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Long Live The King: Gearbox's Randy Pitchford Talks Duke Nukem

Duke Nukem Forever has been in development for, well, forever, but Duke fans won't have to wait much longer as his latest adventure will kick off May 3. We got a chance to chat with Gearbox's Randy Pitchford about the long development cycle, how Duke became "video games' Chuck Norris", and more.

When the release date for Duke Nukem Forever was announced, fans were surprised launch was only a few months away. What did you think of the reaction?
It’s pretty overwhelming. Let me just put it this way, when we first revealed that we were bringing Duke back at PAX it quickly became a Twitter trending topic, got to number one worldwide and it stayed there for 17 hours. By comparison, Borderlands, the best it ever did was on launch day, and it got to number 10 for two hours. We felt really good about that. Duke Nukem is in a whole other world. It happened again when the launch date was announced. Duke Nukem all the way at the top of Twitter again. According to the internet it was a pretty big deal.

Recently we did a look on YouTube of all the trailers for games that haven’t come out yet, and the trailer that was released with the launch date announcement now has more views than any other video game trailer on YouTube. It got there really quick so that was really exciting. I’m excited that there’s so much love for Duke. He needs our support!

Why has Duke been so influential?

I think the biggest secret is he’s absurdly one-dimensional. A lot of our heroes have sort of become very complicated and they change so we’re not sure if he’s a happy hero or if he’s now emo. Duke is consistent. He’s solid and he’s just ***. He just owns life and owns the world. He’s the king. I think that consistency helps him stay sticky and relevant. He’s become important. He’s bigger than me. He’s huge. He’s like video games’ Chuck Norris.

Do you and Duke have anything in common?
We’re very different. It’s hard not to admire some aspects of the man. The thing is he’s the center of his universe and the whole world revolves around him so he gets away with things that no mortal should get away with. You have to be careful when you make comparisons to a guy like Duke. He’s his own dude for sure. That’s part of the fun, honestly, because none of us will ever be like Duke or come into the vicinity of a guy like him, but with a game like that you can get a taste of what it’s like in his boots for a little while.

When 3D Realms shut down everyone thought Duke was dead, but now he’s back in a title called Duke Nukem Forever. Why “Forever”?
It’s kind of ironic that the game was called Duke Nukem Forever. This is a game that’s been in development longer than any game in the history of the entire industry. It’s kind of neat to be here and see this resolution finally happen. It’s like the end of an epic book series and you’re getting to the end of the final chapter. It’ll be great to see that impact point when it launches and to see the reactions. Then to think about what to do next with the man.

Why bring him back?

I think there’s two answers to that. As a gamer, Duke is one of a kind. There should be a Duke game once in a while and that’s just a fun thing to do. On a personal level in a lot of ways I feel I owe Duke my career, and since I was in a position to help do something about it, I couldn’t let the man die. The Duke can’t die. He needed us so it’s important he has his chance to become triumphant so I feel like it’s the least I could do. The first game I ever worked on in the industry was Duke 3D and I can’t imagine the path I would’ve had if that weren’t the case.

You had mentioned during the demo presentation that the game can be a little challenging...what can you say about Duke’s difficulty?

The point of different skill levels is to give people the opportunity to dial in their own challenge level. If you’re a casual gamer, you’ll pick the easiest skill level, and you’ll find the enemies are easier to take down and they don’t do much damage to Duke. If you really want the most difficult challenge you could pick one of those harder skill levels and you’ll have to be very quick, very good, and very accurate. It’s pretty brutal. Now there’s still some fine tuning that’s being done, but that’s part of the fun, to have those options for gamers who want to dial in a different challenge. I like it. Sometimes I’ll beat a game through just for the experience on an easier skill level and then play on the hardest skill level.

What’s left to polish off in Duke Nukem Forever?

The game is complete, we’re just wrapping up tasks and fixing a few bugs, things related to preparing for certification and making sure it can be delivered on all the platforms. At this point, we’re at the beginning of February, and the game ships on May 3, there are about 3- to 4,000 issues in our database of work to do, “tasks”, and I imagine we’ll add a couple thousand more to that by the time we go into final certification, so there are about 6,000 work items or so that we’ll have to get through to ship the game. There are a lot of talented people working on the game and some of the issues we can knock out pretty quickly, but there are some tricky ones too, so we have to work really hard and keep our heads down and focus.

DNF has been in development for roughly 14 years and the gaming landscape has changed so much over that time, are you worried about the reception it may get?

I can’t worry about it. I’m not worried about it, but even if I was, I can’t worry about it. I can’t second guess things. It’s a game for today’s gamers that cleverly remembers our memories from Duke Nukem 3D. Those of us that were there will find those nods and homage, and will enjoy those jokes. Even if you hadn’t played Duke 3D it’s still very fun. It’s not the vision from the beginning years ago, it’s a vision that’s been iterated on all this time and evolved and developed with the industry.

Be sure to check out our hands on preview of Duke Nukem Forever.

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