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Duke Nukem Eventually: Disappointment by the numbers

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On May 3, 2011, Gearbox will finally release Duke Nukem: Forever, and on that day, the blonde bruiser's notoriety will vaporize.

A sort of hilarious negligence lies at the core of Duke Nukem: Forever’s development hell. For longer than it took humankind to get a man on the moon, 3D Realms, a Texas-based development studio, toiled amid the most infamous case of artistic stagnation in the short history of video games.

And for what, you ask? A first-person shooter that lets you pee in a urinal — as demonstrated in a playable demo last summer at the Penny Arcade Expo — and sign autographs for children with drawings of penises. These are the features that differentiate Duke from other entries into the oversaturated shooter market. It sounds pretty sad when you put the net result of 14 years of effort into such stark terms.

 

Duke Nukem originated during the advent of explicit interactive content. If I can appropriate EA's recent Dead Space 2 advertising campaign, "Your mom was gonna hate it." Appearing on the PC platform in 1991, Duke first had a short two-title-long career as a side-scrolling platformer. In 1996, 3D Realms took the then-revolutionary idea of the first-person shooter and lathered its bloody aesthetic with pixelated boobies, gratuitous violence, and topical irreverence. It was great. The studio birthed an American legend in an industry that counted a mustachioed plumber and a "mega man" in a blue jumpsuit among its leading icons.

In 1997, 3D Realms announced Duke Nukem Forever, with a release set for 1998. From then until now, the medium made incredible leaps in technology, economic importance, and cultural significance, eventually evolving into a multibillion-dollar industry. All the while, 3D Realms teased and delayed Duke Nukem Forever year after year after year. The studio continued to oversee myriad ports, spin-offs, and side projects for various systems in the interceding time, but they could never seem to ship the true sequel to their most influential game.

For those curious, here's Duke Nukem Forever by the numbers (check here for more fun facts and observations):

  • Announced almost 14 years ago (April 28, 1997)
  • Prior to the Gearbox acquisition, one member of the press, Jace Hall, played it for five minutes
  • $20,000,00+ development budget (an exceptionally conservative estimate that is probably much, much higher)
  • Three or more video-game engines (depending on how you count them)
  • 100% of Duke Nukem Forever's development staff at 3D Realms fired/laid off (depends on who you ask)
  • 2009: The year Gearbox Software acquires the title, under the supervision of studio head Randy Pitchford, who started his career working on a Duke Nukem 3D expansion
  • $59.99 plus tax: The amount I will save myself by not investing in reliable disappointment

The abysmal trailer, the uninteresting screenshots, and the collective “mehs” of the gaming press have me seriously worried about the game's quality. It has a generic aura that I don't think Duke deserves. To put it bluntly, I've seen some first-person shooters in my time…and Duke Nukem Forever is one of them.

The hubris of Duke's creators has tarnished the charm of his character. And because of their errors, we're stuck with a gigantic man-baby, who is little more than a walking anachronism. Maybe they should have left him alone, back in his own time, where he could have been happy stuffing dollar bills into strippers' thongs and wasting Pig Cops.

But no. Here he is: The progenitor of Gears of War's meatheads and Call of Duty's “Hoorah!” adrenaline junkies reduced to pandering to 13-year-old boys on Xbox Live.

We may not like it, but “the king is back, baby,” and he’s here to show us how satisfying trite crap can be. Duke Nukem Forever is what happens when the aimless and lazy feign creativity, when a legend's reputation transcends his own product, and when expectations spin wildly out control.

Duke, you are dead to me, and I think you’re better off for it. That goes for the Smurfs, too. But then they announced that live-action Smurfs movie. I cried blue tears.


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