Name: Scott Miller
Company: 3D Realms
[Originally written in 1997, since then, 3D Realms has had, well, a pretty delayed times of things, with Remedy's "Max Payne"
still a long way off, seemingly (as of March 2001), and "Duke Nukem Forever" also extensively delayed, plus "Prey" cancelled a long time back, even.
However, this isn't to say these games won't be kickass when they finally get released..]
Scott Miller started programming games in 1975,
the year this interviewer was born. Wow. Having
made over 100 games to 1990, and co-authored
he then quit his day job to start running Apogee
From then onwards, things have only got better,
with the Duke Nukem phenomenon and the
cultivation of the much-respected 3D Realms
development brand. And with Prey and Max
Payne forthcoming, it seems the future looks
So, videogamedesign.com has managed to procure
a most interesting interview with the owner/partner
of Apogee/3D Realms, dealing with Prey,
Remedy, and that nice man Duke Nukem himself..
How much of a say do you think the more
senior management of a company (such as
yourself) should have in the design of a product?
In our company, the two owners, George Broussard and myself, are
intimately involved with game development. George is the project leader
on Duke Nukem Forever, and I handle games by our by our external
teams, such as Balls of Steel by Wildfire Studios (in Australia), and
Max Payne by Remedy Entertainment (in Finland).
George and I have a long history of creating/coding our own games, back
when one person did it all (multi-person teams really didn't become a
given until the late 80's), plus we were involved in the game industry
in other ways, such as arcade managers and professional writers. We
even tried to start a gaming league for the top players in the early
80's, which would organize tournaments like the PGL, but then the arcade
industry had it's first crash in 1983 and that killed our effort.
Basically, George and I *are* developers--game designers, more
specifically--who happen to own a business. We've both been playing and
designing games since 1978.
h0l:Should companies employ separate games
designers, or does the role integrate nicely
into existing job titles?
We don't employ dedicated game designers, but that's not to say that
they're not necessary at all game companies. Our approach is to settle
on a game concept, and every developer on the project gets to have their
influence on the design of the game. We have project leaders, such as
George on the Duke games and Paul Schuytema on Prey, who help filter the
appropriate ideas and shape them into a usable form--not every idea from
every developer can be used, after all. (We invented a phrase several
years ago, "shit filter," which refers to a person's ability to
recognize good ideas from bad ideas. People with bad shit filters let
bad ideas get into their games.)
So, at 3D Realms, a project leader is the closest thing to a dedicated
game designer, but really the roles are quite different.
Why so many add-on level packs for Duke Nukem?
Simple: They keep selling.
Our marketing manager at our Duke Nukem publisher, GT Interactive
Software, recently remarked that anything they slap "Duke Nukem" on
sells. If you combine all the different Duke versions, Duke add-ons and
the number of Duke games that we sell direct, Duke would be the top
selling game since its release nearly two years ago. As an game
property, Duke is probably one of the top five in all of gaming, right
up there with Mario, Lara Croft, and Flight Simulator.
Does having a major Apogee/3DRealms external
developer like Remedy such a darn long way away
(Finland!) make things tricky? How have you tried
to get round this problem?
It's not too tricky, thanks to the Internet and email. Plus, they've
come to visit several times and we meet at every E3. The Internet has
compressed the world into a much smaller space. We get milestone CD
burns from Remedy every month, and have a round of discussions based on
the current state of the game. Mark my words: Remedy will soon be
recognized as one of the world's leading independent PC developers.
Do most publishers know anything about games?
(heh, is this a leading question?)
A better question is this one: Do the key decision makers at most
publishers know a good game from a bad one? My answer is "no." For
example, you recently interviewed a CEO who, when you asked if he had
time to play his own company's games, said: "Not really. I do a few
hours of each game, but that's it."
Is there any wonder why this CEO's company releases such hit and miss
The problem with most large publishers is that the CEO's and V.P.s are
not from a developer background, they're most likely business, marketing
and financial people, and don't have a long track record of game
development and playing games.
We had one of these V.P.s visit us right before Duke Nukem 3D was
released, looking at our games to see if we had anything worth porting
to consoles. This guy passed on Duke, not seeing it's potential, and
thinking it was just another DOOM clone. He simply didn't understand
all the new innovations Duke brought to the genre. He no longer works
for this company.
Do you think there'll be 'copycat' new companies
trying to emulate G.o.D (the new 'publisher'
conglomerate that 3DRealms/Apogee have
pledged support for)? Or do you think the rest
of the industry will have trouble breaking away
from their current business model?
I think established publishers will not attempt to copy g.o.d.'s
business model, simply because a key element of this model is a board of
directors mostly comprised of developers. The board's job will be to
maintain a priority on developer concerns, such as royalty rates,
developer ownership of intellectual property rights, and pushing the
developer's name ahead of g.o.d.'s name.
It's noticeable that not that many companies have tried emulating
Apogee's innovative business model.
The reason few developers have copied Apogee's shareware marketing and
direct sales methods is because most publishers do not allow developers
to do what we do, because it cuts the publisher out of a good portion of
the game's revenue. G.o.d., though, will help developers with selling
their games via shareware, by having its own order taking and
If you could steal one coder for your company, who would it be?
I have the utmost respect for John Carmack as a coder. He amazed me
back in 1990 when Apogee first brought id into the shareware industry.
Over the years that we worked together I spent a lot of time talking to
John picking his brain and trying to figure out how he came upon his
innovative solutions to problems other coders couldn't solve--trying to
understand his genius. He was always three steps ahead of anyone else
in the industry. His strength is not in his programming skills--it's in
the fact that he's very accurate at predicting which future technologies
are most important and appropriate to pursue. John probably has better
binoculars than anyone else in this industry.
When you managed an arcade location early
in the eighties, which games were the most
Even people born after the early 80's know which games we played back
then, such as Asteroids, Missile Command, Defender, Joust, Xevious,
Battlezone, Tempest, Galaxian, Centipede, Zaxxon, Gravitar, Space
Invaders, Scramble, Robotron, etc. The key back then is that gameplay
mattered, simply because the graphics sucked and couldn't carry a game.
Nowadays, graphics must play too important a role, which is a
distraction from the depth and polish of the gameplay for game
And did you sneak round after work
with the keys getting plenty of free credits? :)
I didn't wait until after work, I played constantly *during* work
hours! :) And, yes, even after work I played, allowing all my friends
to play for free, too.
Do you think you started promoting "Prey" too early?
Not at all. Prey is actually two projects. The first one was
cancelled after a year of struggling with which direction to take it. The second
and current Prey incarnation has very little to do with that first
project called Prey, because it has entirely different objectives, and a
new staff running the show. When Prey is released, it will have been a
two year project, which for a game as ambitious as this, is not too
long. Plus, unlike some games long in development, like Stonekeep and
Descent to Undermountain, Prey when released will be a cutting-edge game
in both gameplay and technology.
Capcom or Namco - which rules more?
Namco in the 80's, Capcom in the 90's.
How's the sports car quotient at your company going
compared to those show-offs at ID? 0:)
I think overall our developers are a bit more pragmatic than those at
id, and don't necessarily want expensive show-off cars. We've had our
Ferrari-owning exceptions, though. ;)
"Balls Of Steel" - what makes it stand out?
Five tables, compared to one table in most PC pinball games, such as
the Pro Pinball series. Also, we didn't set out to make a 100% pinball
"simulator." Instead, Balls of Steel adds many cool, animated features
that are not possible with the real game--we take advantage of the fact
that this is a computer game, and do very cool things like breathing
dragons, burning buildings, ball-eating monsters, exploding enemies,
morphing table features, and even a table that can be totally submerged
underwater with floating landmines.
There seems to have been relatively few releases on
Apogee recently - is this down to lack of good material
submitted to you, or because you want to concentrate
on a small number of projects?
Apogee is basically retired as a game label. We've decided to focus on
our 3D Realms division for now, because we think 3D games are where all
the action is at.
Why do people identify with Duke Nukem?
He represents the kick-butt nature buried in all of us. He's a fantasy
that we all wish we could sometimes be like.
And finally.. give us your "State Of The Gaming Nation"
speech. What's been good, and what will continue to
If you've got money to burn, things are good because advancing hardware
technology will mean incredible new games (at least, great looking
games) are around the corner. If you don't have the money to keep up,
you might not be able to play coming new games. Progress is a
Finally, I think more and more developers and publishers are realizing
that they cannot rush out a game without months of polishing the
gameplay, and this will result in better games for us all.
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