From a gameplay point of view, Duke Nukem Forever was nearly finished two years ago. From a narrative point of view, not so much.
Even though it's coming out in a few months, tales of Duke Nukem Forever's very long and winding journey to store shelves still make for interesting reading. Take its modern incarnation, for example - that is to say, the version that people will soon be playing - which almost died without a single word of script when 3D Realms closed its doors in 2009.
David Riegel, a former developer at 3D Realms, and the president of its successor, Triptych Games, says that the games was around 80% finished in 2009, but it was a really uneven 80%. There were a lot of structures in place for the gameplay, and most of the weapons had been finished, but work on the game's story and characters had barely begun. "There was no narrative script; there was no dialogue; nothing written for any character ... NPC behavior didn't really exist, like no head tracking or eye tracking, no lip syncing, none of that. No music, no ending: there was a planned ending but it wasn't really there."
Reigel said that it had a challenge for the small Triptych team, which took over development after 3D Realms shut the project down, to find time to work on everything. Triptych decided to focus on the single-player PC portion of the game, and Riegel said that it wasn't until Gearbox, which now owns the Duke Nukem franchise, got involved that the studio was really able to focus on the areas that it had neglected.
At first, it's staggering to think that there were still parts of the game that hadn't been started, even after more than decade in development, but when you stop and think about it, it actually makes a certain amount of sense. It's not that there wasn't a story outline - Riegel made it clear that 3D Realms had plans - but the exact details of the script and the character interactions weren't set in stone. With the additional help from Gearbox and Piranha Games - which assisted with the multiplayer and console versions of the game - those missing elements are pretty much all ready to go, and the game is finally going to see release.
Duke Nukem Forever comes out for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on June 14th in North America, and June 10th in the rest of the world.