[PAX South] 3D Realms On Ghostrunner, Kingpin Reloaded, And The Modern Old School
Of all the gaming legends bandied around the internet campfires, the tale of Duke Nukem Forever is among the most legendary. For a time, The Duke was a king. An icon of classic shooters, the Duke Nukem franchise sat at the same table as the likes of Doom and Wolfenstein. Originally announced by 3D Realms in 1997, Duke Nukem Forever was pitched to be the shooter that reshaped the genre. It would have everything, be everything, and shatter your very concept of what an FPS was capable of. As it languished in development hell for 12 years, the world moved on. Shooters evolved without it. The hyper-masculine juvenile charm of The Duke seemed out of place in this new world of serious military games. Even if the game was a masterpiece, nothing could ever live up to the expectations of 12 years of development promises. 3D Realms eventually lost the license to the publisher Take-Two Interactive, who gave the project over to Gearbox. Gearbox got Duke Nukem Forever out the gate, where it stumbled a bit before falling dead on the tracks. Like many people, I assumed that was the end of 3D Realms.
It wasn’t until E3 of last year that I learned that 3D Realms is still kicking. I was at The MIX (an E3 side event showcasing indie games), when I came upon a demo for Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. I had a few minutes to chat with the developer, who informed me that this sleek retro shooter was built using the Quake engine. More shockingly, it was being published by a company most relevant when the Quake engine was new. Yes, 3D Realms was still a thing. And apparently, it was making kickass retro shooters.
Since then, both Wrath: Aeon of Ruin and Ion Fury have released (in some form) under the 3D Realms label. While there were some other titles over the last few years, it’s with these hyper-retro shooters that 3D Realms has really found its stride. These new games feel like true passion projects. No one makes games on the Quake or Build engines anymore. And yet, these new titles manage to kick serious ass despite 20+ years of new tech. They’re not just for nostalgia-laden nerds to fanboy over.
Soon, 3D Realms will be adding two more games to its catalogue of modern old school shooters. Ghostrunner, while not visually retro, definitely embodies the essence of how fast and brutally difficult classic action games could be. I got the chance to play it at PAX South, and I can say that I was not ready for just how tough it is. Convention demos are generally dumbed down so that easily triggered nerds can still get their sense of pride and accomplishment. With the amount I was dying, I couldn’t believe there weren’t more broken keyboards strung across the booth. This is likely because Ghostrunner makes it so easy to get back into the action. It’s one hit and you’re dead, but at the push of a button you’re instantly back at the last checkpoint without any loading. I died 20 times in one segment, and it still only took me 3 minutes to get past it.
3D Realms also recently announced a remastering of the cult classic Kingpin: Life of Crime. I seriously can’t believe this game is getting a remastering. I was certain I was the only person on the planet who had played it. A game way ahead of its time, Kingpin featured a robust quest system, an open world, RPG elements, body targeting, and different dialogue options. It was basically a gritty Deus Ex a whole year before Deus Ex came out. Unfortunately, the game was marred by controversy due to its graphic violence and prolific vulgarities. It’s the kind of game that would garner a modern following… if it were more playable. The game is rife with UI issues that make Kingpin nearly unplayable by modern standards. Luckily, Kingpin: Reloaded looks to fix all of this. Quests will now be tracked on something better than a dirty scrap of paper. Dialogue is now selectable, letting you know what you’ll say before you say it. Weapons and ammo are now displayed on a wheel, so you actually know what you have in your pockets. Yeah… these were genuine problems in the original. Most of these issues stemmed from limitations with the engine. That engine has since been updated several times, and will also give the game a much needed visual facelift and widescreen/4K support.
It’s worth remembering that 3D Realms functions as a producer/publisher. Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is being developed by KillPixel and published by 3D Realms. Ghostrunner is being developed by One More Level, published by All in! Games, and produced/distributed by 3D Realms. The specifics of these relationships is unclear. In the world of film, a producer is basically just a guy that throws money at a project. In games, the relationship between developer and producer/publisher is often more fluid. In a nutshell, 3D Realms provides development support and distribution capacity to the studios they partner with. It isn’t just straight financial backing, but the specifics of the relationship are generally only privy to the parties involved.
Still, 3D Realms wields significant influence through the games they choose to support. With Duke Nukem Forever 11 years in the past, 3D Realms has a chance to re-establish its brand. To answer my questions, 3D Realms VP Frederik Schreiber (pictured above) was on-site at PAX South. “3D realms decided to relaunch its brand back in 2014. It was a big challenge, and it took us a second to find our footing. We had to ask ourselves, what is the core of 3D Realms? We used to be known for hardcore badass shooters with an attitude. People loved our old games. So we went back to that, and thought about what that company would be coming out with now if the last 20 years never happened. We took this idea to heart, going so far as to use the old engines. Ion Fury was our follow-up to Duke 3D using the same Build engine. Next up was the Quake engine, so we came out with Wrath: Aeon of Ruin using that. It’s like our alternate timeline of history.“
On the topic of the more modern Ghostrunner, Schrieber had this to say, “Well, yeah, obviously Ghostrunner wasn’t made using the Quake II engine. Still, we feel like it’s the kind of game that would have felt right at home if it were. Ultimately, we aren’t going to pass up on a game we love just because it doesn’t fit the retro look. That’s what’s great about working for a smaller studio. The big boys have all this market research and analytics telling them what changes will make their franchises the most profitable. For us, we just make games for ourselves.”
It’s surreal to be writing an article about 3D Realms in 2020. Talking about the Quake engine and a Kingpin remaster feels anachronistic. It’s like a period piece film where the writer didn’t bother checking his references. And yet, here I am. Not only that, but I’m actually excited. There’s always been a strong split in what the industry is shooting for and what certain hardcore fans want. While Activision pushes the newest Call of Duty, loyal modders are still building new variants of the original DOOM. If you ever are feeling like everything coming out of the mainstream is too stale, just spend a day searching through ModDB. To see 3D Realms take up this mantel and continue creating games in the classic style is refreshing. As much as the actual games, I’m eager to see what fans mod the games into for years to come. According to Schrieber, “This community focus is at the core of every new game we come out with. People are already modding the hell out of Ion Fury. I can’t wait to see what they do with Wrath.”
If you’re interested in any of the 3D Realms games, you can check them out on pretty much anything you can game on. Wrath: Aeon of Ruin will see full release sometime in 2020, but can be played now on Steam Early Access. Ghostrunner will also see release sometime later this year, but you can add it to your Steam wishlist by clicking here. Lastly, we’ll see Kingpin: Reloaded in Q2 of this year. Once again, click here to add it to your Steam wishlist.