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Gearbox acquires Duke Nukem IP

PAX 2010: CEO Randy Pitchford announces purchase of all future rights to 3D Realms' storied action hero; Borderlands free update with raised level cap coming soon.


Who was there: Gearbox Software claimed the 2010 Penny Arcade Expo as its own on Friday with the shock announcement that it would see Duke Nukem Forever to the finish line in 2011. On hand to discuss the move, as well as the rest of Gearbox's announced development slate, was CEO Randy Pitchford, chief creative officer Brian Martel, creative director Mikey Neumann, licensing head David Eddings, and cinematics director Brian Thomas.

"Always bet on Duke."

What they talked about: Though Friday's revelation that Gearbox would be finishing up 3D Realms' Duke Nukem Forever was perhaps the biggest news out of the Penny Arcade Expo, the studio followed it up with another headline-worthy announcement. Namely, Pitchford revealed in front of the PAX 2010 collective that Gearbox has acquired the Duke Nukem intellectual property, including Duke Nukem Forever and all future developments in the franchise, from 3D Realms. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Explaining how the deal went down, Pitchford noted that he and Martel had actually met while working at 3D Realms, way back in 1997, and Gearbox still had a strong relationship with George Broussard and others at that studio. "I feel like I owe Duke Nukem my career," he said, before bringing up last year's turmoil of 3D Realms' closure and the lawsuits that resulted. "That day sucked, but you can't kill Duke."

He said that even with the game's future grim, about eight or nine former 3D Realms developers continued to work on Duke Nukem Forever, including Allen Blum, who has been working on the franchise since its inception in 1991. The game they were making is the same that is being made at Gearbox, he said, noting that Blum and the others--but not Broussard--are still on the team. He also said that the game is currently in the polish phase and that "arrangements need to be made with first parties and retailers." Apparently, 2K Games hadn't even informed retailers of the game's existence until it was announced on Friday.

"The game that is happening is 3D Realms' game," he said. In an emotional moment, Pitchford went on to say that, "I didn't buy [Duke Nukem] from them; they sold it to me," emphasizing how protective 3D Realms has been of its quintessential action hero.

"Gearbox was the only home appropriate for the Duke Nukem brand," Broussard said as part of a statement. "They are very talented and possess the perfect perspective and understanding of the brand. Their vision for its future direction is exciting and unbelievable. I personally cannot wait for fans to see their unique take on the franchise."

"The Gearbox Software team and I are ecstatic that we have grown to a position to be able to pick up and carry the torch and help Duke rise back to glory in his time of need," Pitchford added. "Fans of the legendary hero and all the incredible talent that have ever helped him all deserve the very best support that we can bring."

For more information on Duke Nukem Forever, check out GameSpot's hands-on with the game from PAX 2010.

As for the rest of what Gearbox has been working on, the team first discussed what was going on with the Borderlands franchise. Namely, Pitchford noted that Borderlands' fourth, and ostensibly final, downloadable content add-on--Claptrap's New Robot Revolution--will arrive on September 28. He also noted that all Borderlands owners will receive a free patch for the game that rebalances it and increases the level cap to 69.

Of that number, Pitchford said that they did not want to alienate Borderlands fans who purchased General Knox for the sake of gaining that DLC's 11-level cap increase. "We realized that if we added eight levels, with the cap at level 61, it wouldn't piss off people who paid for the General Knox DLC." A release date for the free patch has yet to be determined, but Pitchford noted that it should arrive some time around the launch of Claptrap's New Robot Revolution.

Martel then briefly discussed Gearbox's Brothers in Arms franchise, saying that they had nothing to announce today. However, he did emphasize Gearbox's commitment to the franchise, hinting that the series may branch out from the characters established in recent installments. "We'll have some things to talk about soon. We're not ready quite yet to bring it out," Pitchford added.

Martel also didn't have any news about Aliens Colonial Marines, noting that it has been difficult to talk about the game due to involvement from rights owner 20th Century Fox and publisher Sega. However, Pitchford seemed to bend the rules a bit, calling for a rapid-fire succession of screenshots of the game to be shown on the conference hall's big screen.

Though brief, the shots showed a group of marines engaging richly detailed alien drones in what appeared to be a space station's corridors. The shots were highly reminiscent of the tone established by Ridley Scott's 1979 original Alien.

Quote: "Always bet on Duke."--Randy Pitchford.

Takeaway: The next game Gearbox will deliver is the Duke Nukem Forever that has been more than a decade in the making, with many of the original developers still working on the project. Of course, fans of the series probably won't believe it until they see it; a fact Gearbox recognized and promised to do something about as soon as possible.

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