PODCAST ONE: DUKE WHO?
April 6, 2011
ELIZABETH: Welcome to the first episode of the Duke Nukem Forever podcast series. I'm Elizabeth Tobey, and recently I spent several days down in Texas with members of the Gearbox and Triptych team, picking their brains about all things DNF. Today, we begin broadly, asking the question "Duke Who?" To many (I might even say most) of you, this question might be obvious - we're talking about Duke Nukem. But to some, the name "Duke Nukem" might be a new one - and it's time to give you a lesson on why that name is one you should never forget, and why Duke Nukem is awesome.
Today, I talk with Allen Blum, David Riegel, Eric Von Rothkirch and Kristen Haglund from Triptych as well as Chris Faylor from Gearbox.
ELIZABETH: So we’re kicking off this podcast series by talking about who is Duke Nukem? Some of the people listening to this are probably die-hard Duke fans who know him inside and out and some of them are probably brand new to him. So can you take us through a quick history lesson of who Duke Nukem is?
ALLEN: Duke started back in 1990 with Duke 1. Duke was….
DAVID: Duke was a bad ass.
ALLEN: Yeah Duke was a bad ass.
DAVID: I suppose in the early days, my perspective was that Duke was kind of the ultimate action hero without a whole lot of personality because of the limitations of the side scroller engine and what was going on at the time. And then Duke really came into his own in Duke 3D, when he started having a voice and a character--when technology made it possible for him to start interacting with the world; to put it the detail to create comedy and satire and the other things that make up the Duke game that people remember.
ELIZABETH: So moving on from Duke Nukem the man, let’s talk about Duke Nukem Forever and again, I’m going to guess that most people listening here know what Duke Nukem Forever is so for the very few who may not….I know the story is super involved and it’s not going to be something we can do in the span of this podcast, but what’s the overview of where Duke Nukem Forever fits into the history of the franchise and the world.
ALLEN: Well in Duke 3D, Duke saved the world, killed the aliens and all of that and since then, he’s basically been on vacation; exploring the world, doing his things, climbing Mt. Everest, going around the world, going into space…
KRISTEN: Winning the poker tournament.
ALLEN: So Duke’s hanging out in this casino enjoying life in Vegas and the aliens return all peaceful and friendly—but they’re not. Duke soon finds that out and off you go.
CHRIS: I like that one of the first things the aliens do is not to antagonize Duke, it’s to line up at one of his many establishments.
KRISTEN: Well I mean even the aliens may not like Duke, but Duke’s a great chef.
DAVID: One of the things about Duke’s character that’s kind of fascinating is that people remember the comedy from Duke 3D but internally I think at 3D Realms and after, we always pushed Duke as being kind of a serious character and I know that kind of sounds strange if you played the earlier games. But we always pictured Duke as being kind of a serious guy in a world that’s gone completely nuts when the aliens invade. So in many ways in Duke Nukem Forever, even in the early days, we always had this vision that Duke was this guy who saved the world and we wanted to construct a world around him that was believable. So if you knew this guy who actually killed a bunch of aliens and saved the world, what would his life be like? Well he would be a billionaire playboy who owns his own casino and who is good at everything he does and is the most recognizable man in the world. So that creates the background for how we place him in Duke Nukem Forever and even though he’s kind of cool and confident and doesn’t say very much, like the world around him is kind of this crazy establishment.
KRISTEN: Well I don’t want people to get the impression that he’s serious and he’s cool so that he downplays his contribution---Duke is all ego and Duke is fully aware of how awesome he is and the world recognizes his awesomeness so you don’t have this stereo-typical humble hero. You’ve got this guys that says, "Well yes, I am awesome and thank you for building busts in my honor and worshipping me".
CHRIS: We’re talking a lot about the world that Duke Nukem inhabits. There are some side characters to this; some characters that interact with him that totally define it. The Holsom Twins are somebody that is a pair that many will be familiar with from PAX. We’ve also got the president and some other characters. Can you speak about those?
ALLEN: Yeah well since Duke is probably the most powerful man in the world, at least from a celebrity standpoint he’s going to do what celebrities do and date lots of hot, young girls. So this kind of fits into that fantasy where the Holsom Twins are twin sisters who are pop superstar divas and they worship Duke and the ground that he walks on. In the first scene, you’re introduced to them as his "girlfriends"…
KRISTEN: Babe of the moment….
ALLEN: Yeah, babe of the moment that accompany him through the first part of the game so they have kind of an important role in the story so that the aliens who want to disrupt Duke; if they can’t get to him, then they’ll go after the girls.
KRISTEN: Or women in general because he’s big on saving the babes. And then the president has more of a political view on how the aliens should be dealt with and the aliens come bearing gifts and promises of peace. And of course the president does what all good politicians do, which is….politics….
CHRIS: Oh I thought you were going to say screw up.
KRISTEN: I was trying to be politically correct. The president kind of shapes the course of how Duke is forced to deal with certain things and how certain events unfold and then while most of the EDF is questionable…
ALLEN: For those who aren’t familiar with the trailers and so forth of the game, the EDF are the Earth Defense Force which is the Federal police force that was established after Duke 3D in order to protect the world from aliens. So they’re an important soldier class in the game that you see a whole lot of.
KRISTEN: And there is one in particular that is an old buddy of Duke’s. He and Duke get along; you can see why they get along: they go far back. That’s one of my favorite characters.
ALLEN: Yeah, Capt. Dylan.
KRISTEN: I love Dylan.
DAVID: The thing I always think about Dylan….we were talking about what kind of language the characters use and which could swear and which couldn’t and I think it was you Al that said couldn’t we focus that on one character? So one character would represent all the foul mouthed attitude….
KRISTEN: Yeah that was the idea because we had a lot of profanity peppered through the script and it was Al’s idea to have one character to have every third word was something profane or just vulgar and yeah, I would say Dylan is definitely….
ALLEN: Well that’s the thing when you’re trying to incorporate comedy into an action script, whether you’re talking about film or television or games is that you have to know when you’re going too far. And I think that with the very early drafts of the script that we had some of the team thought we were going a little bit too far that it was a little bit too silly. We wanted to re-establish some of the serious characters in the beginning of the game, then we needed to have an exaggeration and we needed to focus the comedy in particular points. So we had this one character, Duke’s friend who has a history with Duke according to the fiction of the game that you meet about two hours in and we just decided to focus all the profanity and exaggeration on him. It’s pretty hilarious for people playing the game for the first time.
KRISTEN: Like all things in Duke, he’s a man who deals with things seriously but it’s hard to take him seriously and Dylan highlights that you can’t take this too seriously and I think it’s just hilarious.
CHRIS: I like to think that Dylan’s just actually the result of Duke Nukem; like Duke got this fame and fortune for doing all these over the top things and Dylan saw it and was so influenced at a young age and said, "I’m going to join the army; I’m going to do all this" and he ends up meeting Duke and they hit it off because in a weird sense, Dylan is Duke.
KRISTEN: Yeah, I agree but like Dylan is the guy that misunderstood what Duke was going for.
ELIZABETH: Just missed the mark.
KRISTEN: Yeah, just missed the mark and took it too far. But he’s funny anyway.
ELIZABETH: So by now, I think everyone can understand how storied and how infamous this game is and this franchise, so what do you want people to think or feel when they’re playing the game? What were you guys aiming to achieve with Duke Nukem Forever? Simple question.
ALLEN: Well we hoped it would cure all world poverty and lead to world peace.
KRISTEN: A greater understanding between men and women about the real nature of men….
CHRIS: Yeah but leave disease for the next game, right?
ELIZABETH: You got to have a sequel for something, right?
ALLEN: Well Duke 3D everything was sprite based and flat; you could do a lot of stuff: we had strippers and everything but just all flat. You’d play it as Duke, it was 3D but it really wasn’t and now that things are actually played in 3D you really get a feeling of being Duke, in the world, interacting with things doing stuff. You got cool strippers who do things and enjoy it.
DAVID: Actual jiggling boobs…
ALLEN: And things…
KRISTEN: Yeah with all the technology. What did they do? They sent people to the moon with less than a calculator these days and we’ve taken all that technology and we’ve made boobs jiggle.
CHRIS: How many Apollo 13’s do you think it would take just to make one boob jiggle?
KRISTEN: I don’t know, but the boob jiggling is really damn good.
CHRIS: I think that one of the things that a lot of people have missed out on or forgotten about the series is the focus on interactivity. I’ve heard people describe it that it’s almost like an adventure game with shooting, instead of a shooter as they’re traditionally defined. What do you have to say about that?
ALLEN: I think that in terms of how to make Duke unique, over the years, I think we focused on two areas. The first, I think is obviously the character and the personality and the second element is of course the game play and one of the things that stand out in Duke is the interactivity. So whenever we’re creating levels, it’s not just about the combat and driving the story forward, it’s also about populating the world with all these things that you can do with it and mess around with. And some of them have a direct influence on combat; like things you can pick up and you can throw at enemies and kill them. Other things are kind of indirect; like ways you can manipulate the world for fun or we have a system where Duke can build his ego by doing things in the world that are like manly and cool: like lifting weights and playing pinball and things like that. Then we have quest objects in the world and humor objects and just mini games in general where you can go kill time if you want.
DAVID: I think that differentiates some of the elements that have survived over time too. We used to have more general, generic interactable objects and over time it was like "well is picking up a pencil, really Duke?" I mean being able to throw it around and do stuff. Or is it more of a cool thing to lift weights and do that stuff. Just as two examples, that kind of thing.
CHRIS: I think what’s really cool is like David, you’re talking about doing general things; you can do things that affect the story. When you go and you encounter these situations, you don’t actually know what’s what. It’s hard for a player to say, "Oh this is just going to do something cool to the room it’s not going to…I mean most people, there’s a point in the game where you just have to microwave popcorn. Let’s just say it out: you have to microwave popcorn. So when the mechanics are introduced in an earlier mission, and it’s completely optional, I don’t think anybody’s going to be like, "Oh yeah, I better learn how to do this now."
KRISTEN: Well I think one of the things that makes Duke so enjoyable from a player, I’ve never been…I have somewhat of a technology background…but never in video games and I’m strictly familiar with Duke from a player perspective; is that one thing I like and have always liked about Duke is that all those things in the world feel like Easter eggs. So it feels like you’re getting this cool thing you’re not really supposed to have, and yet you’re supposed to have it and I think that’s what makes it different from the perspective of "Oh I have this and clearly I need this and it’s being presented to me for a purpose". You don’t know: is it just some random thing I can do or do I actually need to learn this? And from a player point of view and not enjoying linear game play where you’re lead around by the nose, I get to enjoy it. I really get to enjoy it without thinking why I should be enjoying it or why I should pay attention.
ELIZABETH: Now I know that we could go super in depth talk forever about what makes Duke Duke, but I think we’ll leave that for the subsequent podcasts. But before we go, could you give an overview of the teams and the studios that have made Duke and are bringing him back to life now.
KRISTEN: In history or currently?
ELIZABETH: In history. Just so everyone knows who to thank for making this possible.
DAVID: Well Duke Nukem originated at 3D Realms of course. Allen Blum, George Broussard and Scott Miller and a lot of the early guys back in the day are really responsible for the core concept and the character and bringing the game to life in many ways. 3D Realms ceased development in 2009 and at that point Triptych games was formed by some ex-3D Realms employees and a few other people and we resumed development. We’re still working on the game and doing content, a couple of multi-player maps and optimization on some things to help out on consoles. There’s Piranha Games that’s joined the party to help bring the game to consoles and doing a tremendous amount of engineering work in that respect and is also responsible for multi-player with code and game play. Then Gearbox Software are the care takers of the franchise now and they’re managing everything from a high level and have lent a tremendous amount of support on the engineering side, helping get the game out of the door; but also QA and marketing.
And then all of us are working with 2K Games who is publishing and doing all the great things that are peripheral to the game: marketing, funding and getting the game ready for retail.
CHRIS: I think the neat thing about Duke Nukem is that not only has it gone through multiple developers, but through multiple publishers as well. It was originally a GT Interactive game way back when. There was also a time when it was being produced under Gathering of Developers, GOD Games which was later acquired by Take-Two Interactive and was instrumental in the formation of 2K Games as a publishing label. I look at my 2K Games representative question mark there… [laughs]
There was even a time when Duke Nukem Forever was slated to make its debut as a digital download title for Tritan, was it?
ALLEN: Yeah there was Tritan briefly. I think Prey came out on that but yeah that was something 3D Realms was trying before it ran out of steam.
ELIZABETH: The game is timeless.
ELIZABETH: We’re here. It’s going to ship.
KRISTEN: When you think about it, we have a friend who had a child in ’97 or ’98 and he is now an eighth grader and he wants to be a game developer. And I look at Jared and I’m like, "I remember when your mother and I were roommates in college".
CHRIS: Somebody pointed out at lunch to have you work on doing a credit site having you look for all the people. One of the articles pointed out if you were born when Duke Nukem Forever was announced, you are now in high school. And it’s like….wow.
KRISTEN: Yeah, really trippy. Makes us feel a little old.
ALLEN: Better be worth the wait.
KRISTEN: Well yeah. A whole new generation is now ready for Duke.
CHRIS: I like the idea of Duke showing the world what humor is, what good game play is and what it’s all about; then disappearing like stepping away for a little bit and seeing how things evolved and that coming back and saying "Nope you did it wrong."
KRISTEN: You see this? No don’t do this.
CHRIS: Like "Hey guys, that’s cool. Like what you did there is really cool. Just want to be sure you remember where we came from." It’s really a blast that it’s a throw back and it feels modern.
KRISTEN: I don’t think that it’s a throw back. I think that if anything, it’s good game play and that something that’s quality and just plain good stands the test of time.
CHRIS: I guess when I say throwback I just mean a lot of the just game play stuff has been iterated out.
KRISTEN: Yeah, it’s kind of gone the way of the dodo bird.
ALLEN: So that makes just some great opportunities for satire and we’ve got those sprinkled throughout the game. In the very beginning there’s a key card joke where you think that you’re supposed to find a key card for a door, but you actually don’t. Now I don’t want to give that one away. But there’s plenty of other instances where you’re fighting along some of the soldiers and they yell out, "Get behind that chest high wall". That’s a little specific; that sounds familiar with current game design.
CHRIS: There’s a lot more than you think. It’s just like the environments and everything else. There’s so many details packed into it. I’m still finding things in levels I’ve played multiple times; discovering new Easter eggs. Thank you so much everyone for taking the time we really appreciate it.
DAVID: I’d like to say to fans that I’m actually now working on the demo so I will get back to that and try to finish it for you guys.
ELIZABETH: This concludes the first episode of the Duke Nukem Forever podcast series. We'll be back next time to give you a history lesson about DNF. Thanks for listening.