Why Does Duke Nukem Forever Suck?

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.

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TripHamer
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Perhaps most of the reviewers

Perhaps most of the reviewers were in diapers or slightly beyond when this game started development.

Been playing it. It's about what you'd expect from a game that should of came out 10 years ago. A little simplistic and over the top. But it is what I would of expected from a Duke Nukem game....now if they start making another one and put it out in two years....I'm sure the reviewers will be more favorable towards that one.

It's just a matter of perspective.

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TripHamer
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Still

Would of been good in the year 2000 :)

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clok1966
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true
TripHamer wrote:

Would of been good in the year 2000 :)

hehe couldnt agree more.

Matt Barton
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Well, on a positive note, all

Well, on a positive note, all the bad reviews will probably knock this game into the bargain bins relatively early. Once it gets down to $10 or so I'll more than likely pick it up just for kicks.

I'm actually tempted to try to finish DN3D, too. I started playing it awhile back but wasn't even close to finishing it. It is a bit harder to enjoy the early 3D games IMO, since so much depends on the graphics, and once those get dated it really suffers.

Man, I'm getting bad habits as a gamer. I used to be good about buying a game and not playing anything else until I beat it. Now I'm just buying games left and right, usually from Steam, playing them for a day or two and quitting. Always mean to go back but can't seem to get enough interest. Is there a gamer depression at work here???

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clok1966
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to much
Matt Barton wrote:

Man, I'm getting bad habits as a gamer. I used to be good about buying a game and not playing anything else until I beat it. Now I'm just buying games left and right, usually from Steam, playing them for a day or two and quitting. Always mean to go back but can't seem to get enough interest. Is there a gamer depression at work here???

I have thought about this alot, and discussed ait a few times here in various ways. I think back to my atari 2500/intellvison/odyassy.... I used to play those games for HOURS... and some where CRAP even than... but they where all we had, we played um till we knew every inch, every tick, everything. When i got my Vic 20 it was the same, i boughgt some horrible games, but I played um all. My c-64 the same. My apple II was the begining of the end (so to speaK) had a relative in Japan who would send me game back for a $1 each... I would send him $30-50 and get new games back. Im sure I had about 300 games... soon glut started weeding out the bad games. That changed a bit with the Consoles. but I soon had a megado it all hicky for my NES, and every console after...and with Video game rentals made unlimited games a reality again.. soon very few where finished. Amiga... welll lets say thats when I learned how to "crack" um myslef. But This gen (amiga) gets a reprive, the graphics jump and game quality was enouhg to make me play alot of them., but not all.... The new gen consoles.. held in for a bit.. but ya.. sooon i had a way to play any game , and finish games became very low on priority.

In the last 10 years my cash flow is quite a bit different and i can actually afford to by games by the boatload. I still "adjust" my consoles... I recently Jtaged a 360 (just to keep this clear, not a single non purchsed (by me) game is on it, its not used on live) I did this to see how it worked, if it worked and so on... I really do love to mess around with hardware. Just saying I still have the ability to have "to many" games.. but I dont do much of that (if any) anymore...

Nowdays I have about 200+ 360 games, and 70 or so PS3 games, all bought legit...and only about 70 of the 360 games have even been in the 360, 30-40 of the PS3. Nowdays I dont like gamepads.. and it really slows my play time with them. {warning GAME PLUG!} DEMONS SOULS on the PS3 is probebly the only game on modern consoles I would really feel bad that i missed if I didnt have any of the new consoles.

The PC.. STEAM is great byut its made unlimited games to easy... and i just dont play many of them.

In the end I think AGE, time and quite simply TOO MANY all lead up to burnout. I keep telling myslef I WONT BUY ANOTHER GAME TILL I FINISH ONE but i cant stick to it.

Bill Loguidice
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OnLive version of DNF

I played up to around the start of the Duke Cave level (post talk show part). The load times between levels are excruciating. Definitely a sign of the old tech. The frame rate is also not particularly smooth and the character models are a bit rough. Control is mediocre. Thematically I don't have a major issue, but the humor is too forced. The interactivity is nice, but it's so sporadic that it doesn't feel organic. The whole game reeks of mediocrity.

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Matt Barton
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Wow, apparently the publisher

Wow, apparently the publisher threatened to blacklist some sites over the harsh reviews. They later apologized, but wow.

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Bill Loguidice
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PR versus Company
Matt Barton wrote:

Wow, apparently the publisher threatened to blacklist some sites over the harsh reviews. They later apologized, but wow.

It was the PR company, which 2K Games fired. Apparently the head of that PR company had a history of doing crazy things. I also agree that some of the reviews were over-the-top and didn't get at the heart of the issue in that this is just a mediocre game. A lot of the other stuff probably didn't need to be said.

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clok1966
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there is an EXCELLENT write

there is an EXCELLENT write up on Penny Arcade (today) about this whole blackball thing and Duke... the end of his discussion he says this .. which... I guess I know deep down in my heart but hate to admit. With money tight as it is,I know deep down there are no reviews without some "extra helping hand" be it money, free games, whatever... its like Collage football has no PERKS for players.. its like the salery Cap in the NFL is completely above board, its like the police dont take bribes..

"There is nothing - let me repeat - there is nothing strange about what he said. It is only strange that he said it. What he described is the way it already works, which is why it didn’t seem weird to him as he was typing it. The relationship between publishers and the press is increasingly fraught, and with good reason; outside of a handful of truly massive outlets, the press literally has nothing to offer them."

Matt Barton
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The press, especially the

The press, especially the small ones have only their time, writing skills, and audience's attention to offer. It takes a long time to adequately familiarize yourself to write a good game review. It'd be like a movie reviewer having to review movies that were 40-80 hours long. That's a serious time commitment, and believe me, most of the games you get free review copies for are not ones we'd choose for ourselves. It's usually a low-budget clone or badly-localized import of little interest to the mainstream. These publishers (or more likely distributors) have crappy budgets and the cheapest thing they have on hand is a free downloadable of their game. That costs them nothing to give you, and even a bad review will at least spread awareness of their product's existence.

I assume places like EA and Activision only give away copies to professional journalists and review sites, places where they heavily advertise. I'm sure there is a great deal of schmoozing there that some might call corruption. I assume they do like some of their smaller companies and supply "review copy" that basically outlines the game's strong points and from which a desperate reviewer could quickly cobble together an authentic-sounding review without having to actually play the game. If you read two or three reviews that contain similar language or a similar structure, that's probably why. These "media packs" also usually include screenshots and such that are carefully taken and perhaps even doctored for maximum effect. However, I seriously doubt it's a simple bribe deal.

They probably just do like the college textbook reps do with me, calling me up all the time to ask how I'm doing, if I've chosen books for the next semester, maybe (if I'm a big fish with a big class or a program director) take me out to dinner or at least drinks. They would never just say "Okay, assign our textbook and we'll give you cash." They're not stupid. Instead, they'll say "Let us take you out to dinner and chat about our lineup," be your buddy, etc. Then afterward you feel crummy if you don't assign their book.

Back at USF we once had a publisher throw us a party complete with beer and BBQ. Then they played volleyball with us (the reps, as you can imagine, are always young and attractive people). After all that, are we gonna with a competitor???

Nobody sees this as corruption, of course. They just call it "good customer service" or whatever. The fact is, though, you're wining and dining the people who make the purchasing decisions. I'm sure something similar happens with these review sites, but with the editors. "Let's go out to dinner, guys, have some sushi. By the way, we sent you ten copies of Game X. Oh, and you want an interview with Talent Y? We can get you that. You need media assets? We can give you a special video just for your site." etc. etc. They make you feel like a VIP, and only a moron would think that had no effect on your perception of that company or product.

In any case, reputations matter and do play a role in my purchasing decisions. I would never buy a new game or even something from the bargain bin without at least reading reviews on Amazon and perhaps a few sites like Game Spot and IGN. I take what all of them say with a grain of salt, but have yet to be disappointed with games that have good scores across the board (indeed, it's more likely that I'll enjoy a game that got mediocre reviews).

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