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Duke Nukem Decade – History In The Making

Duke Nukem. The King. The Legend. I know you didn’t want to get your hopes up. Didn’t want to open up yourself for the disappointment if this was another hoax.

You can trust us at NFG. Break out the Mighty Boot and get, All out of gum. Duke Nukem Forever is here.

With Duke Nukem Forever pre-loading onto my system as a write this, I thought I would dedicate this week to a long look back on Duke and how we got here.

Duke Nukem (July 1991, Apogee Software, DOS)

Set in the near future of 1997, Dr Proton is trying to take over the world. The army of Techbots at his command has destroyed the military. The CIA turns to Duke Nukem, the alien ass kicker and hyper masculine tough guy to stop the evil Dr Proton. Duke was heavily inspired by 80s action movie tough guys.

When Apogee released the version 2.0 they changed the name to Duke Nukum to avoid a potential lawsuit. Turns out in the Captain Planet series there is an evil character also named Duke Nukem. When they found out the name wasn’t registered or trademarked they jumped at the chance and everything was Nukem from there on.

Despite it’s lackluster graphics even for the time Duke Nukem was a massive hit. Apogee released the game under a shareware model. The first episode, Shapnel City was given away for free. The second and third episodes you had to pay for.

Duke Nukem II (December 1993, Apogee Software, DOS)

With the success of the first, there was little doubt in a sequel. The team that worked on the original came together again to get to work on the next chapter.

Hailed as a hero upon his return from stopping Dr. Proton, Duke writes and promotes his autobiography ‘Why I’m So Great’. During a television interview with what looks like the Oprah Winfrew show, Duke is abducted. The Rigelatins want to use Duke’s brain in a plot to destroy earth. Because putting Duke’s brain in a computer will make it win the war… or something.

Of course Duke Escapes using hidden explosives in his tooth. The game begins with Nukem busting out of the holding cell. New and upgraded we receive the first voice of Duke played by Joe Siegler, “I’M BACK”. Duke had also traded in his pink sleeveless jacket for a red wife beater singlet.

The game looked better and had even more content with four episodes of eight levels. It didn’t do as well because it was launched around the same time as Wolfenstein 3-D and Doom. Side scrolling just wasn’t going to cut it against the new breed of 3D shooters. Duke fans were given some hope, after defeating the game players were told that the character will return in Duke 3D.

Duke Nukem 3D (January 1996, 3D Realms, DOS)

This was the big one. Taking place straight after Duke Nukem II, Our hero’s ship is shot down while returning to earth. Aliens have come to earth and are kidnapping all the women and turning all the cops into pigs. The first few levels have been ingrained in gamers memories. How can one forget fighting aliens in an adult theatre, strip club or burger joint?

Duke gets his hands on some heavy tech; Shotgun, check, RPG, check, pipe bombs, you bet and a JETPACK? Let’s Rock. 3D introduced the portable medkit for heals on the go, the HoloDuke to distract foes or just check yourself out, night vision, steroids and even protective boots. Although I must stress again. JETPACK!

Duke 3D uses that faux 3D technology like the other early first-person shooters. Find the coloured keys to get through the doors. Walk past every wall mashing the use button in case you find a secret area. Pretty typical stuff. So why was Duke a smash hit? Selling more than 3.5 million copies worldwide Nukem was our new love. Many attribute this love of Duke to his personality. In an age when the protagonist of a first-person shooter was silent, Duke was making pop culture references and spouting cocky one-liners.

We also were able to duke (pun totally intended) it out with our friends in multi-player. DukeMatch and co-op for up to eight players meant we could kill alien scum together or blow each other to bits.

This time the now 3D Realms have injected more anger into their protagonist. Getting Jon St. John to do the voice acting, we got great lines like, “Damn, those alien bastards are gonna pay for shooting up my ride.” References from Army of Darkness (“Hail to the king, baby!”), Star Wars (“Sometimes I even amaze myself”) right through to Pulp Fiction, “I’m gonna get medieval on your asses!” St. John recalls the original recording sessions as being “some of the best fun [he’s] ever had.”

The face behind the voice

As I’ve talked about earlier Australia has some weird censorship laws. The shareware version of Duke 3D was passed through the Classification board but was later banned. Manaccom the distributor released a version where the game’s parental lock was always on, this bumped the game down to an MA rating. This version was also released in Walmarts because they refuse to sell adult games. Because gamers wanted their full experience, Australian players had beaten the parental lock and word on how to do so spread across the country. I imagine through smoke signals and Boomerangs. The Classification big wigs issued a recall and seized 18,000 copies of the game. Manaccon went medieval on their asses in court and won. The court ordered the games back onto shelves.

Score one more for Mr Nukem.

The console generation
While work was progressing(?) on the next instalment of Duke Nukem for the PC, we saw a few console titles. While some were good, they still didn’t give us the next big Duke fix we wanted.

3D Realms signed a publishing agreement with GT Interactive to bring Duke Nukem to the consoles. Essentially the same game with a few additions or subtractions here and there.

In 1997 we saw the release of:

Duke Nukem 3D (Lobotomy Software, Sega Saturn)
Same levels with one secret level.

Duke Nukem 64 (Eurocom Entertainment Software, Nintendo 64)
Censored heavily by Nintendo, new sprites and 3D explosion effects.

Duke Nukem: Total Meltdown (Aardvark Software, PlayStation)
Bit of a reduction for the animations. But a new soundtrack and an extra episode of six levels.

1998 we got Duke Nukem Time to Kill (n-Space, Playstation)
Tomb Raider style adventure that has Duke fighting aliens through time.

1999 Nintendo brought out Duke Nukem: Zero Hour (Erocom, Nintendo 64)
Similar to Time to Kill in that we have time travel again, but more of a corridor third person shooter.

2000 Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes (n-Space, Playstation)

A direct sequel to Time to Kill, more time travelling. This time Duke goes forward in time to a future where all the men have been killed by aliens.

In 2002 we get a return to the side scrolling plat-former with Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. (PC)
I wouldn’t have even known this game existed had it not come bundled with my new PC at the time along with Morrowind.
But what was happening to that sequel we wanted?
Gamers were all aboard the Duke Nukem train. 3D Realms announced that there were working on the next game in the series. Duke Nukem Forever would use the Quake II engine to save time and money. Everyone was expecting the game to come out sometime in 1998. 3D Realms was financing the game themselves with all their mountains of money from the Duke 3D success.

In 1998 we were treated to the first trailer for Duke Nukem Forever at E3.


The critics loved the trailer. Fans wanted to play the game. George Broussard thought they needed some next generation technology to get the look right. 3D Realms announced that they had purchased the license to use the Unreal engine and had to pull everything over. The date was pushed back to 1999. This little song and dance was just getting started. Late into 1999 we were given word that they had switched to the engine that brought Unreal Tournament. Announcements told us the game would be released in 2000. Again 3D Realms pushed it back that little bit further and promised a 2001 release date. In May of 2001 we get another video. Even more amazing looking than before.

No more release date, all we got was a, “When it’s done”. Even the most hopeful start to lose their patience. The basic problem was that Broussard wanted the latest and greatest technology. He couldn’t let Duke Nukem Forever come out with anything that wasn’t the best and most awe-inspiring gameplay. Technology is getting better every day, the longer you delay the more antiquated your product becomes. Game designers need to find a point to stand where they stop improving and just finish the game. For a few years we heard nothing come out of 3D Realms. Duke faded from the public mind. Gamers got on to new protagonists like Gordon Freeman and Master Chief.

2008. Along comes Duke Nukem 3D(again) this time on the Xbox Live Arcade. 3D Realms needed to raise money and get the idea of Duke back into the media. Such a long absence and the hype was gone. Too little too late we were given a teaser trailer of Duke pumping iron. The spark was gone, no gameplay footage. A big man smoking a cigar does not re-ignite the flames of hope or excitement.

Chauvinism on the other hand

In May 2009 3D Realms sunk. The team got together for a final photo. A week later, the company was being sued for millions by its publisher for failing to finish the sequel. Despite being laid off, work on Duke Nukem continued in the homes of Allen Blum and eight other ex-3D Realms employees. The lawsuit between 3D Realms and Take Two was settled and dismissed in May 2010. What was left of 3D Realms approached Gearbox Software to see if they would be able to help Blum’s team complete the game and port it to consoles.

Gearbox co-founder Randy Pitchford had previously worked on Duke Nukem: Atomic Edition at 3D Realms, and briefly worked on Duke Nukem Forever before leaving the company. Pitchford has spoken about the risk they took picking up the project, but felt that he had the right tools to help. He also approached Take Two label 2K Games with a plan for completing and releasing the game. Suddenly, Duke Nukem Forever was happening again.

The 3D Realms team on their last day

Fast track to September 2010 no one would believe it. Gearbox had secretly taken over the Duke Nukem Forever project. At the Penny Arcade Expo they released a new trailer. Though the public scoffed, apparently there was a playable demo. May 2011 was the set release date. In true Duke fashion it was pushed back to June. After 14 years in development hell, Duke Nukem Forever is here.

As midnight hit I was able to install Duke Forever and get to the playing (instead of finishing my article). After only an hour or so, I want more. The game kicks ass and chews bubble gum. I’m not quite sure if I even believe it myself.

The King is back. The attitude is sharp as ever with even with some self referential comedy. A highly interactive world awaits the hyper macho alien slayer.

Stay tuned to this space for when I get some more time to give a real review.

Can I skip this boring stuff and get to the jet-packs?
Daniel Ryan
Daniel Ryan
Daniel 'Sheriff Dan' Ryan is a long time Dungeon Master who has worked in Esports, Marketing, and writes about Gaming when the sun goes down.



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