Wired’s Duke Nukem Analysis

By Jim Rossignol on December 22nd, 2009 at 8:23 am.


Wired’s Clive Thompson has penned a huge diagnosis of the failure of the Duke Nukem Forever project, commemorating the title’s years as a top contender in the Wired vapourware charts.

Yet the truth is, Broussard’s financial freedom had cut him off from all discipline. He could delay making the tough calls, seemingly forever. “One day, Broussard came in and said, ‘We could go another five years without shipping a game’” because 3D Realms still had so much money in the bank, an employee told me. “He seemed really happy about that. The other people just groaned.”

Go have a read.

__________________

« | »

, , .

58 Comments »

  1. HairCute says:

    The only reason Broussard gets away with this crap is because OMM isn’t around to give him a good seeing to anymore.

    • robrob says:

      If anything, I would imagine not being constantly ‘seen to’ by OMM should increase productivity.

  2. Miker says:

    Wow, that was a great read. I have to agree with the conclusion — if DNF were released, I would be on it like a fat kid on cake, and I think a great number of other people would be too. I watched the old E3 trailers for it, and even the Quake 2 version looked like it had a ton of fun scenarios.

  3. DMJ says:

    That article explains much.

  4. Spacewalk says:

    I knew the dream was over when Team Fortress 2 showed off its new clothes. For some time it was looking like both games were never going to be finished and I was fully in the mindset that if one was completed and shipped it would spell doom for the other.

  5. kevinn says:

    There are people still interested with DNF?

  6. Vinraith says:

    That was a fantastic read, and provides real insight into what killed DNF. I hesitate to use the word “tragedy” with respect to the fate of a computer game, but this is about as close as it gets to genuine tragedy.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Vinraith: “Tragedy” is the word which did leap to mind.

      KG

    • Bhazor says:

      One question: what the heck does the article mean by “a computer game that revolutionized shoot-’em-up virtual violence in”? This was a game released 2 years after System Shock and 4 years after Ultima Underworld that still played like a Doom clone. The only thing it added was one liners stolen from 1980 action films.

      I will never understand how people could get so hyped for so long about a sequel to 13 year old and quite unremarkable game.

    • AndrewC says:

      Bhazor: the article states that the humour and the central character made it different from previous shooters. It’s in the words.

      Of course, the real answer is doors.

  7. kevinn says:

    There are people who are still interested with DNF?

  8. The Dark One says:

    I hadn’t realized the team was so small. When you look at a developer like ACE Team, you can see why they’d go for a small, focused title that could be produced in a reasonable amount of time. Trying to build a blockbuster title with a team that was only as large as 18 people prior to 2006?

    Madness.

  9. negativedge says:

    Broussard comes off as a total hack. There’s nothing “tragic” about this–it’s the story of an unchecked child.

    • Chris D says:

      It’s a little bit tragic. Sure no one died but the shape of it is a tragedy. In that it was the same qualities that made the first Duke Nukem such a success that were the downfall of Duke Nukem Forever. While it’s obvious to point out the mistakes from the outside I can imagine the lure of wanting to make sure everything was as good as it possibly could be, maybe feeling that if it didn’t live up to it’s predecessor’s success it just wasn’t good enough.

      If I remember my english classes correctly then tragedy is about being the architect of your own destruction, especially when your strengths become your weakness. On that basis I would say this qualifies.

  10. Lars Westergren says:

    Yeah, I’ve worked on projects somewhat similar to this… not huge rewrites every other year, but constant feature creep.

    A blog post on this by a ThoughtWorks employee, discussing Definition of Done and Magic Bags of Money:
    http://fragmental.tw/2009/12/22/duke-nukem-forever-and-magic-bags-of-money/

  11. Funky Badger says:

    Key words: “had no deadline”…

    Broussard should get a job with Capita…

  12. Weegee says:

    Sad story, really.

    I just wanna give those guys a big warm hug :(

  13. Schmung says:

    Interesting read. You kind of always got the sense that the project lacked the the sort of slightly ruthless management you need to get something finished and released, but the sheer lack of clarity is somewhat boggling.

  14. Vandelay says:

    Terribly sad story for those people working for Broussard. It sounds as if someone really needed to jump in and control Broussard, who comes across as a right tit in this article. Towards the end there seemed to be more hope, but it was far too late by then and too much money spent.

    I just hope that the team is able to eventually find some work from this and that the DNF name won’t be held as a stigma against them. As the article says, a lot of those people will have worked on no other game. It is them that have really suffered from this.

  15. manintheshack says:

    There’s nothing wrong with using the word ‘tragedy’ in relation to computer gaming. Sensible’s downfall is the saddest of all: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/sex-n-drugs-n-rock-n-roll-article

  16. manintheshack says:

    Vinraith: There’s nothing wrong with using the word ‘tragedy’ in relation to computer gaming. Sensible’s downfall is the saddest of all: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/sex-n-drugs-n-rock-n-roll-article

  17. qrter says:

    I thought the real shocking thing was reading that developers working on the project weren’t paid in full.

    • Harper says:

      Why should a group of people who didn’t finish the product they were being paid to create be paid in full?

    • Arathain says:

      Because it seems like (assuming the article is accurate, and I’ve no reason to believe it isn’t) that the bulk of the team was not at fault. It suggests that several times they produced something that was approaching a game, but that Broussard kept wiping and starting over. Should a team that appeasred to be talented and hard working be sorely financially penalised for the indecision of their boss?

    • qrter says:

      Exactly – the developing team itself wasn’t the problem, it was the management (or lack of).

      It must’ve sounded like a good deal at first, what with the huge success of the first Duke Nukem games, but when Broussard then effectively keeps stringing you on, the enthousiasm will quickly fade. As it clearly did, what with all the walkouts.

    • jalf says:

      True, but they also signed a contract accepting these terms. It’s not like their pay was withheld unfairly. They agreed to a contract saying they’d be paid in fully when the game was released. They didn’t have to put up with it. But they did.

      Sucks for them, but I don’t see how it’s “shocking that they didn’t get paid”.

  18. Muddy Water says:

    Harper:
    The article suggests that the reason for DNF’s demise was mismanagement, not incompetence on part of the developers. They gave years to that project and did not get proper compensation for it.

  19. bill says:

    So the Evil Publishers we keep hearing about, the ones that keep forcing developers to release games before they’re ready. Maybe they aren’t so bad after all. ;-)

    I thought this was the most telling part: “I thought, ‘Wow, how many times have you been here, near the finish line, and you thought you were way out?’”

    It seems like at many points in time they still managed to make a game(s) that was ahead of the competition, but they never realised it and released it.

  20. LionsPhil says:

    “[Wolf 3D] was the first game to let players run around a 3-D first-person environment shooting enemies”

    Oh Wired, you’re such hilariously bad journalists. Maze War mean nothing to you?

    • Weegee says:

      >bad journalists

      lol, talking about video games/video games related stuff is not journalism. They’re just a bunch of dudes getting paid for saying things the sponsor told them.

      Journalism……..you crack me up, pal.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I’m going to assume this is a joke.

    • Dominic White says:

      @Jim

      You’re giving the internet far too much benefit of the doubt, you shameless corporate hussy, you!

    • Psychopomp says:

      @Weegee

      IT’SH A CUNSHPEERASHEE

    • qrter says:

      I find it disappointing that the specialist gaming press hasn’t written a feature like this long before Wired went to work on it.

    • Muzman says:

      qrtr makes a very interesting point. Why are the big investigative pieces about ION Storm and 3D Realms on Salon and Wired respectively?
      (well, I have a rough idea why. But do folks think it could or should change?)

  21. Sam Bigos says:

    That’s why it’s a good thing to have a producer pressuring you to release. Ironically, Broussard was constantly saying how much he hates producers and how games should be released when they’re ready, however not having a producer is why they failed.

    • Urthman says:

      On the other hand, you have Valve, which also had the freedom to say “When it’s done,” regarding Half-Life 2, Episode 1, Episode 2, and TF2, and they came up with some of the greatest video games of all time.

      So I’d say it’s not the lack of a publisher that was the problem here. Almost-unlimited time and money is (as Valve demonstrates) a resource that could’ve been used to make a fantastic game, if they’d had the organizational talent to get it done.

    • Bhazor says:

      And have been working on episode 3 for three years. Weren’t they supposed to be release at 6 month intervals?

    • Pantsman says:

      Urthman, he said “producer”, not “publisher”. And he’s quite right. I expect Valve keeps some kind of control on their development process.

      Art is never finished, only abandoned. The key to releasing things is knowing when to abandon them.

  22. WilPal says:

    Why don’t they just release the damn game.

    They’ll make millions, and people have been waiting for so long they won’t care if it’s finished or not. Then they can use the money made from the sales to fund the release of patches etc.

    • qrter says:

      Probably because it isn’t finished?

    • MWoody says:

      Right now, their most valuable property is the Duke Nukem name. If they release a shitty, unfinished game after over a decade of promises, they destroy their last valuable asset in exchange for a tiny payday.

  23. Miss Ogynist says:

    Wow not a single female in that group photo. Wonder why?

    • coupsan says:

      Because there wasn’t a woman in front of the camera, obviously.

  24. jalf says:

    George’s genius was realizing where games were going and taking it to the next level

    So is that why they were constantly behind the curve, trying to reproduce what other games had already done?

    If this was really his genius, wouldn’t he be able to predict in advance what features they were going to need a year from now? “Lens flare is going to be big 18 months from now! We need to add it now”, rather than “OMG, game X just released with lens flare! We need that too!”

    Anyway, impressively silly (but predictable) story.

    • Bobsy says:

      The thing was that he was rarely actually behind the curve. He’d leap on the fancy new tech and the team would do pretty spectacular stuff with it. But with each iteration the development was too slow and they’d inevitably fall behind. When they released media of the game in action, it was almost always groundbreaking and impressive.

  25. Deez Nuts says:

    What a train wreck. Truly a victim of his own success.

    I can understand his fears (look at the new Wolfenstein, for example), but you got to have willpower to stop that feature creep at some point. I feel sorry for all of his employees who stuck with him so long.

    Also why didn’t the article mention, by name, Ken Silverman the 17 year old programming genius from Rhode Island who programmed the Build engine?

  26. Sonicgoo says:

    Another example would be Blizzard. How long have they been working on Starcraft 2? Diablo 3?

    • Sonicgoo says:

      @Sam Bigos/Urthman…

    • Urthman says:

      Sure. Except that Blizzard has been releasing regular iterations of World of Warcraft that whole time. At this point Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2 are almost hobbies for Blizzard, rather than the flagship titles that will make or break the company. Even if they sell millions of copies of each (and they will, of course) that’s gotta be a drop in the bucket compared to the money they rake in from all those monthly fees.

      If there are 11 million WoW subscribers @ $15/month, then that revenue is roughly the same as what Blizzard could earn from releasing a game as successful as Diablo 2 every two months.

    • CoffeeBean says:

      True, but Blizzard can pretty much be counted on to actually deliver on the goods in the end.

      Starcraft 2 has been a disappointment for us, but after years of playing Blizzard games and seeing how they work, this is pretty much the norm. It will be released eventually and almost always delivers on the hype.

  27. Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

    Am I mad, or do I remember a PCG UK issue with mockups in the Q1 engine in 97?

    I’m pretty confident it wasn’t Q2-based. Can anyone confirm?

    • MrMud says:

      Sure that wasnt prey?

    • M.P. says:

      Wikipedia says you’re right: those screenshots WERE rendered with the Q1 engine, but apparently they were just mockups they had done for promotional purposes cause they hadn’t gotten the Q2 engine code yet.

  28. M.P. says:

    That was a decent read, even if it didn’t really add much to what we already knew. Thanks for the link!

    Anyone else think that the American edition of WIRED is a far superior magazine to its new UK version, incidentally? Articles like the one linked to are what I’m used to reading in WIRED US and what I enjoy about it: investigative pieces on specialist topics written in a way that can be understood by folks with no in-depth knowledge in the field. I mean, this particular article has quite a lot of info and is interesting to people who already know a lot about the subject, but even somebody with no knowledge of videogames can read and enjoy it just as much, and that requires decent writing skills to pull off. WIRED UK, on the other hand, mostly reads like an aspirational lifestyle magazine, and it seems like it’s targetted not at people with an interest in science and technology but for hipsters who like gadgets. I keep thinking the next cover will feature Gordon Freeman wearing an Uggiano suit, Armani glasses and holding an iPhone!

  29. Anthony says:

    Broussard sort of reminds me of John Romero. What is it about these mid-90′s Texan game developers and their piles of cash/egos?

  30. Samson says:

    @Anthony

    It’s the long, flowing locks you see…

  31. TeeJay says:

    This story seems to suggest that Broussard / 3d Realms produced nothing between 1997 and 2009 and spent the entire time pissing away the money earnt in 1996. A lot of the comments over at Wired are lying into him as an idiot and for being useless etc…

    However there must be another side to this story surely? On wikipedia the 3dRealms page lists:

    Producer on Max Payne 1 & 2 (developed by Remedy) for PC, Xbox, PS2
    Producer on Prey (developed by Human Head Studios) for PC, Xbox 360, Mac
    Various iterations/versions of Duke Nukem for N64, Playstation, Game Boy, iPhone, XBox
    Releases of older stuff as freeware and with source code

    I realise the story was about the canning of DNF but why no mention of this other stuff? Also rather than lambasting Broussard for failing, surely he could also be commended for *trying* to do things differently, even if it didn’t work out as intended. I’d rather see more people trying to do this than publishers using loved IP to cynicaly churn out crappy cash-in sequels, “me-too” games and sloppy ports.

    While I was googling to find out what Broussard’s exact role in Max Payne 1 & 2 and Prey was I found this 2006 interview with Scott Miller:

    GameProducer.net:

    3DRealms got praise from Remedy when they were doing their first cinematic action title Max Payne. Remedy said that it has been great to work with a publisher that gave no or little pressure about the deadlines. I heard the famous slogan “When it’s done” first time said by Remedy & 3D Realms. How do you approach this attitude nowadays? Do you have no deadlines at all? What it really means to you to publish a game “when it’s done”?

    Scott Miller:

    Well, we have a simply philosophy that if you’re going to make a game, do it right. Another words, the game comes first. Most publishers do not see the value of this philosophy, and therefore the majority of their games are not hits. Also, since we retain ownership of our game brands, it is in our best interest to insure that our games are big hits, because not only do we like those fat royalty checks, we also like to see the valuation of our brands exceed 10’s of millions of dollars. In 2002 we (us and Remedy) sold the Max Payne brand for nearly $50 million, and that was after earning some $25 million in royalties. So, was it worth the 4.5 years to make Max Payne right?

    GameProducer.net:

    You have written and spoken about the importance of intellectual properties (IPs). Can you tell us the 3 most important reasons why IPs are so important?

    Scott Miller:

    [1] If you own your own IP, you benefit from the growth in value from the IP.
    [2] This in turns gives you clout in starting new projects.
    [3] And sets you free from becoming a slave to publishers.

    …”I’m a risk-taker at heart, and I never want to live a life where I look back and think, “If only I’d tried…”

    http://www.gameproducer.net/2006/06/13/interview-with-3drealms-ceo-scott-miller-prey-game-production-insight/