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How Success Killed Duke Nukem - A heartbreaking story of developer failure

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a good insight on the whole operations. blowing $20million on the project and still without an end, that is telling something. i wonder what happened to ken silverman who wrote the original Build engine?
-lanux128 (December 22, 2009, 08:38 PM)
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He wrote PNGOUT, and still maintains it :)
-Lashiec (December 22, 2009, 09:01 PM)
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PNGOUTWin is a pretty nice little image utility. It compresses different image file formats to PNG. I just ran across it recently and find it very useful.

Paul Keith:
Great article. And an all too common story that once again illustrates how pursuing absolute perfection at the cost of  producing something that's extremely good leads to disaster.

Couple that mentality with access to virtually unlimited development financing and the outcome becomes almost inevitable.

Too bad the rest of the dev team had to pay the price for one guy's unbridled ego.-40hz (December 22, 2009, 02:25 PM)
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as true and important as it is, i think almost everyone would agree with the statement:
"pursuing absolute perfection at the cost of producing something that's extremely good leads to disaster."

i think a harder and more subtle lesson for people to come to terms with is how many benefits there are to be gained from just getting something finished and working, even if it's flawed and not as good as you want it to be.  And how much focus and determination and it takes to do that while the siren song is calling out to you to extend the project longer and spend more time improving things.-mouser (December 22, 2009, 02:35 PM)
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I don't think that is a better alternative. Just look at Daikatana's story.

Based on the article, it seems less about pursuing perfection and more of a warning on how not to be a graphics whore unless you plan on milking a franchise.

These are not FPS games but consider how many of these games got away with bad graphics that seem like great graphics at the time just through sheer milking and "minor updates" (Dynasty Warriors 2 and beyond, NBA Live/NBA 2k, Megaman, Mario, Metroid...hell, Pokemon got away with it by adding animations)

“George’s genius was realizing where games were going and taking it to the next level,” says Paul Schuytema, who worked for Broussard and Miller heading up the development of Prey, another 3D Realms title. “That was his sword and his Achilles’ heel. He’d rather throw himself on his sword and kill himself than have the game be bad.” By the end of 1999, after blowing several publicly proclaimed release dates, Duke Nukem Forever was nowhere near completion. Half the weapons were still just sketches, and when a new version of the Unreal engine was announced — one designed for live, multiplayer online battles — once again Broussard opted to upgrade. Worse, former employees say, he did not appear to have an endgame — an overall plan for what the finished product would look like, and thus a way to recognize when it was nearing completion. “I remember being very impressed by the features. It was incredibly cool technology,” says the developer hired in 2000. “But it wasn’t a game.” It was like a series of tech demos “in a very chaotic state.”
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^This isn't pursuing perfection.

This sounds like:


Feels like it's still in development...
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Left 4 Dead

Valve slap some zombies into a half-finished game? It sells at least 1.8 million.

You see, Valve are a crafty bunch. They knew this game wouldn't sell on its own merits. Valve haven't made a complete game since Half-Life 2, five bloody years ago. The Orange Box consisted of a half-finished Team Fortress, a half-finished Half-Life 2 sequel and a fun but extremely short puzzle game with the world's most excruciatingly over-quoted humour. Oh, and a demo for Peggle. A bunch of half finished stuff, but bundled together so that you were actually getting okay value for money. This time, there's no other stuff. No zombie Peggle, no puzzle game for you to quote ad infinitum. There's only Left4Dead, and it isn't much. BUT HEY LOOK, ZOMBIES!

Give Valve their due, though, when they can be bothered, they turn out good stuff. Left4Dead is as atmospheric as all Hell. The graphics are absolutely awesome. The zombies (or Infected, or whatever), are as gross as all get out, and they run, skip and get shot to bits with a realism that borders on the unsettling. These aren't your shambling, Noun of the Dead style brain-chompers, these are [.REC] style, blood-dripping-from-mouths, running and flailing lunatics. Shoot them mid-sprint, their inertia carries them on and they stagger about most convincingly. Bits fly off of them, with lots of gore and splatters all over walls. Corpses heap up, making a spectacularly unpleasant tableau. The Special Infected, are even worse. The Boomer, in particular, is a wobbly, pustulent fatass, covered in tumours so nasty they look like they're straight from, and walking around with a hilariously realistic fat man gait. I tell ya, it was like looking at your mother. The Hunter runs with a creepy, vermin-like run, and he looks so grubby and unpleasant you can almost smell his unwashed hoodie. The Smoker has his own smoke machine, perfect for 80s metal concerts, and facial protuberances that make John Merrick look positively kissable. The levels, too, look absolutely fantastic. Environments are grimy, dark and ruined looking. Blood and graffiti (including messages from survivors to other survivors - a nice touch) are all over everything, and all really does look like a world that's been screwed over by hordes of super-rabid throat-biters. Special shout out, cause I know you kids don't notice this stuff, to the lighting, which really sets it all off. The use of light and shadow makes Eraserhead look positively amateurish, which is testified to as soon as you turn it off. BOOM, you're back in CS 1.2! Blast those zombies faster...OH CRAP COUNTER-TERRORISTS WIN. There's some kinda shenanigans with film grain effects, too, which sure is purdy.
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Assassin's Creed

"A Glorified Tech Demo Thrown Together Cheaply."

ack when the Next Gen consoles were initially making their bids for my money, this title was up there as one of the most important in getting me to join the modern age, unfortunately for Microsoft and Sony's bank accounts, the game was released on PC, bringing the total of games I was interested in on consoles down to below what was reasonable. And what can I say, I'm thankful for this PC release, because if I had have forked over $800 for a PS3 and this game I would have been furious, because this is not a game. This is the initial prototyping stage of a game, it's fully functional in it's controls and movements, and it's graphics are quite shiny, but no, this game is not complete. This is a game which still had much more to be done before it was completed. This is an initial tech demo that the game designers would have shown to their publishers in order to get funding to get their game made, with the rough outlines of a game placed around it.

Assassins Creed feels like a bunch of game designers created a platformer based around jumping, climbing and hanging off stuff, then got a bunch of guys who were fantastic at creating graphics involved. At which point they decided they wanted to make a game really, really urgently, and in turn added everything else in the game in with little to no thought. The resulting game appears to have been constructed purely from the creators first ideas, with no other thoughts given. Basically, the whole game feels like the designers brainstormed for ideas until they came up with a single idea, and ran with it, no matter how boring, useless or just plain idiotic the idea was.
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Really from this comment it seems more like a lack of greed + groupthink than anything that killed the project:

Yet the truth is, Broussard’s financial freedom had cut him off from all discipline. He could delay making the tough calls, seemingly forever. “One day, Broussard came in and said, ‘We could go another five years without shipping a game’” because 3D Realms still had so much money in the bank, an employee told me. “He seemed really happy about that. The other people just groaned.”
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One particularly crucial hire was Brian Hook, who became the project’s lead, a central boss operating directly below Broussard. Hook realized the challenge ahead: He was inheriting “a fractured and demoralized project that lacked direction, milestones, or cohesion,” as he later described it. Hook, former employees say, also attempted something nobody had done successfully before: He pushed back on Broussard’s constant requests for endless tweaks and changes. And when Broussard complained, Hook held firm. He was the first employee to stand between Broussard and his beloved game, making it possible for the team to move forward without getting stalled by new requests.
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IMO this should have been titled: How Restarts Killed Duke Nukem or to quote some Wired comments:

So there should have been a Duke release on every major game engine but instead of putting it out they just erased it…and started over…dumbest thing i ever read…Release it and move on…ouch-itechchef
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If the company had any owner/manager with any discipline heading the company, they could have released a Duke Nuk’Em for every game engine they shifted to:
1) Quake 2
2) Unreal
3) Unreal 2
4) Unreal 3 or Valve’s Source Engine

And instead of losing 20 million dollars, they would have made hundreds of millions.-jackccx
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Ah, George, you big idiot.

You guys could have released ANYTHING and the rabid fans would eat it up.-Blasikov
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“Real artists ship.” — Steve Jobs

Game design != special effects. Yes, competition in quality is pretty brutal, and the phrase “clunky graphics” in a review is a stake through the heart, but you have to get the game out the door. Otherwise, no revenue, except from investors/publishers (who are now suing).

jackcxx has it right: release a DN game for each successive engine. I think the real failure was choosing the title “Duke Nukem Forever”, which said that the game had to be the ultimate in DN games. Episodic releases, with stepwise improvements in technology, would have been a lot better. ..bruce..-bfwebster
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Y'know, now that I've reread and had a little more time to reflect on this story, I've reached the conclusion that Wired's title does us all a disservice.

I think a more accurate, albeit less 'snappy' title would be:

How George Broussard's personal inability to manage a major software development project killed the Duke Nukem game sequel.

If anything is to be learned from stories like this, it's necessary to look squarely at what the real problem is.

'Success' isn't some mystical entity that comes into a software project and takes control of its destiny.

Project screw-ups are caused by people making mistakes. Always.

Management mistakes are made by managers. Just like programming errors are the result of coding and design mistakes made by programmers - they're not something (i.e. "bugs") that crawls in from outside and somehow infests a piece of code.

'Success' didn't do anything to Duke Nukem. George Broussard's poor management did.

Yea, Wolfenstein 3D was definitely a time sink for me back in the day. I'd still play it today if a new one were around.-zridling (December 22, 2009, 02:48 PM)
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Return to Castle Wolfenstein? Or perhaps the almost-brand-new Wolfenstein? :)

Too bad Duke Nukem Forever went belly-up... pretty hard imagining anybody else daring pick up the DN title anytime soon. When Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project was released I was all psyched because I thought it was DNF, and got "kinda" disappointed when I figured out it wasn't... was a pretty nice platformer, though.

There is a little wisdom in "release early - release often" it seems.

For several years I had problems finishing projects myself. Sometimes I wasn't even working on them anymore and still could not "let go".

This improved after a showed some of these projects to a friend of mine who, in my view, is a brilliant programmer. He not only criticized my work in kind words but also added improvements that led me in the right direction.

I am now much more confident to say: This is Good Enough! It passes the tests, it does not throw exceptions, it completes the use case - let's release it.

Being able to say "Good Enough" also relieves a lot of stress! :)


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