There is a certain type of videogame enthusiast for whom the virtual gun is far more than a mere prop. He waits with grim anticipation for the list of which real-world weapons will feature in the latest blockbuster shooter, quietly fist-pumping the air when his favourites make the grade. Most players, however, view the specifics of digital weapons with mild indifference: inside a game, they will quickly find their favourite means of punching crimson holes in their enemies, but it’s unlikely they’ll remember the weapon’s name or finer details. GoldenEye 007’s Klobb is a towering exception the rule, a gun so notorious that it even has its own dedicated Facebook page, albeit with the rather disparaging title ‘The Klobb is garbage in N64’s GoldenEye’.
A submachine gun that’s usually found lying about in the Russia-set stages, the noisy-yet-inaccurate weapon is widely considered to be the game’s weakest, thanks to its slow rate of fire and capricious bullet spray. Despite its fictional name, the Klobb is accurately based on the Skorpion VZ/61 and was chosen by level designer Duncan Botwood. “The Skorpion is cheaply made in Czechoslovakia, I believe,” says Martin Hollis, the game’s producer and director. “There’s some kind of Eastern European Mafia connection too. There are various flashy guns in the game, but the Klobb isn’t one of them. It’s not a B-list gun. You might say it’s a K-list gun…”
Considering the weapon’s reputation, very few characters in GoldenEye 007’s main story carry a Klobb; in fact, the team considered it too disadvantageous for even the lowliest grunts to wield. Hollis believes its infamy derives from the disparity between its bark and its bite. “There are a few scenarios in which it’s possible to pick up two Klobbs and dual-wield them,” he says. “When you do so, it makes an awesome sound and feels fantastic. You think to yourself, ‘Oh, yeah! I’m the shit’. Until you actually try to shoot an enemy with the gun, that is, and realise that it’s a bit like a noisy water pistol.”
The maths behind the Klobb’s flaws is straightforward. “It’s both the weakness of the bullets [and] also the wide angle of fire,” Hollis explains. Nevertheless, the gun’s inclusion was important to the team, who viewed GoldenEye’s weapons not as mere props but as characters in and of themselves. “Many of the guns were highly tuned, but the Klobb was not one of them. It was an unloved character – the runt of the group.”
The Klobb’s unusual name was a reaction to one of Nintendo’s stipulations. Released in 1997 on N64, GoldenEye 007 was one of the first games on the console to feature 3D firearms, most of which were modelled on real-world weapons such as the Walther PPK, the Kalashnikov AK-47 and the FN P90. But Nintendo, nervous that people would draw a line between arms manufacturers and its game, insisted the team fictionalise the guns’ titles. “I was unhappy because doing so would decrease the realism,” says Hollis. Nevertheless, the team replaced the real gun names with fictional ones – sometimes based on the initials of the development staff.
“We looked at the names of weapons on the market at the time,” Hollis recalls. “We found that some letters of the alphabet are found more regularly in gun names than others. Some letters sound more aggressive and these ones tend to be picked by manufacturers when naming products.”
Where possible, the team made up new designations incorporating these letters. “For example, we had the DD44 Dostovei, which was named after David Doak,” Hollis says. “The tradition even carried into follow-up Perfect Dark… But the Klobb was named after Ken Lobb, who was our Nintendo-side producer and contact.”
Despite the stats, this wasn’t a dig at the Nintendo producer, with whom Hollis enjoyed working. “I do slightly regret naming such a poor weapon after him, since I am tremendously fond of the man. He is astonishingly enthusiastic about games, even after years of working in the industry. It’s a little unfair that we named such a useless weapon after him. And for that I am sorry.”
There is, however, one scenario in which the Klobb’s weaknesses are transformed into strengths. One of the bonus multiplayer modes, dubbed License To Kill, sees each player burdened with a handicap of -100 points to their health. In this setup, even a graze from a bullet is usually lethal. “Dual-wielded Klobbs are astonishingly effective in License To Kill mode,” Hollis says. “It’s a fast-paced multiplayer game in which there’s not a great deal of time to line up shots with any accuracy. It’s more like ‘spray and pray’, and the Klobb is ideally suited to this style. You can enter a room and let loose with the weapons; the somewhat random spread of bullets makes the gun come into its own.”
Seventeen years after GoldenEye 007’s debut, the virtual gun remains the central tool in the arsenal of both designer and player. The gun suits the 3D videogame like nothing else. With it, players have the ability to touch objects both near and far in a 3D world, extending their reach into the screen. But after years of striving to create the perfect virtual weapon, designers are beginning to understand the power of imperfection, not just in adding realism to a game, but also in adding valuable unpredictability, which can lead to memorable moments. It’s a lesson the Klobb exemplified at the very start, and one whose value we’re only now coming to appreciate.