The story of 3D Realms is one of extremes. It is a story of extreme successes and extreme failures. It is a story of extreme opportunity and extreme failures. How did 3D Realms go from the pinnacle of game development to being a joke? Let’s find out.
3D Realms is actually (legally) known as Apogee Games. It got its start in 1987. Scott Miller started programming simple games. The games were nothing noteworthy, but the way he distributed them was. Miller would post the games on BBS forums (A BBS, or bulletin board system, is like an internet forum you would connect to through a modem. It allowed a user to upload and download files, along with many other functions). Miller did not charge any money for his games, which allowed for them to spread prolifically. Instead, he asked users to mail him donations if he enjoyed his work. This really didn’t pay so well, as you can imagine, so Miller came up with a new plan.
Miller came up with a radical new idea to sell games. He would release the first part of a game for free. Subsequent parts would have to be paid for by the user if they wanted to continue playing. Paying for subsequent parts would allow the user to receive hints and cheat codes from Apogee. This proved insanely successful for Apogee/3D Realms, and they ended up distributing games for other developers as well. This was as symbiotic relationship; the developer got the Apogee brand name behind their game, and Apogee got a slice of the profits. This would affect the future of Apogee and 3D Realms forever, as we will see in Part 2 next week.
The “Apogee” model became the main form of distribution for some time afterward. It is still in use today, although many people call the first installment a “demo”.
So why is Apogee also called 3d Realms? Well, remember, Apogee was developing games as well as distributing them. They decided to create different divisions for every single type of game genre. This would allow for a different name for each type of game Apogee would distribute. For example, the Pinball Wizards division would release pinball simulation games, while 3D Realms would be for different 3D games. Sounds stupid right? Aren’t all games in 3D? Well, in 1994, when 3D Realms was created, 3D games were just replacing the side scrollers that had dominated gaming for almost 5 years. So why do we know recognize 3D Realms more than Apogee games? Find out next week!
I apologize for the short post this week, but I am also trying to make these articles easier for the reader to get through, so you don’t have to skim through a detailed history of a studio.
Drop me a comment and let me know how I am doing, or to suggest future series for consideration!