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Perfect Dark Zero - A History Lesson

Written by Falcon Zero on the 5th March, 2005.

Blockbuster video games these days tend to have equally blockbuster production costs, especially with 3D technology constantly pushing the envelope. In the days gone by of the NES & SNES, 2D games weren't as big a deal with production times and generally new games were completed within a single year. Not anymore.

The best of the best take easily more than 2 years average, some even push three long years (eg. Halo 2). Some delays in production have legitimate reasons, such as Half-Life 2's troublesome development with hacked code and whatnot. But not all of them can point to platform-jumping as an excuse. Perfect Dark Zero can. Originally planned as a Nintendo GameCube title as early as 2000, no other game has had such a turbulent, yet mysterious and silent development period. Here I'll discuss the time frame between 2000 and 2005, and the events leading up to PD0's move to Xbox (or Xbox 2, sheesh, can it become any more mystifying?).

After the immense success of Perfect Dark took the world by storm in the twilight years of the Nintendo 64, fans have expected Rare to produce an inevitable sequel, continuing the franchise onto next-generation consoles. At the time Nintendo were beginning their launch campaign for the GameCube, ready for Japanese launch in September 2001 and November of the same year for the US.

Rare's first move in suggesting a sequel in the works was at Spaceworld 2000, an annual game show based in Japan. Somewhat simple, Rare nevertheless produced a short demo of a 3D rotating Joanna Dark similar in appearance to the renders used to promote the N64 game.

Not long after the show, reports further suggested the development of the new game with Rare showing an interest in several potential names for the game including "After Dark", "Perfect Dark Evolution" and the catch-phrase "Shot in the Dark." Things were quiet until June of 2001, when Reuters reported Nintendo's announcement of a Perfect Dark sequel in the works for their latest console. According to Nintendo Insiders, Rare had begun work on the game as early as August of 2000 - which if true would push the game's development over five years come August of this year.

For a short time during E3 2001 Nintendo themselves advertised a "Perfect Dark Zero" on their website listed as an upcoming title but quickly removed it for reasons unknown. The game also appeared at another games conference listed alongside many other well-known GameCube launch (and future) titles which have since been released. Since then the game has held onto the PD0 name, and only time (and Rare) will tell if it changes. All signs were pointing to a Fall 2002 release if everything went to plan, which, of course we all know didn't.

More temptations and rumours developed with the release of Super Smash Bros. Melee, Nintendo's all-star fighter game. Among the huge range of useable items featured in the game, two of them certainly raised eyebrows. A cloaking device and proximity mine, both of which referred to the PD universe in their trophy showcases, hinted at the upcoming release of the game (each trophy listed the game they related to, and both those items humourously had "TOP SECRET" listed). Both items bore new appearances, but curiously in the Japanese SSBM the proximity mine bared a striking resemblance to the proximity mine in the original Perfect Dark.

But change was in the air, and 2002 sure brought along a few surprises. Early in the year gaming website IGN reported some sour news: PD0's development wasn't exactly working out. Sources from Rare informed that the game was coming along terribly slowly and certainly wouldn't see a 2002 release, it may have even slipped ahead as a 2004 release.

Disorganisation between Rare and Nintendo as well as internal team problems were blamed for the delay, but another looming decision on Rare's part may have had an influence as well. E3 2002 came and Star Fox Adventures made a solo appearance from Rare's studios while fans expected more from the new Perfect Dark as well. A Rare spokesperson explained the single-title showing as just a matter of timing, and that Nintendo had a strong enough lineup of future GameCube titles on show without Rare overdoing the presentations with a handful of demos.

Around the same time rumours began into Rare's possible development of PS2 and Xbox titles, and a hinting of their expansion from Nintendo to become a third-party developer. The eventual release of their first and soon-to-be-revealed last GameCube title - Star Fox Adventures - brought the biggest announcement in Rare's history - they were leaving Nintendo and joining the Microsoft Game Studios.

Nintendo had their chance of fully purchasing Rare but decided against it, one of the reasons being that Rare's games only summed up to 9.5% of sales in 2001. Other game publishers came to the table, with Microsoft and Activision showing the most interest. Microsoft won out in the end, acquiring Rare for a whopping $375 million US. In September 2002, Rare announced their departure and farewell from Nintendo, and the chairman of Rare, Chris Stamper, spoke up:

"Our mission at Rare has always been to make the industry's best games for the widest possible audience. Teaming with Microsoft gives us the best opportunity to accomplish this goal. Microsoft's dedication and commitment to game creators, research and development, and to gaming innovation made them the obvious partner to take Rare into the future."

At the time Rare produced a short video containing key characters (which inevitably would make the move to Xbox as well, as Rare owned all rights), first of which was none other than Joanna Dark, but with a completely different appearance. Several more renders of this new-style Joanna surfaced, suggesting that Rare wanted a new direction for the game's art with a more fantasy-oriented look. That was the very first actual media released in relation to the game, and since then absolutely nothing else (save for very meager news) has appeared.

Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Rare's first outing on the Xbox released in 2003, marks their new future with the MGS and despite the slowdowns produced by the move (switching development kits, etc.) they currently have two more titles slated for release this year, Conker: Live and Reloaded & Kameo: Elements of Power.

With the raging success of the first-person-shooter Halo franchise on Xbox and the impending revealing of Microsoft's next system, the next Perfect Dark could slip further into the future as a launch title. With rumours and reports of Microsoft unveiling the Xbox 2 at 2005's E3 alongside Nintendo's Revolution and Sony's PS3, the wait may soon be over for Perfect Dark's sequel to come into the light.

Spaceworld 2001 Joanna Dark Renders /
Super Smash Bros. Melee Perfect Dark Items

Major kudos and special thanks to IGN for archiving news over the past 5 years, which was sourced in this article.