What's in a name? In the case of Perfect Dark, it's explained to be protagonist Joanna Dark's code name, but it seems that that was something of a retroactive justification. In a new oral history compiled for Perfect Dark's 20th anniversary, Lead Designer David Doak recounts how Rare actually arrived at the name for its lauded FPS game: a "hilarious" process involving a name generator.
Doak and several other key figures from Rare's Perfect Dark team spoke with our sister site Eurogamer for this new look at the game's storied development. There's talk of the pressures of following up GoldenEye 007, of ubiquitous overtime before "crunch" entered the gaming vernacular, and the decision by some team members (Doak included) to leave and form Free Radical. There's also a handful of very relatable stories about how hard it is to settle on a name for, well, just about anything.
Originally developed under the name Covert Ops, and then Alien Intelligence, the process that led to "Perfect Dark" eventually turned to the help of randomness. "Trying to name it was hilarious," Doak tells Eurogamer. "In the end, [team lead Martin Hollis] and I had a random word mixer. It had a database of 200 words, and it just used to run and spit out names. And we'd go, oh, we like that one. The test of a name was, if you printed it out on a piece of paper and stuck it to the wall and you didn't hate it in two days' time, then maybe that was okay."
Doak is also credited with coming up with Joanna Dark's name, a cross-lingual pun ("perhaps the most painful possible," says Hollis) on Joan of Arc, nee Jeanne d'Arc in French. A fine name, ultimately, but one that's also the product of a prolonged and arduous process.
"The name was a massive stickler," according to Duncan Botwood, game designer. "Oh my god. And then eventually it was like, yeah, some pun on Joan of Arc. Fucking ship it. It was like, yep, I am minimally offended by that choice. So we went with that."
The entire oral history is a great read if you're at all interested in Rare, the Nintendo 64, and what it was like trying to get out from under the shadow of James Bond. If you're also in the mood for more on Perfect Dark and Rare, be sure to read our piece on why it's a good time for a Perfect Dark revival and our new interview with former Rare composers David Wise and Grant Kirkhope.