Former 3D Realms owners clash over Duke Nukem Forever blame

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Apogee, which also went by 3D Realms at one time, published a number of successful and super-influential games, but is best known for its greatest disaster: the 15-year-long development of Duke Nukem Forever, which was ultimately completed by Gearbox. After footage of a 2001 build of the game leaked this week, Apogee co-founders Scott Miller and George Broussard opened up, just a little, about what "killed the original 3D Realms"—and the former high school friends are pointing their fingers at each other.

Miller, who recently resumed publishing games under the Apogee name, said in a brief blog post today that he didn't work on the Duke Nukem Forever project, but as co-owner of the company, had "good insight into the issues" that turned it into a "money pit." Those issues, claims Miller, were that the studio was "understaffed by at least 50%," didn't have "a good development roadmap," and kept rebooting the game to switch to new 3D tech, "causing massive delays over and over."

It's not news that engine switches were a problem—this is a game that started on the Quake 2 engine in 1997 and wasn't released until 2011—and a quagmire of Duke Nukem Forever's scale seems impossible to explain without the other things being at least partially true. But how did they happen? Miller doesn't take responsibility. 

He doesn't explicitly assign blame, either, but Broussard, who was also an Apogee owner and directed Duke Nukem Forever until Gearbox took over, is the obvious target. Broussard had a few things to say about Miller in response.

"Mind blowing the nonsense [Miller] spews," Broussard wrote on Twitter. "Not surprising due to his depth of manipulation and narcissism. [At] least I've had the class to keep thoughts private.

"I have *so* much more to say on this having known him since high school in the 70s. You can just see how he uses opportunity to try to make himself look better tossing an ex friend (of 40+ years) and biz partner under a bus. Def a guy you wanna do business with!"

Broussard claims that Miller is the one to blame for Apogee's 2010 sale of the Duke Nukem rights to Gearbox, pointing to the lawsuits between the companies, of which there were a few. However, Gearbox was already in control of Duke Nukem before the first 3D Realms lawsuit I'm aware of, so it's not clear what Broussard means. He declined to clarify, and the present-day Apogee Entertainment has yet to respond to a request for a response from Miller.

Before Miller's blog post, Broussard confirmed that the leaked Duke Nukem Forever footage is real, but said that he's "not really interested in talking about it or retreading a painful past." 

A mildly interesting detail (already known, but not by me) in Miller's post is that developer Digital Extremes was, according to him, eager to take over development of Duke Nukem Forever way back in 2004, but the idea was allegedly "shot down" by others at 3D Realms.

The beef aside, I'm curious to know what would have happened if Digital Extremes had actually taken over and completed Duke Nukem Forever in the mid-2000s. Would it have ever made Warframe? Would Duke Nukem still be a popular series today? And would that have made the world better or worse?

Although Miller doesn't consider the current incarnation of 3D Realms to be the true inheritor of the Apogee lineage (the name is currently owned by Embracer Group, which also owns Gearbox), he says he hopes that Duke will come back under his new owners someday.

"It seems like the obvious move would be [for Gearbox] to recreate Duke Nukem 3D using Unreal 5," he said. "And if it does well, then start making more Duke adventures while also expanding the universe with new characters."

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.