Kim's video corner: The story of Duke Nukem Forever

As a fair few of you know, I make videos for the Internet -- usually long and drawn out ones. Now that I'm on Retronauts, I have one more space to show them off, along with a lil' bit of editorial to go along with it. And so, here's today's video -- it's not necessarily retro, but it deals with an old and once loved character, and a game that's development cycle started over 20 years ago and went on for nearly 15 years. It's the long, often painful story of Duke Nukem Forever.

This 60-minute long video is the first entry in a new series for the Kim Justice channel called The Agony and The Ecstasy, that will deal with projects that went through similarly long and/or painful development cycles. I picked the name (a common saying that I believe originated from Irving Stone's 1961 biography of Michelangelo) to represent the hills and valleys in such projects -- the good and the bad, the pleasure and pain, the agony and the ecstasy! Plus it sounds good and suitably epic. I have quite a few rough ideas for other projects in the series, not all of which are games -- Jurassic Park: Trespasser, L.A Noire, Orson Welles (in general, really) and Go Set A Watchman are a few of the subjects I'm thinking about for future videos.

The video is split in half somewhat: The first sections go into the development of the game itself. Thankfully there are a lot of resources available on Duke Nukem Forever online -- every trailer, screenshot and a whole bunch of interviews and forum posts have been preserved on the Internet for eternity, and 3D Realms itself have still kept their news archives online all the way back to 1996. Despite the game's lengthy cycle -- during which the game was rebooted no less than six times -- it wasn't too difficult to keep track of the timeline, and show the project's evolution, especially when compared to all the other titles that 3D Realms head honcho George Broussard was inspired by. One of the major factors for DNF's lengthy development was a serious case of featurecreep -- whenever Broussard saw something he liked in another game, whether it was the physics engine in Half-Life 2 or snow levels in The Thing, he wanted that to be added to DNF. The end result is almost like a series of ideas that don't actually come together -- in all the time that was spent on making DNF, I wonder how much of that was spent on working with a design document that specified a beginning, a middle and an end to the work. The answer, in all likelihood, is "not a lot".

We tried to reach the Duke for comment, but he thinks that he's way too cool for this website. He is wrong.

When the game was eventually released in 2011, it was a critical flop -- bashed left and right by just about anyone with a pen and a career in the industry. However, Duke Nukem Forever certainly does have its fans -- for some the presence of the Duke and the blasting of many an alien (and hey, you certainly do that a lot in the game) makes for a good time! However, I am not a fan of the game for various reasons. You'll find a lot of criticism that centres around the Hive level, what with its impregnated women and breasts on the wall, and that's certainly a part of my vid -- largely because the whole thing is an ugly, toneless mess. But more than anything offensive, DNF just feels like it's completely out of time. I don't think there's any real nostalgia for the sort of FPS games that came out in the wake of Half-Life 2 -- games with an overabundance of physics puzzles or lots of subsections such as platforming, or driving -- and that's the time Duke Nukem Forever comes from, around about 2004 or so. If I wanted an FPS where I largely just blast things and have fun doing it, I'd sooner play the new DOOM. However, in a few years there may well be a nostalgic trend back towards the HL2 style, at which time DNF could undergo a critical reappraisal. You never know!

The other problem is with Duke himself, and how his creators see him. It's not an issue so much of Duke being a 90's character with, again, all that "political incorrectness" gubbins and so on -- more that the way Duke is presented is with somewhat misguided reverence. We're all supposed to think he's awesome, everyone else in the world (except those damn Cycloids and a corrupt President) thinks he's awesome, and most of the game's humour is based around Duke being awesome. Jon St. John in the booth may do a good job of voicing the character as usual, but there's only so much you can get from a character who's one trait is...well, that they're awesome. That wasn't necessarily the impression I got back in the days of Duke Nukem 3D.  I rather wish that the game had at least tried to prick the ego of the Duke somewhat, made him more of a ridiculous character in a saner world, because...well, he IS ridiculous. His name's freaking Duke Nukem, for crying out loud. Something just...well, it went wrong over time -- and the end result is more ego trip than parody.

Of course, all of this is in the video -- and it's certainly worth watching, even if I say so myself. I'm proud of the end result, and I hope that people will enjoy it! I should note, mind you, that this video does deal with a game where the sight of breasts is common, not to mention plenty of gibs as aliens get various limbs blown off and all that -- meaning that this video is not really safe for work. I probably wouldn't take an entire hour out of my day to watch this video at work in the first place, but then it's not like I'm your boss! Whatever you choose to do, have a good one, and hope that the Duke has better days ahead.