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Duke Nukem… now not ever

It was confirmed today that the perpetual developer of Duke Nukem Forever, 3D Realms, is being shut down for financial reasons. If you’ve never heard of 3D Realms or Duke Nukem, this won’t mean much to you. But if you’ve been playing computer games since the early 90’s, you’ll almost certainly remember the iconic Duke Nukem 3D.

Unlike other early “3D” games, Duke Nukem’s greatest strength was its main character- a rough-talking, wise-assed musclebound guy as quick with a one-liner as with his shotgun. This was a game with a sense of humour, and an off the wall quirkiness: I recall the shrink ray which allowed you to shoot a monster or, in multi-player, another player, to reduce them to mouse size… then stomp on them. Or the remote control mines: set down four or five mines in various locations, then selectively detonate them using the remote control. Combine this with a “security station” containing monitors showing camera views of various places in the game, and you could remotely kill your enemies. Brilliant stuff!

Duke Nukem 3D was released in 1996. In 1997, 3D Realms announced their next installment in the series: Duke Nukem Forever. Originally, it was supposed to ship in 1999. 3D Realms was one of the original inventors of the term “it is ready when it’s ready”, and every year after 1999 there was another “not yet” from the developers when asked about DNF. The perpetual delays of Duke Nukem Forever became a long-running joke in the industry.

Today is the punchline, and it isn’t very satisfying. The employees of 3D Realms are, no doubt, even more disappointed than I am, and are stuck trying to get new jobs in a challenging economy. Will Duke Nukem ever reappear? Supposedly Take Two (the “when it’s ready” publisher of DNF) still owns the rights to the publication of the game, but all of the intellectual property (I.E.: the game in progress, the story, the artwork, etc) is locked up in the collapsed company. I suspect we’ll never see Duke Nukem as he was intended to be seen, although I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a never ending stream of cheap knockoff Dukes on various platforms like the the Game Boy and PSP.

Farewell, Duke: as you walk off into the sunset, may you always kick ass and chew bubble gum, and may you always be out of gum.

4 comments to Duke Nukem… now not ever

  • The alchemists of old would hide away in their secret laboratories claiming to have the secret to transform base metals into gold “real soon now.”

    They could keep it up for years every once in a while producing a little “teaser” to keep the lord paying the bills.

    But sooner or later even the dumbest aristocrat realizes he’s being fleeced and pulls the plug.

    At least todays software alchemists won’t get their head chopped off when the mark finally wises up.

  • Interesting analogy with the alchemists. My imaginary plot for the Duke Nukem Forever story is a little different. I picture a couple of guys (the core Duke Nukem 3D developers). For some reason, I imagine them as sort of like you and I. They hack together a couple of games on a shoe string in their twenties, and make something that generates a bunch of money (Duke Nukem 3D). Since they are sort of like you and I, they have a little bit of ambition but not a lot. Once the millions are in the bank, they start just having fun: acting as “impresarios” for games like Max Payne (and taking a cut), overseeing development of XBox and GameBoy versions of their original game (and taking a cut), and generally living off the residuals.

    Note that my understanding is that no one was actually “funding” Duke Nukem or 3D Realms: it was running on the original investments of the founders (the guys who developed Duke Nukem/Duke Nukem 3D), plus the revenue stream I’ve noted above.

    Instead of seriously working on a new Duke Nukem, they would sort of putter around chasing whatever interests them that day. I think they honestly intended to one day release DNF, but they felt no pressure: the only money they were “wasting” was their own. Each time the latest technology change or another cool game came out, they would scrap what they had done to play with it in the name of “research”. I imagine the founding developers spent their office hours mostly playing LAN games with each other, kicking around in World of Warcraft, and hacking with the latest licensed game engines. The workers they hired likely diligently developed with minimal and usually confused direction, and every few months willingly started all over again to incorporate the newest technology.

    They likely could have kept doing this even longer into the future, but the economy disrupted their fun. At some point, the original developers (now in middle age) likely saw their retirement funds getting eaten up, and decided it was time to close up shop. Again, with no outside investors, they could do this when and how they wanted. They chose to do it quickly, even abruptly, without a long farewell.

  • Also plausible.

    Of course now I’m getting an image of some grey haired game developers living in Thailand with their “honey” sitting at a grass hut beach bar with a bunch of other old white guys in floral shirts going, “Remember Duke Nuke Em? That was me! I couldn’t stand the rat race so I siad screw it all … Kids these days don’t appreciate real games … ”

    *shudder*

  • I found this quote from 2003 by George Broussard, one of the owners (and original developers of Duke Nukem 3D) that confirms my understanding of how the development was financed

    George Broussard (May 30, 2003): “Just bear in mind that 3DR funds DNF 100% out of our own pockets. Take Two does nothing. If we didn’t have utmost confidence in our abilities and the future of the game, then why would we continue to fund it ourselves? We could easily quit, scrap it, and do some other game.

    “All we want to do is keep quiet, work on the game, and emerge later and show you what we’re working on. We don’t want hype. We don’t want drama…

    “But just remember, it’s our time and our money we are spending on the game. So either we’re absolutely stupid and clueless, or we believe in what we are working on. In the end, you guys will judge the final results. For now, all we want to do is keep quiet and work.”

    Note that George has been absolutely silent since the shutdown of 3D Realms on May 6. You can see his twitter feed here=> http://twitter.com/georgeb3dr. His last comment directly relating to DNF development was on April 13, 2009. It would be nice if George or someone “official” would actually comment but… I imagine the shutdown was pretty tough on them emotionally as well. I’m just speculating- they could all be off doing lines of coke off the bellies of very flexible strippers somewhere in the tropics, laughing at the stupid geeks who still care.

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