A Decade of Duke: The Brief Long History of DNF

By Nick Breckon, Dec 19, 2007 9:00am PST It's taken longer to develop than the mapping of the human genome. It's the first Google result for "When it's done." It's birthed the longest running development period in video game history, and the longest running joke in internet history. It's still not out.

Maybe the one thing you can't say about Duke Nukem Forever is that it's been canceled. And now, thanks to that fortune, we may yet be treated to a release of the infamous game. But how did we get here? I was in 7th grade when DNF was announced, and though I've followed its development since, my memory of that time is muddled with the pleasures of late 90s gaming, and the horrors of braces.

So how did this madness begin, again?

January 29, 1996: Duke Nukem 3D is released on PC. Mac, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Saturn ports follow later in the year.

Mid-1996: Work on Duke Nukem Forever begins. The game, envisioned as a 2D/3D side-scrolling title in the vein of Donkey Kong Country, is soon abandoned when developer Keith Schuler shifts his focus to the Duke Nukem 3D Plutonium Pak.

January 1997: Early prototyping begins on the next true Duke game. The FPS sequel to Duke Nukem 3D is tentatively referred to as Duke Nukem 4.

March 1997: Daikatana development begins.

April 27, 1997: The fourth major game in the Duke series is announced by 3D Realms. Officially dubbed Duke Nukem Forever, the name is poached from the canceled side-scroller. id Software's Quake II engine is licensed for development. GT Interactive is set to publish.

August 1997: The first DNF screenshots are printed in PC Gamer, with other sites picking them up eventually.

November 1997: 3D Realms/Apogee founder Scott Miller states that Doctor Proton, Duke's nemesis from the original side-scroller, will return in DNF.

May 1998: The first trailer is unveiled at E3, depicting several scenes with a new pre-Alyx female sidekick, dubbed Bombshell. Wailing guitar, the infamous axe-wielding miner, and a variety of gameplay scenarios are also featured.

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June 1, 1998: Team Fortress 2 development begins.

June 15, 1998: A few days following the Duke Nukem Forever trailer debut, 3D Realms drops the Quake II engine and licenses then-Epic MegaGames' Unreal engine. "We don't feel there will be a significant development delay," says Duke co-creator George Broussard.

August, 1998: "At this point, we are really in full production mode again on the game," reports Broussard in a .plan file. "We expect to have gun and guys walking around any day like we never switched engines." The team aims for a 1999 release.

September, 1998: Scott Miller claims that DNF will "set a new standard" for first person interactivity.

October 12, 1998: Duke Nukem: Time to Kill is released on PlayStation.

September 1, 1999: Duke Nukem: Zero Hour is released on Nintendo 64. Broussard is quoted as saying DNF will probably not feature a software renderer. (News)

October 22, 1999: Scott Miller tells 3D Unlimited that the game is now making use of improvements made to the Unreal engine developed for Unreal Tournament.

October 24, 1999: Miller calls on the Duke community to generate suitable names for the inevitable DNF sequel. (News)

November 1, 1999: New DNF screenshots surface, showing off the Unreal engine-powered graphics. Future Gears mastermind Cliffy B is quoted: "Those shots rock my nuts."

November 20, 1999: Broussard to Dukeworld on recent production delays due to engine updates: "We broke off our code at Unreal 220. But unfortunately that was a fairly unstable version of the engine. We had intended to continue on our own, but Epic simply did too good a job with UT. ...Not patching to it would be a colossal mistake."

November 30, 1999: Duke Nukem is released on Game Boy Color.

December 1999: Infogrames buys a majority stake in GT Interactive, eventually buying the company outright. DNF is slotted for a 2000 release.

March 10, 2000: Shacknews interviews Broussard, who speaks of a robust multiplayer component and innovative interactivity. "I'm not sure many people (other than the die hards) will play the game from beginning to end multiple times, but I do expect almost everyone to re-load maps and look at specific cool things they saw or did," says Broussard. "Strippers come to mind."

April 14, 2000: Daikatana is released.

September 19, 2000: Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes is released on PlayStation.

December 5, 2000: Publisher Infogrames sells the Duke Nukem rights to Take-Two Interactive. Take-Two subsidiary publisher Gathering of Developers is now lined up to publish DNF.

March 28, 2001: A Gathering of Developers calendar reveals inklings of a plot: Duke is forced out of a Las Vegas retirement when Dr. Proton blows up the city. Shooting commences. (News)

Turn the page for an epic trailer, and the end of a long road to the present. _PAGE_BREAK_
May 17, 2001: The second DNF trailer debuts on the first day of E3 2001, comprised mainly of in-game footage. It is epic.

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August 2001: Gathering of Developers closes its doors, and Take-Two takes over the duties of DNF publisher. During a Take-Two conference call, the company notes that DNF won't see a release until 2002 at the earliest. (News)

2002: The Dark Age of Duke. Work on the current version of DNF is halted. The vast majority of level design work is scrapped in transition to a new, mostly home-grown engine. Unstable Unreal code is blamed for the previous delays. New talent is brought on to continue development, bringing the team size to over 30.

May 14, 2002: Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is released on PC.

August 12, 2002: Duke Nukem Advance is released on Game Boy Advance.

May 29, 2003: Take-Two CEO Jeffrey Lupin informs reporters that Duke Nukem Forever will not be out by the end of 2003. Broussard fires back shortly after, reminding readers that DNF remains self-funded, while also issuing a famously stiff rebuttal to its publisher: "Take Two needs to STFU imo." The spate makes national news, including a story on CNN. (Broussard's comments)

January 20, 2004: After winning the Wired.com Vaporware Award for two years in a row, Duke Nukem Forever is given an honorary Lifetime Achievement award.

September 9, 2004: New Take-Two CEO Rich Roedel claims the game is using Doom 3 technology. Broussard denies it. (News)

September 14, 2004: 3D Realms announces that the Karma physics engine will be replaced with technology from Meqon Research, a company that will later be acquired by AGEIA in 2005.

February 16, 2005: Scott Miller announces that all future 3D Realms releases will be delivered digitally by the Game xStream service, later renamed Triton. (News)

September 30, 2005: Broussard flashes Shacknews regular mr. sleepy with a handful of DNF screenshots, which the user characterizes as "awesome." (Comment)

January 31, 2006: Interviewed by 1UP, Broussard is asked of DNF's progress, responding: "We're basically just pulling all the pieces together and making the game out of it. There's a lot that's finished. All the guns are finished. Most of the creatures are finished."

April 12, 2006: Computer Games Magazine visits 3D Realms and reports on the game's current state. They are shown "mainly just pieces of the game in progress and tech demos", such as "an early level, a vehicle sequence, a few test rooms."

August 30, 2006: Shacknews reports that 3D Realms has seen several employee departures over the previous year. 3D Realms downplays the impact of the losses, asserting that work on DNF is still progressing. "Physics and animation systems are virtually finished and shippable," Broussard replies. "It's simply maintenance and polish from here on out." (News)

October, 2006: The Triton download service begins to fail when the developing company, Digital Interactive Streams, abruptly goes out of business. Triton users who had purchased the recently released, 3D Realms-published Prey are given retail copies as compensation. The game is added to Valve Software's Steam digital distribution service on December 1.

December 27, 2006: DNF wins Wired.com's Vaporware Award again, despite already winning the Lifetime Achievement years in the past.

January 26, 2007: A small thumbnail attached to a 3D Realms job posting is later revealed to be an in-game Duke Nukem Forever screenshot. One additional shot is later released in this manner. (News)

March 20, 2007: Scott Miller tells YouGamers that DNF is running under a heavily modified version of the Unreal Engine.

October 10, 2007: Team Fortress 2 is released.

December 18, 2007: 3D Realms announces a new DNF teaser trailer will debut on the following day, and releases a single screenshot in advance. Shacknews user Dognose slips into cardiac arrest. (News)

December 19, 2007: Shacknews premieres first Duke Nukem Forever teaser trailer in over six years. Hope of an actual release peaks.

February 6, 2008: The Dallas Business Journal reports that DNF will be released on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Broussard quickly clarifies that platforms have not been finalized.

March 18, 2008: 3D Realms' Scott Miller co-founds the Radar Group, an "entertainment entity to incubate, manage and produce Intellectual Properties for cross-media leveraging in video game and film markets."

April 28, 2008: Shacknews founders Steve Gibson and Maarten Goldstein are given a half-hour look at the game, which includes "environmental puzzles and interactivity, a host of finished weapons, the existence of an in-game forklift, and plenty of heads and arms being blown off."

June 5, 2008: The Jace Hall show premieres with a visit to 3D Realms and 20 seconds of DNF gameplay footage.

June 24, 2008: A new shot of Duke appears on 3D Realms' job page.

September 8, 2008: Max Payne film producer Scott Faye announces that he is developing a Duke Nukem film with Scott Miller's Radar Group.

September 29, 2008: Two DNF screenshots hidden in the Xbox Live Arcade port of Duke Nukem 3D are eventually released by 3D Realms.

May 7, 2009: Shacknews learns that 3D Realms has shut down due to funding issues. Official confirmation of the news comes later that night.

May 8, 2009: 3DR posts a goodbye message on their official site.

May 9-11, 2009: Level assets and plot details of Duke Nukem Forever surface, as does a lengthy demo reel.

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