After getting their grubby little mitts on some game time with the Duke, Dealspwn's Dave Brown and Matt Gardner had a little chat with Gearbox Software's VP of Marketing Steve Gibson. After founding Shacknews and spending a good decade bemoaning the lack of DNF, Steve found himself on the other side of the fence last year when he joined Gearbox and we spent a little bit of time picking his brains
Steve Gibson: So, what do you call this? We call it a recorder.
Dave Brown: A “dictaphone”
SG: (scoffs) Dictaphone. You and your aluminiums! Anyway, continue...
DB: Right, how much of the game has been created by Triptych and how much by Gearbox? What's the relationship there?
SG: Triptych is about 8 or so dudes and the whole team is like 70 guys. There's the math, I don't have a more complicated answer for you than that.
DB: Why are they not just part of Gearbox then?
SG: I'm not the lawyer or anything like that, I couldn't tell you the technical reason for it, but my guess would be those guys had been working so well together or had been doing so well, much like our stuff on Borderlands and Aliens, stuff like that, we tend to keep groups of guys together. You get better results when they know each other's strengths and weaknesses. We don't just shove 'em in with the rest of the staff, because we want to complete stuff, which is the goal with Duke!
Matt Gardner: Randy spoke about it a little earlier, but did you guys feel under a certain amount of pressure? Was there any trepidation for Gearbox in taking on this 'rusted mantle' of sorts?
SG: Yeah, definitely. A lot of people were asking the question 'Is this something we should do?' taking on this legacy and all of the pressure that came with it, yeah that came up a lot. But what we did is we got our engineers involved and did a whole technology and game evaluation and we asked 'What will it take?' which gave us a great standpoint from which to decide. And we decided that we could do it, we had the technology, we'd shipped across these multiple platforms, we'd covered FPS mechanics and multiplayer with Borderlands, which was very multiplayer intensive. So the fear has turned to something inspiring and humbling, realising that we can do this and be a part of this huge, decade-spanning story, and help get this game over the finish line. That we can be a part of this story is amazing!
MG: Obviously you took the decision to take the game to PAX, unannounced. Was the reaction you got there something of a vindication in relation to the choice of taking this project on?
SG: That was a relief, you know! There are situations where people talk about stuff but they don't really care. You remember Snakes on a Plane?
MG: Oh yes...love that film, it's awful...but...
SG: Exactly, everyone was talking about it before it came out, with the whole audience interaction, but then when it came out no one went to see it! And we thought to ourselves 'Are we Snakes on a Plane?'. In terms of the scale of reaction it was like at the bottom end we could be Snakes on a Plane, we'd eat sh*t, we'd be screwed. But on the high end, take last year for example, we got Game of the Show with Borderlands, we got like hour and a half lines and we thought if we got that again, it'd be awesome.
But we got there and, as Randy said, it just exploded. There were 5 hour long lines of people waiting to play this game! We were the number one trending topic on Twitter for something like 30 hours. It's insane!...Now, though, we've got to deliver the whole thing.
DB: Have you ever seen the very first drafts or blueprints for Duke Nukem Forever? How different are they to what's here now?
SG: I've asked to see them, but I never have and yeah, it's entirely different. I saw the Quake engine stuff and yeah, it's completely different. Well, story, no, it's timeless, he's saving the world. We thought about bringing a whole bunch of writers in to rewrite this thing, and it turns out saving the world is all you need.
DB: There's been a rumour that the enemy from the first two games, Dr Proton, will make a return? Is there any truth to this?
SG: Yeah, I, er, honestly don't recall when that happened. I have not seen a Dr Proton. I imagine there'll be references to the previous games, there's a lot of that going on there. The whole game is filled with references, that legacy is so big. There's a full pinball machine, for example, you can play...
DB: A playable pool table?
SG: Perhaps so, yeah, there's a few things like that. It may explain the length of development, like “Man, that's unreasonable to put all these things in a game,” but there it is. And the name of the pinball machine is Balls of Steel. Stuff like that.
MG: What about locales? In what sort of new environments and old favourites can we expect to have Duke kicking ass?
SG: Well in the trailer you just saw there's a hint of some alien stuff, not all of the game will be set on Earth. There are other locales, clearly Vegas is going to happen. You cannot imagine a Duke game without naked women and you can probably imagine where those people would be...(grins) and who knows how Duke will interact with these people! Times have changed, who knows! Actually you probably got a little example with the game's opening today!
MG: Ah...now...you talked about times changing. It's been more than twelve years since we last saw Duke, a gaming hero of the Nineties, was there a concern that Duke might not fit into 2010/2011. That he might not gel with the current zeitgeist?
SG: He is more of a reflection of the zeitgeist in a number of ways. Take the line from the trailer, 'I'd still hit it!'...that wouldn't have been said five years ago. Of course a lot of the classic lines still work, a lot of stuff is timeless, 'Hail to the king!' still feels pretty good...or you know, 'Hail to the guv'nor!' if we ever did our UK English translation. I'd love to hear some of those lines in a [proper] English accent.
What's funny is that when Duke 3D launched, it was pretty unique and there were a few games that followed. But the process of making games, as more money and more risk has gotten involved, has led to a process of homogenisation and people are far less willing to take risks now. You're ending up with your Call of Duty and your Halo titles, and you know those games are going to be pretty good and polished, but it doesn't feel risky any more. But this one sure does! We frankly think that this is the perfect time for this game to show up. We're amazed that there aren't more like it. Even Borderlands was considered kinda crazy...because it was funny.
MG: Do you think that there's a game in the market for funny games to make a comeback, we just seen DeathSpank do pretty well for example?
SG: (Fervently) What's wrong with games being funny?! Is Grim Fandango really going to be the last truly funny game?!
MG: That's one of my favourite games of all-time...
SG: Mine too! You remember when games were fun and funny. It's madness!!
MG: It's a bit depressing that have to use the expression 'fun shooter' I suppose for this next question, but with Epic preparing Bulletstorm for early next year - a game that doesn't take itself quite so seriously and has a similarly muscular, gravelly-voiced protagonist - are you viewing that game as direct competition?
SG: Apples to apples I think Bulletstorm's vastly different to our game, I mean the character of Duke is a big selling point and Bulletstorm's got that weird laser whip thing and they're both trying to do different things. That said, I agree that it looks like it's styling itself as more of a 'fun' game...we need more 'fun' games.
DB: Let's talk about the PC version. Is that going to be any different?
SG: The game was of course originally developed for the PC years ago, and for us, by nature of the platform, it's the one you'll be getting the best graphics, the highest texture density, probably faster in all kinds of ways. The actual content though, outside of visual differences, it's the same, roughly the same game.
DB: Is it too early to know whether it'll be moddable?
SG: Yeah, it is too early to know, but if you look at the history of Gearbox and things we've been involved in, even as far back as Halo PC, we were doings like creating a dedicated server for Halo, and that's not something that was required of us or even asked of us. Gearbox has a history of if we have the time and money, we'll try to do right, but as for mods and things like that, it's a very complicated thing for this game, because of the legacy and complexity of this game in particular, it makes it much more difficult. It is something we have a history of trying to do for games.
DB: Can you talk about multiplayer at all?
SG: We can say just that we're doing it. The whole thing is we're trying not to promise all these features, right now it's just let's prove it's real. We're going to come back and hey, here's multiplayer. Oh, and by the way, here's the actual official release date too, we'll have that.
DB: So you can't say whether there'll be co-op a la Borderlands?
SG: Well, we can say that Borderlands is an influence on our side in terms of humour, the style of it, but technical features, this is the vision of 3D Realms. This game is 3D Realms' vision, it's not “Hey, how can we jam some of our ideas into it”, we want to complete what they started.
DB: Any chance of picking up any of 3D Realms' other old properties, like Shadow Warrior?
SG: It hasn't really come up. I believe Scott Miller's doing Radar Group, right? Yeah, so, I think they still have Prey and stuff like that too.
DB: Is there a PSP/DS version still coming out?
SG: No idea. Same with the movie, no idea.
DB: If Duke met Batman in the street, who'd win in a fight?
SG: Jesus, this is where we're at? (laughs). What? I believe, um, Duke would say “You're a big pussy with your shit.” He'd just say that. I don't know, I think Duke would be like “You're a fucking pussy, what do you need this stuff for?” Duke believes he would win. That's the appropriate answer.
DB: Everyone always thinks their character would beat Batman. James Bond would beat Batman, according to Bizarre Creations...
SG: What? No. That's bullshit there! (laughs) We worked on a James Bond game, and no.
DB: What new weapons can we expect?
SG: You'll see a railgun, and when we bring the multiplayer back, we want to surprise you guys a bit too. All the classics are in there, though. Freeze gun, shrink ray, machine gun, rocket launcher, Devastator, Holo Duke, pipe bombs.
DB: Is there any chance of cross-platform play?
SG: Dude, we've looked really hard. If you can get Microsoft and Sony to...
DB: Well, not even between them, like with PC and 360?
SG: Dude, PC can't even play together.. People all buying it on Steam or Games for Windows or whatever, they can't even play together.
DB: Why can Duke only carry two weapons now?
SG: He can equip pipe bombs and beer as well, but this design thing actually happened a few years ago before Gearbox got involved. We certainly feel that it's the right choice for the way this game's been built.
MG: Has a release date been set?
SG: Well we're just saying 2011 for the moment. We're dealing with certification crap right now, and we're in talks with retailers, it's just a matter of locking in the date. Especially with this game, we don't really want to say 'oh it might be this month, or this one...' because the machine that is the retail industry could change the date. When we have it locked in, we'll show up and go Boom!...this is the date.
MG: My news editor will kick me if I don't ask, but any news on Aliens: Colonial Marines?
SG: Oh man...we wish we could talk about that...
MG: But it is coming. right? It won't take 12 years?
SG: (Laughs) We sincerely hope not!
Thanks to Steve for taking the time to talk to us! You can catch our feature on how Duke returned from the dead here and catch up with our hands-on preview of the demo here! We'll be keeping you in the loop as and when we know more!