Duke Nukem Forevermore

Wired's Clive Thompson on why Duke Nukem Forever absorbed 12 years of development time before its inevitable cancelation: because creator George Broussard forever obsessed over incorporating the latest graphical technology, generating an endless treadmill of upgrades.


  1. I’ve worked in big corporate IT shops where projects go on and on, every other year replacing a core technology with something newer and “better”. Or the VP in charge of the project will get replaced, and the new guy will declare a reboot. Paralyzed projects in corporate IT shops seem pretty standard, but they don’t have to release a usable product in five years or less, they just have to migrate enough users over from the previous tool to the new stuff to generate an aura of positive ROI.

    Moral of the story: don’t run your game studio like big IT.

    1. Women are rare in the games industry anyway (they run about 10%), and we’re less willing to put up with nonsense, in general, and more willing to quit when necessary. Probably because it’s a bit easier for us to get hired elsewhere, because of the rarity. If I was working on a death march with a delusional project lead, I’d have quit by year 4.

  2. I think I played the original game for all of about 20 minutes before getting bored of it, and going back to master of magic.

    Still waiting for a real sequel to Master of Magic, incidentally.

  3. I feel sorry for Broussard, he got caught in the classic “there’s always something better around the corner” trap. There’s a point where you have to poop or get off the pot. It took until 2006 for someone to come along and finally give him some push back, too bad it wasn’t sooner.

  4. Maybe Broussard was an undiagnosed obsessive compulsive, it seems the decisions he many (for so long) were just batshit insane. He seemed to have absolutely no idea what he was doing and was cursed with heaps of money and an imposing figure no-one seemed to want to stand up to.

  5. An excellent example of “Babbage Disease”.

    I think that the record was the Xanadu project which was finally erased after over 20 years. There was this one guy who had worked his entire adult life on the thing when it was cancelled.

    Another really annoying thing is that these so-called “advances” in software are really only arbitrary design trade-offs that go around in circles due to the inability of the field to remember anything that happened earlier than last week. It’s like:

    1 – Hey, doing “A” is a bit awkward. I’ll shift to technology #2 which will make this better. Ah, now “A” is finished: on to “B”.
    2 – Rats, technology #2 made “B” harder. I know, I’ll shift to technology #3 which will make “B” easy.
    3 – Well now “B” is done but I can’t make design changes to the “A” stuff that changes in our requirements necessitate. There are a lot of them too since it takes a couple of years to shift technologies.
    4 – At this point technology #1 is reinvented. Rinse, repeat.

    The shift from OO to structured and then back, for example, goes around under various names about every 12 years.

    Even more fun: you can also re-invent technology #1 in a tight loop. The motivation here is that any computer language or other software technology that grows to handle all of the difficult cases eventually acquires a learning curve. In order to provide a “quick start” so that you can hire people off the street and/or avoid anything resembling training a “lite” version comes along. This is especially true if one small part of the field becomes important so something that just does that pops up.

    Later, when you want to expand things that something gets more complicated until it is practically identical to the thing it replaces and is then replaced by something else for the same reason.

    The classic is that some kind of quick, cheapo graphics or UI is needed. Later people realise that they need things like security, maintainability and inter-operability with things like enterprise databases. So Visual Basic is replaced by Visual C++ is replaced by PHP with no real “advancement” of any kind.

    All in all, a wonderful set of distractions from: dealing with customers or anything else outside of your screen; testing your code; documenting anything; or anything else outside of the 2% of a successful project’s life-span that is the initial coding effort.

  6. The saddest thing is near the end, where van Lierop plays the bits of the game that are finished, thinks it’s great, it’s sufficiently challenging that it takes him about twice as long as Broussard thought it would to finish… and Broussard still can’t stop tinkering with it.

  7. ooh what about sensible software’s Sex drugs and rock and Roll game … man I feel old remembering that

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