3D Realms: A Post Mortem
by: Dr. Boogie
Friends, I want to tell you a story. A story about a little company called 3D Realms. They made video games. Mostly, they were a publisher, but they developed some of games of their own, too. Most notably, they were the ones responsible for Duke Nukem 3D, the first person shooter that taught us corny machismo and ultra violence combine to make a rockin' good time. Things were looking good for the company, until they tried to create a sequel entitled "Duke Nukem Forever".
Fans of the site know that I have had the utmost faith in Duke Nukem Forever since it was first announced in 1997. I wasn't bothered at all by the knowledge that the game was record-breaking in its tardiness. The developers assured us that the game would have "unprecedented interactivity," and I believed them. I was confident that the game would be great. It would have to be. I mean, can you imagine being involved in developing a game for that long, only to have it be god awful? You'd have to put your entire development staff on a suicide watch.
A couple weeks ago, nearly twelve-and-a-half years after the game was first announced, the company hit a bit of a snag: They ran out of money and fired everyone who was working on DNF. So what happened? What went wrong with this game developer that was only developing one game and took over a decade to do so? If you were to ask the people who ran the company, you'd probably get a response like "when it's done," or "STFU".
That's why, with the help of the intrepid interns of the I-Mockery research division, I have recovered a long list of some of the more important events to occur during the course of the game's 12-year development process:
Duke Nukem Forever is announced as a follow-up to the wildly successful Duke Nukem 3D. To celebrate, George Broussard, co-creator of the character and creative director for the title, commissions a 10-foot concrete likeness of Duke Nukem. The contractor states that it will take three months for the statue to be completed. Eight months later, the statue was still under construction, and all inquiries made to the contractor were met with the same response: "when it's done."
Broussard fires roughly half of the entire level design team after learning that many of the levels in the latest build had been plagiarized from other works. The issue comes to a head during playtesting of the new "Walden Pond" arena map.
Prey, another project under development by 3D Realms, is canceled. Fans of the upcoming shooter were disappointed by the news. As a consolation, 3D Realms would pick the game back up years later and release it as a mediocre FPS with a shellac of good graphics and no challenge whatsoever.
I have "reservations" about this game.
As part of their push to provide unheard of levels of interactivity in the game, 3D Realms manages to work in a 3-point shootout minigame using the actual game physics. A few days later, the developers organize a company-wide tournament. Unfortunately, they lose their very first match to the QA department. In response, George Broussard decides to switch the game to a different physics engine.
Jeff Lapin, The CEO of Take Two, expressed some doubts about DNF being released this year. In response, George Broussard commented that "Take Two needs to STFU". Some members of his staff worry that insulting their publisher might not be a sound business strategy, but Broussard scoffs at the notion, saying that sometimes the best way to communicate with a business partner is to insult them publicly. "And besides," he reasoned, "it's not like we'll ever need anything from Take Two.
Rumors surface that Bruce Campbell is working on another big movie. George Broussard decides to put development of DNF on hold, in the hopes that this new movie will supply him with new quotes for Duke. Broussard had done this before for Bubba Ho-tep, but ultimately decided to pass on "I'll lube my own crankshaft from now on!"
"It's time to kick ass and crank out more cheesy one-liners, and I'm all out of creativity."
The decision is made to switch the physics engine once again; this time to Qwarc, the new quantum physics engine. The new engine claims to revolutionize in-game physics by allowing programmers to add in considerations for condensed matter physics, chemical bonding, electromagnetism, and a host of other fundamental forces of nature not normally found in modern FPS games. Unfortunately, the new engine doesn't contain any settings for gravity. The programming department is devastated by a wave of aneurisms during the struggle to stop all the world geometry from floating off into space.
Give Albert Einstein the Unreal Engine and this happens.
Take-Two Interactive, the new publishers of the game, reportedly offer a $500,000 bonus if the game is released by the end of the year. Broussard balks at the idea, saying "if I cared about making money, don't you think I would've finished this game by now? And where's my statue!?"
In a controversial move, development is reset once again, this time with the entire game being rendered with the new Line Rider Engine. Early screenshots confirmed rumors that a sled-bound Duke would be fighting off pig cops while traveling along a cursive rendition of, "hail to the king, baby!" (Landing on the comma was said to trigger a bonus level, but the level designers were unable to complete it before the next big redesign)
Duke Nukem Forever
E1M1: The Widowmaker
Interest in Duke Nukem Forever is lagging thanks, in large part, to there being no substantial news about its release for months. Even more troubling, several of the programmers have died of old age in the midst of development. George Broussard sees an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone (or in his words, "to kick two asses with one boot"): he posts a job opening on the 3D Realms site for programmers, along with a screenshot from Duke Nukem Forever. Unfortunately, this came right after he instituted a mini-reset, namely keeping all the levels, but deleting everything within them (props, monsters, weapons, Duke Nukem, etc). Always one to think on his feet, Broussard orders one of the interns to paint a couple of his pewter Duke Nukem figurines, stand them in front of a monitor showing one of the empty levels from the game, and take a picture. After some liberal use of the blur tool, along with a substantial drop in resolution, it is slightly harder to tell the "screenshots" were faked. The post goes up, and interest in the game spikes for almost thirty minutes.
Duke Nukem, as seen through your grandmother's cataracts.
Former Monolith CEO, Jason Hall, is taken on a tour of the 3D Realms studio for an episode of his web show. When asked why Duke Nukem Forever is taking so long, George Broussard admits that the source of the delays is a lack of focus on the part of the lead developers, a lack of communication between the creative director and the rest of the team, and a lack of motivation due to the company setting its own milestones and deadlines for the game. Broussard goes onto admit that he believed the profits from rehashing Duke Nukem 3D every year or so would be enough to cover the seemingly endless development costs for Duke Nukem Forever. In retrospect, Broussard confessed that he wished the game had been turned out after the first big engine switch so that the company could recoup some of its losses and show the gaming world it still had what it takes to make good games in a timely fashion.
After some consideration, Broussard decides to scrap this answer. In its place, he blames the delay of DNF on cocaine, hookers, and World of Warcraft.
Pictured: George Broussard (Creative Director) and Scott Miller (3D Realms CEO)
Not Pictured: A finished copy of Duke Nukem Forever
George Broussard discovers Twitter, giving him the chance to dangle an even smaller carrot in the face of the dwindling DNF community. He briefly considers resetting development again to celebrate.
George Broussard announces, via Twitter, that the game is entering the final stages of development. Rumors begin spreading that DNF will see a 2009 release. Things are really looking up for the company.
All but two members of the company are fired, and the remaining two are preparing for a lawsuit from Take Two. Adding insult to injury, the Duke Nukem statue finally arrives at the offices of 3D Realms, albeit missing an arm and bearing the likeness of Kurt Russell instead of Duke Nukem.
Which brings us to the present. The future seems bleak for the infamous title, but some gamers (mostly confined to the 3D Realms forums) believe that someday, somehow, Duke Nukem Forever will see the light of day. I'm here to tell you that despite losing nearly everyone who has put even a minute of work into the game, it is still not technically "dead". Rather, it is in a "persistent vegetative state".
Still, I suppose it is about time to say goodbye. Farewell, Duke Nukem! You'll live on in our hearts, and in the countless reiterations of your earlier games. And farewell to you, 3D Realms! I'm still waiting on the sequel to Shadow Warrior!
Questions or Comments about this piece?
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The thing with Blizzard is that while one of their A-list titles was taking a while, you could be sure there was another game/expansion for a different series coming up a year or two later. Lately, it's been just a stream of WoW expansions, but who knows. Maybe Starcraft 2, Diablo 3, and the new IP they're developing will get things back on track again.
Very nice article, very funny.
While I've never even played any of the DN games, I can't really expect DNF to have been all that great for all the hypes it's gotten.
Your still my favorite writer on this site Boogie, you gonna be working on any more ROM hack reviews anytime soon?
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