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Ubisoft pitched 'Splinter Cell' as a James Bond videogame in 1999

04-Feb-2014 • Gaming

Montreal-based software developer Ubisoft had a close encounter with 007 back in 1999 when trying to save a project from internal cancellation. The license holder at the time was Electronic Arts, who were about to publish an adaptation of "Tomorrow Never Dies", which would pale in comparison to the block-buster "GoldenEye" released by Nintendo a year or two earlier.

As a recent indepth article by IGN explains, 'The Drift' (work in progress title) was a "third-person shooter without much soul":

You could aim at two enemies at once and navigate the world with flying vehicles. Smart A.I. led to contextual crowd reactions in the game’s open spaces -- so if you, Buster the reluctant hero, sprinted through a group while wielding a gun, pedestrians reacted with appropriate dismay. That gun was a modular device, too, allowing players to grapple up ledges, change vision modes, and fire cameras into walls. Sound familiar?

Individually, The Drift had elements of greatness that were, in some cases, ahead of their time in 1999. Cohesion and focus were problems. The Drift, as a game, was not enough. At a certain point, in a last ditch effort to save it, The Drift became a pitch for a James Bond game. Nothing came of the demo, a shot in the dark "attempt to impress the license holder," and Ubisoft put The Drift on ice.

Amid these struggles, Ubisoft also decided to close the New York studio to start something new -- Gameloft, a mobile game developer -- and its projects and people were reallocated to Montreal.

A year or so later, when Red Storm (and the Tom Clancy name) came to Ubisoft, the ex-New York, now-Montreal team started exploring how its shelved game might sell with Clancy elements. A designer named Nathan Wolff started implementing spy stuff into The Drift. Surveillance cameras. Stealth. Non-direct combat. Ubisoft toyed with basing it on The Sum of All Fears.

Ubisoft HQ saw incredible potential, and with Hideo Kojima’s next great game on the horizon, it issued a mandate to the Montreal team: “Make a Metal Gear Solid 2 killer.” No pressure. So The Drift team and the rest of Ubisoft Montreal made a big decision. They would try something new, and they’d do it in the style of Tom Clancy. The pitch was, according to a developer, “What if the NSA couldn’t collect data by conventional means? Would it have access to a wetworks team or operative to do discrete dirty work?”

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell took off inside Ubisoft Montreal, and its star, secret agent Sam Fisher, was born.

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