Goodbye 3D Realms.

Well, this week saw the shuttering of 3D Realms, developers of the Duke Nukem Franchise.

There’s so much to say about these guys – 13 years and no game? 2 Engines, gobs of money and development work and still no game? So many people have had a pop at them over the years and lets face it, it’s pretty easy to do this. Wired has awarded them their yearly vaporware award so many times that it’s silly.

3DRealms have never released a game on a windows platform. The last internal game they released (besides re-releasing Duke Nukem 3D on XBLA) was Duke Nukem 3D. They’ve released other stuff developed by other people – expansion packs, but nothing that was supposed to be their flagship.

But what is less generally known is the work they did with external developers. Max Payne only existed to the degree it did because 3D Realms went in there and helped them out, paying milestones and helping with IP Creation.
Prey was the success it was in part because of the help that 3D Realms gave developer Human Head (and it’s worth mentioning that Human Head are an awesome bunch of guys, but they are as dependent on publisher money as the next developer – having a group like 3DR run interference for them was invaluable). It’s doubtful that game would be quite the quality it was without 3DR’s help.

3DR was more than just “the guys making DNF” – they were a scrappy indie developer who actually walked the walk – they made their own decisions, brooked no interference from publishers and generally were everything an indie was supposed to be.

However I also suspect that was part of their downfall – they weren’t making friends with publishers, and publishers do tend to have long memories about that kind of thing.

I also suspect that when they required money to finish DNF that, given the largely silly amount of time they’ve already had on DNF that it worked against them – from the publisher point of view I can quite see that funding a company who was openly rebellious and that has basically proved they can’t actually get stuff done on time or in budget probably wasn’t a great bet.

Lets be honest here – 3DR probably bears quite a lot of the responsibility for whats occurred here – they made their bed and now they have to lie in it.

I have the feeling that there was some brinkmanship regarding IP rights behind this door closing – it may well that their distribution partner, 2K, wanted those IP rights and 3DR, knowing that a developers only real value is the IP it owns, refused to give them up. 2K, being in the driving seat cos they have the money probably said something like “Well, give us the rights or go out of business” and 3DR, being 3DR, would rather do that than give them up for free.
NOTE – this is personal speculation, not any kind of insider info.

But having said that, could nothing have been worked out so the world got to see what was reportedly one hell of a game? I just feel it’s sad that the world is deprived of a great gaming experience, and from the point of game developers in general, there goes one of the poster boys for indie development.

Possibly as a result of their own hubris and certainly as a result of their inability to actually, you know, get something done and release it. But still, people have lost employment and we’ve all lost a great game and a poster boy for indie development.

This is a sad day.

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