PODCAST SEVEN: THE HOME STRETCH
May 20, 2011
ELIZABETH: Welcome to the seventh episode of the Duke Nukem Forever podcast series. I’m Elizabeth Tobey, and today I’m talking with Randy, David, Allen, Kristen, and Chris again. We’re discussing what I like to call the “home stretch” – not too long from now, you’ll all be playing Duke Nukem Forever, and these guys are the ones who brought it back to life.
RANDY: I’m Randy Pitchford, President of Gearbox Software.
DAVID: This is David Riegel, I’m President of Triptych.
ALLEN: This is Allen Blum, I work at Triptych as a Level Designer.
KRISTEN: I’m Kristen Haglund and I’m Triptych’s Managing Partner.
ELIZABETH: This game has been in development for over a decade. Can you talk a little bit about the early days; bring us back to that world when Duke Nukem Forever was just fledgling in your minds? And then go and talk about the development cycle through to today.
ALLEN: Well really the whole thought was just to get Duke into a location that Duke would go to, so of course: Vegas. Everything from that point on revolved around Vegas; what would happen, where would Duke go, what areas would be cool to play in? You’d want to go to a strip club, a casino and eventually you’d go to to Hoover Dam, stuff like that.
RANDY: I remember back when we were working together, like when we shipped the Atomic edition? I don’t even remember there being a debate. It was just like of course there’s going to be a sequel and we just kept doing stuff. And Al was tinkering with the build engine and there were some things that were going on that Ken Silverman did to the engine to allow voxels; to add voxels to the engine and some things some guys had done to allow us to fake 3D with room over room and stuff. And everybody just kept doing stuff. Like Allen started building maps in a kind of upgraded Build engine, I remember Brian just started making weapons and crap with voxels. And then I remember one day George just showed up and “Oh I licensed Quake” and we were like, alright, and handed us the disk.
ALLEN: It’s hard to even remember back that far; but yeah like the voxel thing and room over room stuff.
RANDY: Yeah, there was some cool stuff you were doing.
ALLEN: Yeah, with Build it was actually programs and stuff. The room over room stuff they eventually used for Shadow Warrior, which was was interesting.
RANDY: Right, it was really cool. It allowed us to fake 3D back when everything was just 2½D. But it’s like weird, in my memory we’re all just sitting around making stuff, and yeah of course there’s another Duke game. I remember though…remember when Keith joined the company and he had that 2D side scroller with the 4; Duke 4Ever? And we like, “Yeah that title is really clever.”
ALLEN: Yeah, George liked the 4. I thought it was cheesy…so cheesy.
ELIZABETH: So let’s skip in time to 2001 when that famous trailer happened. Can you talk about created that trailer and what the time period for the game really like? What shape was the game in?
ALLEN: Back then the game was in really good shape. We had a lot of maps, there was a lot of game you could play through. It was definitely a highlight of everything we had at that point. Work still needed to be done past that, obviously. So everything in that trailer; there’s a lot of good stuff. Mostly a lot of concepts. There was that one scene when you’re driving down the street and that big army ant or whatever was chasing you. We had just recently got that in at the time so we had a horrible animation of him kind of patting his head ant-style that was kind of weird. But as far as the state of the game, we had a lot of content but most of the stuff needed a lot of polish.
CHRIS: That was and correct me if I’m wrong, but that was one of the only times that Bombshell actually appeared.
RANDY: No the 2001 trailer didn’t have Bombshell. I think that was the earlier one with the Quake engine. She like ran up a ramp into the back of a dropship. But that animation, she was like this…
ALLEN: Yeah, she had arms straight out.
ELIZABETH: For all of you listening, that was an amazing stiff-arm animation by Randy.
ELIZABETH: So skipping forward in time, when 3DR closed, what was the state then, with the game?
KRISTEN: David talked about it a little earlier, relevant to Duke and bringing Duke back to life, there was no narrative, there was no story; there was nothing. There was no ending. There was sort of this planned general idea of how the game was supposed to end; we had a bunch of levels that looked great, but there was nothing to move you between them. So in terms of bringing Duke back to life, one of the major components was we have to have a story, we have to have dialogue, we have to get all of this in and then we have to do all the animation and mo-cap to support that, get the head tracking, get the eye tracking and actually tell the story. We’ve got all the guts and all the pieces but we don’t have anything to make it compelling beyond, “Ooh, I just blew it up and that’s cool; but why did I blow it up?” So we got started on that right away. We started July 9th, that was our first day and I think we flew Valeta (Wensloff) in I think July 13th and that was like instantly we were like: we gotta do that. Because there’s everything that goes along with that, the lip syncing, the mocap and everything has to go with it and so that’s gotta get done.
DAVID: We took over the game July 9th officially and at that point it was really about coming up with a schedule to complete the game in a very short amount of time--in terms of content. We didn’t have the staff at that time to do console ports or multiplayer but the goal that Triptych originally had when we took the game was to finish the content for single-player. And so we had we had a very strict schedule to get the narrative done, get the voice acting recorded, get the NPC behavior done, just a whole list of things we needed to really tie the game together at that point. Because the game was really fun and had all the basic game play and we wanted to make sure that all the ground work from 3D Realms was intact and it’s still intact today. Most of the game is really the 3D Realms version of the game, but we had those very specific challenges to get it done and to tie everything together.
So as Kristen kind of alluded to, one of the fun facts about the game is that the narrative is actually written primarily by two women. Valeta Wensloff and Kristen herself and by myself and some of the rest of the team members too. So that’s really kind of a fun fact.
KRISTEN: Yeah, Valeta and I had never met before. She was someone David knew from a previous project and she came down and helped us out. A lot of the heavy lifting on the writing was done by her and she’s fabulous. Then, David and I, she flew back and we did a lot of the tweaking of the dialogue and what not and then once that was in place, we did two playthroughs as I remember, in our living room with like 10 people in our living room and our flat screen. Randy has seen our fabulous demo room.
We did two play throughs and everybody just threw out these ideas for these one liners and there were some pretty epic one liners that were born from that mad---we gotta have some funny stuff here what with NPCs and what not. I don’t think it was the tradition writing process with a bunch of people sitting around the….I wonder how people will react to know that this Duke was written by two Duke fans who are also, well, there was of course David, but primarily by two Duke fans who were women. I don’t think anyone has picked up on the changes in Duke. He’s as bad as ever in the demos.
DAVID: We had a lot of great lines that are traditional Duke lines that come from George, Scott and Al that …
KRISTEN: Didn’t you maintain a list of them? Like there was a list, a collection of them.
DAVID: Yeah there were the old lines and then we had a lot of great lines from Al and from the guys on the team and a lot of small revisions that have happened in the past few months. Like here at Gearbox some of the stuff that’s come out of PAX and the lines that have kind of come to the forefront that have been driven by trailers and marketing and all these other things, when we present the game to the public, so the writing at this point I think is very polished and I think that everybody is really happy with it.
CHRIS: Randy can you talk about what it was like, from your perspective, to be sitting in that room in David’s house with everyone else, watching the playthrough?
RANDY: It was just as Kristen described, there was amazing stuff but like the spare pieces. It was always cool, but there was like this level and that level and I got the sense, when I finally visited these guys at their house, that they had actually done it: they wired it all up and they connected it together.
And it’s such a great experience and the whole world…anyone who plays this game and loves it owes you guys a lot; and should feel that gratitude for that commitment because I know how hard it is. I remember when we started Gearbox and a very similar kind of thing---there were just 8 or 10 of us. My wife was pregnant. She wrote, my wife wrote the story to Opposing Force and wrote all that…
KRISTEN: Oh awesome.
RANDY: I mean she was pregnant with our first kid and she’d sleep on the floor in my office and take naps in the middle of the day and we’d work until midnight. Because it’s just such an inspiring thing and so much great stuff comes from it, when you’re that deep and that in it. You don’t even think about anything else but making sure you can pull it off.
KRISTEN: Yeah well nobody told us we couldn’t do it …except everyone around us!
DAVID: The whole world.
KRISTEN: The whole world.
DAVID: The whole world thought we were nuts and I don’t take it personally because even my Mom and my Dad didn’t believe we could do it.
KRISTEN: Yeah, his parents would call us and say, “What are you doing? You need to buy real estate” and our friends thought we were crazy. Our house was covered in tape; we had desks everywhere and had to rewire stuff so we could like distribute all of the computers.
DAVID: It was crazy, but it was a fun time. Al and one of our other guys, Ben I think would get there sometime between 8-9 in the morning and then we’d have a couple guys like our contractors who would work their day jobs and not leave until 11-11:30 at night for those 6 or 7 months it was nuts.
KRISTEN: And our cats got used to them and would wait for them at the door. They would get stressed and play with the cat on the floor with the feather thing. It was definitely crazy.
DAVID: But it was great. We had a really good feeling at the end, when everything was coming together. We didn’t have a real distribution plan. We talked to Scott and George a little bit and had some crazy ideas about how to get the game out there. We were grateful at the end that we could work with Gearbox and the game could really be presented to the public the way that it deserves to be presented.
KRISTEN: Because we had some crazy ideas about boxing it up old-school style and selling it like that. I mean, we’re talking really…and everyone was like, “All right!”
RANDY: Duke Nukem Forever: Bootleg Edition.
KRISTEN: Yeah! And the thing about it was that was amazing was we were coming up with these crazy ideas and we did our own trailer because we didn’t know at that point…
DAVID: We didn’t know the extent of Gearbox’s involvement…
KRISTEN: We didn’t know any of this was coming so there was a trailer that we did that was pretty awesome, I think….
DAVID: It’s in the Extras on the game, so people will get to see that.
KRISTEN: I think the thing that was amazing was we were coming up with these crazy ideas because a lot of angles were closing as to how we were going to get this thing to market. And whatever ideas we were coming up with the entire team was like, “All right. Let’s do that!”
RANDY: Whatever it takes!
KRISTEN: One of the crazier ideas was we were going to put a web cam in the 3DR offices showing the Triptych team like boxing up the game and sending it out. Like pay $5 and the Triptych team member of your choice will sign the box. We figured Mica and Al---Mica being our cat---would be the most popular. But we just had….and nobody flinched, which was really I think a testament at how amazing the Triptych team is.
ALLEN: Well what’s interesting is history repeats itself, because that’s basically how Duke 3D was. It was a garage band, just doing it, getting it all going, putting it together and when it was all done we were packing boxes.
KRISTEN: Yeah, well I think that’s where the idea came from was that you told us that’s how you did it. We were like, “We could do that.”
ALLEN: Yeah, direct sales back then. It eventually made it into the stores and all that but a lot of the direct sales were there in the office, packing…
RANDY: Just picture Allen, and like Doug and Dirk, like Richard and those guys, Todd and like they’re done with the final build and they’re taking manuals and disks and folding the cardboard and putting them in. Just imagine that; picture that.
KRISTEN: I want to tell you I was grateful when you came along because I was like “I’m going to starting having to call UPS to set up deliveries”. So thank you. Thank you for coming along, because our plan was not a very good plan.
RANDY: Well fortunately, when you have a world class partner helping you — publishing partner, that really knows how to market and distribute the game worldwide, it changes everything. And now your work, what you created can reach millions of people. And that’s really exciting.
KRISTEN: I think it’s a much, much better alternative than us and the ….
RANDY: Logistics is actually a limiting factor.
KRISTEN: It is. We actually did the math on it and we were, “Oh this is not going to be…”
RANDY: Just think how many boxes you can pack…
KRISTEN: Yes we were like, “All right, we’ll pack this many boxes in an hour and I’ll have the UPS guys coming in every 6….and this is not going to work.
ELIZABETH: So I guess that brings us to the last question and chapter which is how Duke Nukem Forever came to the home of Gearbox, how many people do you think overall worked on the game and how many are working on it now?
KRISTEN: I don’t know how long the credits list is right now.
RANDY: Right now there’s probably close to right around 100 people that are doing things between the Triptych guys, the Piranha team and all the…we’ve rallied a lot of support from within our technology groups at Gearbox to help land the game. So there’s probably about 100 people involved right now. Overall it would be difficult to hazard a guess; but there’s several credits in the game: Triptych’s credits, Piranha’s credits, and Gearbox’s credits. George and Joe and Scott those guys got together and tried to do the best to create the definitive 3D Realms credits and we have those in the game. We’ve also created a web page which invites people we may not know about. The game’s been in the hands of several publishers and there’s some guys who probably put a lot of effort into thinking about how to market Duke Nukem Forever when it was at, for example, GT Interactive. We’re trying to find out who those people are.
When you think about a game like Duke, and especially for anybody who’s been a part of 3D Realms, you don’t get involved in that thinking like you’re just going ride; kind of jump in and ride something. You get involved because you love it, you want to be a part of it and you want to contribute. And Duke is larger than life so you want to add to that in some way. So for most of people who’ve ever been involved, especially at the development side, most of the people didn’t get to the end zone. It’s just, I think Allen is probably the only one who was there from day one to the closing day. He’s the only one.
ELIZABETH: You win the prize.
ALLEN: I did thethe math and when it finally ships in a month or so, I will have worked 2 years long than anyone else on the project.
CHRIS: Oh wow. That’s incredible.
RANDY: And like who are the second place people? Probably guys like Keith and Stephen Cole and those guys?
ALLEN: Yeah, they were around for a long time, probably 8 years. George had been around…
RANDY: George, of course, to 2009.
ALLEN: Yeah, so I got 2 years over him.
KRISTEN: We’re going to have to throw you a party.
RANDY: Well if you count the time you’ve been like talking on forums, you’ve probably got him beat by a long shot. There’s a lot of George in the game and obviously we wouldn’t have it without him either. George deserves, I mean no one can take anything away from his commitment to this property and to Duke. I’m really thankful that he trusted us. I know it was really hard. I mean there was a time where, you look at the decisions they made, they’d rather burn their own house down than let something bad happen to it. So the fact that George and Scott trusted me and Brian Martel and trusted Gearbox with the brand means a lot to me and it’s my commitment to be worthy of that trust.
CHRIS: How did that come about? How did Duke go from 3D Realms and Triptych to Gearbox?
RANDY: The deal that Triptych and 3D Realms did was one that 3D Realms sort of engaged Triptych to finish the game and there was an incentive there, for Triptych to do that. The deal that 3D Realms and Gearbox did was an acquisition of the property; the game and the brand. That took a while, I mean, that deal we talked about that and negotiated that deal for about 6 months. Finally closed it right at the end of 2009 and then we were able to take these next steps. One of the most odd parts about that from my point of view was that I kind of went into it at the beginning…some of the feelings I had were that story ending, the way like it felt like it was going to end in May of 2009, it was a terrible ending. That’s not a story we should….Duke Nukem was the first commercial game I ever was involved in. So I feel that character is part of my legacy. Part of why I’m a game maker was because I trusted George and Scott and I just wanted to work with Al and those other guys and learn from those guys. And I feel that Duke is part of my legacy too so I didn’t want to…on a personal level, I didn’t want the story to end that way.
So when I parsed the brand and the situation with Duke, it felt like there was a business case to be made; that it was a rational business decision as well. When you think about where it is today, it seems like a much more sane business decision but you can imagine back in that second half of 2009---there’s a lot of people who would look at that and think that that was a terrible business decision. And fortunately, I disagreed and so did Christoph, who once I had completed the acquisition and I went to him and told him what I had accomplished there---Christoph is the President of 2K Games, he was excited. Because what it meant that finally this game that we had all been waiting for, finally this thing that’s supposed to happen, there was a path so it could happen. He got behind it instantly as well. His commitment, belief and faith is the reason why we get to have this as well.
CHRIS: So last question: Why do you think it survived all these years? How did it survive all these years?
RANDY: It survived because of people like George and Allen and even David and Kristen. Everybody that’s ever gotten involved and believes in it and thinks it’s special and rare and important. And it is. There’s no other entertainment like it. It’s a very weird, interesting, rare, unique mix of things both from the interactive space and storytelling space so it deserves to exist. That’s what I think.
KRISTEN: I think it’s because Duke is both a satire and a stereotype, and yet he is extremely compelling because I think there is a little bit of Duke that lives in everyone. Everybody kind of sort of wants to do what Duke does and wants to be. I’ve said it before, that I think Duke is a very guilty pleasure that we all sort of enjoy indulging just a little bit and I think that it’s because it’s so simple and it just says, hey that’s what it is and you like it and we know it and we’re just going to let you have it. I think that’s why Duke survives and will continue to survive.
RANDY: What do you think Al?
ALLEN: For me personally? After Duke 3D and everybody enjoyed that and everything, the fans just want a sequel. And for me personally, I just want to finish it and give people what they were waiting for. They’ve been waiting for it for too long. When you think of the movies you’ve seen and you’re like, “Oh I can’t wait for the sequel of that” and things happen and it never comes out and it’s just disappointing.
For me personally, working on it from the beginning, I think people deserve that and it’s probably not the right thing for me to do; to devote so much time and energy to it, but I think in the end, it’s worth it.
RANDY: Your commitment to your customers is unparalleled, literally.
ELIZABETH: So Duke is alive today because of you guys. How does that feel?
RANDY: Pretty good. My hope is that the fans love it and my hope is that everyone who ever put any bit of sweat into it feels gratified by the fact that there’s a happy ending to the story.
ELIZABETH: Thanks guys. This concludes the second-to-last episode of this podcast series, at least until the game releases. Thanks for listening.