Now that both add-ons for Duke Nukem Forever are available through the Mac App Store in addition to Steam, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it seems a good time to reflect back on the new single-player campaign contained within The Doctor Who Cloned Me.
For that, I caught up with David Riegel and Allen Blum of Triptych Games -- the studio formed by several 3D Realms veterans to ensure that the legendary unshippable game actually saw release -- to see what they had to say about the making of The Doctor Who Cloned Me.
WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Doctor Who Cloned Me.
Chris Faylor: The Doctor Who Cloned Me starts off in Area 51, a location that the Duke Nukem Forever team had discussed at various points but one that wasn't fully realized until now. Can you shed some light on that?
David Riegel: There was never a definitive script at 3D Realms, although there was always a plan. The plan was for Duke to start in Vegas, then go to the Hoover Dam, and then to end up in Area 51. The game was constantly being worked on, and there were always some levels that were close to done and always some levels that had atrophied. When Triptych took over Duke Nukem Forever, we talked a lot about how to take the most fun parts of the game and to put them into a full story with a full plot and how to put everything together. Looking at the levels that were most important, we felt that the Duke story was really about Vegas and the Hoover Dam.
Allen Blum: We wanted to focus on the Duke aspects and flair. All that Area 51 stuff, it wasn't very far along.
Chris Faylor: And now, Area 51’s finally come to life in The Doctor Who Cloned Me.
David Riegel: There were solid gameplay ideas for Area 51, so when we started thinking about a DLC campaign, we felt it would be really cool to bring them back. For example, there was an old version of the containment chamber where you go through and you get scanned by lasers and then have to dodge hostile cutting lasers on the way back. So we actually went back to the concept art from 2006, and we re-built the flow almost exactly. You move through the level in kind of a semi-circle. You go through the space and you get scanned by lasers, and then you go and have this timing gameplay on the way back.
The original concept was very similar, but the space itself and the art assets are all-new. It looks similar because we're going off the same concept art and because we're using the same kind of gameplay, but it was re-done. 100% of the art assets had to be re-done. The clone canisters are an example of something that previously existed but were re-done. They might have the same proportions and the same general look, but they had to be rebuilt. Part of the reasons for this were aesthetic, and part of the reasons were technical.
Chris Faylor: But, it's obviously not all inspired by old ideas. The new campaign kicks off with a reference to 2010's Call of Duty: Black Ops...
David Riegel: Sections of Area 51 were inspired by some of the previous ideas, but the Military Base, the Burning Bush, the Moon, and everything else were custom-built from the ground-up.
Allen Blum: Of the time it takes to make a map, 10% of it is probably just laying it out and so that was down. So you have the layout and you know how it's going to work and everything, and then it takes forever to go up through and re-art and re-touch everything and make it look right and run right.
Chris Faylor When you started the design of this DLC, did you incorporate any of the feedback you received from the main campaign?
David Riegel: I think we took specific pieces of feedback. We wanted to keep the same core game mechanics but we really wanted to emphasize the things that people seemed to enjoy. For example, they seemed to enjoy combat in large, open combat arenas. So even though the flow of levels is linear, our combat spaces are a little bit more open. We give players a lot of guns right away so they have a lot of variety, and we introduce our two new weapons early.
Story-wise, we were very careful to save the comedy until people had a chance to get into the DLC. We tried to keep Duke a little more serious, a little more gritty. A lot of the humor takes place around him. We brought back Dylan and Dylan's a great source of humor. Dylan does definitely contrast with Duke. In terms of platforming, there's a lot less of it this time . We tried to keep the emphasis on combat and big set pieces.
Chris Faylor I think the parodies, the references, were a bit more obvious here. This started and ended development in 2011. They had to be a lot easier than something that...
Allen Blum: …started in 1997? Yeah.
Chris Faylor: Was that a weight off your shoulders?
Allen Blum: It seems that with a short time period of working on something it just comes together easier and more focused and it all makes more sense. It's more cohesive.
Chris Faylor: How did this process compare to the creation of the Duke 3D Plutonium Pak?
Allen Blum: It's exactly the same. Duke 3D came out and it was a hit and everything and we instantly started working on the add-on pack and it was exactly the same thing. We just kept on working and just made it all and put it all together.
Chris Faylor: How much of The Doctor Who Cloned Me DLC was affected by what you learned making the core DNF campaign?
David Riegel: We've been working with the engine for a long time. Most of our lessons from Duke Nukem Forever were technical, so when we built content we could do it right the first time. That allowed us to create a really significant amount of content in a short period of time. The DLC is about four hours plus four multiplayer maps, and we were able to build everything in five months.
Chris Faylor: Speaking of those multiplayer maps, what was the process behind their creation?
David Riegel: That was a mix. We did one full map here, which was Rooftops. Piranha did one full map, which was Breston Plants. Then the other two we shared. We did the rough-outs here and then Piranha did the final collision, gameplay, and polish for those two.
Chris Faylor: Dylan stood out to people this time around, much more so than in the main campaign, and felt much more like a sidekick. Was that what you were going for?
Allen Blum: Yup.
David Riegel: The technology for friendly AIs fighting alongside Duke came very late in the development cycle of Duke Nukem Forever, and only a couple of levels used it. When we approached the DLC, we definitely wanted more of it. We thought it would be really funny to bring Dylan back and have him fight alongside you.
Chris Faylor: At one point, Duke acquires comes across a new vehicle. Why is it a pink car?
Allen Blum: Why not?
Chris Faylor: It's such a wonderful contrast to the blood and grime and guts of that level. A shiny pink plastic car.
Allen Blum: With Holsom Twins one-liners.
David Riegel: That was actually something that almost didn't make it in. I think that the reason we put it there was precisely because of the contrast. We felt that Area 51 was getting very heavy and that level in particular was very bloody. We needed something to provide a little contrast and a little humor. And so we pushed very hard to make sure that made it in.
Allen Blum: We had a Barbie car, way back in I don't know how long ago, as a drivable vehicle and at some point, it became the RC Car. So going back to the Barbie car is kind of an old idea.
David Riegel: Yeah, that was another concept from 3D Realms where we re-built the asset, then added the dialog and the Holsom Twins theme. I thought that was pretty cool.
Allen Blum: Yeah, back at 3DR we had generic Barbie car. That was it.
Chris Faylor: The Doctor Who Cloned Me is about Dr. Proton cloning Duke. With such a heavy emphasis on cloning, is Dr. Proton really dead?
Allen Blum: Well, he died in the original Duke Nukem. So. And he's in Duke Nukem Forever now. So…
Chris Faylor: Can anyone explain the fire safety film?
David Riegel: That was from Andrew. Andrew made the porno movie for the Strip Club in the main game, and we knew that we wanted to make a similar kind of video for humor purposes for the DLC. We basically just locked him in a room for two weeks and said, "Hey, you're good at this." And he wasn't sure whether to take that as a compliment or an insult. [laughter] But we basically just gave him a couple weeks and had him go.
Allen Blum: It was Andrew Baker that did that. It's pretty funny.
Chris Faylor: David, some members of our forums were curious as to how your mod background affected the way you approached this project?
David Riegel: I think in order to get any ambitious mod done, you have to be really persistent and really stubborn. I think that's the biggest lesson we had with DNF. It was sheer stubbornness that allowed us to complete it and get it out the door. [laughter] Whenever you're working on a smaller team like we have here at Triptych, you have to trust all your developers. You have to allow people to make decisions, and you have to work really hard and just trust that everybody else is doing the same. We have a really good atmosphere for that here.
Allen Blum: We've got ten guys and we're all trying to finish what we do, so you're all doing something exactly to finish it. Nobody's coming in, having their coffee and then going home. Everybody's coming in to work to try and finish it. That makes a big difference.
David Riegel: I think people from mod backgrounds are generally very passionate and very creative people and really have a mindset to get things done. I think that's been the case with a lot of the guys here.
Chris Faylor: Anything else you’d like to say?
David Riegel: With respect to The Doctor Who Cloned Me and 3D Realms, I think it benefits us to say that the guys at 3D Realms were immensely talented and the reason that we brought back a lot of ideas was because we thought they were really fun. The artists and designers at 3D Realms were very, very creative folks. We didn't want to take anything away and claim that every idea was ours. We had a lot of input from Gearbox and a lot of old ideas from the 3DR guys to draw upon. It feels like we always end up with the strongest end product whenever we collaborate.
Chris Faylor: Now that Duke Nukem Forever is finally on store shelves and the The Doctor Who Cloned Me DLC is complete, what’s next for Triptych?
David Riegel: We're very excited to take the lessons we learned on DNF and apply them to something new. I feel like we have a great team synergy, and we're getting stronger all the time. I don't want to talk too much about what's next just yet, but it's going to be awesome.