This past week I was invited out to Las Vegas to check out the legendary Duke Nukem Forever, set to finally launch on May 3rd after being in development for more than 12 years. Between all the alien blasting and urinal cake soaking, I sat down with 2K Games’ Producer Melissa Miller to chat about all things Duke.
CraveOnline: The first thing I want to kick off with is this game has been more than 12 years in development, how does it finally feel to be pushing it out the door in May?
Melissa Miller: It’s really kind of crazy. You know, it’s weird because it’s so close, but you don’t want to accept it. You have to be working towards it as if it’s still not going to happen. You have to be focusing on it, and focusing on it, and not until it’s on store shelves and you watch people purchase it with their own hands can you be like, “OK, we’ve done it.”
CraveOnline: Even after playing it tonight, I’m still not sure I actually played it.
Melissa Miller: [laughs] You know, PAX Prime last year was a really interesting thing because, ultimately, when you think of the total number of people at PAX, only a small percentage of them actually got to try out the demo. And we’re reading all the reactions about it and people still didn’t believe it was real. So today is interesting because it’s just another step in that process of saying, “No, this is really happening.” The fact that people are playing a console version of Duke, you know, it’s never happened before. It’s just another step is saying, “No, we will do this, this will happen.”
CraveOnline: Being the producer from 2K’s side, are you a passionate Duke Nukem fan?
Melissa Miller: I was a console kid growing up. My family didn’t have a PC at home, so I was always playing Nintendo or Sega, and stuff like that. So I did not get a chance to play all the PC games people loved growing up. Those passed me by. It wasn’t until later that I could play those games on the mod for Windows, or whatever.
I got put on the project [Duke Nukem Forever] last June because I had been working at 2K Marin on BioShock 2. And I decided I wanted to get back into publishing and I asked 2K if they had a project for me and they said, “Would you like to work on Duke Nukem Forever?” I think my mouth just dropped. At the time, you know, it was completely hidden. It wasn’t going to be announced until PAX. So, I was just really impressed that they kept it so secretive and hidden. I was also proud to be a part of that group and working towards blowing the doors open at PAX.
CraveOnline: That’s actually something I wanted to ask about. As far as public knowledge was concerned, Duke Nukem Forever was dead in May 2009. So was Gearbox working on this title before that, or was Gearbox’s involvement something that came later?
Melissa Miller: The timeline for that wasn’t overlapping. You had 3D Realms developing the game and unfortunately they closed their doors and their staff was laid off. Well, a group of that staff wouldn’t let the game die. They decided to try and finish it. So a group of them started working out of one guy’s house. And it just showed how dedicated they were to finishing the game, and how much they loved the character.
So they were continuing to work on the game out of this one guy’s house. Then a little while later things aligned so that Randy [Pitchford] was in a position to acquire the IP completely, and George [Broussard] and Scott [Miller] from 3D Realms were in a position where they wanted to sell it to him because they believed that he could finish it; that Pitchford and his team at Gearbox would be true to the vision, and it would be well executed in their hands.
And just to go back to Triptych Games — the team developing Duke from one guy’s house — Gearbox has now folded them into their company and they now work out of Gearbox’s office. So now everyone is working together to get this game completed.
CraveOnline: Wow, that’s pretty cool. OK, switching gears, I kind of want to talk about advertising and marketing for Duke Nukem Forever. Specifically, do you guys expect a lot of blow-back for censorship?
Melissa Miller: Yea, I think there is a lot of opportunity for things to be taken out of context with this game. Especially with the mature humor, or base humor, where you can throw poo around or piss in any of the toilets. In addition to sexual humor. And the thing is, culturally, we’ve seen a lot of media respond to that type of humor in a very knee-jerk reaction, especially when they can take that kind of thing out of context.
So, one of the things we’ve been doing is we’ve submitted the game to the ESRB, we received an “M.” You know, we’re doing everything we can to put things within the context of the universe. The game of Duke is set in a universe that parody ours, but the characters in it take it utterly seriously. That’s a really important thing to establish and keep at the forefront of the people dealing with the game. Because ultimately, it’s Duke’s world, we just play in it. That’s the thing we constantly need to be upfront about.
CraveOnline: OK, so that leads me into the next thing: advertising this game. For people that know the long, fabled history of Duke Nukem Forever, we know this game just coming out is a huge deal. But for the people that don’t know that, to see this character that is pretty much a 90s action hero relic, how do you guys plan to market that to mass casual audiences?
Melissa Miller: I think there are a couple of things going for us. Firstly, the gameplay is just fun. Only people who don’t have souls don’t like fun. There’s that. And people hearing from their friends how fun the game is will work in our favor. The other thing is: Duke himself as a character. There’s something instantly compelling about a character that has the balls to say whatever he’s thinking. And that’s what Duke is. He’s got all the one-liners, he’s also larger than life. He’s the badass all the guys want to be and all the women want to be with. So having that brass and balls out attitude, but at the same time being completely unapologetic about it, there’s something compelling about that. That’s compelling no matter what decade you’re in.
CraveOnline: Now as we’ve covered, Gearbox picked up the pieces of what 3D Realms and Triptych Games created and is smoothing over and finalizing that. But has Gearbox added anything completely new to the original Duke Nukem Forever formula?
Melissa Miller: Gearbox got a full game from 3D Realms. That game has a beginning, middle and end. And with the Triptych guys working on the game and then continuing that work in the Gearbox offices, they’ve been able to carry on the vision and use their knowledge to see the game through to completion. So Gearbox has been able to take a high level look at the game, from a holistic view, and say, “Hey, where can we add value?” “You know what, this content right here could be better.” Looking at accessibility, players expectations are very different now than when this game started development. So we’re also looking for ways to improve that user experience.
The other thing that is really interesting that people can look forward to is Duke offers something different from everything else right now. The variety of gameplay. For example, when is the last time you solved a puzzle in a first-person shooter? And that variety separates Duke from the market. And again, it’s fun. That’s what you can’t argue with. And if you play it, and you don’t think it’s fun, that’s cool too.
CraveOnline: The last thing I’m curious about is in regards to Gearbox now officially owning the IP license to Duke Nukem. So assuming Duke Nukem Forever does well in sales, is there a chance we’ll see future Duke titles from Gearbox?
Melissa Miller: Let’s just get this game out. We can’t pat our backs till this game is on the shelves.
CraveOnline: [laughs] Fair enough. OK, Melissa, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Wish you all the best with wrapping up Duke Nukem Forever!
Melissa Miller: No problem and thanks!