Today is a monumental day in 3D Realms history. Our website turns 20 years old today! Originally started in the days before we called ourselves 3D Realms, this website first launched on July 7, 1995. Back then, it was a bit "wild west" in terms of the way the web worked. Most webpages back then were just a grey page with a picture. Or two if you were lucky.
Back in the early 90's, Scott Miller & George Broussard had hired a dedicated Online Support Manager (Joe Siegler) to represent the company online in such places like CompuServe, Prodigy, Delphi, America Online (then still called PC Link). This was working well, but the World Wide Web was invented in 1994, just a couple of years after we started this sort of online support. So it made sense to transition there for information and support.
When we first started, we weren't using the 3drealms.com domain name we are now, as the first 3D Realms title (Terminal Velocity) wasn't released until the following year. We wanted to use apogee.com, but that was taken by another company. Turns out there were quite a few companies named Apogee at that time who were already online. Many a moon ago, we had a page dedicated to those "other" Apogee companies. You can still see this page today. Anyway, because someone owned the domain name apogee.com, we needed another name. We ended up using http://www.apogee1.com. It was felt at that time to be a tie-in to the way we distributed shareware episodes of our games at the time. You see, most of our distribution was done on old Dial-up BBS's - like Software Creations. Most listings of files would be shown in alphabetical order, and to help with that, we used to name our files things like #1wolf3d.zip or #1cosmo.zip, things like that. So naming our website apogee1.com spoke to the "#1" naming convention we had for our shareware files at the time.
Our site has had many looks over the 20 years it has been up, especially in the first 6 or 7 years or so. We're going to take a trip down memory lane and look at some screenshots from earlier versions of the website.
The earliest version of our website we have no picture of, nor any clear memory of what it actually looked like. Websites back in 1995 weren't much more than basic pages with a picture if you were lucky, so it is probably not hard to imagine what it looked like. But, we have no archive of that version. If someone reading this article actually has a screen grab of the original version of the website, we'd love to hear from you.
Software Creations / Web BBS
After a short time with the original presence, we decided to move to something more structured. That was in partnership with our main distributor at the time, the Software Creations BBS. In 2015, there are a lot of people that don't even know what a BBS is, so here's some info on them if you want to read, and we've included a picture of what Software Creations looked like. It was run by Dan Linton in his house, so imagine having all of these PC's in your basement, not to mention all the phone lines required to service all of this! (This wasn't even all of the systems, only a fraction) :)
Software Creations was quite instrumental in our first website presence (beyond the original single pages). It was an inititave they had at the time called the "Web BBS", which was their attempt to transplant the structure (and culture somewhat) of BBS's to the web. In the end it didn't work, but we were part of that attempt. We unfortunately have no screenshots showing what the content parts of the site looked like back then. We do have a screenshot of the "front door" (and the main menu) of that version. There isn't much to see though because all of the "content" was behind the login. The Web BBS version of our site went online in November of 1995.
Black / Brown Versions
Shortly after the screenshot above, we stopped using the Web BBS software. We moved onto our own website, which at this point would have been using www.3drealms.com. Internet records show that we registered both apogee1.com and 3drealms.com back in September of 1994, but we wouldn't have used the 3D Realms name until much later due to the timing of the games under that product line. We had two versions versions of the website that had no actual codename (like the other designs). These two were mostly banal in their design, but it was our first attempt at the overall layout that our site had over the years. These ones had little to no design. One was all black, and another had brown/wooden menu elements. The latter we have no good screenshot of. The picture we have below only exists because it was scanned out of a print manual that happened to have the picture in it (not in color unfortunately).
The Black one we unfortunately have a variant of that shows christmas lights as part of the design! Not quite sure what Joe was thinking with that one.
These versions first went online October 21, 1996 and lasted until July 1997.
Green TV Version
We never formally named the various versions of the website, but we had some internal development code names for them that got used in a few places.
"Green TV" was what we called this version of the site, which first went online July 18, 1997, and actually was in use for less than a year. Here's a shot of what the front page looked like. What you can't see in this are that a lot of the front page elements would animate, and it wasn't a static look to the site. The horizontal string of numbers was constantly changing. Memory says the numbes meant something, but can't remember that for sure all these years later. Other images had an animated look to them in the site design, so this one was the most "alive" of any of the designs we ever had.
This version of the site we called "Apogee98". Mostly because at that time the name Apogee stopped being one we used in 1996 (with Stargunner being the last game under that name), so Joe wanted to get the name out there somehow, and used it to describe this version of the site. The 98 part comes from the fact that it launched on February 6, 1998.
This version was much brighter than the Green TV variant, as it used white as its base color, where the GreenTV one used black. It was also less "animating", the design was static and didn't move like the GreenTV one did.
This version of the site was the first to include a way to order games online. It wasn't anything like it is today with Steam and GOG and things of that nature. It was a way to order physical product that would be shipped to you. But was our first online store of any kind.
We also have a few variants of some of the logo graphics that were never used, so check them out. :)
Y2K Site / Legacy Site
That brings us to the "Y2K Site". This is the version of the 3D Realms site that most people know. It first went online March 2, 2000. It lasted for a REALLY long time. The last story posted to that version of the site was April 3, 2013. It was finally replaced on October 23, 2014 with the version of the website you are reading this story on. This version of the site lasted through a ton of different developers coming in and out of our doors, three different set of offices for the company, more than one company of residence (and set of owners) for the company. It was online for a LONG TIME.
It wasn't always intended to be that way. We had designs on replacing it many times over the years, but it was always tabled until we had finished Duke Forever, and you know what happened there. So this design stayed online (probably way too long) until Interceptor bought 3D Realms, and relaunched the brand with the 3D Realms Anthology in 2014. With that came a new website.
The Y2K site became known as the "Legacy Site" when Interceptor took over, and the ENTIRE SITE is still available online. If you've never checked it out, you can do so here: http://legacy.3drealms.com. It all still works.
Something cool about the Y2K site was discovered during the research for this article. Joe was plowing through his archives of the old versions of the site, and discovered some of the scratch/earliest versions of the Y2K site during site development. We present some of them here for you to check out. They cover several different stages of the development of this version of the site, and you can see some other color schemes, and display ideas that were ultimately rejected. Click on any of them to see a larger version.
There were plenty of other items that were on the 3D Realms site over the years, besides the list of games available, news on upcoming events, and other "official" things of that nature. Some of the other items of note on the site over the years are...
- The Camera Captioning Contest. This was a thing where we would post a silly picture of someone at the 3D Realms offices, and invite people to send in silly answers. This ran from May 28, 1996 to January 18, 2007, when it basically ram out of steam. When the 3D Realms site was revived in 2014, the contest returned, and is going again, only this time with social media involved! :)
- Live Cam - Back around 1995 through 1998 or so, we used to run a live webcam on our website. We'd move it from various spots in the offices to give people a glimpse of what went on at 3D Realms HQ. It had a few notable uses over the years. We used it to announce that we were shipping Duke Nukem 3D in 1996 (picture), we used it to communicate with one of our pending hires in Germany, and we occasionally would have guys moon the camera. Not sure why we stopped doing it now, but it was fun when we had it going. Factoid: Two pictures from the 3D Realms Anthology trailer in 2014 came from the cam cap shots archive turned up (one of the late William Scarboro and another of the ROTT development offices). It was always funny when it would crash, too. :)
- Virtual Tour - WAY back in the 90's we used to have a "Virtual Tour" of the offices. You could start at the front door, and walk your way through the offices. Back when this was new, tours, and things we have today like Google Street View didnt' exist, so it was pretty unique to be able to "walk through" the offices like that.
- Legacy Interviews - Given the total number of games the company has been involved with, and for how long, we were able to mine that legacy for some content. Some years ago we contacted a bunch of former developers, and asked them questions about their time with Apogee/3DR. This interview series was quite well received, and is actually still available online, if you'd like to read it.
- 3D Realms Forums. One of the things the old Web BBS used to have was msg boards, because they were grown out of what happened back on the old Dialup BBS's of old. When we stopped using Web BBS, we moved to our own solution, which was something called "Ultimate Bulletin Board". It was a Perl/CGI driven forum software package by a company then called Infopop. We later on switched to a different package, called vBulletin, and those forums are STILL around today! We're a little fuzzy as to the date as to when we started using vBulletin, but it's been well over a decade at this point. Those forums survived the fall of 3D Realms in 2009, they famously got a shoutout from Joe Siegler in one of the videos in 2011 where he talked about the history of Duke, and were still there when Joe returned to the company in 2014. In fact, the design of the forums is still the same one that was done by our old forum guy, ADM, so they're seriously old school! Those forums have been through a lot, it's kind of cool to link the really old days of the company to the company today. Glad they're still here!
- Live Chat - We used to have an embedded IRC channel on the website where you could chat with us directly - in real time. That didn't last terribly long, because it was IRC, and with IRC comes all the problems relative to that. Was interesting while it lasted, though. Most of the chats were "Is anyone here?" however. :)
- .plan files - Anyone remember .plan files? Was something in the early days that kind of predated Twitter. It was a social media thing. John Carmack had the most famous .plan file back in the day, and it was always funny reading those because it was setup so that you would "finger someone" to read their .plan file.
- Overheard at Apogee - Was a place where we would take random lines we heard at the office and put them on the site. Can't find a page with this, though. :(
- Separated at Birth - A page where we would compare 3D Realms staffers to folks in the real world. You can still see a version of this here.
- Movie Reviews - The guys used to write reviews of movies they went to see. If you want a chuckle, see what they had to say about "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace". Especially their definition of shit filter. :) This little tidbit came from the "Apogee98" version of the website.
There's plenty more things, but we need to end somewhere. We hope you have enjoyed this look back at our website history. If you really want to get down and dirty, check out this timeline page on the legacy site. It gets into precise release dates for just about everything that's ever happened with the company. Ever. :)
Additionally, our legacy news archives contain every story from the launch of the site back in 1995 up until 2013, when we published the last story on the legacy site. The actual first story was published three days after the launch of the site. We have a marker story from July 7, 1995, but it was published some time later. That "marker story" contains this text, which was written in 2005.. "I find it hard to believe that our website has been going for a decade now." Well, it has been going for TWO DECADES now, I find that even harder to believe! Yet, still we're going forward. Bring on Bombshell!
If you'd like to leave a comment on this, please click on the "Discuss" link where you can talk about this story on our forums! If there's a favorite part of the site from the past we forgot to mention that you liked, please. Let us know about it!
EXTRA BONUS: We were able to recover one of the earlier versions of the Virtual Tour from the "Black" website, which would have been somewhere around early 1997. This is ONLINE and you can actually view it now. Some of the links in the tour that branched off to other parts of the (then) website won't work right now. But the tour itself is working (including the Zork easter egg), so if you want to check out some mid 90's website design sense, check out the 3D Realms Virtual Tour - 1997 edition. :)
Just don't get eaten by a grue.