has dictated much of how the genre has evolved, so if Perfect Dark were released in that era, we would have seen an evolutionary split very different from what actually happened. It's important to remember what was popular back then. Halo was still entirely unknown in 2001, and Bungie was a name only Mac diehards had any inkling of. The success of Combat Evolved was not guaranteed, and, if a worthy competitor had stood toe-to-toe against it, the market would have gone in two directions. I don't believe that Perfect Dark GameCube would have crushed Halo before it ever had a chance, but rather that a healthy number of people would have chosen one side or the other, forcing developers to adapt to varying needs.

Would capture the flag still be in Titanfall PC if it had bots?

So what did Perfect Dark offer that was so different from Halo? The differences are almost too numerous to count. Mission design, for instance, included accomplishing specific objectives that changed whenever you increased the difficulty. This is a marked shift from the straight-ahead conquests that Halo demanded, and seeing level design that was as much about investigation as shooting would have offered variety that is desperately lacking in traditional shooters. Furthermore, Perfect Dark not only encouraged the use of bots in competitive play, but let you choose the personalities of your AI-controlled foes. Bots let you design multiplayer experiences in a specific style based on what you were in the mood for, forcing your AI foes to play passively, with chips on their shoulders, and with ruthless efficiency, among many other combat philosophies. This was an idea that was never pushed further, but imagine if other companies had mirrored this approach. Considering how reliant multiplayer games are on their online communities now, how few games catch on with the public, and how quickly the populations die down once a sequel is released, having bots as a standard option would have extended the longevity and injected more variety in modern shooters.

And those aren't the only things that Rare's shooter did differently. Perfect Dark implemented counter-ops, a mode that still doesn't have a modern equivalent. Having one person control the hero and another man the guards who populate campaign levels is a brilliant idea that was never iterated on, just like bot personalities. If Perfect Dark had come out on the GameCube rather than smack-dab between the releases of the Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2 on a dying, underpowered system, it would have had a much wider impact on a genre still getting its footing. It would have been incredible to see other developers build on the level design ideas that Rare started, tinker with versatile AI, and experiment with interesting competitive modes. Instead, we got the disappointing Perfect Dark Zero five years later that couldn't live up to the brilliance of its predecessor.

How Rare would have changed:

Assuming that Perfect Dark carried the torch that GoldenEye first lit, it would have been a massive success for the GameCube. And if Rare were the brains behind this adored shooter, it would have been awfully difficult for Nintendo to let Microsoft swoop in to purchase it. We already know that the Stamper brothers, the heads of Rare at the time, first approached Nintendo when they decided to sell the company. When Nintendo refused, Microsoft jumped at the chance, simultaneously hurting all three companies in one blundering stroke. Seriously, take a look at how each party has been affected since the sale took place way back in 2002. Nintendo struggled to add diversity to the GameCube library, and though the Wii was insanely popular, Rare would have done a great job of churning out quality games during its frequent dry spells. Rare could have also shouldered some of the software burden for the Wii U, which goes for months without compelling games.

Would Nintendo have cancelled Sabreman Stampede?

Microsoft essentially wasted $375 million on a developer that didn't fit within its ecosystem. Rare was built on diversity and experimentation, a company who could make a variety of different games. If you take a look at the developers Microsoft employs, none of them fit within that structure. Turn 10, after all, makes only simulation racers, 343 Industries and Black Tusk were created to churn out sequels to established shooters, and Lionhead has been riding the Fable train for longer than I can remember. Because Rare doesn't have a franchise big enough to warrant that dedication, it jumped around like it had been doing for decades, meeting varying success with each new endeavor. Now it has been stuck working on Kinect Sports for more than five years, and most of the people who made Rare a name worth knowing have long since left.

Clearly, Rare suffered the most from this transaction. If Perfect Dark had established itself as a core element of the GameCube, maybe Rare would have stuck with Nintendo, a company that knew what it was capable of, and continued to nurture it to get the best games possible. Rare had been around for almost 20 years before Microsoft swooped in, and it took only a little bit of time for Rare to become completely irrelevant. That's why this what-if scenario is so appealing to me. Not only would it have changed the GameCube and first-person shooters, but it might have saved Rare from its horrible fate. Now if only I could get my hands on a time machine. Then I could be enjoying another Conker, Battletoads, or who knows what new characters instead of lamenting the death of my favorite developer.

Discussion

211 comments
Gue1
Gue1

Microsoft are like a cancer to this industry.

VENOM_8625
VENOM_8625

@Jedilink109  I agree with you that Thanks Microsoft.  You destroyed one of the greatest game development companies to ever exist...

Jedilink109
Jedilink109

You know, I've never thought of this but he is RIGHT ON THE MONEY.  If Perfect Dark had been a Gamecube launch title, not only would it have looked much much nicer, it could have been a powerhouse system seller for Nintendo along with Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2 (I speak specifically of the launch games).  Rare might have proven even more worth to Nintendo and Nintendo might never have decided to end their exclusivity with Rare in the first place.


I've said it many times, but it's just SO SO SAD to see such a GREAT game developer who made the types of games that would be not only the best looking, but the best playing games on their respective systems.  Of course I speak mostly of the SNES and N64 eras.  Once Rare moved to Microsoft, I was super worried I'd HAVE to buy an Xbox.  Nope.  They never redeemed themselves.  EVER.  While I actually DO highly enjoy Perfect Dark Zero I would NEVER compare it to the greatness of the original.  It just bugs me that they've fallen SO FAR over the years.  They used to be one of the GREATEST game developers in the world, and now they make stupid Kinect Sports games that no one gives a crap about.


R.I.P. Rare (1985-2002)


Thanks Microsoft.  You destroyed one of the greatest game development companies to ever exist.  Way to go.

Takeno456
Takeno456

Great Article. Perfect Dark was an amazing game. Much better then 90% of the shooters we have now.

Hvac0120
Hvac0120

[note: Livefyre sucks and forced me to create multiple comments due to errors on it's part]

What if the Dreamcast had been a successful platform? I won't go into detail as Tom did for the article. Just thinking that the games made for Dreamcast were really inventive. Sega was a great developer at the time. If the Dreamcast had been a success, the video game industry would look very different today. I doubt Sega, Nintendo, Sony & Microsoft would all be in on hardware. Somebody would have been bumped out or not launched. Gotta love the VMU!

Slagar
Slagar

Solid, thoughtful article Tom :) To put it another way (IMO) as the cost of games go up, innovation goes down - I think that's related. It's the case with all industries everywhere; capitalism then stifles creativity in the pursuit of maximal efficiency and profit. Creativity comes from deep thinking and slowing down; capitalism forces everyone to speed up.

But it would've been interesting if things had turned out the way you suggest. I enjoyed the read, tyvm :)

NTM23
NTM23

I'm not sure if it would have done anything beyond what it already has. I mean, TimeSplitters 2 came out a year later after Halo, and while it's still beloved, I love it, it didn't really have the impact Halo did when it comes to game development. That being said, I've already said it below, I would love a new Perfect Dark, it's the game out of all Rare games that I would love a sequel/prequel to, and I want a new TimeSplitters. My brother is playing Perfect Dark right now on N64 :P. He could be playing anything else, the Xbox One or PS4 especially, but nope, Perfect Dark N64. Ha ha.

halo1399
halo1399

I seriously miss Goldeneye/Perfect Dark/Timesplitters so much.


Now all we get is a yearly recycled Madden-esque mediocre shooter every November that doesn't match up to the brilliance of PD/Goldeneye/TS.


If only we could go back to 1999.

RageSet
RageSet

Tom, I'm with you. Rare is my favorite developer outside of the main studios of Nintendo and Perfect Dark stands in my Top 10 video games of all time (yes, even with all of its technical problems). At the very minimal of twice a year, nine of my friends and I have an ultimate retro gaming session that lasts an entire weekend and one of the games that is ALWAYS played is Perfect Dark.


My only wish is for the original RareWare team to get back together and either remake Perfect Dark (I'm not counting the XBLA game) or create a true sequel. Nothing better than loading a couple KamikazeBots in the Facility remake level with Farsight guns lying around with three friends.

Erebus
Erebus

Here's another question:

What if World of Warcraft actually had a meaningful penalty for death? Imagine how such a simple rule could have prevented the modern MMO from falling into the "genre for everyone" trap... the fast food MMO if you will.

jasonlc3221
jasonlc3221

While I agree that what happened to Rare is highly unfortunate (welcome to the business world, btw), but the claims that it would've changed FPS games forever? Sorry, but I just think that claim is overly-ridiculous. 

Dredcrumb9
Dredcrumb9

I would love an updated HD remake of Goldeneye, with the same engine as 64, just higher frame rate, shinier graphics, and Perfect Dark styled blood effects.

teller76567
teller76567

Well don't forget that the Nintendo game cube supported online Multiplayer that would be a huge impact as well...Wish rare would have stayed with Nintendo...

metallunar
metallunar

This one game wouldn't have change my decision to buy the PS2 over the GC.

redskinStu
redskinStu

Still say that Farsight rifle was the best weapon EVER, Slayer rocket launcher a close second.

VENOM_8625
VENOM_8625

I agree wit Tom 100% we may be enjoying decent Battletoads , Killer Instinct , Conker & munch more if Tom's scenario happened & Rear had stayed with Nintendo !!!

bluespire1
bluespire1

What is the status of Rare right now does anybody know ?

Chico86_basic
Chico86_basic

Could easily see what this article was going for even before I read it and I completely agree with Tom. This is just one of the many if scenarios that could impact the industry big time!

GOGOHeadray
GOGOHeadray

All of this is hearsay since it would of required Nintendo not treating third parties like garbage.

ParanoidPaal
ParanoidPaal

Someone please give Tom McShea a time machine!


Rare was my favourite company as a kid, all those amazing titles for the N64...

It makes me sad every time I think of Rare.

bourne714
bourne714

What if the Game Cube was really called The Perfect Dark, and the game Perfect Dark was know as Game Cube?  The real question would be, "what if Game Cube was released on Perfect Dark?"

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

Result, I would have probably bought a Gamecube, but it still wouldn't have changed my consumer behavior with the Wii or Wii U.

scottp61
scottp61

The Gamecube would have sold better if Perfect Dark was on it, but I always felt that the Gamecube's two strikes were the controller and the mini discs.

The controler had to be the worst controller of the last 20 years.  The button layout was awful and the yellow joystick was two small.  Nintendo should have improved on the N64 controller for Gamecub instead of creating a new one..


I think the mini discs turned off developers because XBox and PS2 had regular sized discs.


Though Perfect Dark would have played better on Gamecube.  Nintendo not purchasing Rare was a big missed opportunity for Nintendo.

dashboardman
dashboardman

What if Lamespot was to close down and let more serious sites do the job for them...

Arachnofunk
Arachnofunk

Totally agree, Microsoft screwed this awesome developer. How could Nintendo let them go? 

colbster
colbster

I like bots in games - they're a great alternative to annoying kids and shaky online servers.

b74kd3th
b74kd3th

Yes this is another reason why month Nintendo is a joke. 

Furwings
Furwings

Great article. I've actually conversed with friends about this exact same topic. No question if Perfect Dark would've been delayed and released as a launch title for GameCube, the C-Stick nub definitely would've been an actual analog stick and they also would've added a left Z-button as well giving it 4 shoulder buttons. PD also would've ran silky smooth without the need for an extra accessory (RAM pack).


More importantly it would've given the GameCube a game that could stand toe-to-toe with Halo Combat Evolved for the Xbox. This in turn would've led Nintendo to keep Rare. They would've gone on to make sequels to most of their N64 hits and the GameCube would've easily finished 2nd to the PS2 rather than 3rd behind the upstart Xbox.

skayj2
skayj2

Great article Tom! Insightful, with a lot of valid points. Especially on how Perfect Dark would've helped establish a strong identity that would attract more 3rd party debs form the get-go.


It really does make one wonder what would've happened if Rare had stayed with Nintendo. I mean we have Retro now, who are awesome.


But imagine if Rare and Retro were both on board with Nintendo, that would be great!


triton1977
triton1977

Perfect Dark was the first FPS I really liked. 

I never cared much for Golden eye 007 though.

Turok: Rage Wars was the first multiplayer experience (splitscreen) I enjoyed, weapons and game modes were hilarious fun.

N64 made it feel natural to play on Xbox 360 later on.

NTM23
NTM23

@redskinStu 


Farsight best weapon? Yeah, sure, but also cheapest.

Chico86_basic
Chico86_basic

@spacecadet25 I don't think it's that different nowadays with the WiiU to be honest. The software line up is still there pretty much based on the same philosophy. You could argue that GC had a little better third party support though.

scottp61
scottp61

@colbster I liked how you could turn on the bots in the multiplayer and play against them when you were alone.  I wish modern games included something like that.  For gamers that don't have the time to play online multiple hours a day, it lets you still enjoy the mulitplayer aspect of the game instead of playing against people that are 10x better than you in multiplayer.

Dredcrumb9
Dredcrumb9

@triton1977 Goldeneye is amazing. Perfect Dark is amazing too. Both have amazing single payer and multiplayer. Both games are better than the other in many ways. 

NTM23
NTM23

@BeatMastaFlex I loved the TimeSplitters multiplayer, but I'm not a huge multiplayer fan in general, so the Rewind kind of has me care far less than I would have if it had the campaign in it as well.

nini200
nini200

@NTM23 Agreed cheap crap but of course they'd say it was the best because they have no skill.  I bet they like only Laptop Guns and Proximity Mines too.

AR34, Reaper, Cyclone, K7 Avenger and Shotgun is where the action was at.

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

@scottp61 @colbster  Totally agree.  If it wasn't for the bot modes that some of the Call of Duty games have had, I never would have even bothered trying to eventually play against people online in CoD.

And I absolutely love how Titanfall has integrated numerous bots into the matches, so everyone can get kills and enjoy their experience, even when they are technically getting owned by other players.

Hooray for bots!!!