Why Does Duke Nukem Forever Suck?

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Matt Barton's picture

Forever wasn't long enough, apparently.Forever wasn't long enough, apparently.Well, the first wave of reviews are in, and it looks like somebody's gonna freakin' pay for screwing up Duke's comeback. IGN gives it a 5.5 and offers us this stinger: Duke has not aged well. As simple as he ever was, as irrelevant as he's ever been. Ouch! Joystiq gives it similar treatment: Allow me to borrow Duke's trademark line which he, in turn, borrowed from a fellow 1990s artistic endeavor, Army of Darkness: "Don't come get some." PC Gamer was more forgiving, settling on an 80 score, but warns us that the development-time-to-awesomeness ratio isn’t impressive.

The complaints are many and numerous, but most come back to how long this game took to make and how lackluster the finished product finally turned out to be. Wikipedia even has a special page just for the game's long and storied development cycle, which according to them went into production in 1997.

I had the opportunity to interview Scott Miller, who was in charge of the project until his publisher ripped it out of his cold, dead hands. From what I gathered from Scott, the project was near completion (he says the PC version was finished and Gearbox was hired on to do the ports), but there were plenty of other problems dealing with team sizes and turnarounds.

It sounds like a classic case of the tail wagging the dog to me, the tail in this case being the current state of gaming tech and the dog being Scott's own perfectionism. The team always wanted DNF to be just as bold, impressive, and memorable as Duke Nukem 3D had been in 1996. That game, of course, is legendary, and even John Romero ranks it as one of his top 5 favorite games of all time. However, I think it also represents a peak time for the industry in general, and it's no surprise that the mid to late 90s saw so many of the best games ever made--I need only point at such hits as Fallout(1997), Baldur's Gate (1998), and System Shock 2 (1999). I should note, too, that even then games like Diablo (1996) were being slammed for their "dated" graphics; odd how that didn't seem to have the impact it would today.

For me, this period represents that glorious period when a relatively small team, tight enough to share a common vision, was still able to produce "Triple A" style titles. Duke Nukem Forever got swept up in the maelstrom that followed, when suddenly team sizes were growing exponentially to keep up with the rapid advances in tech spurred on by the consoles, as well as the endumbening factor described so well by Jon Hare of Sensible Software. Obviously, a huge team requires a great deal of management; that is, games by committee. Suddenly, what's important are the bullet points on the box. Instead of thinking of how awesome the gameplay will be, the publishers think only of how good the trailers are going to look.

Scott found himself in a vicious cycle. DNF would get near completion, but then they'd find the rug yanked out from under them by a new generation of tech and have to start from scratch. Try to imagine what Scott must have been up against--a runaway character as popular as Duke, insanely high expectations, Scott's own incessant perfectionism--it was a super-sized combo of double bacon deathburger. The setup is almost comparable to Romero's "Bitch" scenario with Daikatana. You knew this wasn't gonna be pretty. I can only compare it to something like Chinese Democracy. If you just heard the album without all the GNR baggage, it'd be a totally different experience. But when you grew up listening to Use Your Illusion and Appetite for Destruction...Yeah, all you can do is hope they won't be as bad as a corporate-produced Metallica RIAA-kissing money-grab.

So what would it have taken for DNF to really live up to our expectations? According to Scott, the publisher should have held in there, boosted his budget, and let him stay on course. However, let's remember that he also said the game was nearly complete, so much of what we're seeing in the Gearbox release is exactly what he wanted. Maybe he would've been able to polish it more, which may have been a deciding factor. Of course, there could have been more delays and a new generation of consoles could've emerged and kicked the whole thing into another cycle.

Here's my take on it. Duke Nukem 3D hit a sweet spot when a small, passionate team could still make a major title. There's no way you'll ever capture that magic with the team sizes required to make modern FPS. Indeed, I think Scott would have been better off if he'd realized this long ago, gave up on staying on the cutting edge, and just focused on what made Duke fun in the first place (hint: gameplay, attitude).

DNF is to Duke what The Last Action Hero was to Arnold. I want to end with a quote from Ebert's review of that movie: Maybe younger viewers - around the age of the young hero - will identify with it. I was disappointed.

Comments

Bill Loguidice
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The difference between Duke

The difference between Duke Nukem Forever and Daikatana is that Forever is already a sales success, and will no doubt be among the best sellers of the year. I think the key difference between Forever and Daikatana is that people have long since given up on Forever and are now kind of nostalgic for it, warts and all. Daikatana never had the love in the first place (it was a new IP) and the advertisements only amped up the animosity. Daikatana was probably far more broken than Forever is as well.

The key takeaway here is that we're all but guaranteed a Duke Nukem Forever 2, and that will be the chance at true redemption. It won't get a third chance.

By the way, I pre-ordered Duke Nukem Forever through OnLive, so I can play it mostly on the Microconsole. I figured that would be the easiest way to keep my sanity in check in terms of bug fixes/updates/performance issues, and the pre-order deal was too good to pass up. I just have to wait for it to officially hit in the US now...

I am anything but an FPS enthusiast - I play them pretty casually - so I think the old school design aesthetic of Forever will probably suit me just fine. Hopefully the frame rate issues and other bugs aren't too annoying...

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Alan V (not verified)
It's worth mentioning...

... that Duke does do a couple things differently. Rather than run by everything in-game as though it was painted on walls, you can interact with a variety of things (mundane as many area).

Also, I have found that the pacing is very different to a typical FPS. There are puzzles to be solved. And you are not constantly run through a gauntlet of enemies (Homefront was particularly guilty of this). *slight spoiler?* You do play through a level, shrunken, only to come back through the level a little later fully-grown. Things like this make it different than the typical grind of waves of modern warfare enemies.

Now, the 360 version has the most horrendous load times, even when loading off of the hard drive. The game is very much locked down to a linear path, and there are definitely moments where pacing is too slow. Oh, and the NPCs are incredibly wooden ;) It is definitely not on par with big titles and their polished campaigns. But I do still (so far) find it amusing. It constantly feels like going back and playing a sequel to Duke 3d. Sadly, it's not 1999 - when it should have been released.

Al.

Igor Hardy
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The differences between Dukes
Bill Loguidice wrote:

The difference between Duke Nukem Forever and Daikatana is that Forever is already a sales success, and will no doubt be among the best sellers of the year.

No matter how well it sells now, it's difficult to call Duke Nukem Forever a sales success after 14 years of development including regular sums put into marketing. The current customer interest is a direct consequence of all these years of banging about it, but still that doesn't make it a financially sound strategy that any game company would like to repeat for their own title.

Duke 3D was a silly, rude and fun game with lots of creative ideas, good gameplay and impressive technology behind it. It might have not been some incredibly sophisticated gaming experience, but it was a very dynamic and interactive one. It didn't waste the player's time on endless cutscenes and mini-games. Now DNF can't compare to it at all. It even manages to turn the original's silliness and popular media references into a tired and bloated parody of a parody.

Chris Kennedy
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Dunno if it is worth it, but...

I am one of the few people that said, "Duke Nukem is NOT an FPS. What on earth are they doing?" when Duke Nukem 3D game out in the late 90s. I was used to the 2D, side-scrolling Duke.

Regardless of the titular character's various dimensions of game history, Duke Nukem 3D is overrated. Vastly overrated.

So Duke Nukem Forever has been something I've found laughable over the years. Will they release it? When will they release it? It didn't matter. There was no WAY it was going to deliver. Best thing to do is get it out, let the cash roll-in (regardless of how bad it might be), and make the next game.

Duke Nukem was a franchise starting with only a single (3D, that is) game. Regardless of the blood, sweat, and tears invested in what we have never seen and ultimately what was eventually released, it is a Hollywood franchise of videogames.

It's all about the money. And man, are they ever going to rake it in.

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Bill Loguidice
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DK3D
Chris Kennedy wrote:

Regardless of the titular character's various dimensions of game history, Duke Nukem 3D is overrated. Vastly overrated.

Interesting opinion. Mine is that its reputation and affection is well deserved. It did things that no other FPS did at the time (and with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I think that's why people cared so much about Duke Nukem Forever. Most other game sequels in that kind of development hell would have been forgotten long ago. I also think that next to Doom, which has an insurmountable lead in that area, the original Duke Nukem 3D is probably the one FPS found on the most unique platforms.

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clok1966
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I know back in those days i

I know back in those days i was a bit of a DOOM snob, i had tried ROTT and some others, and while all fun, none held up to DOOM IMHO. Duke was very much a product of the times. DOOM (and wolf 3d) had shown there was real market for that type of game, and Duke jumped on it. But i think it did what mot of the others didnt, it brought something different to the genre. It had humour, crass, brass and in your face, but the people playing those games loved it. You could play it on a tv nowdays and not get a eye batted.. but back then it was a little more "wicked" then the average game, strippers, pee, crude one liners (remeber every movie at the time had those! in spades, and just as corny as DUkes where). It has some strange guns, it just did a Spinal Tap, turned it to 11. Back then that worked, and in spades, people loved it. Duke simply became an ICON of that time, he wasnt a faceless hero most games had you play, he had his own style, talk, and most the players loved it. I went in back then thinking Duke was just anotehr attempt at DOOM, i came out thinking it was a good game, and lots of silly fun.

NOW, todays DUKE, (keep in mind only played the demo, today after work is the full game) I really felt like I was back in time playing it. It really felt LIKE DUKE... and ... sorry.. thats not good. The game really feels out of date, what we laughed at back 10 years ago is sorta lame today, and duke really feels like sombody took the design doc for DUKE2 fromback then and made it today.. I'm sure alot of that is simply the development hell its been in, alot of it was decided WAY back then, and it shows. The game engine (per reading some reviews) seems to be taking some flak, I didnt really feel it was to horrible, its dated a bit, but eh... gameplay is key. As I mentioned before some of the little touchs are pretty cool (whiteboard that works, almost anything can be interacted with) but really dont add anything (but that was part of DUKE way back, so i cant see not having it either). Overall it really feels like a modern graphics engine with a time travel back in time design doc.. I wont say its 100% bad, I found it fun, the little I played of it.

There is no way it can live up to its delay, I cant believe anybody will let that slide, and I'm pretty sure its going to get hammered pertty bad for this. Almost silly, we are praising Old school indie games (meat boy, VVVVVV, Scot Pilgrem) but an old school shooter with a newer engine is going to some unreleenting hate i think..

Until i play more than the demo I will reserve judgement, as for reviews, i take all with a grain of salt, these are the same guys who Loved HALO (the game that brought us such great things as... the same 2 generic coridiors!, limiting me to 2 guns!, cartoony and realistic enemies in same game!..) sorry.. my MEH for HALO does trickle into other FPS stuff sometimes.

So far.. 7 out of 10 for demo, full game to come.

And what the heck is TINY WINGS!!!!!!

Matt Barton
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I was reading Scott Miller's

I was reading Scott Miller's posts on Facebook. If there's any animosity between him and the publisher, he's certainly hiding it well. Indeed, he seems very enthused and roused by the game's sales.

I didn't play any of the Duke Nukem games when they were fresh, having only recently gone back and tried them. I could see the appeal of Duke Nukem 3D quite clearly, though--especially if you compare it to games like Doom and Quake. It's very campy and has instant appeal for fans of 80s action flicks and Army of Darkness/Evil Dead. From what I've seen of the gameplay demos for the new game, they've missed the mark, though, assuming that every player is already in love with Duke. Clearly they wanted to ratchet the nostalgia factor as high as they possibly could. I'm guessing a lot of folks who haven't played the originals will wonder what the fuss is about. Of course, I'm guessing a lot of modern gamers don't care about the 80s action flicks refs anyway, so for them a lot of this is irrelevant.

DN3D I think worked because the other games of the time were taking themselves too seriously (along with the FPS nuts), and this game really poked fun at the whole culture, but in an affectionate way. The new game seems to be trying to do the same thing, but not for gamer/fps culture in general, but for DN3D fans in particular. That's a bit too much inbreeding in my opinion. To really be relevant, the game should have taken aim at Halo, Call of Duty, etc., and so on, but also the CURRENT crop of mindless action films. Give Duke an iPhone and have him play a parody of Tiny Wings, etc.

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Bill Loguidice
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DK3D
Matt Barton wrote:

DN3D I think worked because the other games of the time were taking themselves too seriously (along with the FPS nuts), and this game really poked fun at the whole culture, but in an affectionate way. The new game seems to be trying to do the same thing, but not for gamer/fps culture in general, but for DN3D fans in particular. That's a bit too much inbreeding in my opinion. To really be relevant, the game should have taken aim at Halo, Call of Duty, etc., and so on, but also the CURRENT crop of mindless action films. Give Duke an iPhone and have him play a parody of Tiny Wings, etc.

That was a big part of its appeal to be sure, but also there were gameplay components that were not really present in any other FPS games then or for a time thereafter. As was mentioned, the environments were partially interactive and partially destructible, and there were clever features like the shrink ray, jetpack, etc. It's easy to pick up on the effective camp (and in fact spoofing of the genre in general), but I think it's a disservice to the game to overlook the clever gameplay design.

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Keith Burgun
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Yarrr

"The difference between Duke Nukem Forever and Daikatana is that Forever is already a sales success, and will no doubt be among the best sellers of the year. "

If that's true, then I think it says a lot more about how different *gamers* are now than they were 15 years ago than anything else.

Bill Loguidice
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DNF
Keith Burgun wrote:

"The difference between Duke Nukem Forever and Daikatana is that Forever is already a sales success, and will no doubt be among the best sellers of the year. "

If that's true, then I think it says a lot more about how different *gamers* are now than they were 15 years ago than anything else.

Perhaps, but the reasons why I gave below I think stand. There are key differences between the two, though superficially their circumstances are obviously a bit similar. Duke Nukem Forever is a unique case and I don't think it's indicative one way or the other of the "modern gamer".

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