A couple weeks ago I watched Synecdoche, New York. A movie about a man named Calen Cotard, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, working on his autobiographical play. It takes Hoffman’s character several years to ‘get close’ to completion until the inevitable happens. Within this segment of Sign of the Times, we will see an oddly drawn parallel of the plot of aforementioned the Charlie Kaufman movie and 3D Realms only gaming property.
*note, if you have not seen Synecdoche, New York and/or have problems with the movie being spoiled…I would suggest watching the movie prior to reading.
As many of you avid gamers know, 3D Realms studio, creators of the popular PC game, Duke Nukem 3D, has been taken off of their 13 year project Duke Nukem Forever. For the past couple of weeks, the obvious question was: "How could a studio be substantially funded to continue working on a game for this length of time and not produce a finished game?"
If you have seen Synechdoche, New York, then the answer is simple. Genius and good faith go hand in hand. In Synechdoche, New York, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character creates a well crafted, critically acclaimed play which garners a grant for what is sure to be the play that he REALLY wanted to do. Duke Nukem 3D was a good game, the time period it came out was one that nods back to how writing for a video game did not to much differ from writing for, say, that of a Playboy ‘Romantic Encounter’ entry. Note: Duke Nukem Forever had more references to breasts.
What Duke symbolized ‘then’ seemed to be an anti-Doom or Quake character-type, almost manufacturing its own genre cult-grindhouse following simultaneously. A crass action hero who had a personality and was well aware of his ‘hero-ocity’. Given your Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein 3D boom of first person shooters, 3D Realms looked at these 1-dimensional classics as the foundation of what Duke Nukem [the character] could parody. The most bitter pill about this whole ‘Duke Nukem thing’ would be that the odd references and crass humor dated the character in such an awful manner. Duke as our Phillip Seymour Hoffman has all of the impact of what the play RENT would have now*.
The most interesting thing in Synechdoche, New York would be that not only is Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Calen Cotard, physically and mentally falling apart the further he delves in putting real life events into his play. Cotard goes as far as constructing his own Synechdoche with the basis of the actor playing himself who is ALSO attempting to do the same thing. Within this movie upwards of two decades pass, the audience is supposed to wonder will this ever come together for Cotard? Will Cotard be able to truly analyze himself and thus put together this masterpiece of something that could only be described as uber-meta? More importantly, how has he managed to keep the same staff for over 17 years?
The signs are all there folks! Duke Nukem Forever was [probably] a masterwork for those willing to see it for what it was…those willing being Take-Two. Sure the game was in production since 1996. Maybe the funding provided by Take-Two was a show of good faith and a nod to the intellectual depth that we would soon come to understand found in the games ‘eventual’ release.
There were probably a fair share of cynical gamers out there who seen the trailer(s) for Duke Nukem Forever and wondered, "How is this character relevant now?" What would possess a studio to not only put all of their stock in a character, a single franchise? With what is being purported as the biggest squandering of money and time. 3D Realms is essentially ruined. No one will ever trust them with a game, let alone one of their stock and trade. For 13 years 3D Realms accomplished what few…what no game developing studio was able to accomplish. For 13 years, a game developing studio released screenshots, teasers and trailers, but never released a single game.
Although this rant is hammy and humorous [i hope]. In all seriousness, I do feel somewhat bad that:
A) A game I was moderately interested in playing, is never coming out [at least not how it was intended].
B) People did lose their jobs doing what they loved [What they did over that period of time? I have no idea]
C) The fact that this is going to get uglier with Take-Two suing 3D Realms and possibly vice versa is yet another example of wasted energy which could be used to create something positive…like say…a game?
Who knows what the possibilities were for The Duke? Well…I mean, besides 3D Realms. It would have been swell to see a story in which Duke Nukem has to shoot his way through a destitute city, reaching the woman he loves only to then realize that his love has been dead for approximately 13 years. Duke would then have to analyze his place in this vast world [possibly an open world scenario]. Duke would be forced to look at all the time that has passed and what exactly does he have to show for the life he has lead. Perhaps Duke would then discover that he is just a video game character. A 3-dimensional person of fiction that really is not that 3-dimensional.
Duke takes off his shades, looks at you the gamer, the fan. He pulls the cigarette out of his mouth. The camera catches his eye and at that very moment, Duke acknowledges you as the controller of his life. The camera goes in close framing his face. There are a million thoughts bouncing off the walls of his now drug addled brain. Realizing that mere shades of himself will be strewn about iPhones, PSPs and DSs throughout the world, Duke will never be fully realized by his 3D Realm architects on a major console. Coming to grips with his mortality, he seeks shelter in a back alley.
*I have seen RENT a handful of times now in different production runs and although I’m sure many adore this broadway musical, the sting of finding out your gay friend has AIDS is kind of dulled in this day and age.
This article is brought to you by the letter ‘I’ and the lovely crew over at The Start Screen.