January 16, 2006

The Apogee Legacy #2 - Keith Schuler

Last week we started a new series on our website about some of our developers from the past. We called this series "The Apogee Legacy Interview Series". In our first edition, we brought you an interview with Jim Norwood. For the second edition, we are bringing you an interview with our own Keith Schuler. Keith has been involved with us for a very long time, and continues to do so to this day. His first project with us came out back in 1991 (Paganitzu), and then he went through Realms of Chaos, the aborted Duke Nukem Forever scroller game, as well as Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition, Shadow Warrior, and now Duke Nukem Forever.

So without further delay, we bring you the tallest developer in our history, Keith Schuler...

The Apogee Legacy
Past Pioneers of the Shareware Revolution
Issue #2 - Keith Schuler

1) How did you first come in contact with Apogee?

I had seen Kroz games in shareware catalogs and other places, so I was familiar with the name. Big Blue Disk published one of my earliest games, Chagunitzu. About a month later, they forwarded a fan letter to me. It was written by a little boy, and he wanted to know what my high score was at Chagunitzu. I thought it was an odd question, but I couldn't ignore my fan, so I wrote a letter back to him.

Shortly thereafter I got a phone call from Scott Miller. He explained that he had written the fan letter so that he could contact me without raising suspicion at Big Blue Disk. Apparently he had been approaching other developers there, as well. Scott thought that Chagunitzu would work well as an episodic game, and he wanted me to write a sequel trilogy, to be published by Apogee.

2) Was there a reason you decided to work with Apogee, say versus going on your own or working with another company?

Scott mailed me some of the current projects that other devs at Apogee were working on, like Monuments of Mars and Commander Keen. Commander Keen, in particular, completely amazed me. After seeing such groundbreaking games (and getting an unsolicited check for $50) I was convinced that Apogee was the team to play for. It was certainly an improvement over my two current jobs: Burger King and my father's lawn mowing service (for which I was not getting paid.)

3) Looking back, was there anything Apogee could have done better, regarding the marketing and distribution of your game?

With regards to Paganitzu, I don't think anything could have been done better. It was still selling long after many other Apogee games had retired. With Realms of Chaos, I don't think anything could've been done to save it. Like other 2D games at the time, it was stillborn into the post-Doom era.

4) Do you think your game was made better or worse by working with Apogee?

Definitely better. George and Scott absolutely excel at taking a game and polishing it to perfection. It's what they do best, in my opinion.

5) Apogee had a policy of letting the designer or studio retain full intellectual property rights to their game. Nowadays, it's rare to find a publisher who allows this, especially if the publisher is providing the funding. Do you believe that it's best for the creator to retain IP rights? Why or why not?

They did? Crap, I don't think I own the IP for my two games. Or do I? I don't know, I'd have to ask. I don't have a clearly defined answer to your question. Best for who? It is best for the creator to own the IP when it is strong, and he can leverage that strength to put himself in a better position with the publisher. That doesn't guarantee a better game, though, so what's best for the creator might not be best for the player.

5a) And if applicable, have you benefited from retaining ownership of your own IP?

If applicable, no. The Paganitzu and ROC IPs are not strong enough to matter, anyway.

5b) Do you think there'll ever be a sequel to your game(s)?

I still want to make a sequel to Paganitzu. Something that runs under Windows, is mouse driven, with updated sound and graphics, and gameplay that is more fair and fun. Unfortunately, these things take time, and I'm not a teenager living with my parents anymore. That's not even considering whether Apogee/3D Realms would want to publish it. And, assuming they didn't, IP ownership and non-compete issues might be a problem. I haven't looked into it, since it's not even close to being an issue right now. Duke Nukem Forever and parenting take up all my time.

6) Is there any story/incident that stands out as interesting during your time associated with Apogee?

The way Scott Miller contacted me is probably the most interesting story. Other than that, there was the time I was in limbo after completing Realms Of Chaos. George tried letting me produce some external titles (including the original, side scrolling Duke Nukem Forever), but those projects were all dropped shortly after Duke 3D came out. I finally talked them into letting me move to Dallas and becoming an internal employee, although it was unclear what I would be doing. When I got here, the guys who would eventually become Ritual had just left, and the remaining guys were working on the Plutonium Pak. I picked up the Build editor and made a little Duke 3D map of my own, just trying out the different features. When George saw what I'd done, he made me a level designer on Plutonium Pak. The rest is history.

7) Apogee was an early pioneer in terms of teaming up with external designers and studios, and continues to do so even to this day (currently working with Human Head Studios on Prey). Why is it that so few other studios do this (mentor and fund outside projects with lesser known teams)?

I think Apogee is in a unique position. They are financially independent, yet still have enough money to fund outside projects. And, like I said above, George and Scott excel at producing polishing games to perfection. Max Payne showed that the process could succeed. If Prey also succeeds, that will prove it wasn't a fluke. The repeated successes may encourage other studios (and possibly publishers) to take similar risks. Who knows? In the future we may actually see production houses that have no internal projects at all, but exist only by funding external projects and acting as liaison between the developer and the publisher.

8) What the biggest difference in the industry nowadays versus when you worked with Apogee?

Everything's bigger. Dev teams number in the hundreds, in some cases. Games have much higher production values and require much longer to create. Gone are the days when a guy like me would create an entire game by himself, in less than a year. Now you have James Bond games starring the actual film actors. Sports games have all the sports stars. Now, movies are being made based on games, instead of only happening the other way around. (Of course, they aren't *good* movies.)

Keith dressed up as Alabama Smith from his Paganitzu game.

9) What have you been doing since your time with Apogee?

Working on Duke Nukem Forever.

10) If you're no longer making games, have you thought about returning to this industry? If not, why not?


11) Looking back, are there any missed opportunities that you wish you'd have jumped on?

I wish I'd started my IRA a lot sooner than I did.

12) Other than your game(s), what's your favorite game released or produced by Apogee (or 3D Realms)?

Duke Nukem 3D

12a) And what's your favorite 2-4 games released by anyone else?

Robotron, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, System Shock 2, & Thief 2

13) Is there anything else you'd like to add about your time here or to fans of your title(s)?

Follow your dreams. You can reach your goals. I'm living proof. Beefcake! BEEFCAKE!

Keith with his wife Rose (who was the voice of the Anime Girls in Shadow Warrior)

Title screen from early beta of Realms of Chaos when it had a different title.

A special thanks to Keith for agreeing to help out with the interview series. Keith's two projects are still available for sale from us, if you'd like to check them out, make sure and visit these pages for more information on them.

Make sure and tune in again next Monday morning, when we bring you the next in our Legacy Interview series.

Posted by Joe Siegler on January 16, 2006 at 2:20 PM | Permalink | Discuss this story on our forums
News Categories: About 3DR / 3DR Staff | The Apogee Legacy