3DRealms big cheese Scott Miller steps out of the
shadow of Duke Nukem and tells it like it is.
Back in the dark computer ages of 1997, 3D Realms teamed
up with Remedy to help nurture the Max Payne brand and
game into the smash hit we’re playing today. How did
you first hear about Remedy and what triggered your
involvement with them?
In early 1996, one of their principle founders,
Markus Maki, was going to the University of Austin.
He contacted us and offered to show us a game his teammates
in Finland were working on, Hi-speed. George Broussard,
my partner, and I saw good potential in the game and
quickly decided to work with Remedy. The game was renamed
to Death Rally and came out late that year. It did okay,
but was more than anything a good first-project for
a just-formed team.
Remedy was ready to take on the world! Seriously!
They then approached George and I with three project
proposals, one for a space combat game called Void,
a racing game, and finally a crime action shooter that
had a similar perspective as Loaded, a game released
by Interplay not too long before. Remedy was interested
in 3D Realms funding all three games. But, George and
I were only interested in handling one game. Not necessarily
because we didn’t like the other two, but because we
thought it would be entirely too difficult for a young
studio to take on three ambitious projects simultaneously.
The game we choose was the crime shooter, which at the
time Remedy called Dark Justice.
It was around this time that I had a good meeting with
the principles of Remedy, including Petri Jarvilehto
and Sam Lake, and gave a big picture talk on how to
create a franchise brand based on a strong character,
like 3D Realms had already done with Duke Nukem. George
and I were most impressed with how fast Petri and the
others latched onto our methods, and a new course was
charted for Dark Justice, beginning with the game’s
We all brainstormed for months before finally settling
on the Max Payne name, and as with Duke Nukem this not
only became the lead character’s name, but the name
of the game itself. We also changed the 3D perspective
from an isometric top-down camera view, to a behind-the-back
third-person camera, putting the player into the game
itself, rather than as a god-like viewer, which makes
the game that much more immersive.
Of course, during this time Tomb Raider was all the
rage, and we quickly determined that to position Max
Payne as something special, we needed to stay clear
from being considered a Tomb Raider clone. This lead
us to coming up with novelties, such as a cinematic
flare, strong story telling, and an avoidance of swimming
and climbing. Not to mention that Max Payne takes place
in present-day New York, an entirely believable setting.
A little over four years later, we had a game!
Who is Byron Muller?
This is a bit of a joke, but anyone who’s read Masters
of Doom will probably know what it refers to. It’s a
long story, but the short version is that back in mid-1990
I wrote John Romero several fake fan letters, using
various names that sound like my name (my full name
is Brian Scott Miller). The idea was to get John to
contact me, but to not make his employer suspicious
by outright asking him to contact me. You see, I wanted
to contact John to entice him to write a shareware game
for me. His employer at the time, Softdisc, would have
not passed along my letters to John had I not acted
like some everyday fan.
Anyway, John finally noticed that all my fan letters,
using different names, all came from the same address!
That’s when he finally sent me a pissed-off letter calling
me all sorts of names, but at least it opened the door
for me to contact him directly because he included his
phone number. And that’s how I got him, Carmack and
Tom Hall to make their first shareware game, Commander
Keen, released by my company.
In those days a radical concept called shareware was
really helping games like Commander Keen and Duke Nukem
1 sell. What was it that gave you the confidence in
shareware to really push it as *the* way to distribute
and sell games?
It’s one of those things that you try out because you
don’t have a lot to lose. I had been selling my personal
games as shareware, most notably my Kroz series, since
1987, and it was doing well. During this time I had
a nice day job working in the computer industry, but
finally in 1990 I decided that the time was right to
quit the day job and give Apogee my full attention.
The shareware industry was just coming into its own
in those days, and quickly Apogee became the must successful
of them all. Others, like Epic Megagames, soon followed.
Even with relatively few Duke Nukem games released,
he has become an established character and brand name.
How did you achieve this?
It only takes one spectacular game to establish a brand.
And although the original Duke Nukem, a side-scroller,
was a giant success in the shareware market, selling
not too far behind Wolfenstein 3-D, it was Duke Nukem
3D that broke the damn wide open on Duke’s popularity,
exposing him to 25 million players via the shareware
version, and 1.5 million via the PC retail version.
One of the things that sets 3D Realms apart from the
majority of games developers is that you’re self funded,
isolated from publisher pressuring. Is this something
you’d ever want to change and are there any downsides
to this situation?
I’d guess that most all studios wants to be financially
independent, because it allows for the freedom to make
the games YOU want to make, inventing new properties
and being in charge of your destiny. Having to depend
on money from publishers, who more often than not do
not see things as you do, and generally do not think
for the long-term, is not fun at all.
Are there any choices or missed opportunities you look
back on in your career and think "If only I’d…"
I’m happy with the way things have turned out, so I
don’t have much to complain about. In fact, when I look
back, I shudder thinking about some of the opportunities
I may have missed that had such a dramatic positive
impact, like quitting my job, buying an IBM PC rather
than an Apple II, making contact with John Romero, and
about three dozen more. I’ve been quite lucky.
What games are installed on your PC at home right now?
And what games are you really looking forward to getting
I remove games immediately after finishing them. Currently,
I’ve got Diablo 2 going, as I’m playing through it a
second time with a new character (assassin/martial artist).
But I’m looking forward to a slew of games, all the
usual suspects, as well as XIII, the next Mario Kart,
and Prince of Persia.
As a younger man, I played and very much enjoyed the
original Duke Nukem. Is it true you did the level design
for this game? If so, does this mean we’ll be seeing
some special Scott Miller DNF levels?
I created all of the levels that were in the game’s
first episode, which was the entire shareware version
of the game. I also created all of the game’s sound
effects. This was the last game in which I was heavily
involved with content creation – a part of the process
I still miss today, but I leave those matters to the
As for DNF, I’ve seen how much effort goes into making
those levels, and with all the detail involved, it would
take me a full year to construct a halfway decent level!
Not gonna happen.
Finally, is there anything you’d
like to say to all the Duke fans reading this?
When it arrives, all questions will be answered. Or something
like that. ;-)
To read more by Scott, you can check out his new game industry