Duke Nukem Forever: A staggering history
3rd Sep 2010 | 18:02
Believe it or not, but just over 13 years ago a group of huddled journalists excitedly scribbled in their notepads after hearing the first news of 3D Realms' Duke Nukem Forever.
But before the well-deserved triumphant reaction to Gearbox's phoenix-like rescue job, there was heartbreak. Lots of it:
The first iteration of Forever ran on the then-cutting edge Quake II engine and the debut screenshots in a November issue of PC Gamer looked far above anything else around in terms of visual quality. Speaking in that issue of PCG, Scott Miller said that the game would be released in 1998.
The first trailer (which you can watch below) was unveiled at E3 1998 and showed the first in-game footage of Duke Forever. However, the following month 3D Realms announced that it would be porting the shooter sequel over to Epic's Unreal engine, and reassured fans that the transition from Quake to Unreal would take only "a month to 6 weeks" and Forever would be released the following year in 1999.
...then in 1999 3D Realms backtracked, announcing that it would be upgrading to the newer version of Unreal Engine, and released a Christmas card suggesting that Duke Nukem Forever was now set for the year 2000.
Almost a year later publisher Gathering of Developers announced that it would be taking over publishing duties for Forever, and 3D Realms released another Christmas card suggesting it would finally release in 2001.
At E3 2001 a second Duke Nukem Forever trailer was released (see below), revealing a few minutes of new gameplay footage including impressive game features such as destructible environments, advanced AI, weather effects and massive draw distance. The trailer, amazingly, still looks quite good today.
But it was never to see the light of day. Gathering of Developers closed down in August 2001, Take-Two took over publishing duties and Duke Nukem Forever was once again thrown into limbo.
In 2002, 3D Realms went back to the drawing board, hiring an army of new programmers and scrapping over 95 percent of the previous level design work in the process. The new engine was built using parts of Unreal Engine 2, with everything else written from scratch by the Nukem developer.
In early 2003 Take-Two CEO Jeffrey Lapin stated that Duke Nukem Forever would not be released that year. Duke creator George Broussard responded by telling Shacknews that "Take-Two needs to STFU imo". Later that year Jeffrey Lapin said that 3D Realms told him DNF was now expected late 2004 or early 2005.
After denying claims that DNF was now running on the Doom 3 engine, in 2006 Broussard gave an update on the game's development, stating that the team was finally tweaking and polishing the game.
In June 2006, a filing revealed that Take-Two was offering a $500,000 bonus if 3D Realms released Duke Nukem Forever by December 31, 2006. Broussard denied the rumours, saying that he would "never ship a game early... for 500K."
In early 2007 a brand new in-game screenshot emerged alongside a 3D Realms job ad, followed by the release of Duke Nukem 3D on Xbox Live Arcade. Reports emerged that "significant progress" had been made on the shooter - now in its fourth or fifth iteration - and it would finally be released in 2008. 3D Realms seemingly confirmed the news with the release of the first teaser trailer in six years.
In January, 2008 Duke's art director Tramell Isaac revealed that 3D Realms was currently "doing a lot of polishing of set pieces, environments, and characters," and a full reveal looked likely to happen soon. And it did: in June 2008 a journalist actually managed to infiltrate 3D Realms and see Duke Nukem Forever being played in front of his very eyes.
Another journalist who saw the game behind closed doors reported that it was "looking great" after spending "a good half hour" witnessing "several different DNF gameplay scenarios, mechanics, and environments being demonstrated".
Confidence grew. Actually getting our hands on the infamous FPS finally looked likely, though 3D Realms decided to skip showcasing the game at the "irrelevant" E3 show in 2008. 3D Realms chief Scott Miller reassured fans "development is swimming along nicely. Seriously nicely."
Nothing more was seen of the game in 2008... or at all. In April 2009, 3D Realms boss George Broussard gave a final development update on his Twitter, stating "71 more tasks to do and we started with probably 800-900. Been a good push. Next one starts Monday." But it wasn't to be.
On May 7, 2009 reports rolled in that 3D Realms had closed its doors as a result of "funding issues", later confirmed by its publisher Take-Two.
"We can confirm that our relationship with 3D Realms for Duke Nukem Forever was a publishing arrangement, which did not include ongoing funds for development of the title," said Take-Two VP of communications Alan Lewis. "In addition, Take-Two continues to retain the publishing rights to Duke Nukem Forever."
It's been an emotional, decade-long rollercoaster ride.
Finally, today, our dreams came true: A respected developer picked up where 3D Realms left off. We're finally getting the proper Duke Nukem sequel we've been waiting so, so long to receive.
In the end, he was right: You always bet on Duke.