Pitchford suggested that it would be "incorrect" to take any credit away from 3D Realms' work; it is "their game" in his mind. He told us that toward the end of 3D Realms' life, the developer had "finally started to make a plan," so it was possible for Gearbox to pick up the pieces once responsibilities were transferred over.
When asked how much Gearbox retained of 3D Realms' work when it took the reins of production, Pitchford responded, "It's complicated. The 3D Realms guys were always working hard and there was always great stuff there. When they shut their doors, there was plenty of brilliant stuff all over the place." When we tried making comparisons for Pitchford to pick up on, he interjected, "There's no comparison. I've never seen anything like this and I doubt the industry ever will."
So, what had Gearbox done? "It would be irresponsible for me to take anything away from 3D Realms, this is their game," Pitchford explained. "It's also irresponsible for me to not give credit to the incredible, almost horrific amount of work that's been going in since [Gearbox] got involved." In other words, the game and its vision is purely 3D Realms, but the capabilities and financing is what Gearbox contributed to finish the product.
Pitchford left 3D Realms in 1997, just one month after Duke Nukem Forever made its public debut. When he finally got his hands on the game's documentation last year, he was surprised to see what 1997-era intentions had survived in the current production of the game. Pitchford particularly admired the pacing in Duke Nukem 3D. "Frankly, there aren't enough shooters that get that pacing right. Half-Life is one of them that gets it," he said. That might explain why the current game shares the same "real-time," cutscene-free storytelling structure.
Working on a project with this level of exposure has had its ups and downs for the developer. Coming off of Borderlands, a game Pitchford said was a "struggle to get attention" for, he said, "Duke has the opposite problem, he has no problem getting attention. When we appeared at PAX to finally reveal Duke was back that we were helping him hopefully have a triumphant return, within an hour it was a Twitter trending topic"
So, when all is said and done, how does Pitchford want the audience to view the final Duke Nukem Forever game? As a game that had been so long in development that it better be good? Or perhaps people should simply be thankful it was completed at all?
"Man, it's impossible for me to even set that expectation. The reality is you're going to have a whole spectrum. The world is going to have its own ideas of it. The thing is I feel it too because I went through that roller coaster for a long time with everyone. Who knows where any of us are! I don't even remember when the merry-go-round stopped."
"There's all kinds of new gamers who didn't even play Duke 3D. He's like Chuck Norris to them where it's a meme." They'll understand what this nascent meme is all about when Duke Nukem Forever finally, actually, amazingly comes out this May.