Another Duke Nukem Forever related blog/thread/opinion/thing.
Don't worry: You will live.
- Scott Miller (1998)
It's not that Wendy's is bad, it's just you know what you're getting. You also know that in the case of fast-food, your meal is going to be considerably better from some of it's competition: But it's still fast-food.
So it's always odd for me when the person behind the counter asks me if I would be "dinning inside", using a vocabulary that perhaps hinted that Wendy's was something more than just cheap food. Anything either than "For here, or to go?" sounds foreign, and makes me wonder if I'm at the right place. In this case, they have to say that because of some policy no doubt. I understand the constraints of working there, but it still doesn't alleviate my confusion.
Still perplexed, I nodded in agreement, snagged my burger, and went to sit with a friend of mine.
The topic of conversation today: Duke Nukem Forever.
This was roughly around four years ago.
"Do you think it would ever be released? I hope so." The statement from my friend put me off-guard.
"Why? Do you care? Do you think people still care?" I asked already knowing the answer. The question was one I had asked a dozen times before, and I knew it would be one I would be asking a dozen times in the future.
"I loved Duke Nukem 3D. You remember how we used to play that game. That game was boss! I think Duke can still be done right. Remember the level where you pressed a button, and a fucking building was demolished, and then you had to run-and-gun through the rubble!"
"That game had weapons that other games would have killed for! What games do you know now that have fucking shrink-guns Nick?!"
"No, I get you. But I gotta ask, does Duke as a character still works?"
"Of course!" He stammers, he can now see where I'm going with this. His eye's reflect that as I watch him trying to pre-answer my own train-of-thought. He's going to have to make a concession, although I get the feeling that his half-agreement will be in earnest.
"So you wouldn't be asking for anything more than what was in Duke Nukem 3D?"
"Of course I would! I think of Duke Nukem as the Southpark of gaming! It's offensive."
"Yeah, but Southpark is usually offensive for very specific reasons. It's satire. When it is offensive, for the sake of being offensive, it's in a league of it's own. You also have to remember that Duke Nukem 3D was released before the first episode of Southpark."
"Shit. Don't remind me." We both pause, another silent reflection to how old Duke Nukem Forever's development time. He finally has his final answer. I have pushed him to the correct conclusion:
"Look, of course the game will be better than Duke Nukem 3D in terms of humor. Duke Nukem 3D was released when? 95?"
"Right, it ran on like the Doom Engine or something."
" Build engine."
"Right, it's just a given that it's context is going to be better. I mean, it's been almost a decade since that game. Stuff has changed, and I'm sure Duke Nukem Forever will be on-par with today's boob jokes."
"I agree." This isn't a lie. Do I have doubts? Yes. Everything my friend says sounds reasonable though. It just makes sense. Even years later, Duke is more of an symbolic figure to the era of mindless shooters. Relevant? No, but still a representation of something. Forever might not be as revolutionary as Duke Nukem 3D, but Forever would still be a modern game. The worst it could be at this point would be a throw-back, and that could be be pretty cool.
I would have this conversation countless with many different people up to last week. It's strange knowing that I will never have a similar conversation again.
To never talk, think, or read news every-other year about a game that has been in development for a majority of my life.
I gotta write something.
Duke and me.Nostalgia has this annoying issue of messing with your memory.
I think it's rather wise for us to drop in an old beloved game from time-to-time, just to remind ourselves what we used to play. Even though I have played and enjoyed videogames that are thirty years old ( GO TEXT ADVENTURES!) I know myself enough that there will be a day that will pass, where I'm going to look at videogames in an exasperated manner. That the threshold of entry would be too alien, and too difficult.
For those who don't usually play old games, I think it's a good habit to do so from time-to-time. I would imagine it helps stemming off the inevitable, "old-man-syndrome" that is destined to take-hold of us. Although the concept of me complaining about whatever videogames are thirty years from now, has me giggling.
Historical context is an important concept to understand when you play old games. One simply does not start showing an old black-and-white film to a kid, and not explain how revolutionary it was, without citing films of that time-period. This is more important for games, but I find that it's a serious notation that we seem to skim on.
There are certain parts of games that can stand the test of time. Start up the original Ocarina of Time, and you will still be impressed when you first enter Hyrule field. Boot-up Final Fantasy VII, and you will appreciate the haunting opening-shot of Midgar.
At the same-time, like all old games and films, there are moments that newcomers would find alien to appreciate or understand. Whether they be the bombarding yelling from Navi explaining to you rudimentary tutorial, or a under-realized and poorly explained character creation system, this historical context is always there.
I don't think newcomers to Duke Nukem 3D, would find Duke's standout moments very appealing.
This was an era where key-cards were still the de-facto means of level progression, where maps were mazes and not fully realized "locations". One of my favorite aspects of the Marathon series was an attempt to bridge this boundary, you were still in-effect running through mazes, but there was a narrative and a design element that pushed for something more.
It was Duke Nukem 3D for me, that finally nailed it.
The mazes were now now fully-realized locations. There was a movie theater, there were bathrooms, and space-stations. You could make the argument that these were functional locations.
Most of that had to do with the Build engine, that at the time was the most advanced 2.5D shooter engine ever conceived. It allowed for many memorable events that were usually the direct result of player interaction. We take most of this stuff for granted now, but Duke Nukem 3D was one of the first harbingers for this type of design.
At the same time, Duke Nukem's 3D level-design was still a maze, built for collecting key-cards. Backtracking was a necessity, and the difficulty and direction of these maps went from being fairly straight-forward, to head-scratchingly convoluted.
At the time, I loved it.
Duke and me, twelve years later...Replaying the entire single-player campaign for XBL was a fun experience, albeit another somewhat nostalgic crushing one.
Over the years, my opinion on the actual character of Duke changed. With every subsequent Duke game, that was not Duke Nukem Forever, my opinion on Duke matured and the less relevant he had become. I had many conversations with friends regarding Duke, that followed suit with the previous conversation. I simply didn't understand why this archaic character-type was still relevant.
As I replayed Duke Nukem 3D, I began to see how much of a technical show-case the game was, versus something more..."substantial".
A main character: Who said things about things you were doing! Things you could interact with! Everything that made an impression on me as a kid were technical in nature, the out-dated comedic stappelings were an added bonus. A few chuckles here and there, while Duke mowed down endless waves of enemies.
I completed the campaign, and at the same time a clear vision of what Duke Nukem Forever etched itself in my mind.
The humor gave a few chuckles, but was noticeably out-dated:
But it was the interaction of Duke in his environment that defined him.
Great weapons, and a skewed semi-futuristic world, with interactions the played could orchestrate with reckless abandon. That, was the standout for Duke Nukem 3D. It was ahead of it's time regarding these concepts, concepts, one could argue that have been lost with modern shooters.
No QTE, just a bunch of stupid silly diversions and lunacy, players could interact with while shooting, and while exploring.
In other words: There was more to Duke than just second-hand toilet humor, from a grade-school recess. There is a solid continuation of Duke Nukem 3D's core design and mechanics, that has a place today. Whether we have seen hints of it in GTA or Bulletstorm can be up for debate, but whatever the exact specifics: It's there.
Duke and me, fifteen years later...To put it bluntly: Duke Nukem Forever is a horrible game.
There is no gaming editorial "conspiracy", the only bias that has been presented are from people who are paid, to give you opinions on how you should spend your money. In this case, Duke Nukem Forever happens to be a complete train-wreck.
While this iteration of Duke Nukem Forever hasn't been in development since 1997, the project itself as a whole has been in development for fifteen years, and it shows.
Not from technical standpoint, but from a design standpoint. Duke Nukem Forever is a Frankenstein monster, composed of design concepts, art assets, and levels poorly patched together. Looking back on old trailers, it's difficult to cite what parts from what time-period are being used half the time. One thing is for certain, whatever version of Forever we got, it feels like the remnants of the last fifteen years of FPS gaming is present, and it's not pretty.
My favorite part, and clearest example of Gearbox literally patching-up a bunch of unfinished concepts happens about one-third into the game:
At one point Duke comes face-to-face with a giant Alien Queen. You kill the creature, but Duke is severely injured in the process. When Duke awakes, he is in a strip-club. "Huh? I must be dreaming. Kick-ass!" He exclaims as a stripper approaches.
You are then instructed to find the following:
- A vibrator
- A condom
Oh, I'm sorry, did you want a transition between bleeding to death and a strip-club?
Was Duke dreaming?
I have no idea. Maybe? Another marine inside the helicopter quickly begins talking about the situation of what has happened, suggesting Duke was asleep.
It's perhaps one of the most brilliantly jarring sequences I have seen in a game in recent memory. While nobody should go into Duke Nukem Forever wanting a great narrative, the transition is so spasmodic and unprofessional it's jaw-dropping on it's own right.
It's the equivalent of a game developer trying to stick two separate entities together with duct-tape.
Anatomy of a train-wreckThe first direction of logic one would use to defend Duke Nukem Forever is that it's a throw-back.
The problem is that no one part of Duke Nukem Forever, seems consistent with a single game project. Duke Nukem Forever steals concepts from first-person shooters over the last fifteen years.
What's impressive, that even with another developer sewing all these levels and concepts together: None of what is present is good. There was a reason why Valve hasn't repeated something akin to Xen in the original Half-Life. This memo wasn't shared with anyone on the Forever development team apparently. First-person platforming is abound and back with a vengeance. Why?
If this is supposed to be a throw-back, why are we bringing back one of the most hated elements of FPS design? Why are we not focusing on the things that worked?
Like the core level design! In this regard at first Forever takes a step forward remedying this. Some of the level design is more open than the traditional single-corridor crawl...Except the incentive of hunting key-cards is gone... Well that's perfectly understandable if the level design itself is good...
It's not. Repetition is everywhere, pacing is horrible, and the core design for these levels, specifically the incentive to push you in the correct direction has evaporated as well. Valve and a countless amount of other developers, mastered the concept of making you run from point-A to point-B without you noticing most of the time. Duke's not down with that. There is no basic coherency from going to point-A to point-B. Most of the time you push forward without any rime or reason. The original Half-Life had more explanation regarding the direction you were going.
So it doesn't work as a throw-back, but wait, should we even be considering it a throw-back?
Duke Nukem Forever borrows modern shooting mechanics straight from Halo, such as health that regenerates and holding two weapons. Why?
If the rest of the game is supposed to feel dated, then why are there modern shooting mechanics in this game? That's right, even the game's core mechanics are not safe from being amputated from something else.
Okay, so if the level-design and the mechanics don't work 100%, how about the humor?
You already know the answer to that. To say that it's dated, and many places more confusing than funny, would be an understatement.
Duke Nukem Forever's only consistent attribute, is it's inconsistency that ranges from functional to bad. Being "functional" is not a selling-point, nor a positive accommodation that should be rallied around.
That's being said: I want you to play Duke Nukem Forever.
I'll give you some-time for you to process that last statement.
I want you to play Duke Nukem Forever, or at least see a youtube play-through of it.
I came to this conclusion rather recently, but upon reflection, I think that we will never quite get a game like Duke Nukem Forever. I think it should be used as a teaching tool, some type of educational apparatus in conjunction with a lesson-plan to give you a run-down what happens when game development goes out-of-control. Even without the educational intent, I think people should go and see it somehow.
Duke Nukem Forever is a humbling experience. I don't think anyone wanted Forever to be a bad game, at least I didn't.
Talented people worked on this project for years, trying to redo Duke Nukem 3D's cutting-edge example. The end product, after multiple engine changes, complete overhauls, and over a decade push to keep the game not only current, but the equivalent to Duke Nukem 3D's historical significance, is an utter failure.
Something should be said about that.
"With sales data, It seems like *customers* love Duke. I guess sometimes we want greasy hamburgers instead of caviar..."
- Randy Pitchford (2011)
At Claim Jumper there's a hamburger called "The Widow Maker".
I'm not much of a fan of the local Claim Jumper. The last time I went, I found the portions ridiculous. Also, the combination of one individual having to use three chairs to sit, is an image I can't remove from my mind.
"The Widow Maker" is a pretty hefty burger if my memory serves correct. Something Duke would have for breakfast.
I remember it being better than fast-food. It was still a burger, but it was a glimpse of something beyond the traditional fast-food diet we get accustomed too.
I'm rambling...What I'm trying to get at is this:
Clearly, someone is selling Big Macs to Randy Pitchford, with restaurant prices. To compare a full-priced game, to that of a greasy burger, is an analogy exclusive to lowly-forum writers. Have you read what people write on forums? It's usually nonsense, unreadable dribble that goes on forever.
Regardless, how did we go from "The James Bond of gaming", to a "greasy hamburger"?
There was one point during Duke Nukem Forever that caught my attention in a positive-light: The beginning.
The remake of Duke Nukem 3D's stadium fight brought to life. An interactive chalk-board, where anything to write or draw impresses a sole marine. Duke questioning out-loud, why the hell he was picking up a piece of crap from the toilet.
This is what Duke is: Blowing up big aliens, and having the humor relate to the stupid things you were doing.
It hearkened back to the revelation replaying Duke Nukem 3D, what Forever could be. Somewhere during the development of this game, I feel that what made Duke Nukem 3D became lost. With an inability to keep the game current by traditional means: The most visual component of that game, the out-dated humor, was tossed into the forefront and expanded without any reasoning regarding why some of that humor worked back in 1996.
I haven't given up on the idea of Duke, Randy Pitchford, and his inability to count money when he buys food aside. (Seriously, someone help that guy. The next thing you know, he's going to compare you not buying another game to people enjoying a ditch versus a toilet. It's a slippery slope folks!)
I do believe there is a place for Duke today. Perhaps not his dated, and border-line disturbing persona, but what Duke is as a game. It's this disconnect that is the origin to almost all of Forever's problems: An inability to agree what the game should be, and an inability for fans to agree on what the game should be.
Seriously, why call it "dinning inside"?! It's a freaking Wendy's!