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Trevor Wagner

Duke Nukem Forever History Lesson & [PAX] Impressions

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Thirteen years. Think about that for a minute. Thirteen years. That's more than a decade. Most people on Xbox Live weren't even alive thirteen years ago. We had the N64, the Net Link for the Sega Saturn, and, don't ask why I remember this, those damn Tamagotchis. We also had, probably just as vital as everything else I mentioned (except Tamagotchis. Tamagotchis can go straight to hell), Duke Nukem 3D on the PC. Honestly, I don't think that Duke Nukem 3D needs much introduction, as pretty much anyone who's anything beyond a “casual” gamer knows about Duke Nukem. This is going to be a bit of a lengthy read, so sit down, strap in, and get ready to find out everything I've got to say about the King.

A game that has been in development for over thirteen years is obviously going to have quite a complicated history, and most gamers seem to have lost track after the first few years of delays, trailers, and confusion. The best place to try to start following the game is, obviously, at the beginning. In 1996, Duke Nukem 3D was released for PC/Mac, and it was mostly well received. Gamers loved it, praising the humor as well as the actual gameplay, while a lot of government officials and family groups were bothered by the violence, and sexual content, that DN3D presented. A few countries banned it, while others released an edited version, lacking the sexual content and some of the violence. After the warm reception that the game had gotten 3D Realms, they announced on April 28, 1997 that they would be making a follow up, entitled Duke Nukem Forever. The sequel to one of the best shooters in years was originally slated for a mid-1998 release, as 3D Realms seemed to feel quite confident that they could finish the game in roughly a year's time. It was obvious that shortly after the release of DN3D that the Build engine that previous games had run on was starting to become antiquated. It was decided that the new title would use the Quake II engine, so using the money made from their recent release, they spent an estimated $500,000 on the liscencing for the new engine, then turning over the publishing and marketing rights to GT Interactive. Though a few screenshots were shown soon afterwards, they were just mock ups, as it wasn't until later in the year (November of 1997) that the devs were actually given the code for the engine. In 1998, 3D Realms showed off their progress in the Quake II engine at that year's E3. However, soon after the release of the Quake II engine, Epic Games unveiled it's new Unreal Engine, which seemed much more fitting for the project. The decision was once again made to change engines, even though it would mean scrapping all of the work from the Quake II engine.

As the end of 1999 approached rapidly, Duke Nukem Forever had missed several release dates, and there was little progress to show. At this point, most of the game was still in concept form, including the majority of the weapons. In 2000, GT Interactive wasn't making enough money to support itself, so Infogrames Entertainment purchased GT Interactive, and later that year, the publishing rights were transferred, yet again, this time to Gathering of Developers. The following year at E3, another trailer was released, showing off a bit of in-game footage, and it was impressive. There were high levels of interaction show, and the graphics were phenomenal for the time. The game was once again considered to be a highly anticipated release, with this trailer surely meaning that the game would be out within a year or two. Later that year, one of the co-founders of Gathering of Developers passed away, so the office that ran 3D Realms were absorbed into Take-Two Interactive. Work continued throughout the next few years, with an occasional rumor or mention of the game, even though it was reported that by the year 2003, the number of people at 3D Realms actively working on the game had fallen to a ridiculously low amount – 18. For the next few years, work continued on the game, but very little was heard about it. During this time, most people had assumed the game had turned into vaporware, and would never see the light of day.

This next part may stick out in your mind, as a lot of gamers had completely forgotten about the project, or honestly expected it to never be released. In May of 2007, two Gamasutra advertisements for jobs, with attached screenshots of Duke Nukem and an enemy (a pig-cop, if memory serves). The team quickly increased in size, and it was believed that DN may have actually been on the fast-track to completion. In December of that year, for the first time in over 6 years, a trailer was released. By this point, most people were excited, but hesitant to believe anything related to the title. It had already been ten years, with no release date mentioned, and with the game vanishing off the radar at least twice. Unfortunately, funding was slowly depleting for the project, and in the May of 2009, all development was suspended. Two days later, 3D Realms laid off the staff in charge of working on DNF, due to the aforementioned lack of funding. Take-Two Interactive still owned the rights, but announced they would not be continuing the fund the production of the game. Shortly thereafter, Take-Two sued 3D Realms for not completing the game. The reply was that yes, Take-Two had given Infogrames Entertainment $12 million dollars to get the publishing rights, but that had nothing to do with 3D Realms; it was an agreement between Take-Two and Infogrames. Take-Two requested that a restraining order be placed on 3D Realms, so that they could no longer access the assets for Duke Nukem Forever, as to keep them in tact during the proceedings. The request was denied, but the lawsuit remained in motion. In June of that year, 3D Realms stated that they never officially declared the project to be dead, adding that the team had worked on it for years, and would continue to do so. As of June 11 of this year, the lawsuit between Take-Two and 3D Realms was dismissed.

Though 3D Realms internal team was no longer working on DNF for lack of funding, they continued to work on it from their homes. Nine of the former-3D Realms employees on the Duke Nukem team later became Triptych Games, an internal dev studio working under Gearbox Software. In 2009, 3D Realms approached Gearbox, and asked if they would help Triptych Games finish up the PC version of the game, and port it to consoles. As it turns out, the CEO of Gearbox, Randy Pitchford, had worked on an expansion for Duke Nukem 3D, as well as for a short time on Duke Nukem Forever, so he was excited to see the game finally coming to fruition. He agreed, and starting funding the development of the project, as well as contacting 2K Games to persuade them that they should be a part of the project, and help make sure the game was released. Now, jump forward a bit to a few weeks ago – the weekend of September 3rd, at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), it was officially announced that Duke Nukem Forever would be finished and released.

Well, I was at PAX this year, and I got to see the game in action, and hear from Randy Pitchford about the game. Let me start of by saying that the second I saw the Gearbox booth, I was intrigued, and immediately excited. When I finally got to go inside after about an hour wait, we were directed to sit in the chairs in the booth. When we sat down, Randy Pitchford came out, and explained his part of the history of the game; and stated that “someone once told me: always bet on Duke. So I did.” We were then told that we would get to see a new trailer for the game. The man working the computer/projector clicked on the icon for the file, and...

He rick-rolled us. As soon as he opened the file, Rick Astley popped up on screen, blaring that accursed song. Normally when you get rick-rolled, everyone laughs, and it's a nice joke, and you move on. Not this time. Everyone in the room chuckled once, and then gave Pitchford looks that could kill a man. He quickly turned to the man operating the projector to ask him what the hell he was doing, and the man was laughing raucously, stating he had to do it.

After that, he booted up the real trailer, and all I can say is wow. The trailer made mention of the fact that it's been ages since the game was supposed to be released, and I have to say, the trailer did a great job of making the game look fantastic. There were guns, explosions, one liners, and a lot of Duke, and as soon as it ended, everyone was thrilled. After the trailer, Pitchford explained to us that a trailer wouldn't be enough; we had all seen trailers before, and it had never come out. However, he said that when our readers had a picture of us in front of the start menu holding a controller, they would probably believe us.

He lead us into the demo area, which had a bunch of consoles hooked up with monitors and headphones, and told us we had fifteen minutes to enjoy ourselves. Now, I'm gonna phrase this as I would most previews, because otherwise I'm going to just keep repeating that “oh my God, it's Duke Nukem Forever.” As I stated before, the game is graphically impressive. They went for a high level of realism, while keeping an exaggerated style, and it works really well. There's a high level of detail in the little things, such as a Duke Nukem themed Xbox 360 controller in Duke's hands at the start of the game, and a dry erase board that you can erase and draw on. The animations are nice, and fit the models well; enemies dropping on all fours for a moment to rush you, or other NPCs gesturing with their hands all seem very natural. The effects are great, with the rain in the first part of the demo, fire, and explosions looking the way you would expect them to, and there's plenty of those to go around, without any slowdown. It was only fifteen minutes, and I only got through two distinct sections of the game in that time, but from being inside in a football stadium to being in the desert, the game looked really graphically well done.

The controls for Duke Nukem are a split into two section, or at least the demo at PAX was. When you're on foot the game controls like a FPS should – the controls are tight, and feel natural. Running around, blasting enemies feels just as nice as you would expect, and nothing seems odd or out of place. However, in the driving section we were shown in the demo, Duke hops in his Duke Nukem-themed truck, and you take off. It's not that the driving controls are bad, because they aren't, but I had a really hard time going at a half decent speed and making some of the turns without hitting a wall because the driving is as heavy as a real truck would be. Again, I have to say, going down straight paths, and swerving to avoid obstacles and hit enemies felt alright, but anything more was a bit difficult, but it may just be that I wasn't driving the way the game seems to want you to. All in all, the game handles really well, though either I need to brush up on my driving, or they need to tighten up the turning a bit (or both).

When I first started playing, I was so excited that I didn't even notice the headphones on the table until I realized I couldn't hear anything. As soon as I pulled them on and started playing, I was greeted by the sound of Duke mentioning how much he enjoyed it was that he was taking a piss. Yes, the demo starts with you at a urinal, being prompted to press the Right Trigger to make Duke urinate. Jon St. John returns as the voice of Duke, and after thirteen years, hearing that booming voice was a welcome return to my childhood. The one liners he spits out during combat an in interaction with NPCs are classic Duke-style lines, and they all elicit a chuckle or two. The sounds of the game are of the caliber you would expect; rock and orchestral music create a great atmosphere to be in, gunshots are loud and have a nice pop to them, explosions sound like explosions, and squealing enemy pig-aliens sounds like squealing enemy pig-aliens. That's not to say that the audio isn't impressive, because it it; it's all very solidly done. It's just that this is a game that you know what it's going to sound like before you start playing, so there was nothing to really note beyond that.

I could spend all day talking about Duke Nukem Forever, and how excited I am, but I'll spare you the trouble, and try to sum it up – I'm really, really excited for this game. Gearbox Software has managed to take a game that was almost dead, and help bring it back to life, and it's looking more like a resurrection than a Frankenstein. On top of that, not only is it my, along with many other, gamers' childhoods re-imagined in a new age, but it's a game that most felt would never be released. The best part of all this is that, it's actually shaping up to be a legitimately good game. Duke Nukem may have been on the ropes for a while, and most gamers may have given up on him, but there's one thing that you should always know to do - “Always bet on Duke.”

Trevor Wagner Writer

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Updated 23-09-10 at 12:24 by Trevor Wagner

Microsoft , PC , Industry , Editorial


  1. Anthony Wastella's Avatar
    Sounds like it'll be some fun, now I just want to see some gameplay or at least a trailer for myself to better judge it.

    I missed Duke back in the Day so i don't have a lot of nostalgia for it, but if it evokes the 90s era mentality i'll be interested.
  2. Mclean Oshiokpekhai's Avatar
    It's finally happening.

    I still can't believe it. But it's finally happening.

    I'm slowly getting back to being excited for this. I remember playing Duke Nukem with my brother back when I was a little kid. Good times.
  3. SteveSawyer's Avatar
    Excellent coverage my man and amazing article! You really know your Duke!

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