“It’s like shaking hands with Bigfoot or riding the Loch Ness monster,” said Gearbox Software CEO Randy Pitchford when talking about finally releasing Duke Nukem Forever. Look up the term ‘vaporware’ and Duke Nukem Forever will likely be used as an example, but it’s real and it’s coming to PlayStation 3 in just over a week. I caught up with Randy Pitchford to ask why you should always bet on Duke.
Duke is an all-American hero with the Stars and Stripes featuring heavily in the game’s art style. Characters like that haven’t always been so popular in Europe. Why is Duke an exception?
It’s because Duke is a caricature of all that – it’s silly! Duke Nukem takes place 12 years after Duke saved the world and he has leveraged that to live like a king. He’s walked on the moon, climbed Everest… he’s done it all. The only thing bothering him is that they were supposed to make a video game about him saving the world and it has taken 12 years for them to finish it. I think it’s that angle that makes it work internationally because we parody that image of America that exists in Duke’s world.
How do you meet the expectations and conventions of when the game was originally conceived and those surrounding its release, so many years later?
Because of the legendary development cycle of the game, it’s natural to imagine that we’ve just been sitting on parts of the game since 1997. That’s not true – it’s a modern game. The way you get a character like Duke is take all of the action heroes you can think of and then blend all of their most memorable traits and blend them together, and then exaggerate that even more. Basically, he is borne from the sum of all clichés.
If you look at the modern heroes currently being created for games and action movies, for some reason, they’re all taking themselves very seriously and trying to be more human. We [Gearbox] have done that too – just take a look at our Brothers in Arms games. We’re dealing with real human emotions and problems, but Duke doesn’t have any problems – he just goes around kicking ass.
What I’m getting at is that Duke started out as a cliché but now he stands out from the crowd, which is an odd thing to happen. I think that’s why he has become a meme despite there being no games about him for so long and Duke Nukem Forever leverages that. In some ways, games have come so far, especially when you look at what a machine like the PlayStation 3 is capable of, but there are still game experiences and mechanics that are kind of timeless, and we’re trying to hit a smart balance between that and modern sensibilities and technology.
How can you reassure our fans that the PS3 version of the game is going to be top-notch?
Gearbox has a lot of experience with the PlayStation 3 with Borderlands and Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway and the PS3 version of Duke Nukem Forever is something we’re really proud of. What I particularly like about it as a platform are the vibrancy of the colours you’re able to get, the great performance and just how open the PlayStation Network platform is.
Interestingly, most of the Duke games have found their way onto PlayStation consoles; in fact, there are more Duke games on PlayStation than on any other platform. Sony customers of this generation deserve to experience playing as Duke and I’m glad we’re able to do it so well.
How is that current generation you speak of going to ‘get’ Duke’s mythology know what he is all about?
The game is designed not to have any entry point so it doesn’t really matter if you’ve played the previous games or not. Anyway, everyone has heard of Duke if only from all of the memes I see going around like ‘Balls of Steel’, the ‘Ventrilo Harassment’ video and ‘Always Bet on Duke’, which is a funny joke because this game has been in development for so long that it’s the one thing you probably shouldn’t bet on, but now its here.
Duke Nukem Forever is surely one of the most talked about games, not least by you yourself, after such a lengthy press tour. Is there anything you haven’t revealed yet?
This game is massive and we’re only scratching the surface. I feel like we’ve put less out there than we did for Borderlands but such is the interest in the game that people are jumping on anything we announce and picking up the stories. Take the Penny Arcade Expo, where we announced that we were releasing Duke Nukem Forever, we didn’t tell anyone that we were going to be there or schedule any press, yet it became the number one trending topic on twitter worldwide.
You’ve told us before that some members of the original 3D Realms team have been working on the game; what’s going to be next for them?
Each person is their own individual but, as far as I’m concerned, Allen [Blum, 3D Realms Senior Level Designer] walks on water. He is Duke and he is one of the reasons I moved out to Texas in the mid-90s to join 3D Realms. I’m going to try and talk him into coming to E3. It has to be amazing to be in his shoes right now, to see the game finally coming out having been there for the whole ride. Then again, I can’t just single him out and I have to recognise the commitment that George Broussard, Scott Miller and others brought to the game. They’ve done so much for the industry – without Scott and George, we wouldn’t have had Wolfenstein and I don’t think the first-person genre would be as popular as it is today.