Former employees of 3D Realms explained why Duke Nukem Forever took forever: too many resources, overwhelming perfectionism and the lack of a deadline.
In May of 2009, it was announced that all development on Duke Nukem Forever ceased. 3D Realms had been making the game since 1997, under the helm of lead designer George Broussard. Despite showing well at trade shows and possessing a rabid fanbase, Duke Nukem Forever never materialized and there was never a clear reason why. 3D Realms is now being sued by Take Two for never delivering the game so Broussard has refused to speak with the press about the process. However, former employees, some anonymously, discussed with Wired their experiences at 3D Realms and their opinions on why DNF eventually failed.
The staff had a running joke to not let Broussard play any new game, because he would invariably want to incorporate elements of it into DNF. “One day George started pushing for snow levels,” said an anonymous employee. “He had seen The Thing and he wanted it.” Another employee claimed that after Half-Life came out, Broussard entered the office praising the opening narrative sequence and said, “Oh my God, we have to have that in Duke Nukem Forever.”
“George’s genius was realizing where games were going and taking it to the next level,” says Paul Schuytema, who worked on Prey with Broussard. “That was his sword and his Achilles’ heel. He’d rather throw himself on his sword and kill himself than have the game be bad.”
Broussard was also in a unique position after the success of Duke Nukem 3D: 3D Realms had a lot of money. The company had so much money in the bank to continue development that it might have stifled the desire to ship the game. “One day, Broussard came in and said, ‘We could go another five years without shipping a game'” one employee said. “He seemed really happy about that. The other people just groaned.” Another developer said, “I was hoping for George to come in and say, ‘OK, that was great, we got what we wanted, let’s get this done now! But he never did.”
Then there was the constant rebooting of the project whenever a new game engine was released. 3D Realms licensed the Quake II engine in 1997 for a reported $500,000. When the Unreal engine was released a few months later, they decided to use that one instead. “It was effectively a reboot of the project in many respects,” said former programmer Chris Hargrove. DNF switched engines again in 1999 when new Unreal engine came out.
12 years is an eternity in game development and the lack of any clear direction from Broussard seems to have been a major cause of the delay. It’s a tragedy for the creator, but I feel worse for the other artists who worked on a game that will most likely never get played. Imagine a movie that spends 12 years being edited or a play that rehearses for 12 years without ever being seen. Those contributors put a lot into the project with almost nothing to show for it but some crazy anecdotes about the mad genius that was their boss.