What's Happening to Duke Nukem Forever? Take-Two Clarifies Publishing Deal

By Nick Breckon, May 11, 2009 2:31pm PDT When the news broke that Duke Nukem Forever developer 3D Realms was shutting down, many fans were let down--perhaps moreso than if it had happened years ago.

The reason? After over 12 years in development, trailers were starting to find their way out again. Footage had been shown. Screenshots were released. Word from company executives lead many to believe that the final push had began.

And following the closing of the studio, new details seem to indicate this was the case. Leaked internal 3D Realms documents show that many of the game's levels were nearly finished.

But now the team at 3D Realms is no more, the employees already scattered due to a lack of funds. Does this leave any hope that Duke Nukem Forever, as it stands today, might eventually be released in some official form? Is it finally time to stop betting on Duke?

When asked of its deal with 3D Realms, publisher Take-Two told us that while it has never funded development of Duke Nukem Forever, it owns the exclusive rights to publish the game. And upon further questioning, this contract appears to be binding.

"We have the exclusive publishing rights, not right of first refusal," Take-Two spokesman Alan Lewis explained. "Meaning we are the only ones that have the right to publish the title."

Lewis later clarified that these rights will never expire--meaning that unless it sells the rights, Take-Two still has control over the eventual distribution of Duke Nukem Forever.

When asked whether Take-Two also owns any part of the Duke Nukem Forever assets under that agreement, Lewis reiterated that it simply retains the publishing rights, indicating that 3D Realms likely still owns the accumulated work done on the project. 3D Realms president George Broussard declined to comment on the matter.

So while the remaining 3D Realms executives could independently find a new home for the unfinished game, Take-Two has the ultimate right to publish the title--or to not publish it. In the latter case, whether it would sell those rights to another company, or whether a new developer might try to sidestep the Take-Two license by changing the game's content to a degree--and risk a lawsuit--is something left to speculation at this point.

Either way, 3D Realms still owns the rights to Duke Nukem himself, meaning that the property will not be locked down by a publisher unwilling to use it. If the project known as Duke Nukem Forever is left to rot in the vault, an eventual Fallout 3-style revival of the series by a new studio remains a possibility.

And of course, publisher Apogee Software is promising a new Duke-related press release later this week. The announcement may relate only to the new handheld Duke Nukem Trilogy that debuts this fall, so fans are urged to cautiously hedge their bets against Duke.

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  • Duke Nukem Forever was officially announced on April 28, 1997 along with the purchase of a license to use the Quake II engine and the intention of releasing the game no later than mid-1998.

    They didn't get the UT2 engine till November 1997. Screenshots released showing the UT2 engine were fake that the team made up in their free time.(This is where it starts to go to shit)

    In June 1998, the 3D Realms team switched to Epic's Unreal Engine.

    Broussard said that the transition from the Quake to the Unreal engine would take from "a month to 6 weeks" and that the game would not be significantly delayed.

    He also said that DNF would be released in 1999.

    In 1999, 3DR announced the upgraded version was done and the game would be released in 2000.

    In early December 2000, publisher Gathering of Developers announced that they had acquired the publishing rights for DNF.3DR suggested that DNF would be released in 2001.

    At the May 2001 E3, 3D Realms released a second video that showed a couple of minutes of in-game footage. In August, GoD shut down its offices and Take-Two Interactive took over the publishing rights for DNF.

    In 2002 the game was "95%" scrapped and the process was being started to redo the game over again. Broussard stated that the game wouldn't take more then 2 years to be completed.

    On May 20, 2003, Jeffrey Lapin, then CEO of Take Two, told reporters that the game would not be out by the end of 2003. George Broussard commented on Shack saying he needs to "STFU imo".

    In February 2006, Broussard reported that everything was together and in full production, and that the guns, creatures, and everything else had been finished.

    On June 2006, Take-Two revealed that they had renegotiated the deal and will receive $4.25 million instead of $6 million upon the release of the game. They offered a 500,000$ bonus if it was released by December.

    On August 2006, there was rumors that a number of employees left 3DR. 3DR denied these claims.

    In July 2007,two new, low-res screenshots, were released,one of which appears to be a previously unseen shot of an in-game level, the other being the front shot of Duke seen in the first 2007 screenshot.

    3D Realms has made it clear there is no set release date for the game and any shops claiming to have "insider" information are lying.

    On June 5, 2008, in-game footage of the game was featured on the premiere episode of The Jace Hall Show.

    3DR shuts down on May 6, 2009 due to lack of funding.