Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Reading: How Success Killed Duke Nukem

dukeSo Duke Nukem Forever came out. That’s right, the game that took over 14 years of development across multiple studios is finally on store shelves. You can pay $60 dollars for it. The general consensus, however, is that you shouldn’t.

Almost every review of DNF cites the painfully visible seams in its patchwork structure. Three years of development here, an engine upgrade there, a new level designer brought on here, another batch of ruddy textures there.

This is unsurprising, given how long the game took in coming. Clive Thompson’s 2009 Wired article, “Learn to Let Go: How Success Killed Duke Nukem” chronicles its Sisyphean development process.  A mix of perfection and George Broussard’s too-deep pockets forever prevented DNF’s release. Thompson writes:

“Broussard simply couldn’t tolerate the idea of Duke Nukem Forever coming out with anything other than the latest and greatest technology and awe-inspiring gameplay. He didn’t just want it to be good. It had to surpass every other game that had ever existed, the same way the original Duke Nukem 3D had.”

Looking at the Duke Nukem character now, it’s hard to imagine why someone would fight so hard to keep him on top. But in the late 90s, Duke’s Grade-E humor and interactive environments set bars few games had reached. Being in the lead is addictive. I can see why Broussard wouldn’t want to give that up.

Thompson wrote his article almost a year before Randy Pitchford and Gearbox Software announced their grand plans to ship the unshippable game. Reading it now, it’s an excellent primer for the glut of scathing reviews that hit the Internet this week. With its unique trials and tribulations documented, how could anyone expect anything of this game?