Back in May the "lifetime achievement" award winner (many times over) in vaporware, Duke Nukem Forever, officially went onto the permanent vaporware list
as developer 3D Realms shut down. So what happened? How could one video game be under development for a dozen years, and despite promos from over a decade ago, still
never come out? Clive Thompson, over at Wired, tried to piece together an autopsy
of Duke Nukem Forever.
As with just about anything Thompson writes, it's a great read, with some interesting lessons. While the crux of the story is that 3D Realms boss, George Broussard, had the earlier success stuck on his brain, it seems like there are a few other things to be learned. There is definitely this undercurrent of "this game must be perfect before it can be released" that runs through the whole story. And, in fact, that probably only got worse with time. Every year the game wasn't released, the more it would have to "prove" to eventually live up to its reputation. But even more interesting is the constant changing of game engines. Basically (according to the story) Broussard kept focusing on why the game had to be the absolute best, and so every time a new (better) gaming engine came out, he wanted to use that, and dump all the development done on earlier engines. In some ways it's a story that shows why just copying what other people do
isn't enough. By the time 3D Realms "caught up" with others (often by licensing their technology), someone else had already jumped ahead and gone further -- leading 3D Realms to pull back and jump on board the next platform... leading to the same situation yet again.
The simple fact was that no one was ever going to be that
far ahead of the game any more, and so there are times where you just release what you have and iterate. But 3D Realms put itself in the impossible position of both needing to be leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else, while at the same time relying on the technology of others they hoped to leapfrog. That's a recipe for disaster. You can use others' technologies if you want to be incrementally better, and to then continue to improve. But you're simply not going to be so far ahead of the game that no one is ever going to catch you. And it appears that 3D Realms never got past that contradiction.