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Development of Duke Nukem Forever

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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 under 3D Realms since 1996. Director George Broussard, one of the creators of the original Duke Nukem game, announced the development in 1997, and promotional information for the game was released from 1997 until its release in 2011.

After repeatedly announcing and deferring release dates, 3D Realms announced in 2001 that Duke Nukem Forever would be released "when it's done". In 2009, 3D Realms was downsized, resulting in the loss of the game's development team. Statements indicated that the project was due to "go gold" soon with pictures of final development. Take-Two Interactive, which owns the Duke Nukem Forever publishing rights, filed a lawsuit in 2009 against 3D Realms over their "failure to finish development". 3D Realms responded that Take-Two's legal interest was limited to their publishing right. The case was settled with prejudice and details undisclosed in 2010.

On September 3, 2010, 14 years after the start of development, Duke Nukem Forever was announced by 2K Games to be in development at Gearbox Software,[2] with an expected release date of 2011. After 15 years of development, Duke Nukem Forever was released on June 10, 2011, to mostly negative reviews.


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.[3] 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.[4] Among the games they published was id Software's Commander Keen in 1990 and Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. Commander Keen was met with great success and inspired the development of many sidescrollers for the DOS platform, including many developed by Apogee and using the same engine that powered the Keen games, and Wolfenstein was highly successful, popularizing 3D gaming and establishing the first-person shooter (FPS) genre.[5]

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, the title character of a pair of 2D platformers from Apogee, Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem II. Broussard described Duke as "a combo of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Arnold Schwarzenegger." After a year and a half of work, Duke Nukem 3D was released in January 1996.[4] Among game aspects that appealed to players were environmental interaction and adult-oriented content—including blood and strippers.[6] Buoyed by the success, Broussard announced a follow-up, Duke Nukem Forever.[4]

1997–1998: Quake II engine[edit]

3D Realms announced Duke Nukem Forever on April 27, 1997,[7] with the intention of releasing it no later than mid-1998.[8] Barely a year after the release of Duke Nukem 3D, the game's graphics and its game engine, the Build engine, were antiquated. Broussard licensed Id Software's far superior Quake II engine.[7][9] The licensing cost was steep—estimates were as high as $500,000—but Broussard reasoned that it would save time used to write a new engine.[9] Because the Quake II engine was not yet finished, development started with the Quake engine, the team planning to incorporate the new Quake II features as they were completed.[10] Broussard and Miller decided to fund Duke Nukem Forever themselves using the profits from Duke Nukem 3D and other games, turning marketing and publishing rights over to GT Interactive.[11]

In August and September, the first screenshots of Duke Nukem Forever were released in PC Gamer. As 3D Realms did not receive the Quake II engine code until November 1997, the screenshots were mock-ups made with the Quake engine.[12] 3D Realms unveiled the first video footage of Duke Nukem Forever using the Quake II engine at the 1998 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) conference.[12] The trailer showed Duke fighting on a moving truck and firefights with aliens. While critics were impressed, Broussard was not happy with progress.[9]

1998–2003: Unreal Engine[edit]

Duke Nukem Forever in 1999, showing the game's graphics during early stages of development.

Soon after E3, a programmer suggested that they make the switch to the Unreal Engine, which Epic Games had unveiled soon after the release of the Quake II engine. The Unreal Engine was more realistic than Quake II and was better suited to producing open spaces; 3D Realms struggled to render the Nevada desert. The developers unanimously agreed to the change, which meant scrapping much of their work,[9] including significant changes 3D Realms had made to the Quake engine.[13]

In June 1998, 14 months after announcing that they would use the Quake II engine, 3D Realms announced that they had switched to the Unreal Engine. Broussard said that Duke Nukem Forever would not be significantly delayed and would be back to where it was at E3 within a month to six weeks. He also said that no content seen in the E3 trailer would be lost.[14] However, according to programmer Chris Hargrove, the change amounted to a complete reboot.[9]

By the end of 1999, Duke Nukem Forever had missed several release dates and was largely unfinished; half the game's weapons remained concepts.[9] Broussard responded to criticisms of the lengthy development time as the price paid for developing complex modern games. A significant factor contributing to the protracted development was that Broussard was continually looking to add new elements. 3D Realms employees would joke that they had to stop Broussard from seeing new video games, as he would want to include portions of it in Duke Nukem Forever.[9]

Later that year, Broussard decided to upgrade to a new version of the Unreal Engine designed for multiplayer. Employees recalled that Broussard did not have a plan for what the finished game would look like.[9] 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.[15] Later that year, Infogrames Entertainment announced it was purchasing a controlling interest in GT Interactive.[16] The publishing rights for Duke Nukem Forever passed to Gathering of Developers in early December 2000.[17]

To placate anxious fans, Broussard decided to create another trailer for E3 2001, the first public showing in three years.[11] The video showed a couple of minutes of game footage,[18] including a Las Vegas setting and a demonstration of the player interacting with a vending machine to buy a sandwich. The trailer impressed viewers and Duke Nukem was the talk of the convention.[11] IGN reported on the game's graphics: "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."[18] Duke Nukem Forever looked as good or better than most games, and staff at 3D Realms recalled a sense of elation after the presentation: "We were so far ahead of other people at the time." While many staff expected Broussard to make a push for finishing the game, he still did not have a finished product in mind.[11] 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.[19]

2003–2006: Conflict with Take-Two[edit]

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;[11] their standard reply to when Duke Nukem Forever would ship was "when it's done".[11][20] In 2003, Take-Two CEO Jeffrey Lapin reported that the game would not be out that year.[21] He further said the company was writing off $5.5 million from its earnings due to Duke Nukem Forever's lengthy development time.[20] 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."[11][20] 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.[19]

In 2004, video game website GameSpot reported that Duke Nukem Forever had switched to the Doom 3 engine.[22] 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.[22] 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 superior to the critically acclaimed Half-Life 2.[23] 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.[24]

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".[25] Later that year Broussard demonstrated samples of the game, including an early level, a vehicle sequence, and a few test rooms.[26] Among the features seen was the interactive use of an in-game computer to send actual e-mails.[27] 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.[11] In filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Take-Two revealed they had renegotiated the Duke Nukem Forever deal, with the former publisher 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.[26] 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."[28]

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.[11] By August 2006, between 7–10 employees had left since 2005, a majority of the Duke Nukem Forever team, which by this point had shrunk to around 18 staff.[29][30] 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.[31] 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.[29]

2007–2009: Final years with 3D Realms[edit]

Duke Nukem Forever developers released this promotional image in 2007, to reinvigorate attention to the stalled game.

The delays strained Broussard and Miller's relationship, and by the end of 2006, Broussard appeared to become serious about finishing the game.[29] On January 25 and May 22, 2007, Broussard posted two Gamasutra job ads with small screenshots of Duke Nukem and an enemy.[32][33] The team doubled in size within a short timeframe. Among the new hires was project lead Brian Hook, who became the first person to resist Broussard's requests for changes.[29]

A new trailer was released on December 19, 2007, the first in more than six years. The video was made by 3D Realms employees as part of holiday festivities. While Broussard refused to name a release date, he added that "you can expect more frequent media releases [and] we have considerable work behind us".[34] While the Dallas Business Journal "confirmed" a 2008 release date, Broussard reported that this was based on a misunderstanding of "off the record" information.[35]

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,[36] 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 six months prior to the episode air date and according to Broussard, contained outdated particle and combat effects that had since been replaced.[37] The game did not appear at E3 2008, which Miller described as "irrelevant".[38]

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 development.[29]

2009–2010: Layoffs and downsizing[edit]

3D Realms laid off the Duke Nukem Forever staff on May 8, 2009 due to lack of funding; inside sources claimed it would still operate as a smaller company.[39] Take-Two stated that they retained the publishing rights for Duke Nukem Forever, but they were not funding it.[40] Previously 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 followed after May 8, 2009.[41]

In 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.[42] 3D Realms argued, that they had not received that money, as it was a direct agreement between Infogrames and Take-Two.[43] The lawsuit seemed to be over a contractual breach, but not regarding the $12 million.[44] Take-Two asked for a restraining order and a preliminary injunction to make 3D Realms keep the Duke Nukem Forever assets intact during proceedings,[45] but the court denied the request for a temporary restraining order.[clarification needed][46][47] In December 2009, Miller denied that the game had ceased development, only that the team had been laid off.[48] Around this time, a former 3D Realms staff member released a showreel with footage of Duke Nukem Forever. It was mistaken for a trailer, which confused the public. The video was taken down soon after.[49]

3D Realms planned to hire an "external" developer to complete the game while continuing to downsize,[50] resulting in development on another game, Duke Begins, ending.[51] An unofficial compilation of gameplay footage was also released in December 2009.[52] By 2010, 3D Realms and Take-Two had settled the lawsuit and dismissed it with prejudice.[53][54]

2010–2011: Gearbox revival and release[edit]

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[55] housed in the same building as Gearbox, with whom they collaborated on the project.[note 1]

After ceasing internal game development, 3D Realms approached noted game developers Gearbox Software[note 2] and asked them if they were interested in helping Triptych Games polish the nearly finished PC version and port it to the consoles.[note 3] 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."[56] 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. Duke Nukem Forever was originally intended to be a PC exclusive game, however 2K and Gearbox had hired Piranha Games to port the game designed for PC to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and added a Multiplayer in order to raise sales.

The game was officially re-announced at the Penny Arcade Expo 2010 on September 3, 2010.[57][58][59] 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".[56] Gearbox Software subsequently purchased the Duke Nukem intellectual property from 3D Realms, and 2K Games held the exclusive long-term publishing rights of the game.[60][61]

Development was almost complete with only minor polishing to be done[62] before the game was to be released in 2011.[61] A playable demo of Duke Nukem Forever was released once Gearbox figured out the timing,[56] with purchasers of the Game of the Year Edition of Borderlands gaining early access.[63][64] The demo is unexpectedly different from the versions available at PAX and Firstlook.[65] Those that purchased Borderlands on Valve's Steam prior to October 12, 2010 got the code for the demo without the need to buy the Game of the Year edition of the game.[66][67] Duke Nukem Forever was initially scheduled for release on May 3 in the United States and May 6 internationally[68][69] and after another delay was finally released on June 14 in North America and June 10 worldwide, nearly four weeks after the game had 'gone gold' after 15 years.[70][71]

Press coverage[edit]

Wired News awarded Duke Nukem Forever its Vaporware Award several times. It placed second in June 2000 and topped the list in 2001 and 2002.[72][73][74] Wired created the Vaporware Lifetime Achievement Award exclusively for DNF and awarded it in 2003. Broussard accepted the award, simply stating, "We're undeniably late and we know it."[75] 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.[76] However, upon readers' demands, Wired reconsidered and DNF won first place in 2005, 2006, and 2007.[77][78][79] 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.[80] In 2009, Wired published Wired News' Vaporware Awards 2009:[81] Duke Nukem Forever was excluded from consideration on the grounds that the project was finally dead.[82]

With the game since in development at Gearbox Software and a subsequent playable demo, Duke made a comeback with an unprecedented 11th place award on Wired's 2010 Vaporware list.[83] When the GameSpy editors compiled a list of the "Top 25 Dumbest Moments in Gaming History" in June 2003, Duke Nukem Forever placed #18.[84] 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 names in place of Forever, calling it "Never", "(Taking) Forever", "Whenever", "ForNever", "Neverever", and "If Ever".[77] 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".[85]


  1. ^ Lee, Garnett (September 10, 2010). "Talking Duke Nukem Forever With Gearbox Software's Steve Gibson". Shack News. Los Angeles CA. Archived from the original on September 20, 2012. Retrieved January 11, 2013.: "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."
  2. ^ Keefer, John (January 8, 2013). "Morning Keefination". Shack News. Los Angeles CA. Retrieved January 11, 2013.: "We approached them initially due to our past relationship and were able to work out a nice deal where everyone wins across the board. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, but it’s not like a white knight came in and saved the day."
  3. ^ Lee, Garnett (September 10, 2010). "Talking Duke Nukem Forever With Gearbox Software's Steve Gibson". Shack News. Archived from the original on September 20, 2012. Retrieved January 11, 2013.: "Getting it all together, as one cohesive piece you could play front to back, fitting it within memory, all the optimizations and trying to get it on console platforms—that was the thing."


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