I’m feeling self-indulgent right now after all that divorce stuff from earlier this month, so for the first time ever I’ve decided to write for public edification about what’s now a rather obscure little piece of video game history. For this, I was inspired by a 2010 discussion on Gamespot.com.
If you go to the Wikipedia entry on the magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly, you’ll see this little tidbit underneath the heading about “EGM online”: “In 1995, EGM‘s first online website was nuke.com. It merged with gamespot.com in 1996 after Ziff-Davis purchased Sendai Media Group.”
These two mentions, on Gamespot and Wikipedia, are pretty much the only readily-found online references to the project that consumed the first 16 months or so of my work life. The Gamespot thread is the only one I saw when I did a Google search.
The story of “Nuke.com” isn’t completely mine, of course. I didn’t start it, though I was there to the bitter end. I can’t tell you whose idea it was to name it NUKE (this was actually before the term “dot-com” came into common usage, so it was never truly called Nuke.com). I don’t know much about the decisions that went into its creation, or the tech that went into maintaining the site. So I can’t write a definitive history (although I wouldn’t mind doing that someday) – I can only tell you what I lived.
NUKE was a website owned by Sendai Media Group, the company that brought us EGM, thanks to founder Steve Harris. Back then, in the early days of the Internet, everyone was trying to figure out how to use websites to bring in cash. Sendai’s way was to lump all its magazines under one new brand name, Nuke. I mean, NUKE. The NUKE InterNetwork would offer new, exclusive material, but would also draw from the publications. These magazines were EGM, Computer Game Review, Cinescape Magazine, and Hero Illustrated – video games, computer games, movies and comic books. We covered all the geek bases, and we were young and passionate and committed to trying out new ways of disseminating content. We were among the first sites to use animated GIFs, to have moderated chats, and to create multimedia features. As one of my ex-colleagues recently jokingly noted, we once had his cat appear on our gaming minute segment, which possibly makes us a pioneer in putting cats on the Internet too…
Sometimes, I think we considered ourselves the bastard stepchild of Sendai. I’m not convinced the rest of the print-based company really understood what we were doing at all – not even the guys who were supposed to sell advertising on NUKE. We were practically our own entity, shunted up out of the way on an upper floor of an office building in Lombard, Ill. We didn’t use the company’s copy editors; we had our own graphic artists and programmers. As the Cinescape online editor, I felt more connected to NUKE than I ever did to Cinescape, much as I respected my super-smart editors there. And I have to admit, at the beginning I didn’t get EGM. I didn’t interact with anyone there on a professional level since I was working for the movie magazine. And though I loved geek culture, I wasn’t more than a casual video gaming fan from Atari and NES days. But I certainly understood that EGM was the most important property at Sendai, and that EGM carried us all.
The first year I spent writing movie news, creating short articles for Cinescape, and fashioning multimedia features for NUKE. I remember one day being totally freaked out because I answered the phone and Jerry O’Connell was on the line. I had called his rep, and I wasn’t actually expecting the actor himself to phone me back and want to do the interview then and there (it was for the film “Joe’s Apartment”). I had to put him on hold while I started breathing again. I also remember doing a feature for the 1996 “Doctor Who” movie on Fox, starring Paul McGann. It included interviews with his companions both in print and on audio and a lot of images. Maybe even some video. I was a huge fan, so I was really excited about that project, which I organized and executed myself.
Meanwhile, our little group became fairly close-knit. After hours, we’d play fighting games like Tekken. On weekends, we’d come in and use the servers to play damn-near legendary multiplayer games of Doom II or Quake or Duke Nukem 3D (we still discuss the time Troy ambushed Dave in the air vents with a pipe bomb…to this day, I can hear the anguished scream on one end and the hysterical giggle on the other). We went to lunch together on an almost daily basis – to Yorktown Mall, where we ate and played arcade games – to El Famous Burrito, which I got sick of, but I was always outvoted – to Portillo’s for hot dogs and burgers – to the Mongolian barbecue place with the name I can’t recall. There was an inter-NUKE romance (no, not me!). We developed inside jokes, we hung out even when we weren’t gaming or working and we confided in one another. The crew, at various points in time, included Ken Williams, Mike Riley, John Carney, Tim Gallagher, Kevin Perry, Jason Morgan, John Benton, Shawn Smith, Jennifer Morris (now Lanstrum), Dave Hill, Norm Dwyer, Tasos Kaiafas, Troy Brophy, Steven Greenlee and Joe Fielder. Some of these names you may know – others have left the industry. They were all characters and fantastic people, and I am lucky to still be in touch with many of them.
Then, Ziff-Davis Inc. swept in. This was mid-1996. For long months, things were completely in transition. Ziff-Davis bought EGM and CGR, but not Cinescape and Hero. However, it did acquire Sendai Interactive, which signed off on my paychecks. Without Cinescape, my job was gone, but I wasn’t the only without job security. None of us knew what was going to happen since ZD certainly had its own online operation going. We started slacking off and taking long lunches and updating our resumes, although I did my best to keep working despite the uncertainty. We figured we’d all be fired eventually, even though ZD started instituting some changes in personnel and content that indicated they were still trying to figure out what to do with us. I got moved to EGM, which was great for me because by then, I’d become a gamer. But my new title, Production Assistant, wasn’t terribly impressive. It mainly meant that I did whatever miscellaneous duties the EGM site needed. I remember spending a lot of time processing images and turning them into web-friendly GIFs.
During this time, the NUKE staff started dropping off. Some saw the writing on the wall and quit. Others simply disengaged and waited to see what would happen. I stuck it out, because I couldn’t imagine not doing so, because I loved NUKE and all the people there. At the end of 1996, we learned the news: NUKE was dead. Long live Gamespot. Of the few of us who remained, a couple of us were laid off. Two were moved out to San Francisco. And several, including me, stayed on to join – or re-join – the EGM staff.
That was a long time ago, it seems. The Internet has changed a lot, and so has the gaming industry. But I remember the feeling of being part of something that we all hoped would be big, and I remember how much I loved being part of that group. I was young enough and new enough to the area that I had no other loyalties and no qualms about staying up all night coding and hanging out with my NUKE buddies.
“Nuke.com” may mean very little to anyone else these days – worthy of a single sentence here and there on Wikipedia, in entries for other things, or other people. But for those of us who were part of it, it was everything, at least for a time. I have it on good authority that the majority of those who on NUKE still consider it the best job they ever had. I can tell you its effect on my life didn’t stop when NUKE ended – I married the childhood friend of a NUKE co-worker, went on to participate in the late ’90s dot-com boom because I had a soft spot for startups, and (of course) I still love and write about games.
By the way, if you click on that Gamespot discussion, you’ll find that one of the theories about “Nuke.com” is that it’s related to Duke Nukem 3D. The way I see it, as much time as we logged killing each other in that game, it might as well have been! The truth about “Nuke.com” is certainly more dull than what those people imagined – but never to me.
A small portion of the last version of NUKE has been archived online at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Check it out if you’re interested.