According to Charlie Wiederhold, one of the developers who worked for 3D Realms between 1998 and 2006, Duke Nukem Forever was a project concocted by industry leaders that would span decades... on purpose.
The original blog, now re-posted on Wiederhold's space on GamingIsStupid.com as of May 6, first appeared back on December 17, 2007. However, his blog--labeled as The Chair Story--talks about a meeting taking place before E3 2001 concerning the already delayed PC game, Duke Nukem Forever.
Although Wiederhold expresses concerns about sharing his story with the public, his insider revelation didn't tarnish his credentials as an industry veteran, as he worked for Gearbox Software as project producer and level designer from 2006 to 2009, and now serves as a game designer (scripting) for Modern Warfare 2 over at Infinity Ward. Before joining 3D Realms in 1998, he worked on SiN and Heavy Metal: FAKK2 over at Ritual Entertainment, various expansion packs for Sunstorm Interactive (Duke it out in DC, Blood: Cryptic Passage, Shadow Warrior: Wanton Destruction, etc), and Wheel of Time at Legend Entertainment. On a whole, his knowledge spans gaming engines developed by Epic Games (Unreal), id Software (Quake), and 3D Realms (Build).
With that said, his re-published blog shouldn't be taken lightly despite how crazy (and utterly Hollywood-like) it may sound. He begins to spin the web by describing the then-publisher Gathering of Developer's E3 2001 setup on a rented parking lot. Apparently, the place was decked out to the point where most of the "other" booth babes from competitor displays came to hang out. 3D Realms and Gather of Developers were showing the (infamous) Duke Nukem Forever 2001 trailer, and was a huge attraction at the show.
However, before the E3 showing, George Broussard and Scott Miller arranged a meeting between Epic, 3D Realms, and the people who had worked on the now-classic Duke Nukem 3D PC game but wasn't currently working on Duke Nkuem Forever. The meeting was to determine the future of the Duke Nukem franchise. The blog said that Epic was invited because the game--utilizing the Unreal Engine--was a "constant PR boon for them." The meeting was even kept secret--Gathering of Developers knew nothing about it--and consisted of Scott Miller, George Broussard, Cliffy B, Mark Rein, Tim Sweeney, Levelord, Allen Blum, Keith Schuler, Wiederhold, Brandon Reinhart, Mike Wilson, Todd Replogle, and Ken Silverman.
Scott Miller started the session talking about how Max Payne and a few other projects would fund Duke Nukem Forever for at least another 5 to 10 years without having to spend money on internal development. The idea for Duke Nukem forever, as it was revealed, was to make history, to become the biggest gaming-industry story ever, something that gamers would talk about a hundred years from now. "DNF being a monster hit is fine, but it wouldn’t make “forever” history," Wiederhold said. "As you can tell from the name and what I’m about to describe, Scott and George apparently had this idea from the very start but weren’t sure they were going to act on it, but there wasn’t any harm in using a name that would play into it. So in order to make “Forever” history there was only one way to do that, and that is to turn it into something completely unprecedented in the industry."
In a nutshell, "Forever" wasn't to be taken literally, but it was an indication that the game would stay in development for a long period of time on purpose... and may not even hit the shelves. Wiederhold said he and many others were thoroughly pissed. Who wouldn't? Who wouldn't go a little nuts knowing that years of work was all for nothing? However, he also stated that many already saw this coming, that the game had changed into something else altogether, and would remain in development limbo virtually forever. Todd and Ken didn't say much, he said. Levelord thought it would be fun to watch, but was more preoccupied with his work over at Ritual. Eventually everyone came on board with the idea, "bought" as he put it, as those involved would be compensated well for life in keeping up the charade.
"The plan was actually pretty simple… create the longest developed game in history that eventually is one of the greatest games ever made," Wiederhold wrote. "You have the time to work on it properly, so given the intelligence and talent of all the people involved, it was a pretty good bet. All 3DR had to do was make money on other stuff. All Epic had to do was open up a wide channel between the two companies. 3DR would serve as a research house for future Epic engine updates, but also give 3DR everything they did as well. The boots on the ground just had to keep the drum beating and keep the image of business as usual going. The truly hard to swallow part of this was some of us had to eventually leave, but we were guaranteed we’d be ok. All we had to do was let go of the idea of just making DNF in the traditional way… which I’m ashamed to admit was easier to let go of than I thought it would be."
Wiederhold also blames the Duke Nukem Forever project for Epic's current success. After all, the game was a constant "customer" for Epic, keeping the name out in the open and enticing fans and developers on whether the game was using the current build. Because of the nature of DNF, 3D Realms would be a virtual research lab, testing and using engine upgrades without any pressure of releasing anything. "Notice that Epic really pulled ahead in the engine licensing business after 2001?" he added. "That’s *not* an accident."
Wiederhold said that the initial meeting didn't end on a positive note. The meeting would continue again the next day, allowing some tension to subside so that everyone could approach the project with a clear head. After all, both Epic and 3D Realms would have to keep the charade going for "decades," and that caused a lot of initial pressure. However, once the second meeting began the next morning, Scott and George wanted everyone to sign paperwork on the agreement. Wiederhold wasn't comfortable with the idea, wanting a lawyer to read it first. Unfortunately, the deal wouldn't be valid if anyone left the room with a contract unsigned. Many stalled, sharing the same feelings: they would be set for life, however the contract was too sudden.
Ultimately, Wiederhold demanded that his lawyer read the contract first, and then felt a sudden visual rage beaming from Scott, George, and Mark (Rein). They told him to think carefully about making his final answer, but Wiederhold insisted on using a lawyer. Suddenly he's knocked out of his chair and pinned to the ground by Mike Wilson and Cliffy B. George walks over to the fallen chair, stomps off one of the legs, and begins tossing it up and down as if juggling an extremely sharp dagger. Cliffy and Mike yank him up off the floor and shoves his face "about six inches" from the point of the chair leg. "I was drenched in sweat (the trailers didn’t have decent AC so it was already hot as hell in there)... and if they had let go of me I would not have been able to stand on my own," he said. "George looked me in the eyes and asked me one more time what I was going to do… so at that point I did what anyone would do…"
With that, Wiederhold closed his blog entry. It's hard not to imagine that his testimony could in fact be part of the whole Duke Nukem Forever charade rather than an honest accounting. After all, the game has reeled in tremendous amounts of hype, gossip, and both negative and positive attention over the last twelve years. For many gamers who loved Duke Nukem 3D and waited patiently for the slippery sequel all these years, the closing of 3D Realms comes as (1) no surprise and (2) a big disappointment.
But the tale woven by Wiederhold is somewhat hard to believe. With 3D Reams closed and Duke Nukem Forever put on indefinite "forever" hold, it may be that the "Secret DNF society" actually succeeded in some ways with the longest game development in gaming history. Hopefully more information will come about within the next few days, however don't be surprised if Wiederhold's blog entry is just a part of the Duke Nukem Forever promotional wheel after all, and the joke's actually on the press.
One thing is for sure, Duke Nukem Forever has become such a legend in the game industry because of the controversy, that if it were ever to be released by another company, it would still be one of the biggest releases in history. The original sly intent, would still succeed.