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The Nuking of Duke Nukem 325

Posted by timothy
from the nero-fiddles-for-the-soundtrack dept.
Rick Bentley writes with more on the story behind the meltdown of Duke Nukem Forever, the game that will now live on only as a cautionary tale: "Although the shutdown was previously reported on Slashdot, this new Wired article goes in-depth behind the scenes to paint a picture of a mushroom cloud-sized implosion. Developers spending a decade in a career holding pattern for below market salary with 'profit sharing' incentives, no real project deadlines, a motion capture room apparently used to capture the motion of strippers (the new game was to take place in a strip club, owned by Duke, that gets attacked by aliens), and countless crestfallen fans. *Sniff*, I would have played that game."
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The Nuking of Duke Nukem

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  • by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:01AM (#30523090) Journal

    Using motion capture room for strippers is just badass.

  • as a kid (Score:5, Funny)

    by PizzaAnalogyGuy (1684610) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:01AM (#30523092)
    Ah, memories from childhood. One day my friend told me he had found a kickass game from a BBS and asked if I wanted to go play it with him after school. He described it to me and I was already sold, but but... My mother Giovanna had told me to help my father at our family pizza place after school. Damn it!

    School day became to end and I tried to consider my options, but there were none. I had to go help my papa make pizza. Frustraded, almost crying, I walked the streets of Naples back home. Every now and then I watched inside a window on the street and noticed someone playing on computer. I was thinking if that could be it, but I'd never know.

    I decided to think for a moment. Like a good oven takes its time and peace to bake and finish a delicious pizza, my padre would wait for me. It was time to go see what the game was about.

    And I was amazed. Great looking graphics, funny sounding man that I did not understand and girls with something on their chest that looked like doughnuts with a salami on top of it. It was truly marvelous.

    While later serving customers at my fathers pizza place, I couldn't but think that I have to get a computer and this Duke Nukem 3D game. I mean, I loved baking pizza. But there is a time when a boy must choose between leisure and girls. But my father never got me a computer.

    Like an overbaked pizza, my dreams were crushed when Duke Nukem Forever never came.
    • He's been keeping this stunt up for months. And now I could really go for a pizza.

    • Re:as a kid (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:51AM (#30523594) Homepage Journal

      Dude, that was the third iteration of Duke Nukem and it lacked much that the side scrollers had. My favorite part of DN1 (a squeaky little side scroller that used the PC speaker for sound) and DN2 (similar to 1 but better 2D graphics and used the PC's sound card) was shooting the Energizer Bunny.

      George Broussard used to post at Planet Crap almost daily shortly after DN3D came out. He said there were 35,000 people that registered DN1, which had been released as shareware.

      I was one of the 35k. It was twenty bucks well spent! I think I picked up DN2 at K-Mart.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      I first discovered it when someone released a "The Shining" mod. I heard about it among some fans of the movie and bought it just for that mod (still one of the coolest mods ever, IMHO). And afterward, I actually played the main game and enjoyed that too. It's a great example of how fan mods can benefit a game greatly. Console makers should take heed and allow them for console games too.
  • by Gadget_Guy (627405) * on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:03AM (#30523112)

    Developers spending a decade in a career holding pattern for below market salary with 'profit sharing' incentives, no real project deadlines, a motion capture room apparently used to capture the motion of strippers

    Really, that's just too easy. Can't you at least make it a challenge to get +5 Funny???

    Oh well, here goes... Sounds like my job, but without the strippers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dun Malg (230075)
      Yeesh. Sounds like my job, only without the profit sharing OR the strippers.
  • by BorgDrone (64343) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:08AM (#30523146) Homepage

    Now the game is cancelled, can they at least release the data from the motion-captured strippers ?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dintech (998802)

      Yeah. I'd like a copy of the assets of those assets.

  • Office Perks. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:11AM (#30523176)

    Developers spending a decade in a career holding pattern for below market salary with 'profit sharing' incentives, no real project deadlines, a motion capture room apparently used to capture the motion of strippers.

    I'd work for below market salary just to be able to work with no deadlines, let alone the free strippers in the office. :-)

  • by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:11AM (#30523178) Journal

    Interesting note in the article also was

    Normally, game developers don’t have much cash. Like rock bands seeking a label to help pay for the cost of recording an album, game developers usually find a publisher to give them an advance in exchange for a big slice of the profits.

    Since people usually complain about music labels being evil, would game developers survive without publishers that pay their costs? Sure, indie's do, but look at what happened to 3D Realms too, and they even financed lots from their own past revenues.

    • by jeffmeden (135043) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:39AM (#30523446) Homepage Journal

      I think the point to that statement was that getting the money up front usually tied the artist (game or music) in to deliver on someone elses' timeline, which in this case is what DNF needed more than anything else since even a stream of crappy, poorly selling titles would have been better than, well, nothing.

      It highlights the cautionary tale that DNF has become: don't let a mountain of cash take your eye off the development process that usually ends when the investors tighten the leash and say its time to start paying back, since that part is only avoidable if you want to fade into oblivion with nothing to show for it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Moryath (553296)

        Oddly enough, there were two "OMG this is taking forever" titles.

        The other one was Daikatana. The much-maligned Daikatana actually was released. It went through one engine switch, similar to DNF (Quake to Quake II) because the Quake II engine offered it more to work with. It was "Feature-locked" in mid-1999, as the Wired article suggests that DNF should have been several times, and then worked on to finish and release.

        Unfortunately, it was beat to the market by Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 (November and De

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      Since people usually complain about music labels being evil, would game developers survive without publishers that pay their costs?

      Apples vs oranges. The fact that record companies give advances to artists isn't what's evil. Ripping off those artists, suing their best customers, and DRM is what's evil about record companies.

      Also, the record companies are no longer needed. In the past it was indeed prohibitively expensive to make a record, but the cost od digital recording has dropped to the point that recor

  • Damn! (Score:4, Funny)

    by deaton (616663) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:12AM (#30523184)
    I knew I shouldn't have pre-ordered back in 1999.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:21AM (#30523258)

    And I'm all out of money.

  • by Gadget_Guy (627405) * on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:21AM (#30523272)

    They never released it because the opposition kept getting better? If they could retain the great humour that went into the Duke3D, they would not need the latest and greatest in 3D gaming. It should stand alone.

    Duke Nukem 3D was pretty average technically, but who cares when it is so funny and engaging. The saga of Duke Nukem Forever reminds me of how George Lucas discovered CGI, but forgot script writing. Just because something is pretty doesn't mean to say that it is good.

    • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:49AM (#30523564)

      Just because something is pretty doesn't mean to say that it is good.

      +1 Avatar reference

    • Besides, they could have put a blank CD-R in each of the game cases and we all know it would have sold millions world-wide on its debut. They could have broken even with no effort at all.

  • by MaraDNS (1629201) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:28AM (#30523336) Homepage Journal
    You know, Duke Nukem Forever is probably the most well-known vaporware software project out there, but it certainly isn't the only one.

    Free/open-source software has a lot of these. As an open-source developer myself, I can understand why. One issue is that a lot of open-source projects are started by young naive people who do not realize how much time and effort it really takes to make a software program. Probably over half of the projects on Sourceforge fall under this category. One example is MooDNS [sourceforge.net], a DNS server that stopped development around the time the developer realized what a pain in the butt DNS compression is.

    Another way open-source projects get abandoned is when other software that does the same thing comes along. For example, the GNU Hurd [gnu.org] never became production-ready because Linux came along and was good enough that the perceived need for Hurd development went away.

    Other projects that stop development are projects where the developers stop going to school and get real jobs, and no longer have time to devote to an open-source project. One example of this is the Y Window System [wikipedia.org]

    For all of the advantages of Free software, one issue is that, without, by and large, the developers being paid money, there is not nearly as much motivation to get something finished, so a lot of projects become vaporware.

    Closer to home, I've told myself for years I would have a thread-free version of a recursive resolver for my own MaraDNS. I finally started writing the code in late 2007. Around the end of 2007, I had a working basic non-recursive cache. The project was put on hold in 2008 while I got out of the Slashdot-posting basement and looked for a girlfriend. I finally got one around the end of 2008, and was able to spend 2009 adding a lot of features to the code, making a lot of releases of the code.

    Well, around September of 2009, I got burnt out. Too much work for too little (almost no) pay. I stopped doing major development on the recursive code at that point, but have a really nice non-recursive cache with most of the foundation needed to make it a recursive cache. I do want to get back in to the project; but it's a lot of work and having a few thank you emails doesn't feel like enough compensation at times, especially when the other half of the emails are people asking me to implement their favorite pet feature for fun and for free, or asking for free email support. I finally put a plug on that nonsense by making it extremely clear that I only answer private email for people willing to pay me. Here are some of my rants I blogged about [blogspot.com]. I do get the occasional "you made this nice DNS server, we would like to hire you" email, but haven't gotten a job from that yet.

    I do want to finish up the recursive code, and put closure on my DNS server project, but I just haven't gotten myself in the "develop free software" mindset again.

    Maybe it's time to stop goofing around on Slashdot and finish up the code. :)

    • by Eil (82413) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:14AM (#30523844) Homepage Journal

      The project was put on hold in 2008 while I got out of the Slashdot-posting basement and looked for a girlfriend. I finally got one around the end of 2008,

      Wow... phrased like that, getting a girlfriend is like a side quest in the RPG of your life.

    • by Alomex (148003) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:18AM (#30523882) Homepage

      I'll work on an open source project when my lawyer and my doctor start providing free consultations.

  • by alen (225700) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:29AM (#30523348)

    at some point common sense will tell you that this project isn't going anywhere and your job may be in trouble and maybe i should look for another job? it's like all the dot coms from 10 years ago where people drank the kool aid and thought that investors will just keep feeding them more money to have fun at the office even though there is no profit and no one has any idea how to make a profit

  • by Scr3wFace (1200541) * on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:30AM (#30523358)
    Kick ass and chew bubble gum, Damn I'm all out of money!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:32AM (#30523372)

    ... I saw him yesterday in Avatar.

  • by TheNinjaroach (878876) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:34AM (#30523400)
    I had to laugh today when I signed into Slashdot to see we are still talking about Duke Nukem.
    • Re:Had To Laugh (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:49AM (#30524280)

      It's one of the most treasured running gags on /. It's way more treasured than Natalie Portman, a Beowulf cluster or our sharks with friggin' lasers could ever be. It's one of the oldest ones, old enough that even the ancients here can barely remember a time without it.

      And now, it's gone. We have to find a new idiom for something that will be released bundled with $current_topic_considered_vaporware.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      We'll be done when it's ready.
  • by mattwrock (1630159) <mattwrock@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:48AM (#30523546)
    I will make my own game with Black Jack... and strippers! Oh they tried and failed? Oh crap!
  • I always thought Duke Nukem Forever was one of this long standing jokes, like the "I copied 17 Megabytes on my Macintosh and it took 20 minutes" one that comes up again and again. Never realised it was real vapourware.

    You guys are saying there were real people trying to actually write this software? Seriously?
  • ALWAYS BET ON DUKE (Score:4, Interesting)

    by soupforare (542403) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:54AM (#30523622)

    Tycho said it best, "...there are lessons about what makes for good play still bottled up in Duke Nukem 3D, lessons haven't truly informed the last thirteen years of industry progress." If anything at all comes from the DNF fiasco, I hope that some younger gamers (and developers!) go back and give D3D a playthrough.
    Maybe it's not as great as we remember but it sure as hell deserved a better fate than it got.

  • by JSBiff (87824) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @09:54AM (#30523624) Journal

    It sounds like, from the article, Broussard never really got the concept of iterative development. It sounds like 4 or times they had a game *almost* done, and then scrapped it. Why? I mean, on the one hand, I do understand the idea of not releasing crap that dilutes your 'name brand', but the article author seems to have indicated that every time they demo'ed their 'current' generation of tech, the crowd was wowed.

    In the 10 years from 1998-2008 they could have released 4 or 5 great games, each one getting better than the last. Each one making some revenue to help you fund the next version. I've come to appreciate that developing software isn't a destination, it's a journey. Make a new version, give yourself a well-defined, finite set of new features, develop them, sell that version, then start working on the next version which adds all the cool features you just weren't able to work into the last version, but wished you had.

    One of the points in the article was that they scrapped the Quake II engine for Unreal, because Q2 just couldn't render the outside deserts around Las Vegas the way they wanted. I think, faced with the same problem, I would have just said, "No outside levels in this version - if we can't make them look decent, don't make them at all; we'll do it in the next version" - although, possibly I could see that one reboot as being necessary - probably the game would have been really missing something if there were no outdoor environments. So, I could see that change could have been necessary, switching to Unreal, but once they switched, they should have committed to shipping *a* game based on that engine, and only worried about changing up engines once they started work on the *next* game, after shipping DNF.

    Well, at least young'uns like me can learn from 3DR's mistake.

    • That's really key. Further, because they used their own money, had they made NOTHING on any of them, they still would've been none the worse for the wear. Kinda goes to show the need to do SOMETHING, even if it's crap. I mean consider if Microsoft had waited 12 years to release the perfect OS, only too... err... um... no wait. Bad example. :)
    • by alen (225700)

      reminds me of someone i know that bought all the electronics as soon as they came out. think when DVD first came out and players cost $1000.

      in the 1990's he refused to buy a computer because he said he was waiting for his ultimate one to be available

    • by delinear (991444) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @12:49PM (#30525782)

      The problem is, every time you reboot with a new engine, you raise expectations, and make no mistake expectations for this game were massively high from the very beginning. It's a hugely self-defeating cycle to tell a bunch of ultra-hyped users that the current gaming engines just don't do your game justice so you're switching to the latest bleeding edge engine, no way they could ever have released a game that lived up to its own hype. They would have been far better to release an average game, take the hit on the brand and then build on it for the next version (and by all accounts if they'd released at any time the game would have been more than average anyway, DN3D was never about graphics, they were superceded shortly after its initial release, it was about pure, unadulterated but often adult-based FPS fun).

      Sounds like the guy at the top just cared too much about his baby - should have backed away and left it with a project manager.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by honkycat (249849)

      Well, at least young'uns like me can learn from 3DR's mistake.

      Too bad 3DR didn't learn from the long history of software management blunders, as recorded in, e.g., The Mythical Man-Month. The blunders made by the DNF team read like a table of contents for that book. In particular, mindlessly adding employees to help speed things up in the endgame is usually a recipe for further delay.

      Also, if you're aiming for the technically most advanced game out there, using the engine some other guys developed to do it seems like a questionable strategy at best. It's sad. It m

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BillX (307153)

      I wonder what happened to all these "90% finished" versions - whether they were just trashed outright and lost entirely, or there are a few still kicking around in a repository somewhere. A micro-scale version of the DNF 'pattern' played out for the original D3D too (partly-finish the game, then scrap it and head in a new direction), but they actually released the partly-finished lame version because the curious D3D fanatics were clamoring for it (google for 'lameduke' if it still exists anywhere). It had a

  • Developer 1 : Spent 12, Burned 0
    Developer 2 : Spent 12, Burned 0
    Developer 3 : Spent 12, Burned 0
    Developer 4 : Spent 12, Burned 0
    Developer 5 : Spent 12, Burned 0
    Developer 6 : Spent 12, Burned 0
    Scrum Master : We have sprint review coming up...
    Developer 2 : So, we have 500 hours of capacity, and 0 tasks burned...

    Repeat 60 times

  • eDuke32 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Orion Blastar (457579) <orionblastar@gmail . c om> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:06AM (#30523750) Homepage Journal

    eDuke32 [eduke32.com] is an open sourced Duke Nukem 3D project. It needs the Duke Nukem 3D game data files to work, and if you lost your Duke CD they can sell you a copy for $5.99. It works with Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX, but only the Windows version is compiled, you have to compile the Linux and Mac OSX versions; although they claim to have a link to precompiled Mac OSX files.

    It is not Duke Nukem Forever but it has some advanced features and a link to Dukeworld to get fan made content creation and new maps and levels to keep you playing Duke Nukem almost forever. It can support resolutions the original couldn't and fixes a lot of game killing bugs the DOS version suffered from.

  • by kurfu (738047) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:12AM (#30523824) Homepage
    “George’s genius was realizing where games were going and taking it to the next level...” No. From TFA, it appears that as far as DNF is concerned, George was not an innovator at all. Instead of coming up with his own ideas, he wasted 12 years trying to play catch-up to every new shiny thing that got released.
  • by mrjb (547783) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:29AM (#30524010)
    There's another name for what killed DNF: "feature creep". Classic mistake. So is hiring extra people to work on a project that's already late.

    After reading the article, it's blindingly obvious that what really killed the project was nothing but bad project management.

    "Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product must have it." [joelonsoftware.com]
  • Not that I have any riches right now, but one day I might.

    So just to beg the question, how much would the rights to Duke Nukem Cost?

    I can see alot more than just a video game in 10 years, when Duke's status has all but been tarnished, where he will once again rise to the top of the entertainment industry. I see a new Video game, a completely original blockbuster trilogy, and his face and silly slogans slapped on every lunchbox from here to Taiwan.

    I don't know about you guys, but I wouldn't mind someone milk

  • by Schnapple (262314) <tomkidd@viatexas.cPERIODom minus punct> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @10:55AM (#30524344) Homepage
    One of the sites mentioned in the story is Shacknews [shacknews.com], a Dallas-based site frequented by hardcore gamers and whose initial primary subject matter was the FPS games from the era when Duke Nukem 3D was initially popular. George Broussard posts there under the handle GeorgeB3DR [shacknews.com].

    Someone posted a link to the WIRED story yesterday and one of the responses was from Jason Bergman [shacknews.com] who worked for Shacknews at one point as a writer and later moved on to Take Two and now works for Bethesda. In the discussion he posted [shacknews.com]:

    That article is missing a LOT of facts. Until the lawsuit is settled, you won't know the full story.

    Which naturally got the "Well how could you even know?" response, to which he responded [shacknews.com]:

    I was the producer at take two on dnf. So yes. Yes I know the real story. This article has a few things that are blatantly false, and others that are assumptions from people who weren't there.

    Granted this is from someone who used to work at Take Two, which is the company somewhat demonized in the article, so there may be some bias in play there, but it sounds like some of the stuff in this article may just be flat wrong.

    That said, this article is probably the best it can be under the circumstances, given that no one can really talk too much about it because of the lawsuit.

  • by burris (122191)

    Apparently, they really were working on DNF all this time. I thought for sure it was just a joke on the industry and a way to drum up publicity every couple of years while they worked/published real titles.

  • by uncleroot (735321) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @11:00AM (#30524408)
    The part of the story that needs to be talked about a bit more is the under-recognized talent that worked on Duke 3D and made it so much fun. 3D Realms got lucky once because of a brilliant young programmer named Ken Silverman http://www.advsys.net/ken/ [advsys.net] who wrote the engine while he was still in high school, and the talents of their design team, people like Levelord http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Gray_(game_designer) [wikipedia.org] and others. The management of the company took credit for the success of Duke 3D. But once the talent left, management lived for years off the residual income from the various Duke ports and publisher advances while showing their utter lack of competence by being unable to ship a single product. While we mourn Duke and scorn Broussard and Miller let's remember the fine work of the team. Good work, guys!
  • To quote Voltaire (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @12:54PM (#30525864)
    "The perfect is the enemy of the good." My bias has always towards getting a product into the hands of customers, not towards academic correctness. Yes, the story of DNF should be taught as a textbook case in bad product management. Rule #1: if you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on third-party tools and then decide not to use them, you should be fired for bad judgment, pure and simple.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @01:30PM (#30526356) Journal

    I haven't really been following this; so I read TFA.

    Two things leap to mind:

    1. The sequel always sucks. He should have realized from the outset that you do a sequel to cash in. Shovel that sequel! There really is no other way. Even if the sequel was actually just as good or slightly better, it will always suck because it can't duplicate the effect of seing a blockbuster for the first time. Note, this is not true if the original was not a blockbuster or particularly popular. A movie/game example doesn't leap to mind; but think of any cover of a Bob Dylan song. At any rate, the psychology of sequel reception seems readily apparent to me, and I suspect to just about anybody. How could they not see that?

    2. At what point should they have realized that there was another model available besides "ship finished product"? I'm referring to the "perpetual beta" model of Google, or a subscripion model, or perhaps giving free upgrades for a couple years after the game came out.

    Finally, wow! 12 years at a failed project??? That's just staggering but I bet it's not a record. The record probably comes from the defense industry and may or may not be classified.

  • Engine Switches (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LUH 3418 (1429407) <[maximechevalierb] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday December 22, 2009 @06:46PM (#30530994)
    I've heard that the game was pretty far along when they switched to the Unreal engine. It's true that Unreal was a much better engine than Quake II... But, there have been many open source projects demonstrating that those game engines can pretty easily be upgraded. They could have saved themselves license money and avoided re-making all their assets by going that route instead.

    I myself used to run an indie game project. We were making our own game engine, and at the time, I was a pretty naive programmer. I liked to implement everything myself (reinventing the wheel). I was also never satisfied with the quality of what we had made, and so we restarted the engine development twice. This lead to other members of the team losing motivation, and the game never got completed. I think it's pretty easy to not be satisfied with what you have, but the lesson I took from this project is "refactor/reuse, don't recreate". Refactoring programming code can seem tedious, but in the end, it's always faster than starting completely from scratch, and you avoid losing what you already have.

Recent research has tended to show that the Abominable No-Man is being replaced by the Prohibitive Procrastinator. -- C.N. Parkinson

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