Duke Nukem Forever: Feminism, fellatio and the funnies
1st Apr 2011 | 11:09
Chucklesome delay announcements aside, the fabled path of Duke Nukem Forever into retail has been smoother than ever of late - and it's all thanks to Randy Pitchford and Gearbox software.
Releasing a game that's been in limbo for so long is no lightweight task - and Pitchford fully appreciates the gravity of his responsibility.
He calls the game's release - now coming in June - a "historical" moment for the industry when we sit down to chat, as he reassures us that his team has updated Nukem 3D's polygonal strippers...
Duke Nukem is doing this '90s revival of tongue-in-cheek humour. Among mumblings of the FPS genre becoming a little stagnant, do you think this is the direction the genre needs to go down?
I don't know. I know this is a lot of fun. Maybe what you're feeling there is that there's been a kind of pacification of our heroes and Duke's kind of like the antidote to that. Honestly, great games are fine. It's like a movie - you can go from watching The Hangover one night and the next night watch Saving Private Ryan and everything's fine.
So you don't think the genre is getting stagnant...
I think that boring, stagnant games are stagnant. I think games that are fun and interesting are fun and interesting. So I wouldn't make a blanket statement like that. I think there's plenty of stuff that we're seeing that's really derivative, but I also think that there are a lot of new and exciting things that are kind of pushing the line a little bit.
Do you think the Call of Duty generation of gamers - who are used to games with a direct path through a linear series of cinematic events - is going to connect with the more old-school, over-the-top gunplay style of Duke Nukem?
I don't know how or why, but Duke's kind of become iconic. He's important to gamer culture and it hasn't happened because of all the great Duke games that have come out because there haven't been any. But he's kind of like gaming's Chuck Norris.
As far as divisiveness is concerned it's like what I said earlier; as long as that experience is great we're gonna love it and have a great time. That doesn't preclude us from wanting other great experiences. Now, you mention Call of Duty - gosh I'd love to live in a world where as many customers that enjoy CoD choose one of my games. That would be amazing. What do they do, 20 million units? Holy crap.
That's my dream, I think that the goal of any entertainer is 'how many people can you reach?' and 'to what extent have you entertained them?' If you can do that then you're winning.
So how will you approach marketing to get the message across to these newer gamers?
I think you've just got to be honest about it. I think the fact that it is different is a benefit. One of my favourite quotes from Jerry Garcia [lead guitarist, singer and songwriter for the band Grateful Dead, deceased 1995] is - and I'm going to get the quote wrong but the gist of it is - "It's not enough just to be the best at what you do, because there are others doing what you do. What you want is to be the only one that does what you do."
Maybe on a subconscious level, but when Duke was dead I thought "oh my gosh, we are the only people in the world who can save this, we have to commit to it.
I had to decide if it was worth it. It's a huge risk, I had to invest a lot, divert a lot of attention spend a ton of money and focus on that. But Duke is absolutely one of a kind, and there's nothing else like him in the world, and I need him. Like, I don't want to live in a world where Duke doesn't exist. We felt that that when we brought the game to PAX. We were nervous because the game's been a joke in development.
But what we found was the world also kind of needed Duke to be triumphant, you know what I mean? Like, we needed him to win.
Duke is on the final straight and the general consensus is one of excitement, but there is a split in expectations with many concerned about the fact it changed hands during development. It was essentially a rescue mission. So what are you expecting from reviews?
I don't know. I know what I'm feeling when I play the game - it's fun, and at any given moment I can't wait to see the next moment. Honestly, I don't even know how much reviews matter for this particular game. Because, I mean, what we're looking at is the deepest unresolved tension in the entire history of the video game industry. And it's almost historical.
Fortunately the game's good, I've played it, it's a great game. You're going to see a range of scores; I'd be surprised to see anything get down into the '7' range, maybe a couple 10s - you're going to get the range there. It really doesn't matter. Anywhere in that range - it's not going to change the results for what we're actually talking about.
What matters is if you have a good time or not, how much the experience us back [to Duke's former glory] to those of us that remember, how much it introduces to those who weren't there, and how much it tells us about the next experience we want. That's what really matters, and the scores - that's probably not going to be very relevant to the outcome of this particular game.
How do you deal with the pressure?
When I decided to buy Duke Nukem and be the guy responsible for finally shipping this monster, one definitive decision that I made was 'I have to ignore the pressure'. Because all you'll do is obsess over 'is this mirror is too high on the wall?' or 'why is this candle the same colour as the wall?' and that game will never come out, you know what I mean.
I had to decide is what's most important is that we finally get it in our hands and play the game we've been waiting for this whole time, and as best I can, realise the vision that 3D Realms provided for us so that we can finally f**king play it. That's the only thing that matters.
And once we're past that and the wreckage has cleared, we'll figure out what to do next. But you've played it. You played an hour to 90 minutes. And you're just scratching the surface, it's actually a pretty big game. It's between 14 and 18 hours of gameplay, so that's like four or five Call of Duties. *Laughs*
What's really interesting is how often the game breaks the fourth wall. Do you think this is something games should do more?
I think especially if Duke Nukem is successful, and all the metrics and every method we have to guess suggest it's probably going to sell a lot of units.
I think that you'll have a lot of people in the industry look at that and wonder why it works. That's just tends to happen. I don't know how successful people will be with that. I know there's been, over the years, some games that have tried to get over into the Duke Nukem space but it's tricky.
The thing that most people get wrong - I'll give you the secret; in Duke's world it's all real. Like, the fact that in Duke's world the Bellagio Hotel is called the Fellatio Hotel - that's not a joke in his world. Families will go to that casino and not notice that that's a reference to blowjobs, right?
But when we see it through the lens to our world it's funny. And that's the secret; it's all sincere and natural in his world. His world is kind of a fun house mirror reflection of our world. And that's how you can break that fourth wall once in a while and get away with it, because there is a fourth wall to break.
Whereas a lot of folks that try it, there's no delineation between that world and our world, and there's just jokes for the sake of it. It's a very subtle but very important part of the formula.
With the game having been in development for so long, there must have been a lot of jokes that were out-of-date by the time you got a hold of it?
Yeah. Back when I originally worked on the project, and even through to today, the writing for Duke has never been the responsibility of one person. It's not just writing the script, it's also the idea. There's a body of people that, within them, is where the heart and soul of Duke lives. Any one of them might come up with something and the others will say whether or not it works.
A classic example - and I wasn't at 3D Realms when this happened - Duke needed to drive a car because he's in Vegas but you've got Area 51 out across the desert. He's got to get there. So what does Duke drive?
A monster truck.
Of course, he drives a monster truck. But imagine when they were trying to figure that out. Like, does he drive a Lamborghini? No. Then someone said 'dude, he drives a monster truck'. But then it's like, what's the truck called? It's called the Mighty Foot, because the most famous monster truck is Big Foot, and Duke has the Mighty Foot move from the old games, and it just works.
With both Nintendo and Sony ready to bring super-powerful new handhelds to market - particularly Sony with the PS3-like NGP - have you considered the possibility of doing DNF on either of those?
Yeah, I'm actually now responsible not just for DNF but for the brand. We own Duke Nukem as a franchise. Some of these emerging platforms are interesting and exciting.
To sincerely answer the question though, I'm responsible for shipping DNF. So if I put mindshare on a sequel or some other thing and anything happens to make this go wrong, I'm a dumbass. So all the effort and attention has to go into making sure this works out. And once we're past this that'll be a great time to think about 'okay, now what should we do?'
It's irresponsible for me to worry about those things until this is taken care of. But between the 3DS and the new Sony device, these are things we've known about for a while and it's kind of interesting to think about them. But right now we've got to see what happens when this experience transpires.
It must be tempting considering PS3-to-NGP ports can be achieved so easily...
We'll see. I mean, we also have to think about why we're doing it. Are we doing it just because the platform exists or is there a customer there? How many people can I reach, and to what extent can I gratify them?
If I believe that there's a customer in place that wants the entertainment that I have to offer, and the only way to do that is to do a game on that particular platform, then that might be a good decision if however many customers there can rationalise it.
But if I don't really gain any customers or earn anything for that effort then why bother? I have a feeling that, especially at the beginning, the people that buy the Sony NGP are probably people that I can reach on the PS3 or 360. And those people would probably rather have a Duke Nukem experience on their couch with a larger television.
Duke Nukem is probably not optimally a portable quick-play game, it's something you want to immerse yourself in. Having said that, I think there's some angles on what it stands for and angles when we think about multiplayer that maybe portability could be fun. So we'll see. That's a sober approach - we'll get DNF done and then we'll really think about it.
The industry is a different place than it was 10 years ago. It comes under much more scrutiny. Do you have a set defence plan if it comes under fire from some feminist group that doesn't get it?
Well, eh, no. I don't. It's funny, Duke isn't a misogynist. He is ego-centric and everything in his world revolves around him. And women can offer him something different than men can. So if, to Duke, women are less than him, it's not because they're women, it's just because they're not him. [Laughs]
But he actually loves women and will put himself to great risk to make sure that they're safe. That's the whole premise of the game. I think it'd be really interesting some day to see what a female version of Duke would be like. Maybe that's a game.
I think honestly, people that bring that stuff up are probably not people that are actually consuming this stuff themselves and are actually truly offended. They just have an agenda and they're really using something that is famous, or that has notoriety to try to get attention to their issue.
I think honestly, I don't have any predictions, but if there are feminists that want to use Duke to help further the cause of better women's rights, go for it.
We're all people in this world. We all just want to have a good life and get along. There's a lot of unfair crap that happens to chicks in this world, and if they can use Duke to get more attention to their cause, good for them.