Finishing Duke Nukem Forever

Randy Pitchford on the end of history.

I made a note of it. After all, it was a big occasion. 3:35pm, 9th June, 2011. The exact moment it became real, when a courier arrived at my door with a package it would be fair to say I'd been waiting some time for.

A week and a half, that is, since I'd filed the necessary legal documentation to secure the release of my advance copy of - gasp! - Duke Nukem Forever.

Despite signing my life away to 2K Games, the publisher apparently still didn't feel comfortable enough sending the game out until less than 12 hours before its general release.

Non-Disclosure Agreements and review embargoes are standard fare in the games industry. But Duke Nukem Forever, needless to say, is no ordinary game. As Eurogamer reviews Editor Oli Welsh quipped in a recent podcast: "13 years in development; one day to review it."

Anyway, there I was holding the actual box in my hand. "DUKE NUKEM FOREVER" roared the front cover in that unmistakable, chunky font. "THE KING IS BACK!" bellowed the rear. And yet I couldn't quite shake the feeling I was about to experience the punchline to the most elaborate joke in videogames.

Randy Pitchford understands: "You fire it up and you get a Rick Roll!" I meet Randy a month earlier in London over breakfast (he has bacon with his pancakes: it's what the Duke would want), during the final press tour before the game's launch.

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Content aside, can Duke's tech compete with today's blockbusters?

Randy is one of gaming's Big Personalities, a charismatic public speaker, hyper-enthusiast and raider of the Miami Vice shirt rack. He's also an accomplished magician, but has surely never pulled off a greater trick than this, conjuring the couldn't-make-it-up curio back to life and onto store shelves.

"We should live in a world where we get to play Duke games," he says. "And we should also be able to play Duke Nukem Forever, because what they've done is incredible".

There's a near-religious conviction to his belief in original developer 3D Realms' "vision". It has become both mission and Mission for the man since his money and studio gave this flatlining fantasy a Saviour's kiss of life.

Gearbox is an independent, successful studio with a terrific reputation, well-earned with the likes of Borderlands and Brother In Arms on its CV. It clearly didn't need the attention that comes with the Duke. And while the rewards could be considerable, the potential pitfalls both financial and reputational were hardly trivial.

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The humour in Duke Nukem is as proudly adolescent as ever.

Gearbox, though, has always held close ties with its Texan neighbour 3D Realms. Pitchford himself is a former employee, previously working on Duke 3D, and has since claimed he owes his career to the series. Was this, then, a classic case of heart ruling head: the romanticism of Randy?

"That kind of thinking that 'are you crazy?' was never borne from any fair intellectual analysis of the situation," Pitchford counters. "It's only borne from a superstitious, emotional response to the feelings we had over all this time.

"All of the intellectual analysis of the reality of the situation - the situation in the market, the state of the software and the nature of entertainment that existed and entertainment that it should be - all of that led to the sound decision of, yes, this needs to happen."

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