Duke Nukem Forever
May 2001. E3, Los Angeles. A meathead with dyed blonde hair wields a big plastic shooter at anyone who dares cross his path. Alongside this walking steroid are two scantily clad ladies who shake it' whenever their master commands. After ogling this actor and his impressive assets, a crowd of assorted fanboys gather around a TV screen to chow down on a visual feast.
After four years of absence, Duke Nukem (sexist mofo, alien killer and all-round destructive lunatic) has finally returned - and here, at E3 2001, is a video for his long-awaited sequel, Duke Nukem Forever. And what a trailer it is! Pure Duke-ness seeps from every pore. There's a breathtaking Las Vegas cityscape, the camera swooping in and out of casinos, dazzling explosions and grotesque creatures.
There's our hero, hornier than a Viking hat shop, flinging money at strippers, sporting bazookas and mounting motorbikes. Duke plays pinball, buys food from vending machines and kicks the ass of anyone who looks at him funnily.
Finally, a voiceover poses a question to the attentive audience. Whaddya gonna do? Save the world by yourself? Ooh, yes," yell the fanboys. Can't wait!" E3 ends and the clock ticks once more. Weeks turn to months turn to years. Now it's late 2004 and there's still no sign of DNF. This, people, is a delay of Wembley Stadium proportions, a vanished masterpiece reduced to conspiracy theories and whispered rumours on website forums. Seven years since its announcement and the world still hasn't had a playable sniff of this digital Sasquatch.
What's the story behind Duke Nukem Forever's eternal development? Will the game ever see the light of the day? Should we even care about a cigar-smoking redneck in today's world of Far Cry and Half-Life 2? To find the answers to these questions, we must venture back to the misty recesses of the last millennium, to a development studio in the heart of the Lone Star State.
Although it wasn't officially announced until 1997, Duke Nukem Forever first reared its peroxide head in 1996. According to an interview from that time with Scott Miller (honcho of Texas-based Apogee) on GameSlice.com, the game was not intended to be a sequel: Rather, it was meant to be another episode in the life of Duke. A side-scrolling platform game similar to the original two Duke games, but with better technology and graphics.
We're using the same Duke model from Duke Nukem 3D and adding dozens of new frames. Duke will climb chains, poles, ladders, walk hand-over-hand along wires and pipes, do mid-air flips and ride several vehicles, including a jet-ski and a Harley.
Programmer Keith Schuler (who years later would be instrumental in the creation of Max Payne 2: The Fall Of Max Payne) began work on this side-scroller, only for it to be cancelled when his talents were required on Duke Nukem 3D's Plutonium Pak. Development of another 3D Duke game soon commenced. Although this had nothing to do with Schuler's aborted project, the team decided to recycle its name. So began the long saga of Duke Nukem Forever...
When Chris Hargrove, now lead architect at Gas Powered Games (Dungeon Siege), arrived at 3D Realms (a division of Apogee headed by George Broussard) in the autumn of 1997 at the tender age of 22, DNF was still in prototype phase. The team didn't officially start the project until January 1998, when they were handed code for the Quake II Engine.
We showed the game at E31998 (in Atlanta)," says Chris Hargrove. We'd only been working on the project for a few months by that point, but we'd managed to make quite a few engine improvements and create a decent amount of content as well. Our focus at that time was on making the most exciting gameplay and content possible, and the engine improvements were specifically designed to help our designers and artists do the best work they could. Fortunately, the feedback we got from the E3 demo showed that our approach was paying off.
Believe The Hype?
With more locations than an interplanetary travel brochure, vehicles such as trucks and boats and footage of Duke perving at a Vegas strip joint, fans weren't disappointed. This E3 presentation also revealed a sidekick: a babe sporting a chest even bigger than Duke's.
Within a few weeks of this E3 showcase, 3D Realms announced that it was switching to the Unreal Engine. Chris Hargrove recalls the decision: Shortly after E3 1998, we looked at some of our goals for the game content and unfortunately, we realised that several of them, such as the use of huge outdoor areas, were pushing the Quake II Engine beyond its limits. We knew we could modify the engine, but that it would be a complicated task that could take some time. Around that time, Unreal was released and it had support for most of our goals already built in. Given that our investment in the Quake II Engine had only amounted to a few months by that point, we determined it'd probably be better in the long run if we just switched engines.
Bring It On
K Over the next few years, Duke's fans K started to become antsy. Where V was this masterpiece they'd been promised? What does 3D Realms mean by the game's release date is when it's done? The E3 2001 showcase only seemed to make the wait all the more torturous; the sneer on Duke's digital chops even more mocking.
According to Chris, who left 3D Realms in 2000, Duke Nukem Forever hasn't undergone any more engine switches, but its version of Unreal has been drastically overhauled. Considering the arrival of a new generation of game engines (in the splendiferous form of Half-Life 2 and Doom 3), this is critical to the success of the game. A sentiment that Chris shares.
As long as the engine behind a game has room to grow over the course of a project's life, and the developer has the skillset to take advantage of that, then there's no time limitation. Since 3D Realms first licensed Unreal, the engine has grown and improved considerably. Based on the early impressions of Unreal Engine 3.0, it's poised to continue doing so. And if you saw our stunning world exclusive look at the Unreal Engine 3.0 last issue, you've got every reason to be excited.
Breaking The Bank
3D Realms was rumoured to have parted with around half a million bucks for Quake's technology back in 1998, only to abandon the engine a few months later. DNF's budget could have paid off third-world debts at this stage - it wouldn't be a stretch to assume that cashflow has been a thorn in Duke's toe.
Having created the Max Payne franchise and reaped rewards from spin-off Nukem PC hits like (the frankly rubbish) Manhattan Project, Broussard's team probably aren't short on lolly. However, it has been at loggerheads with Duke's publishers for some time. Take 2 Interactive (parent company of Rockstar Games and Gathering) who bought the PC publishing rights for a reported $12 million in 2000, has occasionally commented on the protracted delay. The Texan developer isn't having any of it.
Bear in mind that 3D Realms funds Duke Nukem Forever 100 per cent out of our own pockets. Take 2 does nothing, George Broussard announced via the Internet in 2003. If we didn't have utmost confidence in our abilities and the future of the game, then why would we continue to fund it ourselves? We could easily quit, scrap it and do some other game. All we want to do is keep quiet, work on the game and emerge later and show you what we're working on. We don't want hype. We don't want drama. We don't want Take 2 saying stupidass things in public for the sole purposes of helping its stock.
I'll Get My Coat
While 3D Realms has been sidelined over the years by projects like the ill-fated game Prey, employee turnover hasn't helped matters either. In 1996, a bunch of staff also left to establish Ritual Entertainment (creator of Counter-Strike: Condition Zero).
I was unhappy at 3D Realms, but I now know this was mostly because of me suffering from prima donna syndrome, says ex-employee now designer at Ritual, Richard Gray. I thought I was great and I was frustrated that I wasn't treated like a god. I know better now. Four of my fellow former 3D Realmers came to me with the offer to join them, so I did.
Ken Silverman, who crafted Duke Nukem 3D's Build Engine and now just programs as a hobby, decided to walk in the same year. Believe it or not, part of recently founded Skylab Games. I've shipped three AAA titles since leaving 3DR and I'm almost done with number four. I can't imagine what could possibly be taking so long. Sadly, Duke Nukem Forever has become a slang term within the industry for a game that'll never ship', or a development cycle that takes forever'. I'm confident the boys at 3D Realms have created something special for the Duke fans. Now they just need to set it free." Most former staff like Richard Gray reckon we should be patient and abide by George Broussard's mantra: Duke Nukem Forever will be out when it's ready. After all, too many bog-standard games emerge from 18-24 months of development, while true champs like Doom 3 take aeons.
Seven Year Itch
Tom Hall, creative director on Duke Nukem II, the force behind Duke Nukem 3D's barmy plot, and an Ion Storm (Deus Ex) founder, is brimming with optimism. I think they want to make it as interactive and varied as they can, which is cool. That was the idea behind Half-Life 2 as well, so we'll see what happens. But you know... If they're having fun, have enough dough and in the end we all get a good game, then who cares? I know George and the guys will make a fun game. I'll buy it!"
Chris Hargrove continues: I wish there were some kind of exciting conspiracy behind it all, but in reality there isn't. The project's had its share of hurdles, but it's got a very talented crew behind it, and over time the crew and company have learned how to make things go more smoothly.
Many other game companies and projects undergo these same lessons, although sometimes the impact of the process can cause their games to come out less-than-perfect, simply because of scheduling constraints that build up along the way. Fortunately, this isn't a problem for 3D Realms. If you ask me do I think it will it ever see the light of day'? Yes, I believe it will."
As you read this, in a darkened room in Texas, tech boffins are busy tinkering on Duke's new pipe bombs. Meanwhile, somewhere in Los Angeles sits an out-of-work actor, biceps bigger than his head. This man-mountain is twiddling his thumbs, waiting to reprise his role as Duke Nukem at a future E3. As for PC, we'll be there, ready with open arms to welcome the prodigal son back into the fold with a hearty slap on the back, a freeze gun and a fresh pack of bubblegum. Shit happens...
Download Duke Nukem Forever
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
It's been two long years since Duke Nukem's last violent escapade, and this highly anticipated sequel is long overdue. The previous incarnation, Duke Nukem 3D, prompted all manner of tedious Duke vs Quake debates among those with, frankly,too much time on their hands. It was undoubtedly an excellent game though, and this follow-up was inevitable; although it has largely been shrouded in secrecy, with the exception of an often-used screenshot.
Details are still fairly thin on the ground, but we have ascertained that the titular gun-toting, cigar-chewing Aryan goes to Vegas to claim his crown, apparently dealing straight flushes of death to all comers and putting an end to Dr Proton's newest reign of terror. We have also been informed that Duke frags every alien and bags every babe. Which is nice. Expect further delays following the news that the developers have recently licensed the Unreal engine.