Let's rock. Or not. Sadly, when Duke Nukem Forever was released by Gearbox back in 2011, the game was quickly criticized for drastically failing to meet the hype. Stuck in development hell for years, reviewers said that the game was buggy, boring, and didn't deliver on the series humor fans expected. In short, it was a hot mess.
One that's best understood through its development history, for that matter. A video essay from YouTuber Kim Justice shines a little bit more light onto the game's rise and fall with 3D Realms. Not just is her overview impressive, it's also thoroughly researched across a timeline that spans over 20 years.
Check it out below if you have an hour to learn more about the game's history.
Pretty fascinating. Here's what really stings with this documentary: Justice clues us in to some of the game's major problems, and she reveals what Duke Nukem Forever could have been if 3D Realms was a little bit more self-aware of the development period's problems.
Duke Nukem Forever Was Originally Very Fun
3D Realms director George Broussard wanted Duke Nukem Forever to look and feel cutting-edge. At the time, that made perfect sense: in 1998, 3D gaming was still going through leaps and bounds, and Broussard wanted to make sure DNF was a memorable title in a growing industry.
But as Justice explains, problems began once Broussard began switching from engine to engine, slapping down a huge sum of money to make the switches... and scrapping most of the game's progress each time. For Justice, this is an example of the "feature creep" issue that plagued Duke Nukem Forever, later causing Broussard to demand everything from a Half-Life-esque opening intro to a snow level in the game.
In reality, if Broussard simply let Duke Nukem Forever grow naturally, then the team's developers would have been able to make the game look, feel, and play like a proper sequel to Duke Nukem 3D. And early footage shown at E3 1998 proves that the game was well on its way to being just that. An older version of Duke Nukem Forever was a mixture of Half-Life meets Quake 2 and DOOM.
Sadly, it wasn't meant to be.
Duke's Fall Still Stings
Justice gives a couple reasons why Duke Nukem Forever failed, but the biggest issue seems to stem from feature creep, which means Forever's problem was a leadership one first and foremost. Broussard wanted too much in the game, when the studio just couldn't feasibly do it all.
Knowing that one simple mistake in perspective set the game off course for years is something that still hurts for Duke Nukem fans to this day. While some games have survived development hell and turned into excellent titles — such as Team Fortress 2 or Final Fantasy XV — each of those games came about because development leads seriously assessed where the game was headed, what could be changed, and made sure working conditions weren't too stressful for employees.
That's the problem with Duke Nukem Forever. It wasn't just the fact that the game took years to develop: it was the fact that development struggled because leadership struggled. Changes were made without considering employees' hard work or morale. Duke Nukem Forever was constantly pushed to be the next latest and greatest game, but nothing cohesive came of it.
Justice discusses that problem through one excellent example: The Escapist's Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw was approached to make a tongue-in-cheek script for the game, as 3D Realms enjoyed his sense of humor and thought he understood Duke well. But Broussard eventually reneged on the idea because it didn't match his interpretation of Duke. That's a perfect microcosm for Duke Nukem Forever: a game where fans and employees knew what they wanted from the game, but the leadership took too long to figure it out.
Instead, Duke Nukem fans are left with Duke Nukem Forever: a tribute to what could have been if only the game wasn't derailed.
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