In the newest chapter of the legal battle between Duke Nukem 3D developer 3D Realms and Duke Nukem Forever developer Gearbox, 3D Realms, now owned by Rise of the Triad remake developer Interceptor games, have hit back at Gearbox’s claims to the rights of the Duke Nukem franchise.
3D Realms, who had seemingly sold the rights to the franchise to Gearbox in 2010, now claim that the Borderlands developer has no legal basis to bar them and Interceptor Games from developing Duke Nukem Survivor, arguing that the terms of the agreement allowed 3D Realms to retain the rights to Survivor, while Gearbox would have the rights to Duke Nukem Forever and all Duke Nukem games made afterwards.
The concept of Duke Nukem Survivor, now renamed to Duke Nukem Mass Destruction, was conceived before Duke Nukem Forever was released. Mass Destruction is currently envisioned as a grittier take on Duke Nukem with a top-down perspective and RPG elements.
A February 13 letter from Gearbox’s lawyers to 3D Realms’ Scott Miller reads: “3DR retained only Gearox’s narrow permission…to complete the few games previously in development by Apogee for certain platforms. Your new ‘Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction’ project–which is mentioned nowhere wihtin the Supplement and involves new, non-Apogee [3D Realms’ legal name] partnerships- undeniably violates the aforementioned exceptions.”
Conversely, a court document sent to Rock Paper Shotgun from Interceptor and 3D Realms reads: “63[Gearbox’s] claims are barred, in whole or in part, by written or implied trademark and/or copyright licenses. The Asset Purchase Agreement provides that 3DR could complete development of and sell a video game with the tentative title of ‘Duke Nukem Survivor.’ The Asset Purchase Agreement also explicitly provides 3DR a ‘worldwide, non-exclusive license (including the right to sublicense) to use’ the DUKE NUKEM trademarks in ‘connection with marketing, promotion, manufacturing, and distribution of’ the ‘Duke Nukem Survivor’ game. In 2012 and again in 2013, Plaintiff was informed by 3DR of the development of the Duke Nukem game by 3DR. Plaintiff failed to timely object to the development or sale of the Duke Nukem game.”
This is the latest chapter of a long saga of legal disputes that has dogged 3D Realms. In 1998, they sued Rebel Boat Rocker, a game studio formed by former members of 3D Realms who had parted ways acrimoniously. One of the members was Randy Pitchford, who would later found Gearbox. In 2013, 3D Realms sued Gearbox, claiming it was not paid additional royalties from the Duke Nukem deal. The matter was eventually settled, evidenced by a handwritten letter from Scott Miller to Gearbox.
The legal feud between 3D Realms/Interceptor Games and Gearbox is still ongoing, but 3DR’s new head Mike Nilesen has stated in a Rock Paper Shotgun interview that he is confident things will pan out in their favor.