Goodbye Duke Nukem
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Today is August 31, 2011. It’s a day that’s fairly odd for me emotionally. It’s in some ways the end of the road for the biggest single “event” in my working career. You see, today’s my last day at Gearbox Software.
But before I get to that, let me rewind the clock a bit. Going back to early 1992. I was living in Philadelphia then, and I was big into the BBS scene. Ran first an Apple // BBS, and then a PC BBS. Both operated under the name “The Arsenal of Freedom” (a Star Trek: TNG Episode title). Given the time then, I used to carry Apogee Software shareware games. They were very popular back in the day, titles like Commander Keen, Crystal Caves, the original Duke Nukem, things like that. Then on May 5, 1992 Apogee & id released Wolfenstein 3D, a game that pretty much blew away everyone who was playing games at the time. There was nothing like it, and I like most everyone else called Garland to place an order for the full game. I was part of Apogee’s SysOp program, and I’d dial into the Software Creations BBS to check for releases, etc. It was somewhere around this time that I found what was supposed to be an “adult/porn” version of Wolfenstein 3D v1.3. I reported this to Scott, and he and id issued a statement saying it was false. This must have stuck with Scott, as a few months later, I came on board as an Apogee beta tester. During that time, Scott was asking if anyone wanted to move to Garland to work for Apogee. At that time I was working for the computer repair department of Bell Atlantic (about 70,000 people), and decided to move to Texas to take this job with Apogee (about 15 to 20 people or so at the time, mostly order takers). So on December 4, 1992 I hopped on a train at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia for the two day train ride to Dallas.
That began my career in the videogame industry. Started initially answering phones and then worked my way into online support, customer service, & Community Management. Funny thing is during all my time at Apogee (Dec 14, 1992 to May 22, 2009), I still had the same job. Never promoted, the tech behind the job evolved from BBS’s & and your CompuServe/Prodigy’s of the world to the Internet, and websites, FTP, and finally at the end your Facebooks & Twitter. But it was still the same job. One I loved dearly. One that I thought I was going to be with for the rest of my life. I really loved that job. Scott & George (and Steve Blackburn) did a lot for me personally. Professionally, how could you not like the job? I worked at a videogame company, but I didn’t actually MAKE the games, so it was more fun than I’d say some of the developers, because they had pressures I didn’t. I was a developer on one game though, Rise of the Triad. One of the mappers. There were so many great moments in the making of that game, I could probably write for bloody ages just about that. But that’s not what this is about.
I was at Apogee (later 3D Realms) for the creation of many a great title. Duke Nukem 3D was probably the single most well known game. There was the aforementioned Rise of the Triad. Also Shadow Warrior, Death Rally, Balls of Steel, Monster Bash, Raptor, Terminal Velocity, the list goes on. All told, the company I worked for had their hands in something like 75 games or so over their lifespan. In all that time I made friends with an enormous amount of game developers, both with people I worked directly with at Apogee, and folks I knew through other companies. While it’d be impossible to list everyone, I’ll cherry pick a few, and hope I don’t piss off the ones I didn’t mention.
Steve Quarrella, Lee Jackson, Bryan Turner, Tom Hall, Joe Selinske, Richard Gray, Jim Dose, & Scott Alden. There’s a ton of others who I was friends with, hung out with, talk on Facebook with, or whatnot, but these guys are some of my closest friendships from Apogee. I also want to point out Shawn Green, but if it wasn’t for Shawn moving on to id Software from Apogee when he did, I likely wouldn’t have had the job I had there for all those years – I directly replaced him at Apogee, and he was “Employee #1” (not counting Scott’s own family).
So the years went by, and during my time at Apogee I got married (1996), had two kids (2005 & 2009), found God (2007), and generally had a happy career there. Made a lot of friends, had a lot of fun. But I’ve got to talk about the three words that have been with me professionally for ages…..
Duke Nukem Forever
He tasks me! He tasks me, and I shall have him!
I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia,
and round the Antares Maelstrom,
and round perdition’s flames before I give him up!
(Khan Noonien Singh)
I worked at Apogee on Duke Nukem II (I was the original voice of Duke Nukem in that game). Worked on all of Duke Nukem 3D, got married, and when I returned from that, work was just getting started on Duke Nukem Forever in December 1996. Yeah, 1996. Much has been written about Duke Nukem Forever, it’s problems and all that. I’m not here to write the story about Duke Nukem Forever. That’s for another time. But I will say this. I was there from Day 1. I saw everything. A lot of folks who (how shall we say) don’t like me will tell you that I didn’t have any impact, that I didn’t know anything. That’s a lie. I did. I just didn’t talk about it. As my job as PR/Support/CM at Apogee, I was “the company guy”. I’m not about to go spouting off info about the game that was unauthorized. But I worked there through every employee, through every change in the game, I saw most everything ever tried at some point or another. I saw all the mistakes, all the successes, and I can tell you this. There were definitely some problems with the game, both personal and technical over the years. There were internal power struggles, arguments over how to do this that, or the other thing. But despite all that, everyone who ever worked on the game (except for maybe one artist who lasted a single day – haha) wanted nothing more than to put out a kick ass followup to Duke Nukem 3D. As time wore on though, it became a struggle against the passage of time. Time breeds expectations, and the passage of time meant that the game became an industry joke, and the expectations would only be satiated by an event on the scale of the second coming of Jesus Christ. There was no way Duke Nukem Forever could have led up to the expectations that were being stacked up against it. The almost total media blackout over the years was especially hard for me. First in that I was the person charged with keeping the community together, and the online guy, it was hard being the “face” of Duke Nukem Forever when I was forbidden from talking about the game. I hung a LOT on “The game will be fun, it won’t matter how long it took”. I genuinely believed it, because I was playing the game all that time. I knew the fun parts. I knew the problems, but I chose to overlook that on the grounds that the fun bits would win out in the end. But it was hard being the guy online and having my hands tied from talking about the game. Took a lot of slings and arrows during my time at 3DR because of that one.
So we move forward a bit, and we get to 2008. 3D Realms hired Brian Hook as a producer, a move that when it first happened, grated most everyone that worked there. I know myself and Bryan Turner didn’t like the idea. Hook was fairly unlike the culture at 3D Realms at the time. However, the one thing that Hook did was not give in. He (as well as Trammell Isaac, the art director) didn’t take shit from people. They were both determined to get this thing pointed in the right direction. And they did. I saw all the old versions of the games, and the one being worked on in the latter days of 3D Realms was good. It was right, it was a fun game, it looked good, it played well, and dammit, was the version that we should have released (on our own, that’s not a slight against Triptych or Gearbox, I was talking about 3DR on it’s own). 3DR always had internal projections for release dates. Had 3DR survived (in it’s old form) the game’s internal release date was April 15, 2010. I had no doubt we would have made that. There was still work to do, sure, but things were moving in the right direction. It felt GOOD to be working on DNF again, the feeling of “do I want to tell people about my association with that, I’ll just get mocked” were gone. Had Hook been hired before he was, i suspect the entire chain of events with 3DR, Triptych, & Gearbox would have never happened, and I’d still be at Apogee/3DR. Hook turned out to be one of the better decisions made for DNF. Pity it wasn’t made earlier.
So it was quite the shock when George Broussard & Brian Hook gathered the entire company in the lobby of 3D Realms in the late morning of May 6, 2009 for a meeting that had the words out of George’s mouth (and I quote), “Basically we’re closing down the studio”. It went on from there, but I have to say, that fucking sucked. It was the single worst professional meeting I’ve ever had in my life. There were a few doozies in the past (the one after the guys who founded Hipnotic/Ritual left 3DR was ugly too), but this was worse. It was my livelihood. It was a job I never expected NOT to have. And I was just told it was gone. Spent most of that meeting just in a daze. They explained the situation to us – some of which I saw come out at Shacknews a few days after that. It was a mess. The developers’ formal last day of work was May 8, 2009. The guys hung around the offices for a time after that working on resumes, portfolios, etc. That next week, Randy Pitchford and a few guys from Gearbox Software came down and made a hiring pitch to the dev team. I listened in, because I mostly didn’t have much else to do, but if you don’t know Randy, he’s QUITE the motivational speaker. At the end of his talk I was ready to march out the door with him back to Plano. That didn’t happen, and my actual last day of work at Apogee was May 22, 2009. Those last two days I spent reworking the product line so you could buy them from Apogee’s new online store, and they’d work in Windows. You can still buy those today from Apogee. No DRM, work in Windows, etc… The last game I did was Rise of the Triad. That was my favorite game released during my time there, and after I finished with that project, I was last out the building. I wrote a goodbye story there that night about it, and included it on the Rise of the Triad bundle. If you’ve bought ROTT from Apogee since May 2009, go look in your installed game directory for a file called goodbye.txt and goodbye.jpg. That was my “Goodbye to Apogee”. UPDATE: I forgot I also hid them on the 3D Realms website, you can see the picture and the story via the provided links.
Except the “goodbye” really wasn’t. Given I never wanted to leave, that goodbye wasn’t the one I wanted. I was unable to say goodbye the way I’d like given my job was ripped away from me. To some extent, I wish I was still there. Apogee/3DR was a big family to me, I miss the job still.
Then six days after my last day of work there, my son was born. Was a heck of a time. The day before he was born, I interviewed at id Software for a job, but then they were bought out by Zenimax, and the job I interviewed for was deleted due the merger. So that didn’t happen. The couple of months after that were frought with many different thoughts. My career was seemingly over, but yet I had a new baby. I had a lot to be thankful for, and I still do. So I continued looking for work, and had the odd part time & contract job here and there. I still had tons of friends, and I found out a lot about what was going on with Duke, specifically the Triptych guys. There was a comment by several folks during that “3DR is closing” meeting that some would want to work for free on the game and keep the studio going. So what Triptych did isn’t a complete surprise to me having been in on that meeting.
In the summer of 2010, I had talked with Randy Pitchford, and given we worked together at 3D Realms back in 1997, I have the ability to talk to him. I had an inkling that DNF might not be as dead as thought, so I pinged Randy and asked him about work. While there was no job for me then, I did ask him this. “If you guys do end up putting out DNF, I wanted just one thing. Stick my name in the credits somewhere. Let my name go out with the game in SOME capacity, given how much time I spent around it in the past”. So he said that wouldn’t be a problem, and some time passed. In August of 2010 I got an email from Steve Gibson and Randy offering me a contract for part time work with Gearbox doing Community stuff, and helping out with constructing some historical bits from the past. I started a few days before the Pax announcement in 2010. It was quite amazing for me to see the project revived like that.
So, I was “back in the saddle” so to speak at Gearbox. Working online at Duke forums, and on Duke Nukem Forever. Not quite in the way I wanted it to be (meaning no 3DR), but I was grateful. As the game got closer to release, the word surreal came into my head more and more. That it was possible the game was finally coming out was just astounding to me. Speaking of credits, there was one night towards the end of DNF’s dev time where George and I did up the credits section for 3D Realms one night. What a blast of memory from the past to come up with everyone who ever worked on Duke at 3DR. You can see that in the credits in the final game.
The contract with Gearbox allowed me to do one huge thing I was unable to do in 2009. Say goodbye on my own terms. I still never wanted to leave Apogee/3DR. I know the company still legally exists today (and never went away), but there’s no need for a “me”. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t entertain a thought in returning some day. But 3DR would have to revive itself, and I’m not sure what they’re planning there, to be honest. So that’s not a realistic option.
I had a lot of fun during my time at Gearbox. I was a part timer working from home, so I wasn’t at the Plano offices regularly. I went up there several times to help out with various bits. One of my favorites there was the day we spent recording interviews and podcasts for the historical series of stuff. Enjoyed that experience a lot.
However, the greatest moments for me during my time at Gearbox were two single events. First was the release party in downtown Dallas. It was combined with a “Community Day” for Gearbox Software, and it was a lot of fun. Spoke with several fans during that time, got to mingle with true Duke fans. It was a blast. I finally got to meet Jon St. John face to face for the first time. The two voices of Duke finally meet! :) But the most fun was the release party later that night. Saw a lot of folks I hadn’t seen in awhile, but EASILY the greatest moment of the party personally was when the band “Say Hello to the Angels” played the Duke Nukem theme (aka “Grabbag”) live. Not just because of that song, which was badass, but.. Lee Jackson was there too. Lee was the original author of the song many a moon ago, but that fact was mostly hidden over time. The majority of people never knew that. When the song was over, Randy Pitchford was on stage talking, and Lee and I were down front about 3 rows of people from the stage. Randy noticed Lee, and pointed him out as the person who wrote the song, and the entire venue started applauding Lee. INCLUDING the band from the stage. That was clearly my favorite moment, because I had a hand in putting Lee & Randy together over the Duke theme and credit and whatnot. So for my old friend to get the public adulation for that song – FINALLY after all these years was my favorite moment of that night. The open bar was great, too. hahaha. :)
The second greatest moment was the midnight release party. Went out with some other Gearbox guys to a Gamestop in Plano. We hung out with fans for about an hour before the game was released. Then I sat in an autograph line and autographed people’s games, and whatnot. That was a moment that was a blast for me. Never thought it was going to happen, so i savored it really well. There were a handful of other 3D Realms guys there with me so it wasn’t just me as a “3DR guy”. But the event was important to me.
The game was out. With the release came closure. Closure is the most important thing that Gearbox gave me. Oh, the money from the contract was important, it’s helped support the family by paying the mortgage and all that. But for my own head I think, the closure I got from the guys at Gearbox for getting the game out the door was huge, and went a long way to soothing over some still raw feelings about the fall of 3D Realms.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Tripytch team specifically. In the days before Gearbox got involved, these guys wanting to work for nothing to keep the game going laid the foundation for what Gearbox offered me. They too deserve thanks for helping me out, although they didn’t do it as directly as Randy & Steve at Gearbox did. I knew just about all of them from having worked with ’em at 3D Realms, so I’m grateful. Hey Kristin, thanks for the mugs!
That brings me back to today. Today is my last day at Gearbox. It brings to an end that long chain of events that started way back in 1992 when Scott Miller asked me to come work at Apogee. Moved to Dallas from Philadelphia, and despite a time when I was working part time jobs for other companies, I’ve had Duke Nukem in my life professionally until now. 1992-1993 for Duke Nukem II, 1993-1996 for Duke Nukem 3D, and 1996-2011 for Duke Nukem Forever. Not to mention the other Duke games, but Duke has been hanging around me for bloody ages. Tomorrow I’ll be professionally away from Duke for the first time ever, really. I’m OK with that. A year ago or so, I wouldn’t have been. But I am now. That’s because I’ve been able to say goodbye on my own terms. Today is the last day of my contract with Gearbox, and I will always be grateful to Randy & Steve for offering that to me (and Chris & Adam for having to deal with me most directly). I was allowed me to see the game get finished, come out, and participate in the release parties and all that. I have a copy of the game in my hands, and I’ve played through it several times. It’s fun. But then that doesn’t surprise me. I knew it would be.
So today I say goodbye to Apogee/3D Realms & Gearbox. It’s the end of the line for the biggest time in my life professionally. There’s still some more Duke Nukem Forever to come, the DLC later this year, and all that. I’ll enjoy that, as will you. Unless you’re a hater.
I’ll still be a fan, I’ll still play the next Duke game, maybe participate in Gearbox testing for the next one and all that – who knows? But today I consider my career in the game industry over. Unless there’s some surprise I’m unaware of, or some other company that wants to hire me I don’t know about. I’ve had fun, but I get the feeling there’s something else out there for me, so I’ve decided to look elsewhere for work. Will have to see what it is. Maybe it’s still games, maybe it’s stocking shelves at Target, maybe it’s preaching the Word of God. Who knows? Whatever it is, I know I’ll have my wife and kids with me, who are more important than any darned videogame I’ve ever been or could be involved with. Having said that, I can’t wait to see what Gearbox comes up with for a new Duke Nukem game. Will be a lot of fun, that’s for sure.
A big thanks to Scott Miller & George Broussard for bringing my onboard almost 20 years ago. And also to Randy Pitchford & Steve Gibson for giving me the closure I apparently desperately needed to close out that portion of my life. And also to my wife who’s had to bear the full brunt of what I’ve been through since the fall of 3D Realms. I owe her big time.
God Bless you all, and to all the Duke fans, thanks for being around. Hope to run into you guys somewhere online.
“Always Bet on Duke”
P.S. To those of you who have made a habit out of hating on me due to some professional whatever from the past. I forgive you guys too. Guys like Yatta, CultureShock & especially Lengis/EngimaHood. I’ll pray for you guys and apologize for any actions of mine in the past, because hate is so destructive. I used to be consumed with rage over the various issues between us, but not anymore. I’ve learned to draw great strength from the peace that comes from the Holy Spirit. I’m reminded of Matthew 5:44 with you guys… “But I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”. May you three guys come to know the spirit of the LORD so you can have inner peace about everything. God Bless. Amen.
Update Sep 2012: I remain out of a full time job. Had some minor part time stuff off the grid so to speak, but my heart is still in community managment. Would love to hook up with someone to serve them and their community. Looking? Let me know. Danke.
Update Jul 2013: I suppose I should update this and say I’ve finally been back to full time work since late December. Was a very nice Christmas present. Also, in the summer of 2013, I found out that 3D Realms & Gearbox were suing each other over Duke Nukem Forever royalties. For the first time since the company left me in 2009, I can say that I was actively glad I wasn’t involved in something going on there. I think the ghost of Duke Nukem & Apogee is finally dead in my head. I’m quite happy where I am working now, and have no desire to leave there.
Update Aug 31, 2016: It’s been five years since I wrote this. In 2014, the new owners of 3D Realms brought me back onboard to help out with that old friend, which is cool. So I can still wallow in the past with that. Thanks Mike/Fred. :)