Today, Chris "kiwidog" Hargrove, one of the primary programmers on 3D Realms' upcoming game Duke Nukem Forever, announced that he would be leaving the company. GameDev.net was the first on the scene to talk to Chris, to find out why he's leaving and what's next for him.
What made you decide to leave 3D Realms?
There were several reasons, mostly personal in nature. I recently returned home to Virginia for a brief visit with the family, and saw my brother's high school graduation. He'll soon be leaving for the Marines, after which I don't know when I'll be seeing him again. Something about that event hit me very hard. I've been down here at 3D Realms for around 3 years now, and have been far from my family and close friends for a couple years longer than that. After my brother's graduation, I began thinking about how much I'd missed being away from everything I knew for so long.
Maybe it's the fact that I just turned 25; maybe my focus is changing a bit. I still love the games industry and have no intention of leaving it, but lately I've found myself really wanting to get back to somewhere closer to what I consider home. The other factor was simply natural burnout, not so much due to anything being wrong with DNF (if anything I'm extremely happy with the way DNF is shaping up), but merely due to the length of time involved, which I think is more than I'm comfortable handling. I have no problem whatsoever with the project's timeline; it may seem like it's taken a while but I think there'll be a better game in the end, and that's what's important. Unfortunately for me, even though "When It's Done" is a sound and beneficial policy for the timeline of a project, I couldn't realistically think that it wouldn't have an affect on me as a person. By itself though, that small bit of burnout wasn't a significant enough factor to warrant me leaving. But when it combined with my overwhelming desire to get back home to where my family and friends are, the two things together pretty much made up my mind.
Those seem to be good reasons to me. :) Has everyone at 3DR been supportive of your decision to leave? Or at least understanding of your decision?
So far everyone I've talked to has been understanding, although it's hard to expect them to be "supportive" given my ties to the project. Most of them have said that they'll be sad to see me go, and I feel the same way. I'll miss these guys; working here has been a wonderful experience, and this is a great group of people.
The question that is on everyone's mind is "How will your departure affect Duke Nukem Forever?"
Less than one might think. I chose this time to leave specifically because it was one of the few opportunities for me to do so and not cause a major disruption to the development process. George and Scott and others agree that the timing was good, and I'm leaving on extremely good terms with them. It was very important to me that I not disrupt the project cycle majorly by my departure. After all, when I resigned it wasn't because I was trying to get away from here, it was more that I just wanted to get back home. Since I've enjoyed being here at this company, and I've enjoyed working with these people, the last thing I would want to do is screw them over by leaving and making a mess of things. I want DNF to succeed just as much as anyone. So I tried to pick a time when the work on my plate that I had a critical role in was mostly wrapped up, and where the remaining work could be picked up by other programmers without much trouble. When you're one of only a few programmers on a major project like this, it's a rare occurance to find a window of time like that. Luckily this is one of those times.
So I don't think this should be a major setback for DNF by any means. The other programmers here are more than capable of handling what remains of my workload on the project, plus I've offered George and the others my assistance via email etc. for the remainder of the project, incase they run into any snags related to my code that they can't figure out. I'm offering them everything I can to keep things running smooth, so things should work out fine. After all, I don't want my leaving to mess up the development of a game as awesome as this. :)
To your knowledge, will 3DR be hiring a replacement programmer for the remainder of DNF?
I can't really discuss details of this, but I can at least safely say that another programmer has been talked to about coming on board. He wouldn't be a "replacement" as such, since this occurred before I announced my departure. I'd expect that my remaining duties will be distributed amongst Nick, Brandon, and this other programmer. Like I said though, if any snags or anything come up where they need my help directly, I've offered the company my support to whatever extent I can provide.
So what are your plans now?
Nothing entirely solid at this point. My primary concern has been getting back to northern Virginia again; the other issues have been secondary but I'm going to try coordinating things soon. Most likely sometime within the next year I'll be beginning a start-up with a few colleagues back in that area, although we're still getting the details of the business fleshed out, as well as the design documents and such for the first project. But that's probably about a year off. In the meantime I'd like to stay in the game industry if at all possible, although there aren't very many game companies in the D.C. Metro area so that could be difficult. Ideally I'd like to do some game contracting work, anything from tools to libraries to engine technology contracts. Pardon me if I put a shameless plug here, but if anyone is interested in getting some contract work of this nature performed (anything from 3D renderers to script language compilers to whatever) and they're willing to let it be done remotely from the D.C. metro area (with occasional flights to an office as needed), feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com and I'll be more than happy to listen. :)
Feel free to plug. :) That's cool that you plan on staying in the gaming industry. Do you have any leads on who might need contract work (e.g. through contacts in the industry)?
Not yet, since this has all happened rather quickly. I can only hope that work will find its way towards me though; I'd like to think that I have enough experience at this point to be worth consideration. :)
I would imagine that you've made some great friendships with the group at 3DRealms, and undoubtedly the work experience you gained is invaluable. You mentioned thinking about going the startup route. Would you say that the things you learned and developed at 3DR will affect how you do things with your own company?
Absolutely, no question about it. When you're around a group of people for several years who are this talented and who've been making games for this long, it's not surprising how much you can learn. These guys know their craft backwards and forwards, and it's been a privelege being amongst them. Plus, working with engines like Quake 1&2 and Unreal has helped me refine my own engine development strategies. Being able to work with and create a variety of engines and technologies, both external and homegrown, has certainly helped broaden my development experience. A very useful thing when technology development is your focus.
If a game development studio were to approach you for a fulltime position near your home, would you seriously consider the offer?
I would give it serious consideration, of course. It'd be shortsighted of me to reject any option without any real consideration of it. Of course, given the eventual desire to begin a start-up, the ideal situation would involve either contract technology and tool work, or perhaps a full-time position with a short term commitment, like 9 months or a year. But I'm keeping all my options open.
You've been a great contributor to the game development community as a whole with your 3D tutorials several years ago and more recently the Code on the Cob series. Will going your own route affect your contributions in the future?
Actually I'm hoping that going this route would make it a little easier for me to contribute to the community more in the future, given the fact that I would be able to discuss topics more closely related to what I was actually working with at the time. COTC was received very well and I've been been extremely flattered with all the praise and thanks that people have sent me since the series was written. To all of you, even if I didn't manage to reply to you, I thank you very much; your thoughts have not gone unnoticed. I regret not being able to continue that series due to the time restrictions, but I think in the future things may work out such that I have the opportunity to resume the series or at least work on other articles and tutorials in general.
I know many people that would love to see some more of your articles, and maybe even a book. Now that you may have more free time for a bit, are you considering writing a book? I'm sure you publishers would be interested.
Actually, depending on the interest I wouldn't be opposed to writing a book, perhaps something along the fashion of COTC but going into more depth. That would certainly be one way of consuming a few months of time. I guess I should add another plug then, if any computer book publishers are reading this, please contact me when you get the chance (once again, firstname.lastname@example.org :)
Well, I wish the best of luck to you in the coming months. I'm sure people will be interested in seeing what you do and how things turn out, especially with the startup company. Hopefully a publisher will kick in. :)
My hopes as well; thanks for all the encouragement. :)