My Story of 3D Realms / Apogee Part VII
This is Part 7 of 8 of my History of 3D Realms / Apogee series. When originally published, it was a single post, but over time WordPress ended up not liking a post that was 33,000 words long. This segment covers 2011-2014.
Duke Nukem Critical Mass
Release Date: 8 Apr 2011
This is a game that I had nothing to do with. It was created by Frontline Studios. It came out for the Nintendo DS. There was a version that started development for the Playstation Portable, but it was never released. Likewise, this was planned to be the first game of a trilogy of Duke games for the DS, but Games 2 & 3 never got started. The other two were to be titled “Chain Reaction” and “Proving Grounds” respectively.
I didn’t play this, so I don’t have a lot of insight into it, but it feels like a game play merge between the styles of the original two Duke Nukem games as well as Manhattan Project to some extent. If you want to see what some of the game play is like, check out this video over on Youtube.
An amusing story is that the source code to the unreleased PSP version of this game has been preserved by the United States government, in the Moving Image section of the Library of Congress. That’s the part of the LOC that preserves video games. There’s an interesting story on the actual Library of Congress website about all this here. Well worth your time to read.
This game was published by Apogee Software, LLC.
Current Status: Not available, rights held by Gearbox.
Links: [ Amazon Critical Mass Page | Archived Apogee LLC page ]
Duke Nukem Forever
Release Date: 8 Apr 2011
I used to have this text on the old 3D Realms DNF page, for some reason it still amuses me… “Yes, we know the game has taken a long time. There’s no possible joke you could make about the game’s development time that we haven’t already heard. :)”
First off, let me lead with this. If you’re hoping to read my article looking for all the juicy bits, and find out “the real story” with this game, and get all “the dirt”… well, you’re not gonna get it. That’s not what I’m doing here. I’m not going to write the book on DNF here, just a few stories of my own that are connected to the game.
I remember when we started development. It was in December 1996, very shortly after we released the v1.5 update for Duke Nukem 3D (the final one). Todd Replogle was farting around with some Quake tech and ideas in his office. It wasn’t super heavy duty development there, just Todd, as the ROTT and Duke teams were working on the original Prey, so it was small time stuff he was doing. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably well aware of the DNF timeline, so I won’t go into all that. But I bore witness to just about all of it. I still wish to this day we would have put it out ourselves, I might still have the job I had for all those years. Ah well, didn’t happen. Game caused the closure of the Garland 3DR studio in 2009, forcing me out of a job. I should hate the game. I don’t. Probably because I saw all the blood, sweat, and tears (and screaming) that went into the development. I saw a lot of people come and go in my 17 years at Apogee/3DR, but DNF was rough – a lot of people I know left during development, people I liked. Some I never heard from again.
So yeah, my perception of Duke Nukem Forever is slightly different than the general public’s is. In one of the talking head videos that Gearbox put out in 2011 for the release, I spoke a bunch, both about my voicing the character in Duke Nukem II, but about DNF too. At the end of the first video in that series, I said this.. “If you’re a Duke fan, you’re gonna have a blast with this, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.” I stand by that. Duke Nukem Forever is a fun game. Did it have problems? Yes. Should it have been released earlier? Oh hell, yes. Internally I always thought there was no way the game’s extremely long development would help it. It didn’t. People ragged on it for everything. Some of it was deserved. Most wasn’t. But I still think the game’s fun. Would have been far better received if it was released sooner than it was – but we’re almost 10 years past the release now. It is what it is. I just wish it had been better received.
So as I said above, I wanted to tell a few stories about my time with Duke Nukem Forever. The first one I’ve partially alluded to earlier. During development, I lost my job in May of 2009, and was unemployed full time for quite some time. However, during that time, Randy and Gearbox offered me a contract for a year’s worth of work – mostly for my knowledge of the past, my archive of photos, and general support for forum stuff, etc. I was quite grateful to Gearbox for that, because it helped pay the mortgage that year for sure. I wrote about that time elsewhere on my blog in a story called “Goodbye Duke Nukem“. But a lot of fun things happened in that year with Gearbox.
Outside of my online/community work – my main thing was playing the game. I played Duke Nukem Forever A LOT. I was always the kid who played things wrong to try and break them – a skill I found quite useful during my game career. One thing in particular with the Duke Nukem Forever game comes to mind. If you remember the level where Duke is shrunk, and you have to make your away around a kitchen in shrunken form, then that’s one I did a lot. In fact, several of the mappers got pissed at me routinely, as I’d play the level wrong (going backwards for instance), and I’d find things that would break the level, and let you get to the end quickly or something like that. Whenever I’d show up in the mappers area, they’d groan. :)
Anther story took place on 11 Jun 2011. Gearbox had a “Community Day” where the public came, got to hear about Duke Forever, had panels, – kind of a mini Comic-Con – just for Duke Forever (and other Gearbox stuff too). I loved basically walking around, talking to fans, seeing people all excited about Duke. One thing in particular sticks out – it was the first (and only) time I met Jon St. John in person. I got to talk to Jon a bit while he was waiting to go on to a panel, and I had someone take the picture you see here of Jon and myself. The two voices of Duke Nukem finally met! :) The most personal thing happened after one panel was finished. An impromptu panel was held by Jon talking about his work doing the voice of Duke. For some reason, Jon asked me to come up and sit on the panel. I was happy to tell my story, but I didn’t have a ton to tell. But the moment I treasured most from that was when someone asked Jon what his favorite line he recorded for Duke Nukem Forever was. Jon responded with a line we had already released, saying he didn’t want to spill the beans on new DukeSpeak. He then went on to add “I also don’t remember all the lines I recorded”. I interrupted Jon and said “What? You don’t remember all your dialogue? Why not? I can remember all of mine!”. That got a laugh, and a funny stare from Jon. Always hoped someone got video of that, but it never turned up.
Later that same day was the release party. It was called “Duke Nukem’s Happy Ending“, and was a fun evening. It was a series of concerts and events from Gearbox held at The Palladium Ballroom in Dallas, TX. The first band was one called “Say Hello to the Angels”, and they were followed by girls from Coyote Ugly, then a techno band called “The Crystal Method” (which I skipped completely), and finally, the headliner was “DJ Jazzy Jeff“. If you don’t know him, he’s the other half of actor Will Smith’s rap career (DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince). I didn’t think it was gonna work, but it did.
There was also chats with the audience in-between the various bands. There was also an open bar, which was also quite nice. Hanging out with industry friends who were in town was fun, too (CliffyB and I had a nice chat). There were dancers in glass compartments in the middle of the show for atmosphere. Just being there for the “release” of Duke Nukem Forever was a fun as hell time. But I bring up the release party for one specific thing that happened during it.
As I mentioned before, the first band that played was named “Say Hello to the Angels”. The last song of their set was Grabbag, which is the theme song for Duke Nukem 3D. That was the only time I was aware that the song had been played in full live – by a rock band. It was badass to witness live. I was enjoying it so much that I neglected to record it, but fortunately one of my 3DR compatriots had their head on and recorded it. I’ve included the video here. If you play the video, when the band starts playing the song, the crowd is looked at briefly. At 0:39 in the video, you’ll see a guy in the crowd in a light blue shirt. That is Lee Jackson, the guy who wrote the Duke theme. At the end of the video, you’ll see Randy come out and start talking. He talks about the band, and then to the crowd. But my favorite moment was this (which isn’t in the video, sadly). Randy notices Lee Jackson in the crowd, and points out Lee to the crowd. He mentions from the stage that Lee was the one that wrote Grabbag. He went on a little more about Lee and Grabbag, and it ended up in a standing ovation from the entire venue for Lee – including the band that had just played the song! It was my single favorite moment of the night by far. It wasn’t exactly a state secret that Lee wrote the song, but it wasn’t exactly pushed that hard, either. For Lee to get that kind of public adoration was a great moment for me to witness. Thank you to Randy Pitchford for doing that.
UPDATE: Right as I was finishing this article, I found a video of Randy talking about Lee to the crowd – I had never seen that in the 9 years since the event – check out the video here.
Another fun event for me, which was basically the “end” of Duke Nukem Forever for me was the night it was released. That was the night of 13 Jun, 2011. Several old 3D Realms crew as well as some Gearbox crew went out to a Gamestop in Plano TX for a Midnight Release Party for Duke Nukem Forever. This was a moment I had thought about for the last 15 years. To see actual paying customers excited for Duke Nukem all together to pick up actual copies of the game. It was very surreal. We were there for a few hours, talking, watching them play the demo (which was out already), and just generally having fun. Once the moment came, we had all of us at a table autographing people’s copies of the games. Even me – somewhere out there is someone’s copy of Duke Nukem Forever with my autograph on it. The picture here is one I took from my spot in the autograph line.
The fun wasn’t all at Gearbox – I had tons of laughs in the 3D Realms era of the game. Far too many to write here, but a few things I remember well from the old days were the numerous Christmas parties at George’s house. Half the crew ended up staying at George’s cuz they couldn’t drive home. :) I missed those old parties, I even tried to put one together myself around Christmas 2010, but it wasn’t the same. We had a few group dinners at expensive steak places that we’d go to in limos. There was a bowling alley a block away from our offices, and several of us would walk over there and go bowling during the middle of the day. We would play indoor disc golf – we set up a golf target inside our offices. Many games of hackeysack in the front lobby around the Duke Nukem logo. We’d have “The 3D Realms Olympics” in the back yard. Watching movies in the lounge until all hours of the night, playing games on the giant theatre screen we had (which also was on for a week straight when 9/11 happened, too). Goofing around outside with motorcycles. Playing poker at George’s house. Hanging out with the Duke girls at E3 shows was also fun. ;) There’s just so many things to write about, I’m actually at a loss sitting here on what to write about. SO many memories.
But I couldn’t stop the stories without talking about one that I remember well to this day. This was back on 1 Apr 2003. That was the day we released the source code for Duke Nukem 3D, but I came up with the idea for a practical joke to go with that release. My thinking was people would go “haha” to the practical joke, and then when we followed it later in the day with a source code release, they wouldn’t believe it at first – despite the source code being totally real. Anyway, the practical joke was my putting together an Atari 2600 version of Duke Nukem Forever. It was of course an April Fool’s joke, but the cartridge itself was totally legitimate. It really did work – no lie. A friend of my brother’s had a rom burner, and he had the facility to make physical Atari cartridges, so what I did was use a program that will down convert any JPG to an Atari 2600 rom. Chose the “Drew Carey” Duke Nukem artwork (see image here), and made that an Atari rom. Said friend burnt the cartridge, printed a few labels, and bam – it’s born. There were six of them made total. Four of them were bogus (just labels on things like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong), but two really did work. I kept one, and gave the other to George Broussard. I then went and created a page with a story about this, pictures of the cartridge, and other jokes. That page is still online, actually. But part of the joke was short video I made where I plugged the cartridge into my Atari 2600, and turned it on.. That video is still online, too. I had lot of fun with that joke, and I enjoyed the fun messages we got back from people insulting us saying “Why are you wasting your time with that?” They totally missed it was April Fool’s Day. In 2017, I donated the working cartridge to the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, TX. It is displayed in their homebrew game section. This one was all mine – concept, execution, and deployment. :)
One other highlight was the 2001 E3 Duke Nukem Forever trailer. It is to me the high point of the entire development cycle. I have a voice in the trailer, I appear multiple times, all overlapping at 0:57 for about 3 seconds doing various EDF soldier voices. That trailer was so well constructed, so well put together, and so well received, it was amazingly good. I’ve embedded the trailer below. I remember when we finished it and declared it “done”, the trailer just sat running on the Mac (yeah, a Mac) it was put together on and just left running on an indefinite loop in the conference room. It was that glorious – and I don’t think anyone got tired of watching it. I know I didn’t – I watched it a few times during the writing of this section of the story, and it’s still damn awesome 19 years later. One last thing about the trailer – I’ll never forget Doug Myers from Gathering of Developers, who did the bulk of the work on that video, and then died shortly afterwards.
But that’s what Duke Nukem Forever means to me. The people that worked on it. Not the game itself or fans “reacting” to it. I saw a lot of people. Made a lot of friends. Lost several too. But in the end, that’s what I see DNF as. Something I had a lot of friends through. Not the reception it got (or didn’t) in the public. It’s probably why I still use the old promo phrase “Always Bet on Duke”. Duke still means something to me.
The game was finally released on 14 Jun 2011 on PC / Xbox 360 / PS3. A demo for the PC & Xbox 360 was released on 21 Jun 2011, and then on 29 Jun for PS3. On 15 Aug 2011, it was released for macOS. There were two DLC packs released, too. The first one was the “Hail to the Icons Parody Pack”, and was released on 11 Oct (on all platforms). The second one was called “The Doctor Who Cloned Me”, and was released (on all platforms) on 11 Dec 2011. While I wasn’t there for the releases of these add-on packs, I remember most of the content from the old 3D Realms days. There was stuff I don’t remember, so they were mix of existing content and new stuff. The game was made available for Xbox One via backwards compatibility on 4 Dec 2018, and is still available for digital purchase – see links below.
One last thing. 13 Dec, 2025 is significant date. Why? That’s the 1st date that DNF will have been out longer than it took to develop. Dev started 15 Dec, 1996 and ended on 14 Jun, 2011 – 5,294 days. 5,295 days from that is 13 Dec, 2025.
Current Status: Still available digitally from Gearbox
UPDATES: None, although there were two expansion packs.
DNF Order Links: [ PC/Mac Steam | Xbox Store | Playstation Store ] *
Links: [ Gearbox DNF Page | Official DNF Page | Legacy 2008 3DR DNF Page ]
The only thing 3D Realms released in 2012 was the iOS port of Shadow Warrior (on 19 Dec), but that was covered elsewhere.
2013 is a weird year. There were no “new” games released, but two of our earlier games were rebooted and released as total remakes.
Rise of the Triad (2013)
Release Date: 31 Jul 2013
In 2012, it was decided that my old “Rise of the Triad” game from 1994 would be remade. The group who was doing this was a comany in Denmark (then) called “Interceptor Entertainment”. At first I wasn’t sure what to think about it, because I felt a very strong connection to the original. I shouldn’t have worried. Fred and the guys at Interceptor produced a modern take on Rise of the Triad, that was respectful of the original yet doing something new with it.
What I loved most is some of the things we had in the original game were retained when they didn’t need to be. Specifically the gads (the silver discs). We had them in the original to overcome limits in the Wolfenstein 3D engine. The new version didn’t have those problems, but they kept them in there anyway. All the weapons were there, all the characters were there. Heck, they asked me for head photos of myself because my old character was in the new game too. So I was a character in the 1994 original and the 2013 remake. That was fun.
We also had a Dopefish in the game, and I recall a fun meeting on Skype at the time over what kind of things we thought a Dopefish would actually “do” in a game. That was darned bizarre. :)
One final note. When I did levels for the original Rise of the Triad, I had two really goofball levels, “The Vomitorium” and “The Grand Vomitorium” (which were brilliantly reviewed here on Youtube). Anyway, when the Interceptor group did the new game, they used my Vomitorium concept. They created “Escape From the Vomitorium”. It contained my original concept which was to make you sick, and really screw with the physics in the engine. But what I really appreciated was that they started this third Vomitorium level with the exact same room that my first two levels started with. As the designer of the original, that really made me feel cool. And on top of it, there was a major appearance of Dopefish in this level too. Check out this Youtube video of the ROTT 2013 Vomitorium level.
There used to be a website for the 2013 version of Rise of the Triad, but it’s not around anymore, nor does anyone seem to own the domain name, either. Nor does archive.org have a copy. :(
This game was created by Interceptor and published by Apogee Software LLC.
Current Status: Still available, but only digitally. Game never released in physical form.
UPDATES: UPDATES: 1.1 – 13 Sep 2013, 1.2 – 29 Oct 2013, 1.3 – 18 Dec 2013, 1.4 – 3 Apr 2014, 1.5 – 2 Oct 2014
Links: [ Rise of the Triad 2013 Steam ]
Shadow Warrior (2013)
Release Date: 31 Jul 2013
ROTT wasn’t the only game that was revived in 2013. Our 1997 game Shadow Warrior was brought back in a remake. This game IP was licensed from 3D Realms by Devolver Studios, and created by Flying Wild Hog Games.
They took a more radical reboot of this game than ROTT did. In this one they removed all the overtly Asian stereotypes from the character of Lo Wang, and made it something different. Initially I was against that idea, because I felt it was changing the character too much, too much, but I realized it worked well once I played it. It works for a different reason than Shadow Warrior 1997 did, but it was a good, fun action game. Had some of the feel of the original, yet made it absolutely something fresh and new.
They had some of the original art in the game as easter eggs too, which I got a big kick out of. You can see a screen capture of that below using some of the “Classic girls” art.
The game was also released on the Xbox One and Playstation 4 – those versions game out on 21 Oct 2013.
After the game was released, Devolver Digital outright purchased the IP for Shadow Warrior from 3D Realms (10 Dec 2014), and there was a “Shadow Warrior 2” was released on 13 Oct 2016. 3D Realms didn’t have anything to do with the second one, so I won’t give it its own entry in this article. There is a Shadow Warrior 3 under production too, it will be released in 2021.
Current Status: Still available digitally
UPDATES: 1.1 – 18 Dec 2013, 1.11 – 27 Jan 2014, 1.12 – 14 Mar 2014
Links: [ Devolver Shadow Warrior 2013 Site | Shadow Warrior 2013 Steam ]
2014 had no new game, but for the first time in the company history a compilation package was released.
3D Realms Anthology
Release Date: 23 Oct 2014
Back in the day when I was at the original Apogee/3DR, we’d get asked all the time about putting together a compilation of all our titles into one package. I always poo-pooed that because of the rights and $ involved. All of those games had their individual deals and authors, and putting together a compilation would never work (in my opinion) because each of them would want a cut, and you’d have to sell it for a hellaciously high price to make any kind of money, so it never happened.
Enter the “New” 3D Realms, and in 2014, they figured a way to get this done, and the “3D Realms Anthology” was born. This was a compilation of every game that Apogee/3DR still had rights to in 2014. The original list of games in the first version of the Anthology was thus:
- Alien Carnage
- Arctic Adventure
- Bio Menace
- Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold
- Blake Stone: Planet Strike
- Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy
- Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons
- Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure
- Crystal Caves
- Death Rally
- Duke Nukem
- Duke Nukem II
- Duke Nukem 3D
- Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project
- Hocus Pocus
- Major Stryker
- Math Rescue
- Monster Bash
- Monuments of Mars
- Mystic Towers
- Pharaoh’s Tomb
- Raptor: Call of the Shadows
- Realms of Chaos
- Rise of the Triad: Dark War
- Secret Agent
- Shadow Warrior
- Terminal Velocity
- Wacky Wheels
- Wolfenstein 3D
- Word Rescue
The Anthology itself was a Windows app. The individual games inside were still their original DOS selves. Each of them had a DOSBox shell, which is what the Anthology itself spawned. This original version of the anthology was a standalone system that was sold independently on the 3D Realms website.
After a time, it was decided to sell the game on Steam too. That posed some problems, as not all the games we had distribution rights to there. The Commander Keen & Wolfenstein games were already being sold on Steam by id Software themselves, so we had to remove them from the Anthology for Steam. We did, however, add in a couple of other games that were not in the standalone version to make up for it. For the Steam version of the Anthology, we removed Commander Keen: Vorticons/Galaxy as well as Wolfenstein 3D. We did add Balls of Steel, Dark Ages, & Xenophage to compensate, so the overall number of titles was the same. This new “Steam Edition” of the Anthology was released on 5 May, 2015.
2015 was also the year that Gearbox obtained the rights to the Duke Nukem franchise completely, and as such, we no longer had the rights to distribute Duke Nukem come 1 Jan 2016, so 31 Dec 2015 was the final day one could buy the 3D Realms Anthology, either the standalone or Steam version. They remain unavailable to this day.
However, on 7 Nov 2016, a third version of the Anthology was put out – this one with a slightly different title. It was “The 3D Realms Arcade Collection”. This third version had just 22 games vs the 32 the original two versions did. If you want to see the games in the Arcade version, you can check out the page for it on the 3D Realms website. This third version is also unavailable as well, having been discontinued on 15 Jun 2020.
A quick note – no matter what format you bought – the standalone original, the Steam variant, or the “Arcade Collection”, all of them were digital. Despite us mocking up boxes for them, we never released anything physically for this. Kind of wish we had. I do think however, that the idea of mocking up these concept boxes eventually lead to the new 3D Realms concept of “Big Box” for their physical releases.
Current Status: No longer available in any format.
UPDATES: 1.1 – 28 Nov 2014 (Standalone)
Links: [ 3DR Anthology Page | 3DR Arcade Collection Page ]