By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"This is downtown L.A. sometime in the near future when aliens have invaded," Broussard manages to casually explain in the midst of this carnage. "They're kidnapping earth's women to breed with them."
It's no big deal, really. He's already saved humanity countless times. It's his job.
Broussard is President of 3D Realms, a division of Apogee Software. At 32, he looks like an older, big kid, as do most of his colleagues at the Garland-based company which employs 30 people.
At the Apogee offices, young men sit before glowing monitors, staring intently into them. All the window blinds are closed, and room lights have been dimmed or switched off altogether, so that color and contrast on the computer screens are enhanced. Work areas are cluttered with paperwork, walls papered with concept art of otherworldly settings for games in development. The only feminine influence is represented by a few photos of women--girlfriends and wives, presumably, and two of Winona Ryder. The atmosphere is overwhelmingly male collegiate--as in a freshmen dormitory.
Broussard is showing off his company's latest creation, Duke Nukem 3D. It's a computer game that runs on PC compatibles. Duke utilizes an immersing 3-D-graphics environment.
You play the game from a simulated first-person perspective. You can enter buildings, open doors, walk through corridors, cross catwalks, leap over chasms, and barrel through alleyways.
That's not all. Light switches in rooms can be turned on or off; air ventilation shafts can be entered; and, when in the men's restroom, you can even relieve yourself at a urinal--"virtually." Through the keyboard, you can interact with almost every object in this game's world.
Yes, the degree of detail in Duke crosses the sublime into the anal retentive. And that's exactly the way video gamers like it, explains Steven Blackburn, 3D Realms' chief operating officer. "Players of hard-core action games expect that level of interactivity," the 31-year-old says.
Players want reality. Blackburn should know. He and Broussard consider themselves hard-core video-game players first, programmers second. They--as well as most of their fellow workers--first met one another at a local video arcade when they were in their teens.
Then there's the violence. The uninitiated may be surprised to learn that the spectacular bloodshed depicted in Duke isn't a shocking new development. While it offers greater interactivity and graphics sophistication, Duke has merely upped the ante on the violence that's already common in computer games--and added an element of seamy, overt sexuality.
Broussard plays through a part in the game that's set in a strip bar. Here, the aliens are attempting to kidnap the dancers. As part of the simulated detail, if you've collected enough dollar bills found throughout the game, you can wave them at any one of the women, who'll then reveal to you her pasty-covered breasts.
You can even, as Broussard demonstrates, blow away a dancer with your guns. She'll explode into a mess of bloody limbs. You lose points in your score for doing this, but it does prevent the aliens from using her for breeding stock. Duke has to be the first video game you win by not saving the girl.
Broussard and Blackburn admit that they expect quite a lot of people will be offended by this feature in the game. Yet they can't offer a solid justification for having included it, other than that it's all part of the designers' attention to realistic detail.
"We'll probably catch more flak for the sex than the fact that you can shoot the women," Blackburn guesses. He's probably right.
Still, he, Broussard and their all-male associates don't seem like misogynists. The motivation behind their creation seems to center less on sex, or even over-the-top violence, than on engineering something that will induce a pure adrenaline rush.
Blackburn tells me that Duke is marketed toward the 17-and-over crowd. The packaging will clearly warn parents that this game isn't meant for minors.
That, of course, is exactly why 13-year-old boys will want to play it.
Dallas isn't San Francisco. Nor is it New York City. It's not even Austin. Those cities are hotbeds of "digital culture," the nerve centers where the digital elite of innovative tech startups and multimedia companies--the so-called digiratti--congregate.
Sure, there's Texas Instruments and Intel-clone chip manufacturer Cyrix here. EDS makes its home base in Plano. Dallas even boasts that architectural curiosity, the Infomart. None of this counts, though. Dallas isn't recognized for having a computer culture, perhaps because its digital industry is based mostly around tech hardware; or maybe it's because the city is "too corporate." Whatever the reason, Big D just ain't hep.
But Dallas is home to several software firms that dominate nationally and internationally in the area of action-oriented computer games, like Duke, set in a virtual-reality-type environment. The Dallas area has cornered this profitable niche of the computer-games market with companies like Apogee and id Software, and another contender, 7th Level, determined to make its mark. Foremost among them is id, formed by a development team who parted ways with Apogee.