Waiting for Dudebro

Before I could stop her, the helpful 2K rep had steered me over to the Duke Nukem booth and put me in front of a demo unit. On the other side of the carrel, a series of encounters between awkwardly smiling visitors, a throne, and a quartet of breasts were immortalized by incessant camera flashes. Then the demo started, and I was shooting a big monster in a stadium just like old times. After the monster died, the camera pulled back through the big-screen TV in Duke's rec room. He was holding a 360 controller and sounded pleased, but then the camera revealed two women who were taking turns servicing him. "Was it good?" one of them asked.

"After eleven years, it better be!" Duke said, inaugurating a final, grim passage in his odyssey toward irrelevance.

I have no doubt that, had 3D Realms ever finished the game and brought it to launch, the promotions and demos would have been much like this one. But they didn't finish it, and we all know it wasn't for lack of time or funding. Duke Nukem Forever and its original developers suffered from a terminal case of stage fright, and I can only assume it was because on some level they knew that the jig was up. With its prophetic acronym, DNF was always racing to catch up to a field of shooters that pulled away technologically and stylistically. DNF never saw the light of day because it was never going to measure up, and all 3D Realms' efforts to salvage it only succeeded in postponing the day of reckoning beyond the company's own expiration date.

Long, long before 3D Realms bowed out, DNF was more an object of morbid fascination than a hot title. I don't ever remember the questions about DNF being about how good it would be. It was always, "What could possibly be taking so long?" or, "What scale of disaster are we talking about?"

What bothered me about the DNF booth, and the direction that 2K, Gearbox, and Piranha seem to be going with in marketing and finishing the game, is an overall sense of denial. Duke Nukem has all the appeal of a roadside accident, and the people lined up to play it are there to rubberneck the aftermath. Yet there they are, pushing DNF as if it were a real game that people wanted to play on its merits.

They would do well to consider those merits before celebrating them. The game presented by the demo is that of an old-fashioned shooter deriving its identity from a combination of juvenile sexism and broad genre parody. Except Duke isn't smart enough to seem ironic and is too dumb to offend, so the game's attempts at parody come across as ill-conceived sleaze. It gets stranded halfway between making fun of its own trashiness and using it for titillation—and in the meantime, Duke's adventures play like a "Why didn't I think of that?" homage to Painkiller or Serious Sam. It's not hard to see why 3D Realms could never quite bring themselves to complete DNF. They just wanted to make an ironic send-up of exploitative schlock, but instead they got mired in it.

It always struck me that the way to bring Duke Nukem Forever to an end was to make it playable with as few changes as possible, then release it without comment. Nobody cared about Duke's new adventure. After almost fifteen years, you find fewer people who care about his last one. What is interesting is the final fate of a title that has become a symbol of failed game development and a bygone era.

In a decision that threatens to turn the entire release into an elaborate piece of corporate performance art, 2K and Gearbox have embraced anachronism and are ostentatiously reveling in DNF's tastelessness. Although, that might be the only way to play it from here. A developed sense of embarrassment already killed Duke's first handler. Perhaps Gearbox and 2K are the pair that can finally finish him off.

Comments

Perfectly articulated.

This really just seems like a bad sequel, they took the part of the first game that everyone talked about and built a sequel based on that.

That's not what necessarily made it good, just talked about. What made it good was the weird, mad cap world full of hidden niches and ridiculously weird multiplayer. Not a word about any of that, though honestly after this long I've stopped reading about it.

Spectacle is probably all they can do at this point. If your game is a car crash might as well ramp that f*cker into a flaming pit of monkeys to the tune of "Any Way You Want It"

I could have sworn this was written by Elysium.... Then i saw the first comment!

Honestly, i don't care about how good or bad DNF is... i want to be able to experience it, to talk about it and to be a part of the history of this game and franchise by doing so. This article could very well be written about any of the has-been, by-gone, played-out bands that tour around, reliving their glory days with fans in their 40s-60s..... Take That was a big come-back.... DNF is the same thing.

Good article.

Duke had a lots of awesome, original gameplay ideas which is what made the game great. It wasn't the character or his one-liners ripped off from Ash or the strippers.

Nevin73 wrote:

Good article.

Duke had a lots of awesome, original gameplay ideas which is what made the game great. It wasn't the character or his one-liners ripped off from Ash or the strippers.

I think i disagree. Those one-liners and his paper-thin personality really made the game for me. The strippers; i agree with you completely.

While there is a part of me that is rubber necking to see if DNF is the wreck you'd think 13 years of development hell would cause, I'm also interested in it because I miss those big dumb not realistic shooters.

I miss carrying 15 weapons, each one large and heavy enough to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a hernia, circle strafing 20 demons from the 7th level of hell, watching them gibb into meat chunks as I run over the armor pickup behind the not-so-well-hidden secret room with the giant crack in the wall, and the biggest plot twist is that the switch I just pressed gave me the blue key card rather than the yellow one I thought I would get.
Seeing a chest high wall and not having it lure me towards it with its cover like a siren calling a young sailor.

Snadzies_McSnadz wrote:

While there is a part of me that is rubber necking to see if DNF is the wreck you'd think 13 years of development hell would cause, I'm also interested in it because I miss those big dumb not realistic shooters.

I miss carrying 15 weapons, each one large and heavy enough to give Arnold Schwarzenegger a hernia, circle strafing 20 demons from the 7th level of hell, watching them gibb into meat chunks as I run over the armor pickup behind the not-so-well-hidden secret room with the giant crack in the wall, and the biggest plot twist is that the switch I just pressed gave me the blue key card rather than the yellow one I thought I would get.
Seeing a chest high wall and not having it lure me towards it with its cover like a siren calling a young sailor.

Even with that final line, I'm wondering if you may still have described another Epic game.

But we already own those games. I don't need someone to repackage the bygone days and slap a $60 price tag on it. I can go pull the CDs out of my desk drawer or go over to gog.com. I'm sorry, but Duke is dead. And no amount of topical humour about the Olsen twins is going to change that.

Rob Zacny wrote:

Duke Nukem has all the appeal of a roadside accident, and the people lined up to play it are there to rubberneck the aftermath.

Rob, Man, awesome sentence.... True about many things but with DNF even more so. its been so long since I played, that I barely remember playing.

I haven't played any Duke games since they were 2D and shareware, so I never had any anticipation for DNF. It clearly ceased being about the game a long time ago, probably around the time it replaced Battlecruiser 3000 on the "longest time as vaporware" list...which was a really, really long time ago.

I like the suggestion to release it as an archaeological project rather than as a game. Though I still suspect that Gearbox started over from scratch. Somewhere in the past there was a point when the 3D Relms race to catch up with the red queens of FPS should have been given up completely. An '80s action character doesn't really fit in the 21st century. It wasn't the tech that was outdated, but the ideas.

gains wrote:

But we already own those games. I don't need someone to repackage the bygone days and slap a $60 price tag on it. I can go pull the CDs out of my desk drawer or go over to gog.com.

Doesn't stop the same old games selling record numbers year after year.

I'm in the same boat of those who think that Gearbox is pushing this one out so it can start to work on their own modern version of Duke.

Kind of like Christopher Nolan could only do Batman Begins if he did the editing work on Joel Schumacher's POS.

OzymandiasAV wrote:

Which is why, in the end, I don't think Gearbox is "reveling in DNF's tastelessness" as much as they're probably Taking The Bad Game Seriously. In his interview with Eurogamer from a month ago, Pitchford frames some of the ideas in Duke as though they're part of some larger commentary; I'm more inclined to believe that they're really just stupid things that Broussard threw in because he thought they were funny, back when doing stupid stuff in a game didn't really carry any other meaning. You know, back when the sphere of gaming criticism didn't care as much about morality in games as they do today.

You know my feelings about intent and textual analysis, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise when I say that I think your line of reasoning here is detrimental to good games discussion and criticism.

Rob Zacny wrote:

The game presented by the demo is that of an old-fashioned shooter deriving its identity from a combination of juvenile sexism and broad genre parody. Except Duke isn't smart enough to seem ironic and is too dumb to offend, so the game's attempts at parody come across as ill-conceived sleaze. It gets stranded halfway between making fun of its own trashiness and using it for titillation—and in the meantime, Duke's adventures play like a "Why didn't I think of that?" homage to Painkiller or Serious Sam. It's not hard to see why 3D Realms could never quite bring themselves to complete DNF. They just wanted to make an ironic send-up of exploitative schlock, but instead they got mired in it.

I think you may be giving 3D Realms a little too much credit here. They were already almost four years into the development of Duke Nukem Forever when they created this trailer for E3 2001:

It doesn't read like straight-away parody, does it? But, then again, that's part of the whole legend, right? Surely, there's no way that they could have f*cked up the game's development that severely for that long. And the absurdity of the situation has led people to over-analyze the whole Duke series a little bit, in my opinion.

Duke Nukem 3D was a hedonistic, sleazeball shooting gallery that made its name by filling up its script with tributes to action movies and allowing the player to do hilariously stupid and diversionary things, like blowing up a toilet (so that you could drink the water to regain health) or exploding a stripper with a rocket launcher (which would create a shower of dollar bills). It hit the PC gaming market at the perfect time, beating Quake to the store shelves and landing on the market right as the FPS genre had really started to break out with games like Doom, Marathon, and Dark Forces.

But what gets lost in the conversation about Duke is that the game's creators were serious. All of the one-liners and crazy moments in the game weren't meant as parody - they were meant as homage, as pure enjoyment. And Clive Thompson's Wired piece on Duke Nukem Forever, written back in 2009 when the game was finally cancelled, is especially illuminating of this point (and the entire Duke Nukem Forever situation), I think.

Thompson's Wired article wrote:

We see Duke Nukem as a franchise that will be around 30 years from now, like James Bond,” Miller told a gaming site. Broussard compared Duke to Nintendo’s Mario — a character that would star in title after title, year after year.

Thompson's Wired article wrote:

Broussard simply couldn’t tolerate the idea of Duke Nukem Forever coming out with anything other than the latest and greatest technology and awe-inspiring gameplay. He didn’t just want it to be good. It had to surpass every other game that had ever existed, the same way the original Duke Nukem 3D had.

Thompson's Wired article wrote:

Broussard continued. “It’s our time and our money we are spending on the game. So either we’re absolutely stupid and clueless, or we believe in what we are working on.”

Yet the truth is, Broussard’s financial freedom had cut him off from all discipline. He could delay making the tough calls, seemingly forever. “One day, Broussard came in and said, ‘We could go another five years without shipping a game’” because 3D Realms still had so much money in the bank, an employee told me. “He seemed really happy about that. The other people just groaned.”

3D Realms didn't give up on development of Duke Nukem Forever because of a "developed sense of embarrassment." They canceled the game because they ran out of money, because they had burned through three different engine licenses (Quake II, two different versions of Unreal) in the first five years of development, and because George Broussard allowed the game to get swallowed up by an insane amount of feature creep. If anything, they failed because they took the game too seriously.

Which is why, in the end, I don't think Gearbox is "reveling in DNF's tastelessness" as much as they're probably Taking The Bad Game Seriously. In his interview with Eurogamer from a month ago, Pitchford frames some of the ideas in Duke as though they're part of some larger commentary; I'm more inclined to believe that they're really just stupid things that Broussard threw in because he thought they were funny, back when doing stupid stuff in a game didn't really carry any other meaning. You know, back when the sphere of gaming criticism didn't care as much about morality in games as they do today.

OzymandiasAV wrote:

I still want to play that. I'd love it if they bundled all the old versions, but they're probably confined to some bunker somewhere.

It reminds me of this from 1998:

That looks damn impressive for a game 13 years ago, and finally got released in 2006, with a whole redevelopment.

OzymandiasAV wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

You know my feelings about intent and textual analysis, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise when I say that I think your line of reasoning here is detrimental to good games discussion and criticism.

Normally, I would agree with you when it comes to intent -- I've certainly griped about that in other discussions here -- but the evidence of bizarre meddling from Broussard, all the quotes about how he wanted this piece from The Thing or that piece from Half-Life in the game so that it would be cutting edge, makes me wonder if this is an exception to that.

(Or perhaps even the exception that proves the rule, since the development staff ended up rebelling against Broussard and ultimately abandoning the project, resigning it to all-but-certain failure.)

We'll call it a pastiche.

wordsmythe wrote:

We'll call it a pastiche.

Calling it a pastiche implies a level of self-awareness that seems conspicuously absent from the development process of the game but, of course, you can read it however you like.

Ozy, thanks for bringing up the Wired piece. I was looking for that this morning but I couldn't remember which outlet ran it.

It's tough to speculate (not that that stops us!) about what happened, but I'm not sure your point is necessarily incompatible with mine. I suspect that what they took seriously about DNF was the need for it to be technically impressive, a great multiplayer game, and gloriously absurd single player experience. I don't see anything in that trailer that makes me think, "Yeah, they were really swinging for the fences." It seems to me that they hoped to make DNF into gaming's Hot Shots or even Shoot 'Em Up.

And I suspect the reason we never saw it is because it never measured up against any of their idealistic visions for the game. Campy, but not good camp, and technically underwhelming.

In a decision that promises to turn the entire release into an elaborate piece of corporate performance art, 2K and Gearbox have embraced anachronism and are ostentatiously reveling in DNF's tastelessness.

FTFY.

wordsmythe wrote:

You know my feelings about intent and textual analysis, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise when I say that I think your line of reasoning here is detrimental to good games discussion and criticism.

Normally, I would agree with you when it comes to intent -- I've certainly griped about that in other discussions here -- but the evidence of bizarre meddling from Broussard, all the quotes about how he wanted this piece from The Thing or that piece from Half-Life in the game so that it would be cutting edge, makes me wonder if DNF is an exception to that school of thought.

(Or perhaps even the exception that proves the rule, since the development staff ended up rebelling against Broussard and ultimately abandoning the project, resigning it to all-but-certain failure.)

Rob Zacny wrote:

It's tough to speculate (not that that stops us!) about what happened, but I'm not sure your point is necessarily incompatible with mine. I suspect that what they took seriously about DNF was the need for it to be technically impressive, a great multiplayer game, and gloriously absurd single player experience. I don't see anything in that trailer that makes me think, "Yeah, they were really swinging for the fences." It seems to me that they hoped to make DNF into gaming's Hot Shots or even Shoot 'Em Up.

Yeah, I agree that we're not pushing mutually exclusive assertions here. I do maintain, though, that you're still underselling the ambitions of 3D Realms and the expectations surrounding the game.

Duke Nukem 3D wasn't just some B-level release when it came out - the game sold over a million copies for the PC when it came out and it eventually reached over three million in sales overall, once you factor in all of the various ports and SKUs that made it to market. It may seem strange, perhaps even unbelievable, as we tilt our heads back to look from our post-Half-Life viewpoint, but Duke Nukem was a legitimate -- and even hotly anticipated! -- property when they showed off Duke Nukem Forever at E3 in 1998:

Even if the inflammatory elements of the Duke Nukem franchise reduce DNF to an anachronistic punchline release in our more modern view, I'm still reluctant to say that the game (and the series) was always regarded and presented as some kind of campy satire on action heroes. They certainly leaned on humorous situations throughout the series to flavor its gameplay, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Duke was intended to be a joke character...or that 3D Realms suddenly had a change of heart when they finally realized they were creating a ridiculous odyssey into hedonism.

I really don't understand the hatred for this game.

Bulletstorm seems to be well received by GWJ - I spent 8 hours getting rewarded for "rear entry" and "gang bang"s, killing humans and others in the most disgusting fashion I could. Less sexual humor than Duke, but with after-carnage comments like, "4 more dicks down!" I'm really not sure where the break is between Duke and Bulletstorm.

I'm getting to a point in my gaming career where I'm coming full circle on some issues. Sometimes something can be fun just for the sake of fun, even if it is a "throwback". I loved the movie Shoot 'Em Up even though it was full of vulgar sexual references and disgusting ways to kill other humans.

Why can't my video games be the same way? Is this part of some misguided effort to make video games "grow up"? Hey guys - check your local listings - movies never did and yet they're doing fine.

I hope that games like Bulletstorm and DNF continue to get made. I am dreading the day when all my shooters come in two flavors: Brown Military Shooter and Brown Sci-Fi Shooter. I think there is plenty of room in this world for a story heavy FPS, a ridiculous juvenile FPS, or a military FPS that really shouldn't have a story at all.

I've been wondering if the Duke is truly irrelevant in this day and age, sort of like that Grandpa that still thinks it is okay to slap the waitress on the tush being of a bygone age, but now I'm more certain of it.

I look at Bulletstorm as a game that's supposed to be a joke but manages to take itself too seriously and think "Yeah, we need Duke so people know how to just be fun". Then I think of Serious Sam and Earth Defense Force and realize...well, they just do it better.

Personally, hearing some of the content has made me question whether I really want to bother with DNF or not. Whipping it out and peeing, throwing feces around (according to the ESRB)...that's just lame.

Can I just say that I now officially love you after this piece? You could not have articulated my feelings toward this release any better.

I am just really disappointed in Gearbox (whom I love) for their involvement in what is certain to be a disaster. I wanted Duke to die years ago.

PyromanFO wrote:

What made it good was the weird, mad cap world full of hidden niches and ridiculously weird multiplayer.

At least they've still got some ridiculously weird multiplayer
http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/03/21/du...

The thing I remember enjoying most about the original was pressing the F keys in multiplayer to tell my fallen adversaries that whether it was their face or their ass, it did not matter.

The second thing I liked was all the custom maps available for download. We played Hoth so many times that more than a decade later, I think I still remember parts of the map.

If the new one retains these elements of the original, I'll probably give it a try.

There's no way the map making community will be as robust. It's the time of the big 3 networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) vs. the infinite cable channel era. Back then it was the first FPS to ship with a level editor. Now, there's so many level editors (even on consoles!) and full game engines freely available there's just no way the community can keep mappers around.

I'm very torn about this game, but my feelings are best summed up here.

InspectorFowler wrote:

Why can't my video games be the same way? Is this part of some misguided effort to make video games "grow up"? Hey guys - check your local listings - movies never did and yet they're doing fine.

I hope that games like Bulletstorm and DNF continue to get made. I am dreading the day when all my shooters come in two flavors: Brown Military Shooter and Brown Sci-Fi Shooter. I think there is plenty of room in this world for a story heavy FPS, a ridiculous juvenile FPS, or a military FPS that really shouldn't have a story at all.

I'm far more concerned about the reports that the shooting, you know 'The Game' part, sucks.

InspectorFowler wrote:

Bulletstorm seems to be well received by GWJ - I spent 8 hours getting rewarded for "rear entry" and "gang bang"s, killing humans and others in the most disgusting fashion I could. Less sexual humor than Duke, but with after-carnage comments like, "4 more dicks down!" I'm really not sure where the break is between Duke and Bulletstorm.

I don't think Bulletstorm is going to make any GOTY lists, though. And you may have missed it, but especially in the context of the "Why Was I Banned" and "Fat, Ugly or Slutty," folks are a little conflicted about BS, even if they enjoy DeVil's "you know, 'The Game Part.'"

mmmm dunno if I agree at all, so will see when I play the game

Y'know, 'odyssey toward irrelevance' might be my favourite phrase in years.