When Randy Pitchford talks, he talks. But when Randy Pitchford talks about Duke Nukem Forever, the game he rescued from development hell, he gushes.
Here, in an interview with Eurogamer, Pitchford expresses a genuine excitement for the game we all though was dead. Pitchford was there, with muscle-bound hero Duke, from the very beginning, before heading off to found his own studio and create shooters Brothers In Arms and Borderlands. So Pitchford knows Duke better than most, and he's delighted that he had the opportunity to resurrect his fortunes.
Eurogamer: What is a Duke Nukem game? What's the essence of what you guys are doing?
Randy Pitchford: The first thing you have to know about Duke is that in his world the entire universe revolves around him. The other thing is that his world is similar to our world, but different. It's a topsy-turvy, upside-down, funhouse mirror reflection of our world.
That's very difficult to get right. There have been many attempts over the years to have a loose, funny, comedy experience in a videogame, and the secret for Duke is that in Duke's world, all of the jokes aren't jokes. In Duke's world, it's absolutely effing serious.
In our world we have a casino resort hotel called The Bellagio, and it's an opulent, beautiful place. In Duke's world, there's a place almost like it, but it's called The Fellatio. But it's not a joke. You can imagine families just going to The Fellatio and staying at the resort and moms gambling there and they're oblivious to the fact it's obviously a blowjob reference. Then when we see his world through the lens of our world, it's funny.
There are two things you get from that. One, it's all very sincere in how it's presented in his world. But the other opportunity that's presented from that is that you can occasionally tear down that fourth wall a little bit.
Eurogamer: Is that something you're retrofitting to the original Duke games or has it always been there?
Randy Pitchford: I believe it's always been there.
Eurogamer: When people were designing games 10 or 15 years ago, it felt like some of the things that are now common – like having style bibles and so on – were unheard of because it was all still quite innocent.
Randy Pitchford: I think they're still pretty unheard of, unfortunately! The reality is, especially with a game like Duke, the identity, the attitude, the personality and the definition of what works and what doesn't – it actually resides within the people, and there are a handful of people that have been with Duke since the beginning who are still at it today. It's those people that define it and get it.
Eurogamer: If you were starting again now, is this the Duke game you would make?
Randy Pitchford: No, it's not my game. My commitment is to make sure that I and you and we all finally get to play the game we've been waiting for all this time. So the commitment that I've made with my studio is to make sure 3D Realms' vision is realised.
I was at 3D Realms at the very beginning of the project, so the influence that persisted from that point forward is very high level – the top-line story of how Duke is enjoying the rewards of his successes, and some time has passed since he saved the world, and it's this world that the aliens come back into, and he once again has to rise and be the one. Also the thread of how he is in his casino in Las Vegas, and there's Hoover Dam and Area 51 and the deserts of Nevada and Vegas itself and all that stuff. That was all tied in back then too.
One of the maps I built in Duke Nukem 3D was the secret level in episode four, Area 51, and we had all gone and watched Independence Day on launch day and the next day I was like, "Ah, dude, that is so Duke," and I started working on that mission. That felt really right, so a lot of us were talking about that and it affected it.
We had a contest – by the way, this is kind of stuff I've never told anybody – a user contest where we said, "Hey, make maps and we're going to give a prize to whoever we think makes the bitchingest map," and this one entry, the one that Allen [Blum, Duke creator] liked the best, this guy built Hoover Dam. That's so Duke – to take a real-world place and build it and blow the whole thing up or tear it apart.
Eurogamer: Whenever I used the Build engine editor, that's the sort of thing I'd do – build my street or my school or whatever.
Randy Pitchford: Right, and that's one of the things that Duke 3D brought to the table. Before Duke, when we played Doom, it's a space station but that's the blue room and that's the green hallway and that's the demonic kind of walls, and it was really abstract. Duke really finally brought us to a place that's kind of real. That was a new kind of feeling.
That DNA was there at the beginning [of Duke Forever] and just the most rudimentary core has survived somehow, but over the years the real value is in the details, and that value has been created by the talent at 3D Realms over the years – and evolved and iterated.
That wasn't the plan at the beginning. There was no plan at the beginning – just intent and feeling – and over the years we've had additions and deletions and changes, and near the end there was a vision that was like the sum of all that evolution, and it was good. It was really good.
That's what we're supposed to be playing. It's my mission to make sure we get to play that.