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

I think Joystiq's announcement of the delay was very excellent.

My co-workers and I must have discussed and joked about this for an hour straight this morning when I read it. I have a small desk calendar where I've started to write game release dates, then when it passes that day I tape it up on the cubicle to organize games I own and games I plan to get. I marked Duke Nukem Forever as "Release day (For real (I Hope))", which I scratched out and put "NOPE!".

Per suggestion of my co-worker, I'm going to be hanging each delay up on my wall.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

To be honest, I don't have a coherent viewpoint. But one thing I can say for sure is I don't like censorship, and clucking morality of the easily outraged is one of the most insidious forms of this.

That's a really loose definition of censorship, and one that seems to come out every time "jokingly" sexist behavior receives public criticism. It's a nice way to put the critic on the defensive, claiming they're trying to infringe one someone's freedom of expression. But usually that's not the case. Just as 2K is free to bring out booth babes and fellatio scenes in their game demos, I'm free to say that doing so makes them sleazy jerks. I'm even allowed to go so far as to say they shouldn't do that, because it's exclusionary, presumptuous and, worst of all, badly done.

And if the end result is that nobody pulls crap like that, it won't be because I've successfully imposed an agenda of censorship. It will be because enough minds have been changed that standards are different, and acting this way is simply not socially acceptable at a gaming convention or even in the industry at large. The people who promote games this way will understand that it is generally considered lame and kind of rude, and maybe they will find a better way of going about their business.

It's not because of censorship that you don't see much Amos 'n' Andy-type humor. You don't see it because it's not funny to people anymore, in part because a lot of killjoys went around explaining why that was hurtful, stupid, and racist. Their "clucking morality," to use your dismissive turn of phrase, changed minds. It didn't spell the end of racially charged humor. Comedy survived. Standards simply changed. And that's what's happening now.

Why don't I care about dumb sexist movies and books as much? Because I'm not always intellectually consistent and, more importantly, I'm not consistent in how much I care about different things. I write about games because I care about them more than most other forms of entertainment. I do this for a living. This is my backyard. The "Saw" series isn't.

Besides, the movies and books that have come up here? They're nothing compared to the profile the DNF enjoys in the games space. Anyone who cares about games knows DNF even if they don't know Duke. Compared to other media, I guess we're kind of a small town. A lot of people who like movies probably have no idea what Saw is, and have never really seen any marketing for it. Among gamers, Duke is far more significant.

2K showed that demo to professional writers and a convention audience. They thought that was the right note to strike. They were proud of it, and they thought that people like us would all be in on the joke with them. Well, I'm not. I don't think they're clever or funny. Why is it so important to you that people like me keep that to ourselves?

I used to write relevant things here. Now every time I try, I find Zacny already said it all.

Rob Zacny wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:

To be honest, I don't have a coherent viewpoint. But one thing I can say for sure is I don't like censorship, and clucking morality of the easily outraged is one of the most insidious forms of this.

That's a really loose definition of censorship, and one that seems to come out every time "jokingly" sexist behavior receives public criticism.

Is this an appropriate place for a 'I like my definitions how I like my women' joke?

After making that post I felt a little bad that it was attached your your article because yours is one of the best I've read on the topic, but once I'd hit the post button I didn't want to edit it.

The reason I felt bad was because the post wasn't really aimed at you, and also comes across as more heated than intended.

You, Mr Zacny, make a lot of really good, well reasoned points. But the wider discourse is coming across as really hysterical and lacking in reason. Add to that the unfortunate timing with the delay and the sanctimonious smugness that has flooded my Twitter stream.

But yes, I do have a very loose definition of censorship. It probably comes from growing up being told that everything that I enjoyed is wicked and should be banned, music, movies, games, you name it.

I grew up with a government that controlled the media with an iron fist. Even worse was the 'moral majority' that would sit in judgment of anything deviating from the wider standard of acceptability.

It's not because of censorship that you don't see much Amos 'n' Andy-type humor. You don't see it because it's not funny to people anymore, in part because a lot of killjoys went around explaining why that was hurtful, stupid, and racist. Their "clucking morality," to use your dismissive turn of phrase, changed minds. It didn't spell the end of racially charged humor. Comedy survived. Standards simply changed. And that's what's happening now.

Fair enough. And, as I said, if there were more well reasoned and written arguments it would be less annoying. But the nature of commentary on videogames seems to reward hysteria over reason in the interest of click counts.

Overall I agree with you. I would rather the industry grows up, but the movie industry with its 100 year headstart hasn't, so I'm not holding my breath. I'm all for people calling attention to prejudice in the media, but at the end of the day the game needs to go to market.

If Duke is successful or not depends less on the game than the state of the market itself. If gamers buy Duke in droves then it says something about the nature of gamers, rather than the industry or company that produced it.

Exploitative movies are still made, but that fact isn't seen as a black mark on the movie business.

Besides, the movies and books that have come up here? They're nothing compared to the profile the DNF enjoys in the games space. Anyone who cares about games knows DNF even if they don't know Duke. Compared to other media, I guess we're kind of a small town. A lot of people who like movies probably have no idea what Saw is, and have never really seen any marketing for it. Among gamers, Duke is far more significant.

I honestly don't know if I buy that. I think until Gearbox took over only old dudes like us considered Duke to be anything other than a running joke. Something for the annual vapourware lists, but not anything relevant or significant.

Why is it so important to you that people like me keep that to ourselves?

To close. I don't want people like you to keep anything to yourselves. It's the bloggers and forum posters who are so desperate for games to be seen as something relevant that I would rather tone down their outraged rhetoric.

I'm genuinely sorry if my post came across as targeted at you, it really wasn't.

I guess I can sum up my posts more succinctly.

Does the existence or completion of Duke Nukem somehow threaten the existence or completion of games that involve higher ideals?

If so, how?

If not, aside from a scathing review when the game actually comes out, why should I care?

ccesarano wrote:

I think Joystiq's announcement of the delay was very excellent.

I'm wondering if this is more appropriate. Something will always happen to keep it out of reach.

Oh, and I'm sorry, but I just read the title Zacny. 'Waiting for Dudebro?' That was the BEST POSSIBLE PUN??!??!?!?

MrDeVil909 wrote:

After making that post I felt a little bad that it was attached your your article because yours is one of the best I've read on the topic, but once I'd hit the post button I didn't want to edit it.

The reason I felt bad was because the post wasn't really aimed at you, and also comes across as more heated than intended.

You, Mr Zacny, make a lot of really good, well reasoned points. But the wider discourse is coming across as really hysterical and lacking in reason. Add to that the unfortunate timing with the delay and the sanctimonious smugness that has flooded my Twitter stream.

Contrary to how I may have come across, I really didn't take any personal offense. However, I also followed the Dickwolves thing pretty closely and while that debate unfolded, I saw a lot of people adopting the same rhetorical stance you did. It's a troll tactic, and I wanted to get into the reasons why it doesn't work as a rebuttal or counterpoint. Especially with someone who is arguing in good faith.

I think that ties into some the shrillness that comes out on subjects like this one. When you're pointing out insensitivity, there is a seemingly endless line of volunteers to defend that insensitivity using a really similar set of rhetorical tricks that don't quite offer a valid argument, but do a good job of derailing the discussion. People who deal with this stuff a lot (and fortunately I'm not one of them) oftentimes run out of patience for addressing these points, because so often it's a mark of insincerity.

As for Twitter sanctimoniousness, don't get me started. It is bad. Every week or so, I end up typing out three or four different versions of, "Look, jerks, you don't need to exhibit your moral superiority every minute of the day." It's definitely something I wish there was less of, and a lot of times I just have to step away.

I definitely see how your experiences make you more suspicious of arguments in the same vein as mine. A question: was the moral majority also the dominant force in your society and politics?

MrDeVil909 wrote:

the nature of commentary on videogames seems to reward hysteria over reason in the interest of click counts.

In that regard, I celebrate the long tradition of our Front Page writers as a motley crew of mutant freaks.

El-Taco-the-Rogue wrote:

Oh, and I'm sorry, but I just read the title Zacny. 'Waiting for Dudebro?' That was the BEST POSSIBLE PUN??!??!?!?

YES.

El-Taco-the-Rogue wrote:

Oh, and I'm sorry, but I just read the title Zacny. 'Waiting for Dudebro?' That was the BEST POSSIBLE PUN??!??!?!?

Spoken like a true Dudebro awaiter!

This pun is the best of all possible puns. On this, I shall build my philosophy.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

But the nature of commentary on everything that ever existed ever seems to reward hysteria over reason in the interest of click counts.

Fixed.

DNF looks like it is going to be a fun (if juvenile) distraction for a few hours. Although I get the feeling it will be better if bought via a Steam sale.

Rob Zacny wrote:

Contrary to how I may have come across, I really didn't take any personal offense. However, I also followed the Dickwolves thing pretty closely and while that debate unfolded, I saw a lot of people adopting the same rhetorical stance you did. It's a troll tactic, and I wanted to get into the reasons why it doesn't work as a rebuttal or counterpoint. Especially with someone who is arguing in good faith.

Glad I didn't give offense. I also followed the Dickwolf events pretty closely, so I'm also trying to look at my own responses in light of that. I always thought the comic itself was pretty harmless, even if potentially offensive. It was the Penny Arcade response that, for me, turned the whole thing bad.

Their, 'We're sorry you took offense' response was silly and trollish. And Gabe continued to poke at the issue right up to PAX, and apparently during the event.

The guys putting out DNF haven't, to my knowledge, done anything similar at least. I think they know the potential to cause offense, have kind of played it up with events at strip clubs and the like, yet have never actually addressed issues. Probably the second best way to deal with it.

Rob Zacny wrote:

I think that ties into some the shrillness that comes out on subjects like this one. When you're pointing out insensitivity, there is a seemingly endless line of volunteers to defend that insensitivity using a really similar set of rhetorical tricks that don't quite offer a valid argument, but do a good job of derailing the discussion. People who deal with this stuff a lot (and fortunately I'm not one of them) oftentimes run out of patience for addressing these points, because so often it's a mark of insincerity.

Yeah, I'm sure people must get tired of it. And I'm totally for engaging with people and trying to educate them. A lot of people won't even grasp that there's something offensive unless it's pointed out.

One problem though is internet debate seems to entrench people into their positions more, or even pushes people further into an opinion than they ever held.

I know I've looked at my participation in a debate a few times and gone, 'What am I saying? My opinion has warped into something totally extreme.'

Rob Zacny wrote:

I definitely see how your experiences make you more suspicious of arguments in the same vein as mine. A question: was the moral majority also the dominant force in your society and politics?

Tricky one to answer. As long as one accepts that both the terms 'moral' and 'majority' are relative terms.

Apartheid was justified by church leaders, the same church leaders who censored offensive movies, books and music. You have no idea how hard it was to find decent porn as a South African teenager. I think nipples were introduced in the mid nineties. And yeah, the 'morals' of people subjugating 90% of a country's population while banning the Rocky Horror Picture Show are definitely questionable.

So everyone I was surrounded by, white and working or middle class, was either complicit or manipulated into accepting the status quo.

Hence my extreme aversion to the moral majority.

So, basically, this game probably should have come out in 1999.

Thanks for the article. It expresses quite well what I have been thinking recently when hearing people talk about this game with anticipation. Sure, I get that it's funny to talk about a game that became a parody of itself over the course of not shipping for so many years. But I just assumed that there is not a game worth bothering with lurking behind all of the hoopla.

I think this line hits the nail on the head:

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.

I am baffled by the fact that someone has actually picked up what I thought was a dead punchline and decided to push it out out as a game that people might want to play. Who knows, it might surprise me by being a good game. I am expecting something closer to the next Daikatana.

I don't really want to stir the pot but I think it's worth mentioning . . .

Exploitation, porn, trash novels etc. do have their place but it is outside the mainstream of their respective mediums. Troma films aren't advertised on any big TV networks. You would have to go into a building without windows to find certain magazines. It's a niche business for a niche audience. (Saw was an exception due to an alignment of planets or some other happenstance that altered the entire genre. Lion's Gate still don't seem to understand how it happened and the director, James Wan has been struggling to get out of the shadow of Saw ever since.)

Gearbox is a prominent developer and 2K are one of our biggest publishers so this game, which is suited for a select audience, is front and center in the industry. And it needs to be if they're going to move enough units to afford the production.

OzymandiasAV wrote:
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

BINGO

I am baffled by the fact that someone has actually picked up what I thought was a dead punchline and decided to push it out out as a game that people might want to play. Who knows, it might surprise me by being a good game. I am expecting something closer to the next Daikatana.

The sad thing is, a Daikatana-esque retribution would be almost welcome; I'm afraid that it will garner 6.5/7 scores across the board and slip into obscurity within a few days. That doesn't seem right for the King.

ill-conceived sleaze. It gets stranded halfway between making fun of its own trashiness and using it for titillation

But I like ill-conceived sleaze.
I sure hope they don't get stranded halfway like that.
It's Duke. If Duke comes to a fork in the road, he goes down both roads.
My hope is that they do both, cause I likes me some titillation and parody.