Development of Duke Nukem Forever

Development of Duke Nukem Forever

The video game Duke Nukem Forever spent fifteen years in development, from 1996 to 2011. It is a first-person shooter for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360,[1] developed by 3D Realms, Triptych Games, Gearbox Software and Piranha Games. It is a sequel to the 1996 game Duke Nukem 3D, as part of the long-running Duke Nukem video game series. Intended to be groundbreaking, Duke Nukem Forever has become infamous in the video games industry and was considered vaporware due to its severely-protracted development schedule; the game had been in development since 1996. Originally in development under 3D Realms, director George Broussard, one of the creators of the original Duke Nukem game, first announced the title's development in April 1997, and promotional information for the game was released in one form or another from 1997 until its release in 2011.

After repeatedly announcing and deferring release dates, 3D Realms announced in 2001 that it would be released simply "when it's done". In May 2009, 3D Realms was downsized for financial reasons, resulting in the loss of the game's development team. Statements by the company indicated that the project was due to "go gold" soon with pictures of final development. Take-Two Interactive, which owns the publishing rights to the game, filed a lawsuit in 2009 against 3D Realms over their "failure to finish development". 3D Realms retorted that Take-Two's legal interest in the game is limited to their publishing right. The case was settled with prejudice and details undisclosed in May 2010. On September 3, 2010, 14 years after the start of the development, Duke Nukem Forever was officially reported by 2K Games to be in development at Gearbox Software,[2] with an expected release date of 2011.[3] The official release date was then revealed to be May 3, 2011 in North America, with a worldwide release following on May 6, 2011.[4] This was however delayed by a month to June 10 internationally with a North American release on June 14.[5] Duke Nukem Forever was finally released after 15 years of development on June 10, 2011.



Scott Miller was a lifelong gamer who released his text-based video games as shareware in the 1980s. By 1988, the shareware business was a $10 to $20 million a year market, but the distribution method had never been tried for video games. Miller found that gamers were not willing to pay for something they could get for free, so he came up with the idea of offering only the opening levels of his games; players could purchase the game to receive the rest of the game.[6] George Broussard, whom Miller met while he was in high school, joined Miller at his company, Apogee, which published and marketed games developed by other companies. While Miller was quiet, with a head for business, Broussard was an enthusiastic "creative impresario". Apogee (from which a new brand name was made in 1994, 3D Realms) grew from a small startup to a successful corporation.[7] Among the titles they published was id Software's Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. Wolfenstein was highly successful, popularizing 3D gaming and establishing the first-person shooter (FPS) genre.[8]

By 1994, Broussard began working on 3D Realms' own first-person shooter. Rather than the faceless marine of other games, players assumed the role of Duke Nukem, a character who Broussard described as "a combo of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Arnold Schwarzenegger", and who had previously starred in two 2D platformers, Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem II, developed by Apogee. After a year and a half of work, Duke Nukem 3D was released in January 1996.[7] Among game aspects that appealed to players were environmental interaction and adult-oriented content—including blood and strippers.[9] Buoyed by the success, Broussard announced a follow-up, Duke Nukem Forever.[7]

Quake II engine, 1996–1998

Duke Nukem Forever was officially announced on April 28, 1997,[10] with the intention of releasing the game no later than mid-1998.[11] Barely a year after the release of Duke Nukem 3D, the game's graphics and its game engine, the Build engine, were antiquated. Id Software's new Quake II engine was far superior to Build, so Broussard decided to license it.[10][12] The price spent for the licensing rights was steep—estimates were as high as $500,000—but Broussard reasoned that it would save time used to write a game engine from scratch.[12] Broussard and Miller were flush with cash from the sales of Duke Nukem 3D and other games, so they decided to fund Duke Nukem Forever themselves, turning marketing and publishing rights over to GT Interactive.[13]

In August and September, the first screenshots of Duke Nukem Forever were released in PC Gamer. However, 3D Realms did not receive the Quake II engine code until November 1997, and the earlier screenshots were mock-ups with the Quake engine that the team had made in their spare time.[14] 3D Realms unveiled the first video footage of Duke Nukem Forever using the Quake II engine at the 1998 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) conference.[14] The trailer showed Duke fighting on the back of a moving truck and firefights with aliens. While critics were impressed, Broussard was not happy with the progress being made.[12]

Unreal engine, 1998–2003

Screenshot of Duke Nukem Forever from 1999.

Soon after the release of the Quake II engine, Epic Games had unveiled its own Unreal Engine. The Unreal Engine was more realistic than Quake II and was better suited to producing open spaces—3D Realms had been struggling to render the Nevada desert. Soon after E3, a programmer suggested that they make the switch. After discussions, the developers unanimously agreed to the change, which would mean scrapping much of their work so far,[12] including significant changes 3D Realms had made to the Quake Engine.[15] In June 1998, 14 months after the Quake II announcement, 3D Realms made the switch announcement. Broussard said that the game would not be "significantly delayed" by the switch, but that the project would be back to where it was at E3 "within a month to six weeks". Broussard also said that no content seen in the E3 trailer would be lost.[16] Chris Hargrove, one of the game's programmers at the time, confided that the change amounted to a complete reboot of the project.[12]

By the end of 1999, Duke Nukem Forever had missed several release dates and was largely unfinished; half the game's weapons remained concepts.[12] Broussard shot back at criticisms of the game's lengthy development time as the price paid for developing complex modern games:

Today's games are MUCH more complex. In Duke Nukem 3D all the characters were sprites. Today they are polygonal models, have to be skinned, and then animated or motion captured. A very long, tedious and complex process. Also games today are "deeper" and require more than key/door stuff. That means more time to develop. Note all the so-so [first-person shooter] games that didn't sell well in the last two years and you will see that they were simple compared to more complex efforts like Half-Life. A game like Duke Nukem Forever is probably 5-10 times more complex than Duke Nukem 3D was.[17]

A significant factor contributing to the game's protracted development was that Broussard was continually looking to add new elements to the game. A running joke at 3D Realms was to stop Broussard from seeing a new video game, as he would want to include portions of it in Duke Nukem Forever. Later that year, Broussard decided to upgrade to a new version of the Unreal engine that was designed for multiplayer matches. Former employees recalled that Broussard did not have a plan for what the finished game would look like.[12] At the same time, GT Interactive was facing higher-than-expected losses and hired Bear Stearns to look into selling the company or merging it.[18] Later that year, Infogrames Entertainment announced it was purchasing a controlling interest in GT Interactive.[19] The publishing rights for Duke Nukem Forever passed to Gathering of Developers in early December 2000.[20]

To placate anxious fans, Broussard decided to create another trailer for E3 2001—it was the first public look at the game in three years.[13] The video showed a couple of minutes of in-game footage,[21] which notably showed the player moving in what appears to be Las Vegas and a certain level of interactivity (the player buys a sandwich from a vending machine and pushes each individual button on a keypad with Duke's outstretched finger). The trailer was impressive, and Duke Nukem was the talk of the convention;[13] IGN reported on the game's graphics, saying, "Characters come to life with picturesque facial animations that are synced perfectly with speech, hair that swings as they bob their heads, eyes that follow gazes, and more. The particle effects system, meanwhile, boasts impressive explosion effects with shimmering fire, shattered glass, and blood spilt in every direction [...] Add in real-time lighting effects, interactive environments, and a variation in locales unequaled in any other first-person shooter and you begin to see and understand why Duke Nukem Forever has been one of the most hotly anticipated titles over the last couple of years."[21] Duke Nukem Forever looked as good or better than most games, and staff at 3D Realms recalled a sense of elation after the presentation; "The video was just being eaten up by people," one said. "We were so far ahead of other people at the time." While many of the staff expected Broussard to make a push for finishing the game, however, he still did not have a finished product in mind.[13] Following the death of one of Gathering of Developers' co-founders and continuing financial problems, the publishers' Texas-based offices were shut down and absorbed into parent company Take-Two Interactive.[22]

Conflict with Take-Two, 2003–2006

By 2003, only 18 people at 3D Realms were working on the game. One former employee said that Broussard and Miller were still operating on a "1995 mentality", before games became large-team, big budget development affairs. Because they were financing the project themselves, the developers could also ignore pressure from their publisher;[13] their standard reply to when Duke Nukem Forever would ship was "when it's done".[13][23] In 2003, Take-Two CEO Jeffrey Lapin reported that the game would not be out that year.[24] He further said the company was writing off $5.5 million from its earnings due to Duke Nukem Forever's lengthy development time.[23] Broussard shot back that "Take-Two needs to STFU ... We don’t want Take-Two saying stupid-ass things in public for the sole purposes of helping their stock. 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."[13][23] Later that year, Lapin said 3D Realms had told him that Duke Nukem Forever was expected to be finished by the end of 2004, or the beginning of 2005.[22]

In 2004, video game website GameSpot reported that Duke Nukem Forever had switched to the Doom 3 engine.[25] Many gaming news sites mailed Broussard, asking him to confirm or deny the rumor. After receiving no answer from him, they published the rumor as fact, but Broussard explicitly denied the rumor soon after.[25] Soon after 3D Realms replaced the game's Karma physics system with one designed by Meqon, a relatively unknown Swedish firm. Closed-doors demonstrations of the technology suggested that the physics of Duke Nukem Forever would be a step up from the critically acclaimed Half-Life 2.[26] Rumors suggested that the game would appear at 2005 E3. While 3D Realms' previously-canceled Prey made an appearance, the rumors of Duke Nukem Forever's appearance proved false.[27]

Broussard reported in a January 2006 interview that many of Duke Nukem Forever's elements had been finished; "we're just basically pulling it all together and trying to make it fun".[28] Later that year Broussard demonstrated samples of the game, including an early level, a vehicle sequence, and a few test rooms.[29] Among the features seen was the interactive use of an in-game computer to send actual e-mails.[30] The developer seemed contrite and affected by the long delays; while a journalist demoed the game Broussard referenced note cards and constantly apologized for the state of the game.[13] In filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Take-Two revealed they had renegotiated the Duke Nukem Forever deal, with the developer receiving $4.25 million instead of $6 million on release of the game. Take-Two offered a $500,000 bonus if Duke Nukem Forever was commercially released by December 31, 2006.[29] However, Broussard denied the rumors that DNF would be released, saying that 3D Realms never cared for or asked for the bonus. He stated that he would "never ship a game early."[31]

Some of the staff were tired of the delays—Duke Nukem Forever was the only 3D game many had worked on, giving them little to put on a resume, and as much of 3D Realms' payment hinged on profit-sharing after release, the continual delays meant deferred income.[13] By August 2006, between 7–10 employees had left since 2005, a majority of the Duke Nukem Forever team (which in recent months had shrunk to around 18 staff).[32][33] While Shacknews speculated that the departures would lead to further delays, 3D Realms denied the claims, stating that the employees had left over a number of months and that the game was still moving ahead.[34] Creative director Raphael van Lierop, hired in 2007, played through the completed content and realized that there was more finished than he expected. Lierop told Broussard that he felt they could push the game and "blow everyone out of the water", but Broussard responded that the game was still two years away from completion.[32]

3D Realms final years in development, 2007–2009

Duke Nukem Forever 2007 teaser screenshot

The long delay strained Broussard and Miller's relationship, and by the end of 2006, Broussard appeared to become serious about shipping the title.[32] On January 25 and May 22, 2007, Broussard posted two Gamasutra job ads with small screenshots of Duke Nukem and an enemy, which he later confirmed were real in-game screenshots.[35][36] The team doubled in size within a short timeframe. Among the new hires was project lead Brian Hook, who became the first person to successfully resist Broussard's requests for changes.[32]

A new game trailer was released on December 19, 2007, the first teaser in more than six years. The video was made by 3D Realms employees as part of holiday festivities. While Broussard maintained the release date would be "when it's done", he added that "you can expect more frequent media releases [and] we have considerable work behind us".[37] While the Dallas Business Journal "confirmed" a 2008 release date for the game, Broussard later reported that this was based on a misunderstanding of "off the record" information.[38] In-game footage of the game appeared in 2008 premiere episode of The Jace Hall Show. Filmed entirely on hand-held cameras but not originally expected to be publicly released,[39] the video showed host Jason Hall playing through parts of a single level on a PC at 3D Realms' offices. The footage was confirmed to have been shot 6 months prior to the episode air date and according to Broussard, contained outdated particle and combat effects that had since been replaced.[40] The game did not make an appearance at E3 2008, an event which Miller described as "irrelevant".[41]

While the game neared completion, the funding began to dry up. Having spent more than $20 million of their own money, Broussard and Miller asked Take-Two for $6 million to complete the game. According to Broussard and Miller, Take-Two initially agreed, but then only offered $2.5 million. Take-Two maintained that they offered $2.5 million up front and another $2.5 million on completion. Broussard rejected the counteroffer, and on May 6, 2009, suspended all development.[32]

DNF team fired and 3D Realms downsized, 2009–2010

3D Realms laid off the DNF staff on May 8, 2009 due to lack of funding, but inside sources claimed it would still operate as a smaller company.[42] Development on DNF halted, and its fate was unknown. Publisher Take-Two Interactive, in response, stated that they still held the publishing rights for Duke Nukem Forever, but they were not funding the game.[43]

On May 7 and May 8, 2009, unreleased screenshots, concept art, pictures of models from the game and a goodbye message from 3D Realms were posted by alleged former employees. Similar leaks occurred on May 9, 10, 11, and 12.[44][45] On May 9, 2009, an unofficial Duke Nukem Forever gameplay video was leaked by a user of the forums. According to the user, the video was to serve as a demo reel for animator Bryan Brewer (who had been working on the game with 3D Realms), and Brewer had been waiting for approval from George Broussard, former co-owner of 3D Realms, at the time of the leak.[46] On May 10, 2009 a second demo reel showing some Duke Nukem Forever animation was also released. The same user of the forums later proceeded to release 28 screenshots and documents outlining the plot of the game. The 28 screenshots were taken from the Linkedin profile of an employee.

On May 14, 2009, Take-Two filed a lawsuit against 3D Realms over their failure to complete Duke Nukem Forever, citing that they paid $12 million to Infogrames in 2000 to acquire the publishing rights.[47] 3D Realms argued, however, that they never received that money, as it was a direct agreement between Infogrames and Take-Two.[48] The lawsuit seemed to be over a contractual breach, but not regarding the $12 million mentioned above.[49] Take-Two asked for a restraining order and a preliminary injunction, to make 3D Realms keep the Duke Nukem Forever assets intact during proceedings.[50] The court denied Take-Two's request for a temporary restraining order.[51][52]

In June 2009, Apogee court filings stated "[3D Realms/Apogee Ltd.] admits that it has continually worked on the development of DNF for many years, and continues to do so" as well as revealing that development halted on 'Duke Begins'.[53] In December 2009, Apogee CEO Scott Miller clarified that "we've never said that Duke Nukem Forever has ceased development," explaining "yes, we released the internal team, but that doesn't correlate to the demise of the project."[54] According to a recent interview with magazine Gamesauce, "3D Realms has laid off the game's internal development team, but still plans to most likely work with external development studios to develop the game."[55] An unofficial compilation of gameplay footage was also released in December 2009.[56]

On June 11, 2010, it was announced that 3D Realms and Take-Two had settled the lawsuit and dismissed it with prejudice on May 14.[57][58]

Gearbox revival, 2010–2011

Despite the discontinuation of internal game development at 3D Realms, development of the game did not cease entirely. Nine ex-employees including key personnel like Allen Blum, continued game development throughout 2009 from their homes. These employees would later become Triptych Games, an independent studio[59] that is currently housed in the same building as Gearbox and has collaborated with them on the project.[60]

After ceasing internal game development, 3D Realms approached noted game developers Gearbox Software[61] and asked them if they were interested in helping Triptych Games polish the nearly finished PC version and port it to the consoles.[62][63] Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, who had worked on an expansion to Duke Nukem 3D and very briefly on Forever before he left to found Gearbox, felt that "Duke can't die" and decided that he was going to help "in Duke’s time of need".[64] He started providing funding for the game and contacted 2K Games' president to persuade his company that Gearbox and Triptych can complete the development of the game and get it released on all platforms in time. Piranha Games was contracted to build the multiplayer of the game and help with the console ports.

The game was officially re-announced at the Penny Arcade Expo 2010 on September 3, 2010.[65][66][67] It was the first time in the game's development history that gamers were able to actually try the game—according to Pitchford, "the line has gotten up to four hours long to see the game".[64] On the final day of the Penny Arcade Expo during the Gearbox Software panel the company announced that it had purchased the Duke Nukem intellectual property from 3D Realms, and 2K Games held the exclusive long-term publishing rights of the game.[68][69]

In September 2010, It was officially confirmed that development was almost complete with only minor polishing to be done,[70] before the game was to be released in 2011.[69][71] Pitchford stated that a playable demo would be released once they figured out the timing.[64] Mikey Neumann, creative director of Gearbox, revealed on the Avault podcast Episode #100, that the game would be released in early 2011.[72] On October 1, 2010, Randy Pitchford showed for a second time realtime gameplay footage from the game, at the Firstlook gaming convention in Amsterdam[73] and a couple of levels were available for play for visitors.

On October 5, 2010, Gearbox announced that purchasers of the Game of the Year Edition of Borderlands would receive exclusive early access to the demo of Duke Nukem Forever[74] at some point in 2011, before the game’s release.[75] According to Steve Gibson, vice president of marketing for Gearbox, the demo would be different to the one that was shown at PAX and Firstlook, and people were going to be surprised with what was put in it.[76] He also noted that the multiplayer mode of the game would be shown to the press in an upcoming event. According to Valve, those that purchased Borderlands on Steam prior to October 12, 2010 would get the code for the demo without the need to buy the Game of the Year edition of the game.[77][78] The February 2011 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly featured an article from Randy Pitchford about Duke Nukem Forever, and Pitchford confirmed that new info would be out at the end of the month, saying "the game is absolutely coming in 2011 and in late January or early February we're going to be peeling back the next layer of the game, so to speak. And that will make a lot more things clear not just about the game itself, but about its launch". On January 21 Game Informer magazine announced that DNF would be released on May 3 in North America and May 6 worldwide.[4] A trailer was also released the same day.

On the GT TV episode aired on February 10, 2011 Randy Pitchford claims the average length of the game's single-player mode is around 16 to 18 hours. This translates to a development time of roughly 9.4 months per game play hour (without accounting for time allotted to multi-player), provided the game releases on time.[79] A "Balls of Steel" Collectors Edition will ship on June 10 as well.[80][81]

On March 23, 2011 Gearbox Software announced via a YouTube video that the release date was being delayed to June 14 in North America and June 10 worldwide.[82]

Randy Pitchford recently stated that the game's development is finished and is in post-production along with console certifications.

On May 24, 2011, it was announced that the game had finally 'gone gold' after 14 years.[83]

Duke Nukem Forever was finally released after 15 years of development on June 10, 2011 to mixed to negative reception from critics.

Press coverage

Wired News has awarded Duke Nukem Forever its Vaporware Award several times. It placed second in June 2000 and topped the list in 2001 and 2002.[84][85][86] Wired created the Vaporware Lifetime Achievement Award exclusively for DNF and awarded it in 2003. George Broussard accepted the award, simply stating, "We're undeniably late and we know it."[87] In 2004, the game did not make the top 10; Wired editors said that they had given DNF the Lifetime Achievement Award to get it off of the list.[88] However, upon readers' demands, Wired changed its mind, and DNF won first place in 2005, 2006, and 2007.[89][90][91] In 2008, Wired staff officially considered removing DNF from their annual list, citing that "even the best jokes get old eventually", only to reconsider upon viewing the handheld camera footage of the game in The Jace Hall Show, awarding the game with first place once again.[92] In 2009, Wired published Wired News' Vaporware Awards 2009:[93] Duke Nukem Forever was excluded from consideration on the grounds that the project was finally dead.[94] Duke made a comeback with an unprecedented 11th place award on Wired's 2010 Vaporware list.[95]

Duke Nukem Forever has drawn a number of jokes related to its development timeline. The video gaming media and public in general have routinely suggested several names in place of Forever, calling it "Never", "(Taking) Forever", "Whenever", "ForNever", "Neverever", and "If Ever".[89] The game has also been ridiculed as Duke Nukem: Forever In Development, "Either this is the longest game ever in production or an elaborate in-joke at the expense of the industry".[96]

When the GameSpy editors compiled a list of the "Top 25 Dumbest Moments in Gaming History" in June 2003, Duke Nukem Forever placed #18.[97]

Jason Hall, host of The Jace Hall Show, featured Duke Nukem Forever in the show's premiere episode on June 4, 2008 and described his hands-on play experience with the game as "perfect", ending the segment with "I saw it. They have been working. It's not a myth. You're going to be pleased."[98] In a subsequent interview with, he described the game as "amazing" with the summation, "This might be the only game in history worth waiting 12 years for, perhaps longer... It was good."[99]


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  58. ^ Allen Blum and those guys, they're actually now in the Gearbox Software building on the tenth floor. We brought them in; they're now connected to the Gearbox infrastructure and our central team of animators and modelers and sound engineers.
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