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Duke Nukem Never

By Shamus
on Monday May 11, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games


We’ve been waiting for this announcement for years. We’ve known the project was doomed since the second or third time they announced they were throwing everything away and starting over. What’s amazing is how long it took them to announce that they were giving up. 3D Realms is going out of business. Since they haven’t actually produced anything but screenshots and laughable promises I don’t think the gaming world has lost anything besides a long-running joke.

Thirteen years in the “making”, Duke Nukem Forever is the king of vaporware and will likely hold that title for many years to come. (Duke is so awesome, he even wins awards for not existing!) Note that the American moon race, from the day of Kennedy’s challenge to the point where Neil Armstrong climbed out of Eagle and went frolicking around Mare Tranquillitatis, took less time than it took to not make Duke Nukem Forever.

Dear 3D Realms,

As you guys slide into bankruptcy court, allow me to make you an offer: I’ll give you the $60 I would have paid for the game, and all you have to do is tell me what you were doing for the last 13 years.

Pretty please? The mystery is driving me crazy.

Comments (44)

  1. Mark says:

    I’ll save you the money, Shamus. They were making prototype after prototype, but always taking so long that by the time they made any progress, they were already outdated, having no choice but to discard the code and assets and start anew (retaining all the design and concept art, but losing everything else in the migration to the next engine). Somebody leaked some footage and early assets from the most recent alpha (or, at least, I assume that’s what it is).

  2. OddlucK says:

    …Probably playing Halo, Quake, Doom, and whatever else they could write off as “research.”

  3. Strangeite says:

    Actually, I think this is the best news I have heard in years that the game is going to actually be produced. If 3D Realms goes into bankruptcy, then all of their assets will be put into receivership and sold. Someone will buy up the rights to Duke Nukem.

    Duke Nukem Forever has become such a huge name because of its non-existence, a company could put together a 90’s era skin on Doom and put Duke Nukem Forever on the box. I think it would sell like hotcakes.

  4. Factoid says:

    Wow, that was pretty rough footage. They had a long way to go if that was the best stuff they could find to release.

    Lots of what I hope were placeholder textures and low-res models.

    edit: @Strangeite: I would gladly pay good money for a Duke 4D produced in the old Build Engine. Someone should be able to crank that out in just a few months.

  5. Mordiceius says:

    I wouldn’t mind that job for 13 years, Oddluck.

  6. Hal says:

    I suspect there was a lot of recycling due to trying to live up to “the legend.” They make a few builds or levels. They run it past whatever in-house people they have to test such things. Response: Not gritty/bad-ass enough to be Duke Nukem. Start over and try again. Wash, rinse, repeat. There’s gotta be a lot of pressure to make the game better than it was probably turning out. (“How can we make this game good enough that people don’t ask, ‘We waited X years for this?'”)

    The problem is that Duke’s bad-assery was novel back in the day, but now he’d simply join Shamus’s rogues’ gallery of grizzled, muscular protagonists who carry big guns and only speak when they feel the need to spout bad-ass one-liners. I’m not even sure Duke would be controversial in the era of GTA4.

  7. DmL says:

    World of Warcraft, no pressure to finish (self-funded), chasing graphics glory

  8. Their problem was that they wanted the game to be awesome, groundbreaking. And they couldn’t keep up. Every time they got close to being done they realized that their competitors had left them behind, and their game would be viewed as being pedestrian.

    It’s a classic case of “the best is the enemy of the good”. And it’s the reason I don’t like to work with perfectionists: perfectionists don’t ship.

  9. AlfieUK says:

    The first time I saw someone abbreviate the name when talking about it I just knew it was doomed. In motor racing, DNF=’Did Not Finish’ :)

    It only took 12 years to get to the Moon, for deity’s sake!

  10. Mark says:

    The rights for Duke Nukem Forever, as I understand, have already been bought. Take Two owns it now. Whether they will deign to develop it at all remains to be seen.

  11. Yar Kramer says:

    Ah yes. 3D Realms, we will sorta mourn you. Now let us have nine seconds of silence while “Might is Right but Tight” plays in the background.

  12. Sake says:

    So, does this mean that Half life episode three is now the next Duke Nukem Forever of the industry?

  13. Strangeite says:

    Mark is correct, Take Two owns the rights. I give it less than a year before Duke Nukem Forever hits the shelves. The game can be an empty box and people will buy it.

  14. Ravens Cry says:

    Ah, the Duke. Once the Duke was king, as with Lara Croft and her gravity defying boobies (breasts to any one over 13), he was part of an immaturity and adolescent male snickerage of days gone by.

  15. Allen says:

    Take Two’s owned the rights(as a publisher) for a while, and a lot of people are taking this as good news. Popular sentiment seems to be “Hopefully another developer will take the reins”, but I’, not really holding my breath, personally. Take Two has publicly said they’re not ‘funding the game’, so I’m not really sure what that means for the rather unfortunate DNF.

  16. Hirvox says:

    I can see why they kept delaying it. Even if you suspend your disbelief with the unfinished art assets, it seems downright mediocre, even if it was released a few years ago. The immersion gained by staying in first person all the time was nice, though. Before Mirror’s Edge, that would have been classified as innovation.

  17. Lazlo says:

    Where was it that I saw a cartoon where the next iteration of Halo had Master Chief take off his helmet to reveal Duke?

    The dialog was along the lines of “wait, you mean we’ve been playing DNF all these years, and we just never knew it?”

  18. LintMan says:

    I think 3DRealms stopped working on DNF so they could do Prey, which became legendary vaporware in and of itself. Then they gave up on *that* and farmed it out to HumanHead Studios to do, at which point they picked up working on DNF again.

  19. Zel says:

    From what I read, it seems 3D Realms wanted a groundbreaking game in more than one category (if not all), and whenever they thought they achieved that, a new game came up and made them start over.

    FPS have evolved a lot since Duke Nukem 3D, both graphics-wise and gameplay-wise, and in both cases some decisions can have you remake the entire game. Need a graphic engine to use all this new shader technology ? Years of code and tons of low resolution/poly art assets thrown away. Getting on the new wave of “regenerating” shooter ? You need to redesign all the levels and areas, probably even monster abilities.

    I doubt we’ve seen the last of Duke though as the license, despite the lack of actual game, is well-known even among young gamers. If Take-Two isn’t interested, it’s pretty sure someone else will be, even if as it was suggested before it’s just to release a bad game conversion of a previously developed game. After all, this kind of game, based on a very popular old license, and coupled with very good PR, pretty much guarantees millions of sales. We had a fairly good example a few months ago.

  20. Samopsa says:

    Uhm, Half Life?

  21. Hirvox says:

    Uhm, Half Life?

    Half-Life had the same “floating camera” style as any other FPS. Take a look at the part where Duke stumbles into goo and wipes off his hands, or climbs onto the elite mook for a Quick Time Event to see what I meant.

  22. Nick says:

    @ Samopsa

    Not really. You are a mute, body-less camera killing things. Sure, the other characters look at you when they talk, but it actually makes me feel that they are just breaking the fourth wall, rather than talking to some battle-hardened scientist named Gordon.

    DNF, from what we’ve seen, puts you into his body. You’re pretty much along for the ride.

    Kind of a nice change.

  23. Matt` says:

    I think the point of bringing up Half-Life was that it never takes control away from the player for a cutscene – you’re always able to at least move the camera about and look around, and you’re normally able to decide to ignore the scripted event and go jump up and down on the furniture if you really want to.

    Sometimes they’ll hold you in place with something vaguely plausible so you have to hold still, but mostly the control stays with you. I guess the next level up would be to have them respond to what you choose to do when they’re doing something scripted/important (e.g. you watch closely, they give some bonus easter-egg-like information vs. you piss off to climb the bookcase and they make a snarky comment and stop talking)

  24. Jericho says:

    They shot themselves in the foot, 3D Realms did. They never took money from publishers, and they turned down offer after offer to buy them out.

    In the last 13 years they turned out a dozen crappy Duke Nukem ports, and produced the Max Payne series.

    Frankly, I am surprised they survived this long.

  25. Rutskarn says:

    To be honest, I see this as no great loss.

  26. Robyrt says:

    To get a game to beta, you need 3 major deliverables: Code, art and design. Switching engines to use the Hot New Graphics Tech takes up lots and lots of time, causing you to scrap your existing Code and Art. And I think one disgruntled ex-employee was complaining about the reinvention of Design work because top management didn’t make enough basic design decisions early on.

    I’ve been involved with other game projects that went into this death spiral of reinventing the wheel – but they all eventually shipped, even if the final form needed some severe patching to work. (See: Prey, One Must Fall Battlegrounds, Too Human.) So really, 3D Realms management is at fault for losing 100% of their investment instead of just say 50%.

  27. guy says:

    i’m going with the theory that it was the biggest hoax/scam in gaming history.

  28. Jay says:

    The concept looked fun. I enjoyed the earler duke nukem, but I was like 17. Target age for that kind of thing.

    I liked how one of the few finished parts of that video was Duke talking to a stripper. Of course. I liked the video of the fight in the stadium. I’d play that.


  29. Luvian says:

    You know; sometimes in the last 13 years one of us should have told them the reason we liked the original game wasn’t because of it’s graphics.

    Most FPS games seem to put too much importance on the graphics, but the Duke Nukem team really went overboard. I’d have played the game even if it was a generation behind…

  30. Simulated Knave says:

    Honestly, I’ve never been able to figure out this whole obsession with graphics.

    I mean, everyone eagerly played Quake! Quake! Surely being a generation behind modern graphics is something people good deal with?!

  31. SatansBestBuddy says:

    From what I’ve seen, if they’d have finished it, it really would have been a game everybody played, if only because it took so long to reach market.

    Doesn’t hurt that it’s at least looks like it would have been a good game, but alas, we will never know the Duke as he was gonna be.

    Now, we will only know him as the Duke that some other guy made, which will be poorly marketed and released to average reviews before fading away.

  32. Jeff says:

    I was in the midst of High School when they started.
    In the meantime, I’ve graduated university and I’m working full time, supposedly a responsible adult.

    …geez, they took a long time to get nowhere.

  33. AFAB says:

    @Simulated Knave
    Well, kids today will never understand why we still
    play games like Fallout 2. And Duke Nukem 3D.
    “Damn, I’m good!”

  34. Sourlout says:

    Just one website to spur the fires and a little context of the site, http://gamingisstupid.com/2009/05/06/the-chair-story-revival/

    Basically, the people in charge realized that Duke Forever was a great marketing tool. So great in fact, that they decided not to make the game as quickly as possible, but to instead delay it out forever to keep the interest in both Duke but also in Epic’s latest graphics engine.

    If this is true, wowizers! If not, well… I guess all of the previous posts have probably given that idea a good thrashing.

  35. illiterate says:

    Jay — please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinium_Labs

    Biggest scamster/hoax in gaming history.. i’m shocked to see they shipped something.

  36. Leonardo Herrera says:

    Duke Nukem used to remind me of this Penny Arcade comic.


    It’s been a while since it was funny, thought.

  37. Mark says:

    Soulout, that story is almost certainly an invention, but it is a very entertaining one, so we’ll forgive it.

  38. Mark says:

    Sourlout, that story is almost certainly an invention, but it is a very entertaining one, so we’ll forgive it.

  39. This is the same story of what happened to Daikatana …

  40. Rutskarn says:

    Sourlout: It’s a fake. Originated on the Something Awful forums.

  41. Jonathan says:

    I have recently talked with someone who was working there. Someone would get a task, work on it for two months, finish it, and show it to the guy who gave it to him and said guy would say “No, that’s all wrong, do it over like ____”–because he changed his mind in the meantime…and never mind that it affects 6 other people’s work. When that happens often enough, you’re programming on a treadmill.

  42. Jim Profit says:

    I don’t see why their products were “outdated”. They could’ve easily released Duke Nukem Forever on The Gamecube or Wii.

    Nintendo is always ten years behind in graphics anyway.

  43. Dreadjaws says:

    I come from the future to say I wish it had stayed this way.

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