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Hail To The Guv'nor: Pitchford On Duke

Travelling games-Ronin Will Porter (who you may remember from his tribute to the recently-murdered PC Zone) has achieved what RPS could not: he has played Duke Nukem Forever. We would have done so too, if only we were any good at reading emails. SIGH. While he was at it, he also talked to newly-minted duke of Duke Randy Pitchford. Here's what the Gearbox headbloke had to say about 3D Realms, urinals, Star Wars, whether the long, strange Duke story will ever be properly documented, and how to localise DNF into the Queen's bally English, what?

Porter: Okay, it’s weird for me being here and playing Duke Nukem Forever. It’s almost like what my career has been building up to…

Pitchford: Me too right! I’m in the middle of it, and I can’t believe it. Every day I’m like: ‘Wow. This is totally happening’. I’m just honoured and privileged that I’m able to do something, and that I’m sitting in the seat I’m sitting in. I think all the guys working on it feel the same way. It’s astonishing.

Porter: Is it strange for 3D Realms people, like Scott Miller and George Broussard, to effectively have their baby growing up in someone else’s house?

Pitchford: I can’t imagine what it feels like for them. I remember when we signed the deal that Gearbox and 3D Realms signed together; the transfer of the ownership of the brand and the game. We did it in a simple ceremony at Gearbox. Scott and George came up, and we had all the contracts laid out, and it turned out that a lot of people from Gearbox just wanted to be there. They just wanted to be in the room when it happened. We didn’t really have anything planned, just to sign the contracts, and Scott said ‘You know what, I want to say a few words’.

It was really heart-warming. It reminded me of two things. Firstly how much care he has for his brand, but also how much trust he has in me and our team. Then George said something too. It was really cool man! George and I play poker every week, he’s a dear friend of mine, and I can’t imagine what it must be like for him. I want Duke to be triumphant, as much for all of us as for him. I wouldn’t have my career if it wasn’t for those guys taking a chance on me when I was an amateur. They brought me out to Texas and gave me a gig; they let me work on Duke Nukem 3D back then, and be a part of it.”

Porter: The way you tell the story actually gets pretty emotional. It’s like the scene at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. With everyone rushing in at the last moment to tell Duke they love him and save the day.

Pitchford: It is! It’s also like the end of Star Wars. George and Allen [Blum, original Duke creator]: they’re like Luke Skywalker. They’re in the X-Wing in the trench, and Biggs has been blown up and Wedge has had his engine hit. R2D2 is on fire! The targeting computer is off! There’s no plan, they’re doing the best they can – flying by the seat of their pants and Darth Vader’s got them in their sights while the Death Star is preparing to blow up all hope for humanity. Darth even pulls the trigger, then at that moment out of the glare of the sun comes Han Solo. “You’re all clear kid! Let’s blow this thing and go home!”. We’re having that moment right now. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in the games industry. It’s freaky to be right in the middle of it.

Porter: What I love about it, is that there’s all this involved and complex story of its development, and the high emotion around it. Then the game appears and it’s all about naked women, throwing poo around and pissing in urinals.

Pitchford: I know! It’s such a ridiculous character! Here’s a thing though: everything happens in this world because of people. Duke is something that’s gone on for so long that even though it’s something where the subject is an absurd and ridiculous (if awesome) hero, the game has a real human story beneath it. This is all very real for all of us. I think that’s become part of the story.

Porter: When you took the game on-board, how much work was there for you to do? How many gaps were there to fill?

Pitchford: It’s hard to be precise on that, as games are so complex. If I were to explain it though, you’d take away a couple of things. The position of this game and what happens in Duke’s story – all of it, from the design to the art direction and the gameplay - that’s all 3D Realms’ vision. That’s what the team wanted to make, and that’s what they were making. But also, in order to realise that vision on different platforms and as a shipped product with single-player and multiplayer, there’s a huge amount of effort that’s gone in to support that vision. The vision itself, the game, is 3D Realms’ game.

Porter: Y’know, you could almost – and I think that someone probably should – write a book or make a film about this game’s development.

Pitchford: There have been enquiries about both books and documentaries. I think that’s cool, I think the story should be told, but I don’t want to get too distracted. I’m responsible for this, so to whatever extent I can I want to make sure that all of the focus is on making sure that this works out. Then maybe we can take a breath and start thinking about documentaries and whatever. Maybe though, if someone has the right pitch, and they can be non-invasive and come in and report some of the process and understand it, then… maybe.

Porter: He’s been gone for so long, so why do you think there’s so much love being shown for Duke?

Pitchford: I don’t know. He’s so one dimensional, but there’s something about him! What do you think it is?

Porter: Well, I guess he was the start of a lot of people’s relationships with gaming and shooters. On top of that its development is almost folklore now…

Pitchford: It’s definitely become folklore. To speak to that, last year I was in London with Steve [Gibson, Gearbox marketing supremo and ex-top dog at Shack News]. We went to play poker at the Empire casino. We were sitting round the table and one guy asked us all what we did for a living. Now I don’t usually like to get into that, so I said “Oh, I make software. Boring stuff”.

Then Steve says “We make video-games!” and everyone on the table perked up and the guy asks “Oh really? What?”. Steve goes: “He worked on Duke Nukem!”. And the guy just freaks out. He stands up, leans over the table and says “I’ve got to shake your hand! Those were the first tits I ever saw!”

Porter: The original Duke Nukem introduced so many ideas; the tripwires, the pipebombs, the mirrors, the cameras, the Holoduke - that Halo: Reach has only just now adopted. Can Duke Nukem Forever still innovate like that?

Pitchford: This is a new game. There’s so much that’s been done in this industry, but there are some new gems in here. It also, though, can’t succeed if it doesn’t pay homage and fan service to our memory of the past. It has to do both successfully. And I think it does - when I played it, it did. It has to be a new game, but it can’t forget where it came from and all of our memories. You’ll discover how it makes that balance.

Porter: I take it that John St John is still the voice of Duke?

Pitchford: Yeah, John adds so much personality and character. I’ve worked with John a lot over the years, he’s a very dynamic voice actor. A lot of people don’t know this, but in Gearbox’s first game – Half-Life: Opposing Force – John St John did the voice of all of the soldiers. That includes the Drill Sergeant, who was this R. Lee Emery ‘What is your major malfunction?’ character. He did it perfectly. He’s an amazing voice talent.

A few months ago I got to go into the booth with him again, and directed him again. I’ve directed him a lot over the years, but this time I directed him as Duke for the first time in over twelve years. I was there with our audio director Mark Petty, we got the pleasantries out of the way – and we got started. John belts out some line in the voice of Duke, and Mark and I just look at each other. We’re like: “We’re making a Duke Nukem game! It’s back!”

We’re going to localise the game into different territories and different languages, and I want to see if John St John can do an English accent. I think it would be funny to localise it in British English. “Hail to the guv’nor baby!”

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