3D Realms' new Vancouver-based creative director, Raphael Van Lierop, who most recently helped produce Company Of Heroes at Relic, was hired at Scott Miller and George Broussard's Texas-headquartered developer/IP creator earlier this year.
Though 3D Realms' only announced project right now is the tremendously contentious Duke Nukem Forever, 3DR's previous success in bringing projects such as Max Payne and Prey to market with external partners like Remedy and Human Head has seen them pioneer an intriguing business model.
Van Lierop's new creative director position involves a continuation of this work on new IP with other developers, and he sat down exclusively with Gamasutra to hint at 3DR's new externally-developed projects, the company's business strategy, and tackles questions on the inevitable Duke Nukem Forever.
What attracted you to 3D Realms, given that the firm's principals have a bit of a reputation for being louder than life, and Duke Nukem Forever is certainly still a controversial project?
Well, I'm like any other developer. I want to work on games that I, myself, want to play. These are the kind of games that I prefer to play on my own time. After the success of Company of Heroes, Scott Miller came to me and said that he was looking for a creative director to help with external projects. After doing three RTS games, I'd pretty much reached my limit with the genre.
Of course, working on original IP is also a huge draw. There's not a lot of opportunities to do that in the industry right now. And working on multiple original titles is very rare as opposed to having to work on sequels or licensed games. Basically it's an opportunity I couldn't pass up on.
You choose to work for a company because you believe in the people working there. I'm going to continue to learn from both Scott and George Broussard. They will be the first people to admit that they made some mistakes with regards to Duke Nukem Forever. But I've seen it. I've played it. And I really believe that when it does come out people won't be disappointed.
And you can see the fan anticipation still building for the game, even recently with the release of tiny screenshots in job postings on Gamasutra. I don't consider the game to be a black mark at all. They take the time they need to make the game they want to develop.
I'd say that a lot of developers are envious of their position. Duke Nukem is an icon. He's bigger than a single game, and in rushing a game out before it's ready, nobody benefits. There is a huge amount of money riding on this project, so they can create the game they think it deserves to be.
Do you feel that 3DR will be looked on better by peers when they have other titles announced?
3D Realms' involvement in the creation of successful franchises is often overshadowed by Duke Nukem Forever, which is unfortunate. 3D Realms is more than just Duke Nukem Forever.
One of the strengths of our model is that we have a very collaborative relationship, as opposed to the traditional publisher/developer model... we are able to share the IP ownership with the developer.
We can help fund the development of games, as well as provide guidance. We can protect an IP that is of value to 3D Realms and the developers, which of course is a huge value to the developers. What 3D Realms has brought to the industry is more important than Duke Nukem Forever.
I can say that we have a big announcement coming in the next four weeks, and I'm not sure, but I believe we have another major announcement coming in the next four to six months... while I can't say exactly what these are, are they about Duke Nukem Forever? No.
I think once Duke Nukem Forever comes out, and is great, that's all people will care about. Again, 3D Realms is more than just Duke Nukem Forever. Half-Life 2 was delayed how long? People kept asking for it, and complaining, but once it came out, and turned out to be like the best game ever, nobody cared.
So your experience with the RTS genre isn't a hint at what kind of things 3DR is pursuing?
No, not at all. 3D Realms really doesn't have any interest in developing RTS games. We're more focused on character driven, innovative action games. I mean, RTS games are great at delivering a lot of things, but a strong narrative is not one of them. It's just not something we are focusing on right now. Really what we're doing is about creating memorable characters, which of course is hard to do in a RTS.
Are you staying in Vancouver, although 3DR is out there in Texas?
I'm based in Vancouver, yes. It really works out well, especially since we are only working with external developers. We have regular communication, Scott and I, as well as regular trips out to see each other. We talk about strategy regularly. In fact, Scott considers it a strength with me based here in Vancouver, given that it is such a large development hub. Seattle as well. Basically we have all these major cities that are just a short plane trip away.
3DR works with external developers, but isn't a publisher, and many times uses external companies to shape its own IP. Are the ideas coming from 3DR or from the developer?
It's really a very collaborative approach. There are multiple internal concepts at 3D Realms, as well as concepts that come to us from developers. Some of these concepts may have a great core, but lack really strong hooks. If we feel that the ideas have potential, we'll work with them to make their ideas stronger.
Other times a developer might come to us with an idea, and after we look it over we may feel that it is not in line with our goals. At that time we might approach them with one of our internal concepts, and see if they might be interested in handling that instead. We don't hand down directives from 'on high' on how games should be created. Our strength comes from that relationship so that the studio feels empowered, and they feel that this really is their game.
They see a large degree of financial reward, and from that relationship seems to grow an added passion and dedication. This doesn't happen when working with a publisher really, with the creation of an IP that you don't really own. Original IP is so important. I don't believe that there is any real hard evidence to back up that licenses from outside the industry are a viable long term strategy.
Why don't more companies work like this? Are there compelling reasons to do it or not do it?
Well, it makes sense for 3D Realms. We have been around long enough; we've made good business management and game development decisions. To be honest, there's probably only a couple other companies, maybe Valve or Epic, that can have a model like this. I can't speak to their operations, but I think Valve does it like this, where they incubate small projects like Left 4 Dead.
We are focused on well-branded games that feature strong characters and innovative gameplay concepts. Our business model of being able to partner with talented developers who also want to remain independent offers them a relationship they could never have with a publisher. Plus, if they are successful, it affords them the financial grounds to make the game they want to make. For example Remedy, who's now making Alan Wake.
How does 3DR's structure compare to Relic's?
Oh, they are completely different. As a developer, no, not really, but as an IP creator and producer, completely different. Relic benefits from the strengths and downsides from being owned by a publisher... at 3D Realms we are coming from a completely different direction. We don't have to deal with the same pressures... we're not beholden to a publishing entity for our existence.
Finally, what games are you playing now that you love?
Oh jeez, I knew you were going to ask me that (laughs). I guess right now I'm playing some Gears of War, as well as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Dead Rising. Plus I'm dusting off a lot of old favorites like Deus Ex and I'm replaying the original Splinter Cell. Basically I try to explore as many games as I can. Oh, and the Halo 3 beta too!