Afternoon Ramble – A brief Duke Nukem history. Can he come back?

Duke Nukems one of those characters that seems to be forgotten over and over again. Every few years though, someone throws him in the light just to remind us that he definitely still exists. Just a few weeks ago, Duke Nukem released as a DLC character to the beloved Bulletstorm. In 2011, he released in his own title, Duke Nukem Forever. I feel like I don’t really have to go in-depth about what happened there. But, I will. In a bit.

To many fans, Duke Nukem started back in 1996 for the MS-DOS under 3D Realms. What a lot of people don’t know is that he actually started way back in 1991 as a 2D platformer. Once again, released through MS-DOS from Developer and Publisher Apogee Games (3D Realms legal name). Duke Nukem released in 1993 before Duke Nukem 3D made its way on scene in 1996 to compete with the already established Doom and Wolfenstein Titles. Since then, numerous titles and variations of the Duke Nukem name have come out. Spanning across multiple consoles and viewpoints, Duke has had his hands in everything. Yet, Duke Nukem 3D always found a way to come back on top. It eventually released with a multitude of DLC under the Atomic Edition label, before releasing as the 20th year anniversary World Tour edition this past October. Both Allen Blum III and Richard Gray, the original designers, returned to create five new levels for the series using the same engine. This was a big deal to some people, myself included. So, why has it been so hard for the king to return?

Remember when I said I would talk about Duke Nukem Forever? Here we go! Duke Nukem Forever released in 2011. After being in development for roughly 14 years. Started by 3D Realms and eventually finished by Gearbox Software, development hell would be an understatement. Wired did an excellent in-depth story of the whole thing. You can check it out here. For the sake of brevity, development started in 1997. 3D realms quickly fell off the map simply stating that the game would be done when it was done. A teaser trailer was released in 2007, yet 3D Realms kind of just vanished again before being downsized in 2009. A lawsuit from the publisher, Take-Two Interactive, was soon set into motion. A settlement was made in July, 2010 (Details undisclosed) before finally handing the title off to Gearbox Software in September of 2010. Almost a year later, it finally released worldwide June 2011. No one really had anything good to say about it, unfortunately. It was outdated both mechanically and graphically. Its humor was extremely offensive to some and many of its references were still stuck somewhere in the early 2000’s. I’m pretty sure the only reason Gearbox even released it was just to get it out there, so that they could start on a new iteration all together.

Which brings me to the big question. Can Duke Nukem still survive in our generation? I say yes. From this point on, everything is heavily opinion based. Forever didn’t do well, at all. I have so much respect for the guys at 3D Realms, and I’m happy for everything they did to keep him alive. I grew up excited for everything these guys made. But, the studio seemed to have so much going on behind doors, that its hard to see how it could have succeeded. Personally, I think Gearbox picked it up simply to push it out the doors and be done with it. They had it for nearly a year, but I feel like they used that time to simply fix any major bugs, and fill in any holes that happened to still be left open before leaving it in the wild. And it’s because of this that I think Duke Nukem will survive.

Gearbox Software has a way with creating, dark brutal, and sometimes offensive humor. But, they somehow find a way to do in good taste. For a prime example, I’d recommend checking out the entire Borderlands Catalog if you haven’t already.  Back to Duke though. Last October, Gearbox released Duke Nukem 3D World Tour. It was a 20 year anniversary collection commemorating Duke Nukem. The two original developers came in to create new levels with Jon St John re-recording many of the “Duke Talk” sequences. It wasn’t really a big thing to a lot of people, but it showed that Gearbox was genuinely interested in making something. One of the weirdest things to me though was the re-release of Bulletstorm this past month. Everything received a visual upgrade, but the addition of Duke Nukem as a playable main character really stood out. It stood out because he worked so well in this world. He was able to talk shit, “save the babe”, and continue to ask around for bubblegum. It’s almost eerie how easily he just fell into this world. I feel like it was an absolute experiment to test his relevance, but I think Gearbox has Duke Nukem figured out. It’s just finding where he should go from here that has my interest peaked.

Camron Willey

Just finishing school with a bachelors degree in Game Design, I now spend my time working between Cynosure, and my personal projects. Being a full-time military member, I try to pass the time behind the keyboard or controller. If it involves design or deep narrative, I will be there day one. You can check out my blog and smaller past times on!

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