I’m all out of gumMay 19, 2009
I must confess, I always had hoped that Duke Nukem Forever would be released and proceed to win a Game of the Year award from numerous publications and online magazines. Sure, the development of 3D Realm’s long speculated vaporware title has been gaming’s longest running joke, but I still had faith that the studio could release a good game. Looking at their library from ten years ago, the studio along with id and Epic were one of the heavy weights of great game design and great games. Looking at the leaked animation footage from Duke Nukem Forever, the game looked like a lot of fun.
Aside from all the hoopla that is surrounding the current legal debacle between Take-Two and 3D Realms, after seeing DNF I noticed one glaring overlooked aspect that Duke Nukem gave to the gaming community: humor. Sure, Duke was a culmination of 1980s action stars that are no longer relevant in today’s overly serious, uber realism action movies and Duke was a knock off of one liners from Evil Dead’s Ash, but he was fun. The great irony of the Duke Nukem is that the character blurred that line between satire and actuality. Looking at the various space marines that over populate the shooter games of today, we can see a lineage from Duke.
Looking at the team working at 3D Realms, I continuously hear that it is unfortunate that very talented people were let go. But many commentators are saying that it is a good thing that they are not detached from Duke. Yet, they don’t give the benefit of the doubt to these programmers, designers, artists, writers, and producers. Everyone on the team clearly has an attachment to the characters and I actually give them the benefit of the doubt that the team new exactly where they wanted the game to go and how they wanted the character to evolve. And with the release of the DNF animation footage, it does look like they understand the humor of the game with pig cops accidentally being crushed by metal doors because of incompetence or Duke given the finger to a boss as he falls to his death.Maybe it is nostalgia that is putting a filter over my eyes. One of my earliest memories was attending my first comic convention and one of the conference rooms was running a LAN party set up. I remember jumping into the game and playing deathmatch on Duke Nukem 3D, flying across buildings with the jet pack and pummeling opponents with the rocket launcher. It is odd that Duke Nukem 3D was probably a deciding factor for me as a PC gamer playing multiplayer matches as a shrunk Duke as I escaped through the tunnels of a pool table or fought a goldfish in a fish tank in multiplayer. The game lent itself to modding, innovation, and empowerment to the player that attracted me to the PC like no console could to my adolescent knowledge.
The key to Duke is that he did not take himself seriously. I am not going to argue that pig cops are high satire and that visiting strippers and womanizing isn’t grossly offensive, but Duke with all his lame one-liners was funny whether it was camp or comedy. Plus, on top of that Duke Nukem 3D was a really great game. I remember interactivity was the key technical draw that brought players in, from flushing toilets, playing arcades, or hitting balls on the pool table it was neat to see him actually interact in the game world in some function. And seeing gameplay footage from months’ prior I was excited to revisit using the shrink ray and the many other fun little space weapons in the series.
We haven’t had a funny shooter in while. Monolith’s No One Lives Forever series was the last one I remember where a combination of amazing design and gameplay could barely keep up with the wit and humor of the story and characters. It is doubtful that Monolith will leave the F.E.A.R. franchise anytime soon and return to NOLF when the last game barely sold against the number of awards and good will given to the title. I do not believe the FPS cannot be funny nor do I believe gamers are so serious that they cannot accept some humor in their shooters. I am saddened more that DNF was cancelled because if it was a good game the series may have brought some humor back into the dull genre.
I clearly have a more optimistic view of the character and the franchise than most. It seems to be the dirty little secret that many gamers try to forget. But after the re-release of Duke Nukem 3D on Xbox Live Arcade, the game still held up to the memory of many gamers. I am now unfortunately looking for signs of life that DNF will some how be picked up again and finished in the future. With the release of Prey and massive success of Team Fortress 2, I was given hope that vaporware can deliver. And it seemed like every six months I would look up to see any new news on DNF. The closing down of DNF now give me fear on Remedy’s Alan Wake, a studio that released the original Max Payne along with 3D Realms. For a culture that seems too loyal to franchises and receptive to hype, it is unfortunate to see them turn their backs on a company. That is not to say 3D Realms does not deserve the ill will for teasing the gaming public for so long with false promises.
But despite all the controversy and in-jokes I always looked forward to the release of DNF. And it seemed like 3D Realms would deliver this time. These were very talented people that were very passionate about the character and the Duke Nukem franchise. It is never great to see people lose their jobs and not see the results of the hard work they have spent years working on. So while many people are seeing this as a bookend that closes the fledging development hell story that is Duke Nukem Forever, I still hope that this story has yet to come to an end but rather another touch stone of an epic vaporware story. I hope to one day see Duke Nukem Forever came out no matter how poorly conceived this wishful thinking is. Only now do I realize that despite these twelve years, I still always bet on Duke.