PODCAST TWO: THE HISTORY OF DUKE NUKEM FOREVER
April 12, 2011
ELIZABETH: Welcome to the second episode of the Duke Nukem Forever podcast series. I’m Elizabeth Tobey, and today I’m back with some of the team from both Triptych and Gearbox to talk about the very long and storied history of this game. First, let me let the guys and gals introduce themselves to you, and then we’ll begin our roundtable discussion.
ALLEN: My name is Allen Blum. I work at Triptych doing level design and everything.
DAVID: I’m David Riegel, president of Triptych.
KRISTEN: I’m Kristen Haglund, a managing partner.
JOE: Joe Siegler, community manager for Duke Nukem for Gearbox Software.
CHRIS: Chris Faylor, Gearbox Software community manager.
ELIZABETH: So during our intro podcast, we talked very briefly about who Duke Nukem is and his history; but today we want to give more history to the companies, the franchise and Duke Nukem Forever itself. Can you shed some light on how Duke Nukem Forever started as a concept and how it progressed and morphed over the years into what it is today?
ALLEN: As a concept, we started after Duke 3D and Duke 3D did really well; we did the expansion pack for that and everyone liked that so we decided to do a sequel, of course. So in ’97 Todd Replogle and I started with the Quake engine and concepting stuff out and getting things working; seeing what the tech could do, things like that. Then with George Broussard we kind of set out the overall plot of the game; figured out it should be in Vegas; what Duke should do, what type of places you should go to, stuff like that and just went from there. Over the years, just reiterated on that; figured out all of the details, what specific places Duke would want to go to, things he would do and stuff like that.
ELIZABETH: Definitive answer.
KRISTEN: Well Al was there.
JOE: Al was there from day one with the first Duke game, so there’s not a lot to add to that.
ALLEN: It just goes from there, so…
KRISTEN: We would just recite what Al told us.
JOE: So Al’s just talking for all four of us, huh?
KRISTEN: I would think that’s true.
ELIZABETH: So there were initial designs and initial desires, technology, time and goals and personnel changed a lot over the years. Can you say whether your vision and desires from back then are very, very different from what they are today? How did that change and morph?
ALLEN: Well luckily as consoles came out and computers got faster and there was better and better tech, we were actually able to improve a lot of things. Like initially in the Quake powered stuff we had a jeep you could drive, but it was more like a person walking through space. Now we have a huge monster truck and you can destroy things. It’s far more immersive than what it could have been, way back then. So yeah luckily with the tech advancing we could do a lot better….
JOE: It has a benefit to the dev time, you can do some much better things. Had the game come out when it was supposed to originally, it wouldn’t have been anything like it is now.
ALLEN: Well it would have been Duke 8 or something…
JOE: Well, no I didn’t mean that. What you were saying about the truck, that vehicle you were talking about in the beginning that had about—what 2 polys or something like that?
ALLEN: Yeah, it was a basic jeep and it had a flat, so you could find a tire and put it on. Drive it and stuff like that. Things have progressed.
DAVID: I think the main things that have stayed the same are Duke as a character and the general plot and outline of the game. The game design has advanced so much over the past 10 years; you know, a lot of updates were made and we tried to keep the same level of intensity and action, while trying to do things the correct way, the modern way.
ELIZABETH: Gearbox isn’t the first studio to work on this. I think that might be new to some of our listeners. Can you talk about all the studios working on this, far beyond just the one name that you sometimes see reading a headline? Talk about who’s actually making the game and who’s made it throughout all of the years?
DAVID: You want to talk about the inception, since it was the studio of Allen Blum right at the…
KRISTEN: According to Wikipedia….
JOE: Have you been editing Wikipedia?
ALLEN: Is that what it says in there?
KRISTEN: It was a while back.
DAVID: It was referring to Duke 1.
KRISTEN: That’s what I was referring to also. Wiki is very interesting, at times.
ALLEN: Yeah, well if you want to go back that far. Duke 1: Todd Replogle and I went to school together. We grew up in Santa Cruz together and as I was going to school at UCSC studying computer science, he was making the side scroller stuff and then he started working on a side scroller that eventually became Duke Nukem 1 and we worked together on that: so that’s company one, I guess. Then company two would be on Duke 2 with him and I working on it out of our apartments here in Texas. I had to move out here, which was interesting. And then Duke 3, Todd and I started on the first floor of the, at that time Apogee building and we had our own office and our company actually had a name: Core Software.
JOE: What did you call it?
ALLEN: Core Software, I think.
JOE: No actually that was Steve’s stuff, wasn’t it?
ALLEN: No well there was a Scenario Software that…
JOE: Scenario Software, that’s the word I was trying to think of.
ALLEN: Then we were going to be Core Software for Duke 3D. But we worked on that for a while and eventually moved upstairs; got more people on it and so it became Apogee then they started 3D Realms.
JOE: It was just you and Todd and Steve Tietze when you were Scenario?
ALLEN: Steve Tietze and Dirk Jones and then James Storey came on and him and I worked downstairs, through the nights…
JOE: Yeah, but you spent most of your time looking at pictures of….who on the wall?
ALLEN: Winona Rider?
JOE: Well, you’d sleep on the floor.
ALLEN: James slept on the floor.
CHRIS: How did that become 3D Realms? How did the Duke games become associated with 3D Realms?
ALLEN: Well we were always, I guess technically, a contract; working on the game and everything. And so as we progressed, we just needed more people. So we moved upstairs, we got more space and more people and through 3D Realms we got more people. There were only 6 of us or something like that.
JOE: On the Duke 3D team? By the time it was finished, it was probably a little more than that but for the bulk of it, yeah. It wasn’t like projects today where you have like 6,000 people doing….
ALLEN: Yeah. It was very bare bones. But we saw that Todd and I were not enough people to make the whole game so it was brought upstairs and at the time it was Apogee.
JOE: Yeah, Scott had that thing in 1995 or 1994 where he was like…the name Apogee…we had about 20-30 games at that time…and he was saying the name Apogee had become diluted and you didn’t know what you were going to get. And the idea behind the name 3D Realms was to focus and the idea was when you were getting a 3D Realms you knew what kind of game you were getting and that was a marketing…Duke 3D was the second game under the 3D Realms’ label but certainly the most popular.
ALLEN: What was the first game?
JOE: Terminal Velocity.
CHRIS: Wow. That takes me back.
JOE: Terminal Velocity was the first 3D Realms’ game in 1995.
CHRIS: I remember that very well. Very, very well.
JOE: Yeah, but the name changed from Apogee to 3D Realms was a marketing thing that Scott came up with.
ALLEN: Yeah, so it separated all the side scrollers and all of that from the 3D.
DAVID: 3D Realms developed Duke Nukem Forever for many years. This is very much a 3D Realms game in many respects; they engineered the character and the concept and it went into development for so long by so many talented people. Triptych Games was formed in 2009 mostly by some people who were once at 3D Realms and a couple of new people. And we resumed development on the project in July of 2009 and are currently working on the product. Our responsibilities now are basically managing single player content, optimizing content for consoles and we had a small hand in some multi-player map creation. We are joined by Piranha Games who is doing the majority of the console work for the engineering side of things for 360 and PlayStation 3, an enormously difficult task.They’re also responsible for multi-player on the code side and most of the multi-player maps and we are all sitting under Gearbox Software who is managing things from the top. They have a lot of their own people on it, especially from the engineering side. They’re doing QA and kind of overseeing the project, as a whole. And then we’re all working in conjunction with 2K Games who is doing a lot of things peripheral to development, including funding, marketing and publishing, retail distribution: all the great things a publisher does.
ELIZABETH: Before we get into the boring details of the day to day, as many studios as there have been, there have almost been as many versions, engines and iterations of this game. Can we talk a little bit about the history of the life of the game in terms of different versions, different engines?
JOE: The earliest one was just Todd, the first ever incarnation was Todd Replogle just messing around with Quake 1 code, because at the time id Software didn’t have Quake 2 code ready for licensees to use, so Todd was just messing with that until they finally delivered the Quake 2 code.
ALLEN: Yeah we had the Quake 1 stuff at the beginning of ’97 so we got everything working from there just trying to see what it could do and all that. Then we finally got to Quake 2 stuff, you know, colored lights, radiosity. Radiosity was nice.
JOE: But it was cool because even then you’re just so, “Look at what we can do with lights!”
ALLEN: Yeah. Well Duke 3D was all sector based so any lighting you saw and shadows were built by hand. So being able to place lights and get shadows automatically was awesome. But after that Quake ran really good and we got a lot of stuff, but when Unreal came out we were able to do things more like we were able to do in Duke 3D where a wall would actually block everything drawn behind it. Quake didn’t quite do that right for us, so we decided to switch over to Unreal and that worked out pretty good. Kind of…
JOE: Yeah, modified and tweaked and added.
ALLEN: Yeah, it was a simple content switch over to the engine. Wouldn’t take too long…
JOE: Just a 6-month delay that we said it would cost us.
KRISTEN: Only 6 months?
JOE: That’s what we projected at the time, only 6 months.
ELIZABETH: Was that really the first projection? Only 6 months?
JOE: That the engine switch was only going to cost 6 months.
KRISTEN: It was no big deal. It was straight-forward.
ALLEN: And now we’re here at 2001, is it?
ALLEN: Are you sure? That doesn’t add up right. From there we had Unreal and as things progressed with the project, wanting to keep up with tech and stuff like that, we started to do more things with it; like updating the mesh rendering, update the lighting, you know, various aspects.
DAVID: I think one of the interesting things about 3D Realms that people don’t realize is that 3D Realms always had a very small number of developers working on the games; a small number of very talented guys. As time progressed, it became evident that it was too small so they started adding more and more people. I came on in 2004 and at that time, the technology was just beginning to change over from that first and second generation of Unreal into kind of the modern era of the technology of the game. So right around 2005-2006 the technology underwent most of its modern rewrites which is soft shadows, the complex material system, Meqon physics with rag doll and all that--just all the things that eventually evolved, many of which are still around today. Because that was around when 360 and PlayStation 3 came out and the technology was much more advanced than it ever had been in the past.As far as the actual game is concerned, I think that things just evolved over the years kind of iteratively so the game from 2006 was basically the same game from 2003 with just a few changes; a few level changes. Al you might be able to speak to that a bit better.
ALLEN: From what years?
DAVID: I don’t know from year to year. I mean there was never a point where the game was completely destroyed and rebuilt, except when Quake changed over to Unreal. There were always small changes and then when technology changed there were particular sections of the game that were jettisoned and rebuilt.
ALLEN: Yeah, there was a lot of stuff you could do things a certain way in Unreal that as we changed the lighting and various aspects, you wouldn’t be able to do the same exact things in the same way. We had a whole subway system at the end of Vegas and things like that, I could probably still make work but it’s not in the game anymore.
JOE: You had a subway system in Duke 3D too.
ALLEN: Yeah, true so we had that again. Actually I made a subway, well a raised subway in the Quake stuff. Yeah so we had all that. That’s when we first had the physics stuff where you had vehicles and you could chase down the subway in a vehicle and climb on board which was fun. It took a lot of time to get it actually working. But as tech progressed and the things we wanted to do in the game changed, some of those levels went away and we focused on the individual spots.
JOE: Yeah, but you’re also the guy that kept repeating Hollywood Holocaust every time we’d change anything.
CHRIS: Well you have to have a corner stone.
ALLEN: You have to keep something the same, at least.
DAVID: I think one of the most interesting things we can talk about is the state of the game right at the end of 3D Realms and how it’s changed over the last couple of years; like the modern version of the game. Because that was something that people really wanted to know back in 2009, was how close the game really was to being done. When 3D Realms shut its doors in May, I would say the game was maybe about 75-80% compared to what it is today, but it was interesting because it was a kind of an uneven 80%. There were entire AI systems that were done, probably about 90-95% of the weapons were done in terms of effects and game play and entire sections of the game that are still around now---a lot of the game is still around now; but it was missing some major things, like there was no…
DAVID: There was no narrative script; there was no dialog; nothing written for any character.
KRISTEN: No story. No animations for it.
DAVID: Most of the characters didn’t exist. NPC behavior didn’t really exist, like no head tracking or eye tracking, no lip syncing, none of that. No music, no ending: there was a planned ending but it wasn’t really there. So like most of the game was there and was fun, we really had a significant challenge taking over in 2009 trying to get those core systems in and so we had a very specific strategy to get those in during the course of the next 7 months. When we took over the game, we had a very small skeleton crew and we really focused on the PC single-player version, trying to get that done. When Gearbox Software became involved, and later Piranha Games, we could really focus on bringing the game to consoles and presenting it the way it should be presented. So even though all the core elements were there, we could really focus on improving the game and improving the presentation and getting multi-player in and getting all the things that should have been there that we couldn’t do with a small team. So that’s where the game has evolved since then. We’ve also added some really spectacular scenes over the past few months; like a lot of people are really familiar with the PAX demo now and like the white board scene, like the football stadium battle, all that has been improved so much since then.
ELIZABETH: Final question before we wrap up this episode. DNF has a life of its own, not just for your guys, but for the media, for the fans, for pretty much everyone who has ever heard of Duke. How do you think release day is going to change people’s perceptions and what do you think, hope, feel they’ll be feeling when they play the game?
KRISTEN: I think what’s going to surprise people; I don’t think it will actually change people’s perceptions of Duke. I think it will remind people of why they liked it so much, because we didn’t go and try and reinvent the wheel; we didn’t try and build a better mouse trap. Duke is Duke and he is fabulous the way he is. I think it will satisfy nostalgia and I think that it’s that feeling when you go home and it’s still the same but it’s a little different. It’s ok and it’s great. I think there’s going to be that feeling that there’s just some things that are just right and the team knows that and it’s great and this is still the Duke I know and love; only he’s bigger and better and he’s relevant to me today, but I can still enjoy him like I enjoyed him in the past. So I think that’s going to be what a lot of people are going to respond to; that it’s not different, yet it is.
JOE: I did that when I was up here about a month ago and played a build to the game. It was the first time I had sat and played the game for fun, without a testing group or somebody watching me, since the 3D Realms days and I was, “You know, this is still fun.”
KRISTEN: Yeah, it’s just something you sit back and enjoy and if you didn’t know Duke before, it doesn’t matter; you’re still going to have the same Duke experience that we all enjoyed and for people like us, it’s a new and fresh Duke and for other people it’s the old Duke. So I think it will serve both, do you agree?
JOE: Yeah. Well you’ve seen Scanners, right?
JOE: If their heads don’t explode playing the game then….
ELIZABETH: Thanks guys for joining us. This concludes the second episode of the Duke Nukem Forever podcast series. I want to thank you for joining us. We’ll be back soon with our third episode, talking about guns, grenades, and more.