Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Free the Duke!

Any children out there who dream of growing up and starting game development studios should keep the recent Take Two v. 3D Realms fracas away from their parents at all costs. I am not a lawyer. I am not going to attempt to discuss the legal end of this mess or try to figure out who is right and who is wrong. Instead, I'll just be hoping that this is simply another episode in the star-crossed saga that is Duke Nukem, and not a sign of deeper problems in the gaming industry.

But first of all, some background. If you haven't heard of or played Duke Nukem in the past, then run, don't walk, to Good Old Games and pick yourself up a copy. If you like bad jokes and blowing stuff up, this game is made for you.

Now, you no doubt notice that the most recent Duke title there is old no matter how you slice it. So... whats been happening in the meantime? Good question. In brief, Duke Nukem Forever. The Wikipedia article has a decent summary of the situation, certainly enough to start the investigation. And please, no need to get your eyes checked... that really does say Duke Nukem Forever has been in development since 1997. This game predates the euro, the professional career of Peyton Manning, and Jurassic Park 3.

Now recently, the story has taken another turn (for the worse). Lots of stuff has been written on this over the past few weeks, and I highly recommend you read some articles on the topic, including regarding the recent lawsuit. In brief, 3D Realms ran out of the funds needed to continue developing DNF and laid off the entire development team. The company apparently still exists and still holds the rights to develop the game, they just cannot afford to do so at this time. Take Two, the publisher, doesn't like that much and there is now a lawsuit between the parties on various issues pertaining to that dispute.

It is far too early to say how this will be resolved, if it will be resolved, or what the fate of the DNF project currently in development will be. In the meantime, this does serve as a bit of an eye opener into the interplay between developers and publishers. Developers understand that a game is a creative work on an epic scope. It is ready when it is ready and it really cannot be rushed. The best games tend to be the ones that were not forced out the door to meet deadlines, but the ones that were left to develop until the artists and programmers and creative folk who made the magic felt it was good enough to be released. Meanwhile, publishers need games on the store shelfs selling copies. The result is an industry where the publishers put increasing pressure on the developers to make it faster, make it cheaper, just get it to market and patch it later. We read of publishers forcing ridiculously short development times on their studios, of potentially good games failing in the market due to endless bugs, and of sad disasters like 3D Realms and the old Duke. Will it ever change? I hope so. For now, the best we can do is hope the Duke is soon freed and this episode is merely a case of misfortune and not a harbinger of things to come.

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