R.I.P. 3D Realms

A few days ago, Shacknews reported that 3D Realms, a Texas videogame developer and publisher (the company’s official web site is no longer reachable the official web site has been updated with a good-bye message, although it is unknown until when the web site is going to last), has closed its doors. The company was infamous for being developing Duke Nukem Forever (DNF), the sequel to their 1996 hit shooter Duke Nukem 3D, for the past twelve years and failing to release it out the door. The delay was so ludicrous and notorious in the gaming world that it practically wiped away any positive image that 3D Realms had garnered over its history.

DNF had been under development for so many years (it was first announced on April 28, 1997) that it reigned the top spot on the Vaporware of the Year list written by Wired.com at the end of every year. They already gave it “the Lifetime Achievement Award” and retired it from the list in 2003, but brought it back on in 2005. Oh sure, even three or four years are like eternity in game development cycles. Yet, twelve years? Twelve years ago, we were still counting processor speeds somewhere along 233~300 MHz and did not even have a standard 56k modem (it was drafted in the following year), let alone any broadband Internet connection. Yes, DNF was the project born in those archaic times, but never done. We will never see it finished and shipped now.

There is a web site named The Duke Nukem Forever List that enumerates other videogame titles and movies released as well as major world events, scientific endeavors, sensations in pop cultures happened during the development years of DNF. Some notable facts include: more than 75 games based on the Megaman, and more than 50 games based on the Star Wars franchise have been released; Google and eBay did not exist at the time of DNF announcement; Stephen King has written sixteen novels; and even the Duke Nukem series itself has released ten “side projects” in between. It is an interesting list to go through, because we are not likely to see a videogame project drawing somewhat negative yet humorous attention in this form. Are we ever going to see another game that takes twelve years before having its own development studio shut down? I am skeptical.

If we look at the positive legacies of 3D Realms, we may notice that back in the 1990s, Apogee Software (the old name 3D Realms was known as back then) managed to establish the shareware business model, in which Apogee would distribute a portion of the videogame for free and ask the customer to pay for the full version if he or she liked it. It also nurtured some prominent videogame developers such as id Software and Remedy Entertainment in their early days, publishing some of their older games like Wolfenstein 3D and Death Rally. In spite of all the scorn it had received because of DNF, it still deserves to be remembered for its place in the history of gaming.

So, 3D Realms and its stillborn DNF is no more. Unless Take Two makes use of the Duke Nukem franchise in some form, it is very unlikely that we will ever see any sequel to Duke Nukem 3D. Probably, as indicated in the title, the promise of a sequel were not going to be fulfilled forever, after all. Rest in peace, 3D Realms.

Update: GOG.com posted a special editorial reflecting on 3D Realms’ place in the history of videogames. It is definitely worth a read.

Another update: 3D Realms issued a press release stating that it has neither closed its doors nor let go its ownership of the Duke Nukem franchise.

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