Ahh Duke. For so many years we have mulled over how you might have entertained us in your next outing. From hundreds of screenshots, teaser and trailer videos, umpteenth reworkings of the theme and countless new on-liners, we have tried to piece together what may very well grace our screens. Since DNF was announced, everyone’s favourite bubblegum chewing, politically incorrect, muscle bound one liner became something of a myth inside his own legend.
So I ask, if DNF was released, would it be everything we were promised?
When Duke Nukem 3D was released in 1996, it would a fantastic example of what makes a fun FPS. Great dialogue, tons of humour, a non-linear path through the levels, and some fantastic graphics and multiplayer. As a result, the game became fantastically popular, and Duke himself took on an almost superhuman status, almost a hero of gaming. By breaking all the rules, he was the rebel, the Jimmy Dean of mid nineties gaming.
The lack of a direct sequel was puzzling. Instead of creating a simple sequel by upgrading the initial engine, similar to what Quake or HalfLife did, 3D Realms decided to completely redesign the entire experience, and took the heavy risk by jumping engines. This managed to push out the title by years at a time, and since 3D Realms was a particularly small studio, they entered what’s commonly known as development hell.
What has always puzzled me was why 3D Realms took such an enormous risk. Largely, 3D Realms was a publisher first and a developer second for most of their lifespan, with only one more title made after DN3D, Shadow Warrior, which was made on an improved version of the Build engine that DN3D ran on. The title was reasonably fun for its time, but it wasn’t Duke, but that’s not the point. Why didn’t 3DR train themselves on improving their art, instead of trying to work with a small amount of resources to make a game that was ridiculously ambitious, for any developer.
There was no need to swap engines constantly. There was no need to re-invent the wheel every 6 months. The decision needed to be made to stick to one engine, with one idea, and the game developed. If it was a bit dated, it would have been excused if the gameplay was sound. DN3D wasn’t cutting edge, but it excelled in the ways the player could interact with the environment. Valve did amazing things with the Quake 1 engine, and I don’t see how the Build engine would have been any different.
DNF obviously became a money sink. The lack of oversight, of senior management to actually steer the project or team members to make decisions, there were probably many factors that contributed to its downfall. Not only that, but developers took it upon themselves to completely rewrite parts of the engines they were using, including renderers and other modules, to fit their needs. Admirable, but wasted time that could have been used to find ways around the rewrites.12 years, and millions of dollars later, all of this ended up being a very expensive set of portfolio reels.
But personally, I think all of this came down to almost sheer arrogance on the part of 3D Realms. They started making a game in 1997, and by 2007 they were simply lying to themselves on the whole viability of the project. Using the luxury of a following and an almost unlimited budget, they refused to realize that they were a business, not just a creative, and changed things at will, rather then following a timeline or an ultimate goal.
They would create multiple, almost useless release targets. They would occasionally spend time making mockup screenshots or videos to playcate (probably) their fans when they should be sorting out where they are heading and what needed to be done. Comments from Broussard about “mistakes” and “E3 being irrelevant” only supported this silly facade for longer then it should have. It really needs to be asked – what were they doing for 12 years? I mean, really doing?
It’s unlikely we’ll ever really see a sequel to DN3D, and honestly, I think the industry has outgrown it. DNF was an urban myth, vaporware, and most people had resigned to the fact it would never see the light of day. People need more from their games nowadays, and a one dimensional character like Duke would have been nothing more then a novelty in the end. We’d laugh at the humour, grin during the intro and blast our way through the levels but.. we’d probably realise that we’d already played it all before.
R.I.P Duke. Maybe we’ll kick some alien ass again one day, but for me, I’m glad to know that DNF is finally dead. He deserves that dignity.