The Fall Of Duke Nukem
When Forever is a Long Time.
We're a patient bunch here at Eurogamer. We really are. We're brought up in a nation of queue lovers and the phrase "all good things come to those who wait" is tattooed on our foreheads. But when it comes to Duke Nukem Forever, the whinging pom in us starts to come out of every pore.
Realms of uncertainty
Now, we understand the facts. We understand that 3D Realms has funded the game in its entirety; we understand that it will be done "when it’s done", and we understand the Texan developer needs to release it only when it is happy with the end product.
But we're talking almost six years of development. We're talking about the most torturously laboured development cycle in the history of videogames, so allow us to be a little tired of waiting. The game's third publisher Take-Two (after GT and Infogrames) has no idea when the game is coming out either, and in a conference call yesterday was asked by an exasperated analyst: "Regarding Duke Nukem Forever for the PC; any chance - any possibility under the sun - that we see that this holiday season? Or at what point do you guys just pull the plug on that?"
Take-Two CEO Jeff Lapin sounded almost apologetic when he said: "I think in terms of possibilities under the sun for this holiday season, the answer to that is 'no.' With regards to next year, we're in a 'wait and see' mode at this point. You know, last quarter we wrote it down substantially, so we generally already pulled the plug. And right now we're just hopeful that the team in Dallas will finish it."
So there we have it. A game that makes The Stone Roses' The Second Coming recording process looks positively swift by comparison. Assuming it will finally arrive sometime in 2004 (don't hold your breath), the game will be almost eight years after the previous incarnation. Nurse.
That's gotta hurt
But the story doesn't end there. The dynamic duo George Broussard and Scott Miller at 3D Realms fielded numerous questions on the Shack News message board during the furore of yesterday's revelations from Take Two, and pulled no punches.
First of all, Scott Miller described Take-Two's decision to write the game down as "genius": "The write-off has to do with the fee that Take2 paid to Infogrames to buy the rights to DNF. 3D Realms got no part of this money - a total of $12 million.
"The reason Take2 did this is that it's a smart revenue management move: Take a markdown now while Vice City is super successful and overall revenues are sky high, then when DNF comes out it's 100 per cent pure profit, because it took the write-down well before the game came out. Genius."
Genius or not, Take-Two is lucky it has so much cash swimming around right now or the $12 million it paid to Infogrames three years ago would be looking like one of the most ill-advised investments in gaming history. Add interest to that figure and you're looking at a considerable risk, so like we said, Take-Two can thank DMA for the fact it can sweep this not inconsiderable sum under the carpet.
Meanwhile, George Broussard was less than happy with Take-Two's decision to highlight the game's tardiness. In response to a post that pointed out that 3D Realms is funding the game itself, his response was a terse "Exactly. Take-Two needs to STFU IMO". Ooof. We hardly need to tell you what that stands for.
"Take-Two does nothing. If we didn't have utmost confidence in our abilities and the future of the game, then why would we continue to fund it ourselves? We could easily quit, scrap it, and do some other game.
"All we want to do is keep quiet, work on the game, and emerge later and show you what we're working on. We don't want hype. We don't want drama. We don't want Take-Two saying stupid ass things in public, for the sole purposes of helping its stock.
"Just remember, it's our time and our money we are spending on the game. So either we're absolutely stupid and clueless, or we believe in what we are working on. In the end, you guys will judge the final results. For now, all we want to do is keep quiet and work," fumed Broussard.
He added, with barely contained fury: "What's sad is its very, very poor wording of [Take-Two's] press releases and talking to analysts. As this has happened twice now I'm beginning to wonder if it's accident.
"The bottom line is that 3D Realms is solely and completely responsible for the game and Take-Two is doing accounting stuff on its end to make its position look better for analysts etc. After Vice and GTA made so much money it could afford to take a loss on DNF money it paid to Infogrames, and still make tons of money for the quarter due to GTA. So it did so.
"When [Take-Two] says it has "pulled the plug" it means it has taken the hit for the write off on the game and now if it gets it, fine, and if it doesn't fine. Its books have already accounted for their investment in it."
And on the subject of finding a new publisher, if need be, Broussard spat: "We'd find a new publisher so easily it isn't even funny." He's right, of course, but it was extremely surprising to see such candid comments on a public message board. What Take-Two makes of 3D Realms' furious reaction would be very interesting indeed.
Broussard calmed down enough later on in his posts yesterday to explain, again, why the game has taken so long. Asked if DNF really started in 1997, he answered: "98. We didn't get Quake 2 code till Dec 97/Jan 98. We made the mistake of mocking some stuff up in Quake 1 (like a user mod) for PC Gamer. In hindsight that was unfair to PC Gamer, and to the fans, and lesson learned. Most of that was stuff we did in spare time, jacking around, as we were finishing Shadow Warrior, and waiting on Quake 2 code. We didn't even have programmers for DNF until late 1999," he added.
Meanwhile, the 3D Realms crew were still utterly tight lipped on details of Duke Nukem Forever, only admitting "We've 100% rewritten the rendering engine. From scratch. All of it."
If you're shocked at such candid posts, then don’t be. Broussard is all too aware and admitted that commenting on forums will get picked up: "I realize it's public and I regret that people... dredge up the past, innocent comments and try to make them into "news" or something they never were supposed to be. Our forums are a fairly small group of people and it's too bad that we probably won't talk as freely there anymore.
"We say things in our forums that we don't say elsewhere. It's kind of our home. So we tend to talk really, really frankly to people there. So when we tell someone "we should be out before Unreal 2" on the forums, that's like talking to a buddy and it's not official in any way. Just random chit chat."
Shame, we enjoyed reading his rants, and hope this outspoken developer continues to slug it out with the corporate suits.
In the meantime, let's hope the chaps down in Dallas get off the forum boards and put in some hard work so we can actually get to play this long-promised game...