Apogee: 1987 human orchestra and online gaming publisher (continued)

Original author: Chris Plante
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Continuing the story of Scott Miller and Apogee (3D Realms), start here .

Key idea


John Romero worked for Softdisk, which at that time was publishing a monthly magazine sold in regular stores. Included with the magazine was a diskette on which there was a lot of useful software - some of it was developed by the company's own programmers who worked in the editorial office. So, Romero was just one of them.

After several months Miller spent sending Romero emails written on behalf of several fictional fans of John's work, he finally managed to get an answer. The two started talking about how a possible collaboration between a game designer and Apogee might look like.

“What a pity that I did not have these letters ... Now, they probably cost a fortune!” - Miller jokes today.

Miller wanted to sign a contract with John Romero and some of his colleagues - in particular, John Carmack, Adrian Carmack (namesake names) and Tom Hall - for independent development of games that would be published via Apogee on the Internet. Since Miller did not have to worry about publishing games on media and their further distribution, he offered Romero and the company a huge (compared to other publishers) percentage of sales profits.

Under the leadership of Carmack, the development team created the port of the game Super Mario Bros. 3 on PC - before them, this was considered absolutely impossible ( adaptive tile refresh) Romero showed Miller the demo of the game, and the publisher was simply stunned. He realized that it was his ticket to a brighter future - even if this ticket was protected by copyright law and a high-paying Nintendo legal team.

Of course, Apogee could not publish Mario 3 on the PC. Miller came up with a different plan - he signed a contract with the team to create a new game that would remind Mario of gameplay and appearance . The team began work on a project entitled Commander Keen .

“I gave them money to develop,” says Miller. “They had to work on the game in the evenings and on weekends, because they all continued to work for Softdisk. Everything took them five or six months. We released the game, and it became incredibly successful. And after that, they quit their job almost immediately. ”

Prior to Commander Keenin December 1990, the average monthly earnings of Apogee were approximately $ 7,000; after - $ 30,000. In February 1991, the development team quit Softdisk and founded a new independent studio - id Software. Softdisk threatened them with a lawsuit, claiming that the id team violated their contractual obligations, and the company had to make concessions to the former employer - they were obliged as contractors to develop several additional games for Softdisk.

Miller was interested in two games made for Softdisk under this agreement - they were Hovertank 3D and Catacombs 3D . Both games were made in the genre of proto-shooter in the first person. Miller asked id to do his next Commander Keena game in the same genre - first-person shooter. Everyone saw the result: Wolfenstein 3D .

“When you release a game, you never know how it will be accepted,” notes Miller. Wolfenstein was the first massive 3D shooter - after all, Catacomb 3D did not sell much more than Softdisk magazine. Management in it was unusual for players of that time, and for some, movement in three-dimensional space caused a headache. Suddenly people would hate this game?

Since the release of the first free episode, Wolfenstein has been bringing Apogee around $ 200k per month for a full year and a half. No one doubted the operability of the apogee model.

Looking back, Miller describes Wolfensteinas a game ideally suited for the climax model: this game was not comparable to anything else. To feel it, you had to play it at least once, but as soon as you touch the keyboard and go through the first level, you already wanted more.

And Apogee wanted the players to get this "more" - but they had to do it already without id.

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What's in a name


Following the release of Wolfenstein, Miller traveled to San Francisco for the annual Game Developers Conference to recruit new developers and popularize the Apogee brand.

Miller remembers that at the GDC he saw a report by EA CEO Richard Hillman, one of the authors of the Madden franchise, who stood in a room full of publishers and developers and told them ... about Wolfenstein success !

As Hillman said, several young guys posted a teaser demo online and made millions of dollars on it. In his opinion, EA should have paid close attention to this - this model in the future threatened to take over the world.

Unfortunately for Miller, Apogee could not prevent others from using the model he had invented. The company owned only the name of the model, and even that quickly lost its meaning - people did not call this method of distributing games the “apogee model”, they preferred to christen it the good old term “shareware” - its definition changed and became consistent with the Apogee strategy.

As a result, Miller did not have any rights to his best creation - because it was just a strategy, which in its essence was no different from the defense strategy in football.

Miller understood this at the time or not, but he was at a crossroads: he could continue to improve digital distribution, turning it into a controlled, patented and monetized conveyor; or continue to develop as a publisher of computer games, competing with other publishers and developers who might start distributing their games in the same way.

Miller chose the latter. For him, the model never played a role. “The games themselves have always been central to me,” he remarks today.

“The shareware model is the most honest of the models, because it represents the implementation of the principle of“ try before buy ”- you can try the game before buying, and not rely on marketing another sloppy game ... All these things will not work if you have a bad game” .

The non-viability of the model in the form in which it was first implemented, quickly made itself felt. Any developer or publisher could freely copy this approach - which they did.

Friendly rivalry


Let’s digress for a while before moving on to the finale, and recall one funny episode from the history of old Apogee.

Miller's first rival lived in the same city as him.

His old friend George Broussard became an independent game designer shortly after Miller, and a spirit of friendly rivalry quickly developed between them. Their first games were more like experiments, but at first they both engaged in programming full-fledged text quests - two adults constantly trying to overtake one another.

Miller claims that Broussard tried all the time to give his activity a tone of secrecy - it came to the point that even the source code was locked with a key in a suitcase.

Miller and colleagues well remember those days that they spent trying to open this suitcase. In the late 1980s, young people often dropped by to see Broussard to watch a movie - and they were not too worried about whether the owner of the house was or not. Broussard often left his suitcase in the living room on the couch, and one of his colleagues kept trying to open it while watching the next film.

Once the suitcase really opened. Miller, a super-spy in a T-shirt and faded jeans, dragged his trophy from Broussard’s house. Inside were a few sheets of paper — it was Broussard’s game written in Turbo Pascal, and Miller decided to check his code. As he says today, he had to fix a few bugs just to start the game - and compared to Supernova, which Miller had just planned to put on the Internet for free, it was a cut above.

But, after many years, it will not be so important ...

3D Realms


The id Software developers have chosen the path of self-publishing their next game - after all, they have already learned the method that they were taught by Miller and the company. This game will later become DOOM - perhaps one of the most influential games in the history of the industry.

“As far as I know, they are exactly repeating everything they learned from us. DOOM progressed in the same way that we promoted our games ... On their part, this was the right step - after all, after Wolfenstein they matured so much. At that time, they knew exactly what they wanted to do themselves, and they had money to do everything on their own. At that time, they had no reason to work with anyone else.

Meanwhile, for Wolfenstein's boxed salesApogee made a deal with a more traditional publisher - FormGen. When the game appeared on the shelves of ordinary stores, Apogee was able to reach out to thousands - if not millions - of those buyers that it could not reach on the Internet.

This has become a profitable business decision, even if in the future it brings the company closer to traditional game publishers.

Worse, Apogee was less and less monitoring the quality of online games. Aggressive marketing strategy of releases allowed to come to light both real hits ( Death Rally ), and failures ( Hocus Pocus, Wacky Wheels ).

Thanks to the simplicity of the very idea of ​​digital distribution, the same thing was repeated over and over again - the developers were successful and they no longer had any reason to remain under the wing of Apogee. Therefore, the publisher was constantly in search of another, the next great developer.

The company, whose path to success began with innovation, has become increasingly reactionary. Miller and Broussard decided to increase the budget for their own development and shift the company's focus to three-dimensional games - this was a natural reaction to the success of Wolfenstein and Rise of the Triad .

Apogee developed a 2D side scroller called Duke Nukem , and this game was a success - it brought in $ 20,000 to $ 30,000 per month. Therefore, the company decided to develop a continuation -Duke Nukem 3D - but already under the guise of 3D Realms.

The company wanted to avoid public associations of its new games with the name Apogee, which managed to get a lot of negative reviews for the release of mediocre games. For a while, it worked. The 3D Realms brand brought a second wave of success that began with the 1996 release of Duke Nukem 3D . Duke Nukem 3D sold over 3.5 million copies, making Miller and Broussard incredibly wealthy.

In April 1997, Broussard announced the development of a sequel to the game, Duke Nukem Forever . Her release was scheduled for Christmas 1998. In the end, it turned out that the development of the game took fourteen years.

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The 3D Realms team made its bet on games, preferring them to distribution development, and this step, unfortunately, ultimately destroyed it. Despite the serious successes of the games released in the late 1990s and early 2000s (such as bringing several million hits Max Payne ), 3D Realms, nee Apogee, went bankrupt.

Back to basics


In 2009, Apogee initiated a bankruptcy process and began the process of selling and leasing rights to its extensive catalog of games, which dragged on for several years. In the same year, Apogee / 3D Realms sold the rights (along with the sequel liability) to Gearbox Software's Duke Nukem , which completed the creation of Duke Nukem Forever and released it in 2011.

Shortly before the company went bankrupt, a childhood friend and faithful colleague of Broussard and Miller, Terry Nagi, bought the rights to the name Apogee, not forgetting to buy the rights to Rise of the Tryad and a few more titles. So the Apogee that exists today is Apogee Software, LLC, which should not be confused with the original company, Apogee Software, Ltd.

Evaluate the irony - when the life of the past Apogee came to an end, modern digital distribution just began to straighten its shoulders, and the US slowly began to entangle fiber ...

According to Nagy, today Scott Miller is involved in the affairs of the company, but is deprived of the right to make any decisions. Miller owns a stake in the company, as does his friend Broussard.

Today, Nagi makes a living by re-releasing the Duke Nukem series on mobile devices and distributing other old company games via Steam and other sites. “With the power of modern digital distribution — clouds, fast download speeds, and everything else ... people can now download really huge games without much effort,” he says. This summer, he released on Steam and other sites an updated version of Rise of the Triad.

“And the boxed versions don't interest me at all,” says Nagi.

Miller says Apogee now has a “much more intimate atmosphere” and that he likes being closer to the core of the industry — he loves helping new studios rise from scratch.

“I’m generally happy with how things are now,” says Scott Miller. He runs 3D Realms without leaving his home, and the rest of the staff also work remotely. However, now Miller misses the atmosphere of that old office and the opportunity to work side by side with friends. “Then people were always so keen on what they wanted to do, all this gleam in their eyes ... And today they have to get them to work, desire doesn't come to them by itself.”

Today's 3D Realms is a zone of minimal risks. No giant staff, no office expenses, and the main activity is licensing and outsourcing of several games.

“We are developing several completely new projects right now,” sounds the voice of Miller, sitting far, far away in his quiet house deep in the heart of Texas ...



Dear Reader!

Unfortunately, the original article ends here. In general, this is correct - the story of Apogee is over, and the story about each of the mentioned games or persons can easily be pulled by a separate article (or even a short story). But if you liked and would like to have “something else in the same vein,” then I have one interesting suggestion for you.

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I first got acquainted with the book Masters of Doomin 2011, and since then she has become one of my favorite books. The author David Kouchner took six years to write it - he researched everything that was available, and conducted hundreds of interviews with everyone who could - of course, including two Jones: Carmack and Romero. The result of the work was the most reliable description of the inner life of id Software and its creative geniuses; she managed to accommodate a period starting from the childhood of two Johnes and ending with the announcement of Doom 3, highlighting in detail the creation of each of the company's games. Importantly, the book succeeded in what is sometimes lacking in modern history textbooks - it captured the whole story from several points of view. It's been 12 years since the release of this wonderful book, but they still continue to recommend it to friends to read - for example,Yesterday's post on the popular CodingHorror.com blog.

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