Eurogamer: I thought when I was playing it that some of the references, like the Doom keycard or the Starship Troopers one... As someone who's followed it for 13 years, it gave it a sense of history and place.
Randy Pitchford: Yes! Some of the jokes or bits, you can tell they're years old, but they survive, they're OK. There is more that has been cut away than persists, and it's still a huge game, but it's interesting because they come in at different times. There's some that are very recent.
Eurogamer: It almost feels like the fact the game is 13 years old is vital to it.
Randy Pitchford: There's nothing else that's ever been like this. Yes. And the fact that you can feel that whole time period is interesting. You're right, we don't have that anyone else.
That's not by design. I promise you that the guys wanted to finish!
Eurogamer: Somewhere there must be the guy who OKed the name "Duke Nukem Forever".
Randy Pitchford: The name started as a 2D side-scroller. Keith Schuler was producing this game while we were working on Duke 3D, and it was "Duke Nukem 4Ever" and the idea was it was going to be the fourth game. The first two Dukes were side-scrollers.
This one was awesome-looking for the time, but when we shipped Duke 3D we looked around and thought the world was a little bit different and we probably couldn't get away with another side-scroller.
But that name... It was so perfect for the fourth game, and when we cancelled the 2D game and began development on an iteration from Duke 3D, in first-person, there was just that desire to keep that title.
For a while we stuck with "4Ever", but then it was like, "Wouldn't it be cool if it was Forever, this epic thing?" And then the irony kind of kicked in a few years later.
Eurogamer: Do you think good game design is timeless enough to withstand all the technological pressures and the evolution of game design in general?
Randy Pitchford: Yes and no. The "yes" is that there was a formula that was invented – or maybe it was some iteration and invention – with Duke 3D. It certainly gets a lot of credit for innovation on two fronts. One front is on pacing, and how offshoots to that pacing create opportunities for entertainment, and the other is in the tools and weapons themselves and actual function of the mechanics of the gameplay.
OK, so that first point about pacing. You go from this intense, high-adrenaline, high heart-rate shooting loop, where it's a skill test – there's the enemy, I've got to get my cursor on him – and you clear the room and want to move ahead. And you'll encounter a puzzle or exploration.
The puzzle-solving is really interesting. Tell me if this is what it felt like. It's supposed to feel like you're kind of moving forward but then there's a little bit of confusion, and you wonder what you're supposed to do. Maybe... Then you realise, ah, it's that. Then you have to work out how to do it. Then you get it and it's a lightbulb moment.
Then it goes back to action. And it's not just action-puzzle-action-puzzle, because sometimes it's action-action-action-puzzle. You mix the pacing up. And then you insert variety into it.
It's kind of weird. We have this old thing where we say, "It's time for a tank mission." It's a time where we really mix it up. We've had an action-puzzle loop a little bit, and then we get in a car.
Eurogamer: Or shrink Duke.
Randy Pitchford: Exactly. Let's change the physics of the situation and turn this on its head a little bit. Sometimes it's simple and you just need to mow stuff down for a little bit with a turret. Sometimes it's about making you feel fast or powerful, like getting in a plane or a car. Those are sprinkled in like A-bombs on the pacing schedule.
Then there's the offshoot thing, which is stuff like interactivity and secrets. The interactivity is there – there's a pinball machine. It's not required, it's off the beaten path, and it's not going to be the objective, but it's just fun to mess around with.
Now Duke 3D had all those things in an earlier, simpler time. That was a good formula, and it totally applies today. You can take the Duke Nukem out of it and use it for other things. For example, Half-Life uses the exact same formula. Maybe less about the interactivity with Half-Life and more on the physics puzzles and the pacing part of it, but it uses that same formula and it works brilliantly.
For Duke Forever, some of the rules have changed, and that moment you were talking about – the fourth wall breaking moment about the door and the keycard, both say to the customer and acknowledge the reality that the things that worked well back then, some of them are obsolete now.
Eurogamer: I thought it also looked quite of its time. There are updated bits like depth-of-field, but it does feel like it comes from that time visually–
Randy Pitchford: That's incorrect. That's actually incorrect. The game pushes the system to its absolute maximum. The thing we're struggling with now is actually performance and memory constraints.