They thought it was game over, but finally Duke Nukem is back

Jerome Taylor
Thursday 06 January 2011 01:00

The Duke is back, but boy did he take his time. When Duke Nukem 3D hit the shelves in 1996 it revolutionised the computer games industry. The Duke, a muscle-clad, cigar-smoking alpha-male who stormed across the galaxy fighting hordes of mutated aliens, was the brashest, most controversial character to appear in pixelated form at the time. He swore like a trooper, paid for strippers and killed both the guilty and innocent alike in Tarantino-esque orgies of button-bashing violence.

Family groups were incensed and the game was banned in a number of countries. But fans lapped it up in their millions with the Duke becoming one of the most successful – and emulated – gaming creations of all time.

Then the cyber world waited for a sequel – and waited, and waited and waited.

Now after more than a decade of tortuous development, tantrums and protracted legal battles a successor is finally on its way. Duke Nukem Forever, dubbed Duke Nukem Never Ever by fans, has finally appeared in’s pre-release chart with a 31 May release date more than 12 years after it was first announced.

Its arrival has sent the gaming blogosphere into apoplexies of excitement, cynicism and cries of deja-vu.

The cynicism can be forgiven. Amongst gamers Duke Nukem has become a byword for missed deadlines, disappointment and broken promises – the console version of Guns and Roses’ long-delayed album Chinese Democracy, or Terry Gilliam’s still yet-to-be completed biopic of Don Quixote.

Flush with cash and critical praise 3D Realms, the American software company that developed the Duke Nukem franchise, promised to create a sequel worthy of its predecessor. But every time they got anywhere near producing a releasable version of the game the team had taken so long in production that a new generation of gaming consoles had come out forcing developers to return to the drawing board and start all over again.

Barely a year went by without some sort of teaser trailer, screen shot or announcement hinting that a new instalment of the Duke was just round the corner. But the trail always went cold.

Then in 2009 3D Realms finally announced that it had given up on Duke Nukem Forever sparking a bitter legal battle with Take Two, a publishing company that had sunk an estimated $30million into a game that never hit the shelves. Fans consigned themselves to the reality that the Duke really was dead.

But last September it was announced that the Duke had been resurrected Lazarus-like from the ignominy of defeat. Gearbox software, the Texas based gaming company behind the highly successful Half Life and Borderlands franchises, partnered with Take Two and said it would take on the Duke Nukem Forever albatross.

To the collective amazement of gaming journalists and fans, they even had a playable demo featuring Duke Nukem going to the toilet, battling a giant one-eyed alien in the middle of an American football pitch and “enjoying” the company of two female companions. First appearances suggest the new game has lost none of the attitude and outrageousness of the original.

For die-hard fans of Duke Nukem like Paul Helin, a Finnish filmmaker who has just released a highly polished video tribute to the new game, the demo was music to his ears.

“Fans of the game are used to disappointment and we’ve learned to never get too excited,” he said. “But this time it really does look like the game is on its way.”

Mr Helin’s film, a three-minute tribute featuring a surprisingly accurate Duke doppelganger hanging out in a stripclub, has gone viral racking up more than 350,000 You Tube hits since its release on Christmas Day.

“The response has been insane,” he said. “We’ve had emails from all over the world, there’s a real sense of excitement. But I hope people don’t get too carried away by their expectations.”

For gaming analysts there are still question marks over the game’s appeal. How will a body-building peroxide blonde super-hero from the mid-nineties appeal to a 2011 gaming audience?

Michael Pachter, the highly influential games industry analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, believes the Duke still has the ability to charm.

“I spoke at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle a couple of months ago to an audience of around 800 and voiced the same concern, thinking that today’s gamer was too young to remember Duke Nukem at all,” he said. “I asked the audience how many had played a Duke Nukem game, and 750 hands went up. Yes, they were largely male, and definitely hardcore, but they were also well under 30, and still revere Duke Nukem the way they revere Mario.”

Mr Pachter estimates that Take Two will only need to shift 1.5m copies to break even and expects the game to sell double that overall.

But ultimately the fans will decide whether the game lives up to expectations, something the game’s developers are more than aware of. At the end of last year’s demo, the camera panned to Duke playing his own demo. Asked whether the game was any good he replied: “Yeah but after 12 fucking years it should be.”

Worth the wait?

Tron: Legacy

The original Tron film has had geeks hooked for the best part of three decades and spawned a lucrative franchise industry of Tron-related cartoons, comic books and computer games. But it took 28 years for Disney to release a movie sequel in the shape of Tron: Legacy. The company even managed to persuade Jeff Bridges to reprise the role he first played in 1982.

Chinese Democracy

Few studio albums could claim to be in production for as long as this one, which took 15 years to hit the shelves. Guns N' Roses' sixth studio album outlasted all but two members of the band's line-up, becoming the butt of many an industry joke until it was finally released in November 2008. Critics and fans broadly agreed that it was worth the wait.

Street Fighter IV

Alongside Mortal Combat, the Street Fighter franchise defined beat-'em-up video games throughout the 1990s. But developers Capcom kept fans waiting a mere 11 years between Street Fighter III and its sequel. It was probably worth the lengthy delay – the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC versions of the game have all scored collective metacritic ratings in excess of 90 per cent.

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