Made a guest appearance on Air America Radio’s Nicole Sandler show yesterday. You can check it out on U Stream, right here. Enjoy!
This is what happens when random people send ill-informed rants about health reform to me over Facebook. (Preview: I get a little bitchy.)
And the grand finale …
Interviews with deep-background sources and months of watching bad music videos have led me to believe that responsibility for the failure of the 9/11 Truth Movement … rests with this guy:
There are legitimate questions about 9/11, and then there’s this piece of facepalm.
I’ll probably get flamed by Truthers for months because of this post (even though they have nothing to throw at me), but I just had to share the above video.
And seriously …
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Today, I’m coming out of the closet. I am a gamer and a professional. I have an Xbox 360, Wii and souped-up PC. I am in the top 800,000 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 players in the world. My Wii Sports Resort Bowling score has yet to be toppled. I have been known to blow-out entire evenings surviving the zombie apocalypse in Left for Dead 2.
I love every second.
Among all the iconic characters the industry has generated, a handful stand above the rest. What gamer can imagine a world without Mario, Sonic, Link, Samus, Laura Croft or Solid Snake?
But there’s one character holds a special place in the hearts of millions, both for giving them something magical, then for taking it away. He’s the black sheep of a golden fold, whose creators took the fun we once had and replaced it with promise after promise that grew increasingly thin after well over a decade of absence.
You know him, you love(d) him. I’m talking about the venerable Duke Nukem.
On Wednesday, February 6, 2008, I became the last journalist to enter the once-sacred gallows of 3D Realms, the Garland-based software company that was, at the time, still hard at work on legendary vaporware title ‘Duke Nukem Forever’.
It was a day that, for me anyway, will live in infamy.
I’m taking the time to write all this out nearly two years after the fact because of a recent feature in Wired by Clive Thompson. Titled “Learn to Let Go: How Success Killed Duke Nukem“, it engages in a good bit of games industry sleuthing, going beneath the veneer of corporate smiles and sunny PR to expose how gaming’s most loved badass died at the hands of his creators.
Clive’s article is as an example of quality gaming journalism. Industry writers should take note.
Several months ago, he called me up to ask a few questions about that fateful day in February, when I sat down for an interview with Scott Miller, president of 3D Realms and Duke’s co-creator. I was thrilled to help provide a little background on what I knew would be a fascinating story. Sadly, my contribution to the Wired story was cut, so here’s my peace.
Back then, I was riding high as Web editor for The Dallas Business Journal, regurgitating business-related press releases in a desperate effort to keep ahead of the Morning News. Because every newsroom is always under-staffed, some of the standard features in the weekly paper also fell to me. One of them was called “Facetime,” a quick read based on single-source interviews spotlighting a successful local business each week.
Being a total nerd, I thought, hmm, I should reach out to 3D Realms and see if I can convince them to do a “Facetime” with Duke Nukem.
To my great surprise, Scott Miller responded with some enthusiasm. After all, we were local and I’m a game fan. Certainly I’d facilitate some press that’s all smiles and happy forum posts. I wrote out the questions and was overjoyed to get full responses from Miller, writing as his oh-so-popular creation.
(That text been published here as an exclusive to True/Slant.)
Then, one of my editors shot me down. That column, she explained, is for business people only, not fictional characters … Even if that character is a cash cow. So, my thinking evolved, eventually growing into a pitch for a special section focusing on the Dallas video games industry. I went back to Miller and asked for an interview. Unsurprisingly, he said yes.
That’s where the fun of my story ends.
He gave me a tour of 3D Realms and I witnessed what gamers had only whispered about since the 1996 release of ‘Duke Nukem 3D’ — actual work being done on ‘Duke Nukem Forever’. It looked damn good, too.
The studio was all hustle and bustle. Maybe it was a facade put on for the visiting business journalist, but I doubt it. There were rooms full of programmers and artists, huddled over computers and fast at work. At the end of a hallway cut through the center of the building, a whiteboard was decked out in DNF artwork. Crazed, toothy aliens, a massive, golden Duke statue and weapons galore coated the wall.
I was on Nerd Cloud Nine.
Ushered into Miller’s office, our interview began simply. It’s what came later that afternoon which got me so twisted.
Miller, God bless ’em, slipped up. He broke a piece of valuable corporate information that should not have been given to me.
That year, he said, would likely be the year ‘Duke Nukem Forever’ explodes cash registers and melts faces across America.
(Okay, he didn’t put it exactly like that. Referencing 2008, Miller explained, “… I feel very confident that we’re on target this time. It’s definitely an internal push.” In my full story he further said, “We’re much closer to being at the end of the tunnel with this game. … The company is really excited about finally being on the right track.”)
I hardly even heard the next few sentences, my mind reeling from the Web traffic that quote would drive.
Several hours later, the Internet was in flames and Miller was calling me a “lying bastard” to the gaming press.
Asses were clenched.
It started with Shack News, spread to Next-Generation (now known as Edge), leap-frogged to Gamespot, 1UP, G4TV, Kotaku and all the rest. A thousand and one game-enthusiast sites piled on like me-too monkeys, all beating the same drum: Stephen C. Webster is a “lying bastard.”
I was astonished, but not so much by Miller’s response. My work e-mail and phone number were attached to the bottom of my news bit, but not a single professional games journalist bothered to call and ask for comment. Not a-one. They were quite happy to pile on, go with the groupthink, make with the friendly treatment of 3D Realms and kick my happy ass all over the Web. A follow-up was in order.
After a day of debate and torrents of Web traffic, DBJ decided to take a big step forward onto the Internets and release audio of my interview with Miller. Surely enough, he said just what I’d reported. It was actually the first time a paper tied into American City Business Journals published a reporter’s audio; a move they are not likely to regret.
“I suppose we’re used to dealing with gaming press and not mainstream press,” 3D Realms chief George Broussard wrote on the company’s Web site. “Lesson learned.”
“We apologize to gamers and Web sites everywhere for this series of events. Sometimes, you can be too trusting of people and assume things that come back to bite you. Lesson learned.”
In that week’s paper, DBJ‘s editor, Kevin Bumgarner, took a look at “real-time exchanges” in the “new media landscape.” It’s an excellent editorial, but he missed one key factor: gaming press loves to suck off their sources.
A long time ago, I aspired to be part of that same sector of the media. In high school I wrote for The Dallas Morning News doing game reviews. That eventually morphed into working online for the-lowdown.net, which later became Binary Culture (now defunct). I went to E3 a couple times, schmoozed with the PR chieftons, sucked up to get review product and even drank a whiskey sour with game designer John Romero.
It’s amazing what a little brown-nosing will get you, in the right industry.
And that’s exactly what I fell victim to when I broke a piece of news on 3D Realms without their express permission. They would later claim that I published information which was supposed to be off the record, but at no point was that made clear to me and it certainly was not supported by my audio recording.
It was, in short, a clusterfuck that ended in buzz for 3D Realms and a big boost in clicks for the DBJ. Like almost every other media kerfuffle, anyone who participates ultimately benefits.
But it also exposed the gaming press as shamelessly subservient to industry publishers. It’s as if every me-too post on whatever far-flung fan site is just another stroke of the tongue across the boots of gaming executives everywhere, and they like it that way.
Like long-time Electronic Gaming Monthly editor Dan Hsu opined in his now-legendary editorial “Banned,” any time a “professional” games publication fails to rehash a press release, publishers and PR houses get cranky. At the time of its publication, Hsu’s riff on companies that tried to boycott EGM over their candid writing was big news across the industry.
Why? Because a good portion of gamers are adults, professionals and even intellectuals … And we know well the taste of bullshit. It’s nice to think there’s someone out there who’s on your side, especially with so many sharks in the water, all after that $50 in your pocket.
Since then I’ve stayed away from reporting on interactive entertainment, mostly focused on current events and politics, where breaking news can sometimes hit like a thunder-clap and rattle its subjects to the bone. But I’ll still never forget my scrape with 3D Realms and the real-time exchange that followed.
I suppose the point of my elegy on the death of Duke Nukem would be to encourage gaming journalists, who could very well become so-called “real” journalists one day (if they so choose), to stop being such pansies, get some backbone and never forget the importance of basic journalistic principles.
And for God’s sake, if someone calls one of your colleagues a “lying bastard,” at least have the decency to pick up a telephone or fire off an e-mail to get a response. Your readers will only benefit because of it.
Finally, a note regarding my headline: ‘Duke Nukem Forever’ isn’t exactly dead, according to 3D Realms. He’s just dead to me.
May the King rest in pieces.
A couple years ago, I got into a media spat with the co-creator of legendary video game badass Duke Nukem.
The whole story of what happened behind the scenes is a little lengthy but I took the time to write it out, inspired by Clive Thompson’s excellent exploration of Duke’s demise, appearing in the Jan. 2010 edition of Wired.
And I’ve got a little treat for Duke fans; something I’ve been sitting on since 2008.
What follows is a real interview I did with Scott Miller, who responded to my questions as the Dukester Himself. For the full tale of how this Weird exchange came to be, check out my Elegy on the Death of Duke Nukem.
Otherwise, enjoy …
Let’s begin at the beginning. Tell us about your childhood.
Not much to tell. Parents killed by aliens. Rescued and raised by the military. First Harley at 14. Other details are classified.
Did you have many friends?
I had friends. I had enemies. My friends were usually honey blonds. My enemies were their former boyfriends.
What is it like working with the people at 3D Realms?
Those guys need my mighty boot where it’ll hurt for days. My fans have been waiting since ’97 for a friggin’ sequel — and those 3DR guys got side-tracked with Max Payne and Prey. What the hell. Sure, decent games, but they ain’t Duke. And I think my latest trailer shows who’s still the real King.
You’ve been gone a long time. How did the last decade treat you?
Not well. Been working out, getting stronger, and then there are all the babes, but my meat and potatoes is fighting aliens. When I’m not kicking ass and saving chicks, I’m not a happy Duke.
Did you do anything special to celebrate the turn of the century?
Most of the world was panicked over Y2K, but for Duke it was all about W2K. Two thousand women in one year. Almost didn’t make it, but the Vegas babes came through during crunch time. Always bet on Duke.
Of what professional accomplishment are you the most proud?
What? Saving the world from bastard aliens doesn’t rank high enough?
Is there a special lady in your life?
In your leisure time — as in, when you are not kicking ass and/or chewing bubble gum (assuming your supply of bubblegum is kept in adequate stock) — what do you enjoy doing?
Being the world’s most famous person, I’m on the talk shows quite often, asked to give motivational talks, open the Olympics, and a consultant to several companies developing new weapons. So sure, I’m a busy guy. I also make time to spend at my Vegas casino, The Lady killer. It’s okay to plug that, right? Of course it is, I’m Duke.
Do you have a favorite video game (aside from your own)?
I’m annoyed by half-sized girly-man heroes and heroes that would feel naked without their iron man suit of armor. Back when I was still kicking ass, Lara and me didn’t need no stinkin’ tin man suit. Flesh wounds are the best teacher. And the ladies love the occasional scar.
Hypothetical: In a battle-royal between Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Sylvester Stallone and Jet Li, who wins?
Bruce Lee. That’s who. Next question.
What character or celebrity in popular media would you most enjoy using the shrink ray on?
Jessica Simpson. She took Romo’s mojo and Duke ain’t happy about it.
What’s your favorite brand of cigar?
Whichever one has the scent of a women. If you need help with this one, ask Bill Clinton.
Got any new toys in the arsenal? Any one in particular you’d like to demonstrate?
Duke doesn’t use toys. The women like Duke as he comes. Oh — heh heh — did you mean weapons? My shrinker ray has been picked as one of the all-time best weapons. There’s something satisfying about planting my booting squarely over a shrunken rat-sized alien, and hearing those little bones crack like a chorus of wishbones. I’m guessing you didn’t know the Duke could be so poetic with the words.
How hard are you going to punch the video games ratings bureau? Will it be in the face? And finally, may we watch?
Gotta work with those guys. The kids matter to me, and what the Duke does can be a little messy. But if they cross the line, my boot will be waiting.
Are you, in fact, the true cause of global warming? If so (as we’ve suspected all along), why?
Sure, I’ve set off a few nukes. But damn if I was going to let those alien rat bastards get away with our chicks. Look at it the way Duke does: Buy land about a mile away from the beach — soon you’ll be selling it to hotels as premium shoreline property.
What does success look like to you?
You probably think I’m gonna give you some motivational BS answer. It’s really simple. If I look in the mirror and I’m looking damn good, what else could I want?