30 years of Duke Nukem – article

30 years of Duke Nukem – article

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30 years of Duke Nukem – article

A cinematic scene: kick against a door that swings open, the Desert Eagle leaking shells, glass breaking, alien blood mixing with whiskey spilled on the floor. A man with more muscles than brains, bleached blond hair, Ray-Ban, a tight-fitting tank top in a flaming red and why not, a jet pack on his shoulders, taking up the weapon. Cigar in the mouth and tough air, you can’t die harder: here is the Duke.

Duke Nukem is one of the most beloved action faces in video games. It can be said that together with Serious Sam he forms one of those duo with an emblematic rivalry, to the caliber of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, Van Damme and Seagal, Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee. It’s part of a gaming era where first person shooters weren’t afraid to be violent, contemptuous and grotesque. Duke moved between splatter scenes, self-irony, gratuitous machismo and over the top phrases, in full B-Movie style.

But Duke Nukem, if today associated with a tradition of first-person FPS like Wolfenstein or Quake, is instead one of the few sagas of this type that has tried to give more forms to the destruction. Apogee (later 3D Realms), in fact, is a studio that has left to third parties the task of exploring the most suitable gameplay for a testosterone-based hero. The Duke (for some the king) has approached different styles of play over the years, with excellent results such as the TPS Duke Nukem: Time to Kill.

Duke Nukem, from 1991, owes a lot to Turrican.

This is because, at the origin, exactly thirty years ago, Duke Nukem was something very different from a Doom clone. It was a platform for MS DOS (IBM PC), five years away from the success of Duke Nukem 3D and with a frenzy that still owed much to Mega Man and Turrican (whose graphic assets were used). Metroid is a somewhat hidden influence, for open exploration, horizontally and vertically, which gave variety and breadth to the gameplay.

In that distant 1991 Apogee decided to divide the Duke’s adventure into three chapters, each lasting about an hour, which led the player from the robotic Shrapnel City to a city of the future, crossing a lunar base in the meantime. It was necessary to look for keys, floppies, cards and other equipment in order to reach the goal, upgrading a laser gun and looking for other power ups to be able to better explore the levels. Each area was littered with electric traps, explosive barrels, TNT, flame turrets. The rapid pace of exploration was due to the clever level design, which enhanced elevators, moving platforms, ceilings in which it was possible to climb.

Apogee, at the time, distributed the game for free, following a business model similar to typical shareware (in which you pay after a trial period), but with an extra dose of prudence. The first chapter of Duke Nukem (Shrapnel City), in fact, was free and available through magazines or online messaging systems. The other two chapters (Mission: Moonbase and Trapped into the Future!) Were instead paid, to be purchased together with a lot of guide and technical support, according to that model adopted in the 90s also by Id Software and rival Epic Games.

30 years of Duke Nukem – article

Duke Nukem 3D, in 1996, took us to a Los Angeles invaded by alien pigs.

With Duke Nukem II the play offer was expanded, with four episodes. The game, again a platformer, alternated three different palettes of sixteen colors and loaded two parallax backgrounds at a time. We are talking about possible results thanks to hardware and standards light years away from today’s graphics cards, but at the time enough to give greater variety, contrast and graphic depth to the futuristic setting sought by Apogee. Despite this, even in this case, assets were taken from other games, including Savage and the inevitable Turrican.

Duke Nukem II begins to define the tone and character of the IP. Duke can roast turkeys with his laser gun and thus recover more life. There are references to Lethal Weapon and Terminator, early signs of a pop citation that will be part of the franchise’s identity. For the first time, the famous autobiography of the protagonist, “Why I’m so great,” appears, proposing a certain type of humor that will put Duke in direct competition with Serious Sam. It is difficult to decide which of the two has the larger ego.

In these first two chapters, Duke is an average American forced to turn into a hero. In 1996, with Duke Nukem 3D, things change. George Broussard and Allen Blum decide to give a restyle to the character drawn for the first time by Todd Replogle. They make Duke tougher, casanova, and a protagonist with an always ready answer, anything but politically correct. Despite his proverbial exaggeration and videogame omnipotence, Duke owes so much to the most famous faces of action cinema: from Ash of the Army of Darkness to Dirty Harry, iconic character of Clint Eastwood.

30 years of Duke Nukem – article

The 2016 edition of Duke Nukem 3D is readily available and introduces new challenges.

Duke Nukem 3D sparked several controversies due to the strong eroticism of some scenes and the bad representation of its female characters, mostly strippers and prostitutes. Despite this, it is the most successful and most ported chapter (thanks also to the source code of the game, public since 2003). A milestone in the generation of Doom’s heirs, it was an FPS capable of carrying on a game philosophy that had at its core the idea of ​​total destructibility (among the first ever), interactivity without half measures and exploration non-linear full of unexpected deviations.

The Los Angeles conquered by Duke Nukem 3D space pigs returned to PlayStation, in the aforementioned Time to Kill. This is a Spin-off created by n-Space and focused on gameplay taken, by weight, from Tomb Raider. Third-person exploration was well suited to historical scenarios filled with puzzles, visited by a time-traveling Duke and conquered by the appearance of aliens. The quotes are not wasted, especially from Back to the Future, while on the gameplay side the death match in local multiplayer had maps full of secrets, with objects capable of changing the balance of the clashes. Something certainly atypical.

The sequel Land of the Babes and another spin-off, Zero Hour, released by Eurocom on the Nintendo 64, show that the series was able to renew itself. The third person suited the Duke well and was a path to be explored. It is no coincidence that in 1999 Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project, by Sunstorm Interactive, tried to recreate the arcade sensations and the side-scroller component of the two games that started it all. Road also traveled by Duke Nukem: Critical Mass, Frontline Studios spin-off released for Nintendo DS and ideally part of a trilogy, never made. Of these secondary titles, one thing is certain: the first person was never the only weapon in the Duke’s arsenal.

30 years of Duke Nukem – article

Duke Nukem: Time to Kill, from 1998, was inspired by Tomb Raider.

But back to 3D Realms, obsessed with recreating a direct, first-person sequel to Duke Nukem 3D. While other production houses tried to reinvent and ride the success of the protagonist all deltoids and tamarre phrases, the fathers of the IP entered a long stage of Development Hell, a hell of cross-references and development problems. Duke Nukem Forever was released in 2011, during the Seventh Gen (Playstation 3 and Xbox 360). After fifteen years of development, you postpone and wear the atmosphere of a cursed product. Certainly no longer in step with the times.

Forever was to be released in 1998, using the build engine of the predecessor, but it was clear early on that this would not be enough to keep up with the Quake II graphics engine, coming in 1997. Licensed and designed the game with the Quake engine, to make the most of the open spaces we had to switch to the Unreal Engine. It was an almost total reboot, due among other things to Broussard’s creative ambition and the modus operandi of the group, linked to the typical dynamics of a small development team.

At E3 2001, Forever won over audiences and critics alike, so that the grueling wait suddenly became acceptable. After 2004, Broussard even came to be able to imagine overcoming Half-Life 2. The bad relations with the publisher (Take-Two Interactive, which had absorbed Gathering of Developers), made it difficult, in 2009, to request additional funds. Broussard was forced to close the project, which until then had been almost entirely self-financed. To make possible the rebirth of the dream of many fans was Gearbox, which allowed the long-awaited launch but which to date has decided not to re-propose the IP.

30 years of Duke Nukem – article

Duke Nukem Forever took 15 years of work. From 1996 to 2011.

This long historical parenthesis to underline how Duke Nukem, despite having an audience capable of waiting for him for more than a decade, is a series that is currently dead. Thirty years cannot be celebrated because, behind us, there is only twenty years of activity. Gearbox and 3D Realms aren’t on good terms either. Gearbox is accused of withholding the sales profits of Forever and 3D Realms, on the other hand, it has lost the trust of the publisher, accused of having ambiguously attempted to maintain control over the IP, according to the agreements sold to be exploited “free and clear “.

A project like Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction, by the Danish Slipgate Ironworks, had to change its name to Bombshell. Only in 2016, Gearbox, went unbalanced with a special edition of Duke Nukem 3D, the World Tour edition for the twentieth anniversary. But the more years go by, the more difficult the IP becomes to get back on its feet. And after all, if a series of the past has to be so tormented by lawsuits, nostalgia operations, voracity, perhaps it is good that we give way to something new.

Sin. The Duke could be an excellent device, as was Johnny Bravo on Cartoon Network, for dealing with complex issues by reversing the perspective. Its not being politically correct, in the right hands, would be the ideal trigger to write something striking, controversial and yet in step with the times. Even without becoming politicized, it would always be a great tool to parody the new trends and clichés of action blockbusters.

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30 years of Duke Nukem – article

30 years of Duke Nukem – article

Duke Nukem: Critical Mass, from 2011 and for Nintendo DS, is part of a trilogy that has never ended.

A somewhat bitter anniversary, this thirty-year anniversary since the first Duke Nukem. Will he ever go back to kicking doors and spreading petty wisdom? It depends on Gearbox. Meanwhile, in case you want to recover an important piece of FPS history, find 3D (in the 20th Anniversary World Tour edition) and Forever on Steam at really affordable prices. All the rest, unfortunately, is material from collectors, treasure hunters and in some cases, real abandonware.

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