When the subject of vaporware comes up, the conversation inevitably turns to 3D Realms and games like Duke Nukem Forever and Prey. While Prey finally shipped last summer, it spent 11 years in development, a staggering amount of time for any computer game, even in the days of extensive MMOG production schedules. Duke Nukem Forever has been in the works for nearly as long. As it states on the 3D Realms website, "There's no possible joke you could make about the game's development time that we haven't already heard."
I headed up the adventure games division for Human Head Studios from 2002 through 2004. While I enjoyed working on our tabletop games, I spent a lot of time peering over the shoulders of most of the others in the office, checking out and playing with their work on the company's top-secret project, code-named Dark Harvest, better known as Prey.
3D Realms had officially given up on the game back in 1998, after a number of aborted attempts. The first of these went south after a number of key employees left to form the Ion Storm and Ritual Entertainment studios. As 3D Realms' CEO Scott Miller says, "We had to hire new people, and when those new people came in we ended up going with a more ambitious design, too. So, things snowballed, and after another two years we reached a point where we knew the game was still too far from being complete, and so we cancelled the project." This seemed like the last nail in the coffin. "At that time, I did not expect Prey to ever be a finished game."
During its stint with the publisher Gathering of Developers (later purchased by Take 2 and now known as 2K Games ), 3D Realms toyed with resurrecting Prey again. This time around, though, with Duke Nukem Forever still on their plate, they decided to farm out Prey's development. They'd done this with another game, Max Payne, which had been a wild success.
Miller says, "We knew of Human Head by our mutual association with Gathering of Developers, and therefore it was an easy choice to ask them if they wanted to take a stab at the project. Luckily, they agreed."
Tim Gerritsen, who recently left Human Head, was the company's CEO at the time. As he recalls, "They approached us in late 2000 about working on a title together. We discussed a number of options well into 2001 and eventually settled on recreating from whole cloth the Prey franchise, which they had ceased production on in 1998."
The strength of Prey's concepts sold Gerritsen and his partners on the game. "The original vision that 3D Realms had was extremely strong and ahead of its time. 3D Realms allowed us to take that vision and remake it in the image we wanted to. It was that combination of the original vision of the teams that came before us and our ability to take the best concepts from those early days and apply our own creative vision that made us really enjoy developing Prey, even during the hardest of times."