Should we appreciate Duke Nukem Forever now that it's almost here?
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Firstly, this isn't a historical document and I won't be going in any real detail into the events that were revealed in May 2009. It's been done to death in my opinion, and has no place here except the contribution and investment that 3D Realms placed into Duke Nukem Forever and brief referencing to keep focused.
Secondly, this isn't a kissy-sucky-up entry but neither is it a bludgeoning.
So what is this article about? It's my attempt to redress the balance. Recently, a poll was asked as to who was the man more - Randy Pitchford or George Broussard. And in my view, it was a question that shouldn't be asked (besides its Mr Broussard) but, more importantly than my answer in brackets, such a poll only helps present the issue that there are those with a misunderstanding of the development cycle, what actually happened and the demands of the consumer who wants the graphics, the gameplay and the cake and have them all at the same time. And let's not forget the eating of said cake too now eh? ;)
True, I am not privy to the exact details of what went on behind closed doors as regards DNF and to be quite honest, only those that worked at 3D Realms would. However, I do understand (based on my own internal projects and mod teams I've been on) how ambitious projects can take a great deal of time and that by the time you have gotten to a point where your project is playable, even as a concept, the technology has moved on and/or the consumer demands more and/or the tools available aren't up to the job and a serious rethink is in order.
This is especially in evidence of how the demo was received. More on that later.
And its those serious rethinks that can seriously undermine morale, the fact that the team soldiered on for so long trying to turn Mr Broussard's vision into a playable and complete game is a sign of true dedication that should be highly appreciated.
Upon the ceasing of development, I do remember reading some fans comments about how angry they were at Mr Broussard for "failing", yes he did fail and nobody can deny that. But he did lead the team to the point that they were almost there, and only asked for a hand out when he absolutely needed it and was denied. The fact that, after 3D Realms ceased production on DNF that former employees continued to work on the game in their spare time only to be picked up by Mr Pitchford months later, and is now but hours away from being received at my front door (and as aforementioned, rolling out on Steam internationally as I type this), is proof-positive that Mr Broussard was right in that DNF needed only but another year of development.
Before I go any further, I am aware that it has been two years since the announcement, I am basing the extra year of delay due to the lawsuit and the major reduction in the number of people actively working on DNF during that indeterminate time.
As usual, however, there are the complainers that the graphics aren't good enough for - and I quote - "a 2011 game". And if there are any still in doubt as to why 3D Realms restarted development several times, there is your answer right there.
For those of us who were around when the E3 2001 trailer was released and being very impressed by it, perhaps that was almost there. But I also remember how quickly game development went so that by 2003, it was no longer DirectX 6/7 titles but DirectX 8 as a minimum with all fancy shaders and much higher polygon counts, and as much as some of us can drone on (and rightly so) that gameplay matters more - I have a strong suspicion based on the typical members of the great unwashed, that graphics mean more in regards to sales.
As a comparison, take a look at the original No One Lives Forever released in 2001 and the sequel in 2003. In just the span of two years, there is a definitely measurable difference in level construction, facial animation, polygon count in the models, texture resolution and general detail increases that, whilst the gameplay was still very similar to what had gone before.
As another comparison just to hit the point I'm making home, Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War. Released in June 2000 and December 2003 respectively, they both had issues when they were first released, running on typical systems at the time. Indeed, DX:IW was an absolute pig (and I hate pigs! ;) ) to run even on an AthlonXP 3200+ with 1.5GB RAM and GeForce 6600.
I mention NOLF for the fact its a very long game, split into parts just like DNF and also very ambitious. But in the space of two years, the expectations visually from games had changed dramatically from that of the original NOLF and that of DNF as showcased in the E3 2001 trailer (go back and look at the facial animation if you don't believe me and need to be refreshed). I mention Deus Ex (go on - reinstall it! You know you want to!) and DX:IW because of the Unreal engine connection and that Ion Storm had completely rewrote the renderer just as 3D Realms did for DNF and look how well all that reworking turned out for Ion Storm...
How about one final example though? Remember the delay Ghostbusters: The Game received when Sony decided, after Ghostbusters already suffered turmoil in getting published, to initially publish only on their own console first? And the PC version a) coming out much later and b) not having multiplayer? Guess what! What happened to Ghostbusters as regards the comments ("the graphics aren't good enough lolzors!") is precisely what's coming from some parts of the DNF community already.
In both cases its entirely undeserved. The staff at 3D Realms, the former staff that came together under the Tryptych banner and eventually those at Tryptych merging with Gearbox, Pirahana Studios and any and all other development studios...and yes, even the people at Take 2...didn't dedicate upwards of years of their lives creating a game only for some 15 year old twit to complain that DNF isn't using a DirectX 11-specific rendering path or some such twaddle.
Let's also remind ourselves that there are those who, for whatever reason, aren't with us to enjoy the game. And with the aforementioned dedication of the staff who have worked or had a hand in bringing DNF to this point, when I install DNF, I will hold off launching DNF and spare a few moments for all these people.
And then play the hell out of the game! So yes, I say appreciate DNF for its like may not come again for quite a while...and remember, do wash your hands afterwards m'kay? ;)
For the purposes of this blog, I ask that nobody comment with spoilers from the full game for the time being (give it two weeks or so). Talking about the demo is fine as I assume that those reading this have played the demo (and really, if you've seen the videos for DNF as it is today, then you'll be familiar with the content of the demo).