We love black humour, gallows humour, call it what you will. Those moments of utter despair lightened up by a sideways glance and sharp monotone quip, and it's difficult not to crack a wry smile at 3D Realms' hapless attempts to make another game. Every time the Formula 1 results come in, any gamer seeing the list of DNF drivers can't help be reminded of the delicious irony of the game that Did Not Finish also happens to share those telling initials. Yes, 3D Realms' interminably delayed PC shooter Duke Nukem Forever is a game now well into its seventh year (and counting) of development, yet it's still showing no signs of even being reasonably close to being completed. You couldn't make it up, you really couldn't.
But, being of patient persuasion, lover of 1996's Duke Nukem 3D, chaser of lost causes and the occasional visitor to 3D Realms' forum, it's possible to glean occasional titbits of information to keep the obsessive/compulsive diehard's flicker of hope aflame. Most of us that believed that the game would, indeed, be a glorious work of awe and wonder [and it still could, couldn't it? -Twitching, greying, toothless Ed] have long since given up wondering when 3D Realms will finally get its act together and release something. Anything. Please. We beg your merciful souls. Despite the prevailing logic, we still can't help but care about what's going on somewhere in Texas, fools that we are.
Dreaming? Never! Fornicators!
You may recall that last year, George Broussard infamously told Take-Two to 'STFU' in response to some inferred impatience from its exasperated publisher, and, since then, in its last two set of financials Take-Two has indeed STFU, having not even mentioned DNF in its last few financial reports, while investors don't seem too bothered about it now either. Does it even have a publisher anymore? 3D Realms apparently has enough self funding to survive hell freezing over and thawing back out again, so that's unlikely to be an issue to affect the game.
This week, though, Broussard obligingly elected to answer some questions posed on the board, which re-confirm that the game definitely won't be making an appearance at E3 2004 ("I don't think we care about E3 anymore and may never go again,") and that "Steady... constant, forward progress" is being made on the game. Well, you'd hope that would be the case after seven years wouldn't you? Still, nice to hear it hasn't been canned, but Broussard remains as frustratingly non-committal as to when the game will ever appear.
It's hard to imagine how a developer could still be "creating new stuff every day and putting it in the game" seven years into its creation, rather than just testing and polishing, but this statement alone speaks volumes of how far into the project 3DR really is.
Asked what the reaction of 3D Realms' new staff was to the game, Broussard replied: "I never speak for other people. I suspect they thought we would be farther along than we were at the time. But things are going very well now." I suspect we all thought the game would be farther along - which makes us wonder exactly what 3DR was showing off in its 98 and 2001 E3 videos.
Damn Nigerian Footballers
But again, Broussard insists "I've never once doubted we would ship. Only a matter of time." However, time is an abstract concept, and of course, there's absolutely no swaying the man on giving anyone even the vaguest ballpark figure on "when it's done," the firms' hilarious catch-all response to any request for a completion date.
Even pushed to say if the game would be ready before 2006, he repeated the "When it's done" mantra, adding, "We're past any estimates or guesses, no matter how safe they may be". Sigh. More worrying still is the fact that the game engine is still being fixed: "There are very few rendering/core engine bugs. The recent past has been spent just on optimizations and squeezing every millisecond we can out of things."
Continuing the talk of still being at a building block stage Broussard admitted: "We've actually been working in and finalizing lots of particle and effects systems lately. Anything from guns or wall and blood effects, to toilets. Typically, at this point, we try to finalize every asset that goes into the game now so it's not something to do, later."
Deeply Nihilistic Fops
On a tech spec level, 3D Realms' co-boss also admitted that technology still has to catch up with what it is attempting with the game. "The graphics are pretty high end and machines don't exist yet to run at [1600x1200] resolution at playable framerates. You will be able to turn graphics features on/off in the menus and trade framerate for visual quality. [It supports] all resolutions, but I doubt you will be playing in 1600x1200."
So what we have here, essentially, is an Unreal Engine-based game that couldn't even be played on a top end Athlon 64 with a Radeon 9800XT. Somehow, even on the basis of that single statement alone, you're looking at a game which will still be at the high end in two year's time - great to show off what a PC can do, but not really the recipie for a mass market game.
Indeed, Broussard's attitude to catering for the masses are clear: "The game will default to max details. That's why our recommended specs are so high. Really, with what we're doing, there is max detail, and as you drop things out you lose a lot of visual quality, so I kind of see it as all or nothing." Asked what he thought of the Crytek's Far Cry engine and Id's Doom III engine, he utters: "Both are neato". Um, thanks.
Drinking Neat Firewater
Pushed on the issue of AI, Broussard was adamant that "everyone over hypes AI, ya know? All we want to do is provide bad guys that are interesting to fight, and that don't do dumb things, such as run into walls, or other glaring errors. In this day and age, flocking, squad behaviour and the rest, are all pretty common place."
Regarding physics, this year's lens flare, he says: "Yes, physics and interactivity are very important to us. But every game is doing physics today, so I suspect their wow factor will have diminished by the time we ship." Well, yes, if you're going to take nine years to make a game George, you do run that risk.
Quizzed on the thorny issue of getting the game out bug free, he admits: "In the end, all we can do it try our best, then patch like mad if we have to, to smooth things out. But I think after all this time we will strive very hard to make it as polished as smooth as possible. But again, everyone says that, right?"
Delivering Nothing Fresh?
In terms of mods, Broussard offers: "Just like Duke 3D we will ship the tools on the CD. I believe we were the first people to do that with a major FPS. We will clearly try to support the game as much as possible after release. We want people modding it and having fun with the tools." Answering how easy modding will be, he says: "It's the Unreal engine, so overall I suppose expect similar experiences with modding any other Unreal game."
Multiplayer, though, appears to be on the back burner for the time being: "It has been [up and running] in the past. We're focusing on single-player at the moment and more efforts will be spent on multiplayer in a bit." A bit? Given that Far Cry was delayed fully six months purely to work on the multiplayer gives us some idea of just how long we have to wait. He continues: "UT2K4 took a full team a year and a half to develop. I think it's fair and safe to say that we won't go as far as they did in multiplayer. We just don't have the time or team size to [implement the same features as UT2K4]."
Humour was certainly one of the best elements of Duke Nukem 3D, providing many laugh out loud "Holy Cow!" moments that linger in the memory years afterwards, but apparently the direction isn't something that has been fully considered as yet, with Broussard's giving a vague "we won't really be sure until later" answer - although with tongue firmly in cheek, he reveals that the cigar chomping Duke is in good shape and eager to kick ass, and "he reminds us every time he looks in the mirror".
Death Never Fights
Damn. Is it looking good? Will we ever know?