Duke Nukem 3D, 3D

By Alec Meer on April 24th, 2009 at 4:39 pm.

I’m forever in two minds about projects to graphically update olden games. On the one hand, shiny! On the other, snarling hand, there’s a risk of messing up or losing the originally intended aesthetic effect – you’re replacing the artists’ work with that of someone else. Case in point, the just-released update for the Duke Nukem 3D High Resolution Texture Pack. Decide whether you’d snog, marry or avoid it below.

Here’s our Dukey before and after:

So, on a purely technical level, it looks much better – sharper edges, crisper textures, sprites that don’t simply flip 90 degrees when they turn, and flashier lighting. It’s probably kinder on the eyeballs than blowing DN3D up to crazy-high resolutions too.

But does it look like DN3D? I would argue no – you can recognise the characters, but other than that you mightn’t guess that it was DN3D if you were shown a screenshot on its own. Of course, much of DN3D’s original appearance is down to the technological limitations of the time, so there’s not necessarily much merit in claiming the aesthetic high ground. If I’m honest, were I to replay DN3D now I’d do it with this pack installed, but there’s something about the chunky pixels and indistinct faces of the original that sits much more comfortably with my memory and perception of Duke Nukem.

(On a related tangent, I found this fascinating – an attempt to make old Atari games look more as they did at the time by emulating not simply the technology but also the imprecisions and vagaries of the VDUs at the time. They may have been limited, but they had side-effects that genuinely added to our experience of these games,babies that porting them to a high resolution digital display throws out with the bath water. For instance, the luminescence of the sunset in the restored Enduro screen is strangely and accidental beautiful because of such peccadilloes).

I may be behaving like a puritanical asshat, but DN3DHRTP (gasp) will certainly be more to the tastes of others, however. Plus it’s clearly a labour of love, and a valiant attempt to keep the Duke flame burning even as his creators seem to keep on dousing it by mistake.

Thanks to Earl-Grey for the tip.

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61 Comments »

  1. Antsy says:

    Looks ok, but it has certainly lost something in translation.

  2. passingtramp says:

    Ah, Duke Nukem 3D. In which you fought against boars in uniforms.

  3. yhancik says:

    Oh, that CRT Emulation link REALLY is interesting. Thank you, Mister Meer !

  4. pilouuuu says:

    It basically shows the problem of the early transition from bitmap to 3d. Surely it was cool to have 3d, but 2d pixel characters and backdrops were much more detailed and had personality.

    When 3d came graphics were kind of horrible because of the lack of detail in the textures and small amount of polygons.

    I think that only since 2004 3d started to come to be better as graphical representations.

    Well this conversion reminds me of those days of early 3d. A very nice effort, but I’d much rather prefer remakes that include bitmap graphics in HD, like the Street Fighter 2 Super Mega Ultra Turbo HD Remix or whatever it is called.

    Wow, I would love old Lucasarts adventure games remade in HD and surround sound!

  5. phil says:

    I’d snog all of them, with perhaps the option of marry the pig alien later, public sector workers have job security (actually, looking today headlines, forget it.)

  6. Serondal says:

    This looks like the horrible Duke Nukem 3d that they had on the N64, it was in 3d and was also not any good :P

  7. Rinox says:

    Nobody steals our pixels and lives

  8. Jason Moyer says:

    That Atari 2600 news is incredible. I may actually stuff the console back in the closet and use Stella whenever the new build comes out.

  9. Ian says:

    Oh man, I bet the exotic dancers look totally realistic.

  10. Jad says:

    I’m only going by the screenshots given in this article, but I would definitely prefer the play with the upgraded ones.

    Recently I went a little retro-gaming kick, and played Descent 1. The game was awesome, even better now with mouselook then when I first played it. The naturally boxy look of the robots and the mines meant that the visuals still worked. I then tried to go back to Duke, and I found it really hard to work my way through.

    One of the things that was impressive about Duke at the time was that it tried to reproduce real-world locations. But the thing is, we’re much better at reproducing real-world locations nowadays, and that dates the visuals of Duke way, way more than some of its more stylized, fantasy/sci-fi contemporaries. A mess of pixels that looks vaguely like a toilet is not particularly interesting now.

    The real point of going back to play Duke now is the gameplay: the weapons, the level design, etc. And a graphical upgrade like this (presumably) will not take that away. You’ll just be able to understand what the hell is going on now.

  11. rob says:

    What with the Snog, Marry, Avoid reference and all, I now demand some Jenny Frost cameos on RPS!

  12. James T says:

    Forget the imperfection emulators, I want Atari HD Remix! Barnstorming will BLOW MINDS!

    (That’s a pretty neat simulation though, reminds me of my own Atari days; slightly heavy on the dots/noise though.)

  13. Seth says:

    You can turn off the 3d models if you want and keep the rest of the stuff.

    It takes an insane amount of time to load a level on my rig, though.

  14. Reggie says:

    Alec, feel free to ignore this but I would like to know why you feel so strongly about an update for a game you said you had precisely no strong feelings for a couple of months ago?

    I apologise if I come across as a prick asking this, but this apparent change of heart provoked my inquisitive (nosy) nature.

  15. Smurfy says:

    The problem with these things is that the sprites are really good sprites, but the models are really crap models.

  16. Max says:

    I replayed DN3D with this high res pack and I must say it really reinvigorated the game for me.

    There’s a *slight* loss of nostalgia without all the pixel art goodness, but the new models do a very good job of recreating the original sprites.

  17. Kris says:

    A noble attempt, but it seems to miss the mark. A bit like when you see a translation of a Japanese text (in a game) to English, where its literally accurate but some meaning or nuances are lost.

  18. Paul Moloney says:

    I installed this last year, thinking I’d give it a 5 minute play for nostalgia reasons, but ended up getting hooked for a while. Dukem Nukem, accusations of misogyny aside, is a really fun game, and I hope they capture that in the sequel, when it’s released on the XBox 360,000 in 2076.

    P.

  19. Flappybat says:

    I’ve been using this for awhile but the quality isn’t really all that great. Most of the guns for example have really lost something in translation and there isn’t much positive to say about the monsters.

    It also shows a big problem with animation timing, what works for sprites in 2D doesn’t look right in 3D.

  20. ChampionHyena says:

    I’ve been using the HRP, on and off, for a long time now. Alec’s right, we DO lose a little of the original flavor, but that’s unavoidable in a project like this. Where the HRP stands out is just how tremendously close the upgrade is to the original. Take, for example, the models made for jDoom (now known as Doomsday). The idea of playing Doom with real 3D models is tempting until you actually do it, seeing how awkward and jarring those animations and models are in action. The HRP is a labor of love, and they have worked so hard to keep that original Duke personality. Everything just seems to work.

    The wonkiest part is the models, obviously, but as Seth said, you can turn ‘em off and just enjoy the hi-res textures. Really, though, this new graphical coat of paint on top of all of Duke’s innovations makes it feel like a modern sort of game.

    This is a personal note, but I play my PC games on my fancy-ass 50″ plasma screen. Playing Duke with all the old-school graphics may be nostalgic, but it gets reeeal ugly when you stretch all those pixels out.

    I will remind everyone that Duke Nukem 3D is available at GOG.com for six measly bucks. Go buy it, add the HRP, and play it like a new game.

  21. bansama says:

    Looks a little too pointy to me. Perhaps when they round the models out a little more it’ll actually look pretty good.

  22. Heliocentric says:

    I proper 3d remake could catch all of the character of dn. But that’d take forever.

  23. Joshua says:

    I haven’t played it but I think ChampionHyena is on the right track here; many of these “upgrades” are hideous and this one seems at least decent.

    BTW Read Bogost’s book – Racing the Beam. Its fantastic. Just finished. Excellent work that will give you a new appreciation of gaming and development. Just keep a browser open to Youtube so you can see what these games looked like – thats what I had to do as I never owned a 2600.

  24. Serondal says:

    Duke Nukem was ok but I REALLY liked Shadow Warrior. I believe it is the same engine as Duke Nukem 3d but a more interesting story line and better humor IMO. I really enjoyed the nude spirtes that shoot you after Wang makes a dirty joke to them when I was that age ;)

    Drizzt warns of nostalgia in one of his pre-chapter monologues. I don’t have the qoute hady but more or less he says that over time our mind remmebers things as being much better than they really were at the time and trying to revist old things often ruins that sense of nostalgia and results in disappointment. It is probably best to leave these games alone and remember them as they were when they were new and exciting.

    Still 99 % of us will still go back and play them :)

    I went on a super binge a few months ago playing the oldest games I could find. X-com , Populus, Rogue, Panzer General, Ultima 4 (wooo) I actually got hooked to ultima 7 for a loooong time again, I got it when it first came out and never really played it but this time going back I enjoyed it a lot.

  25. Skye Nathaniel says:

    I don’t know why people think that 3D graphics necessarily look better than dated sprites. This is horribly ugly. If this were a labor of true love, they would have wisely elected to not do it.

  26. MrFake says:

    Bah! Everything is so precise. So smooth. No noise. No thickness in the surroundings. It’s like listening the difference between 45′s and CD’s. CD’s are the better quality, but the classics just don’t sound right. A lot is lost in translation.

    It’s good to see they’re so faithful to the source: those pig cops are pretty well done, though I don’t remember pig cops that could blend into their surroundings like that.

  27. Serondal says:

    I’m telling you this looks like a direct rip of the models for Duke Nukem 64.

    I don’t get wth is going on. People take doom and made it 2d, people take duke nukem (Which was orgional 2d) and made it fake 3d, now they’re taking it and making it real 3d.

    I want a commadner keen 3d FPS that is so advanced it makes the XBox 360 explode in fury after playing it for more than 1 hour straight ! Must destroy the spud king!

  28. mashakos says:

    They may have been limited, but they had side-effects that genuinely added to our experience of these games,babies that porting them to a high resolution digital display throws out with the bath water.

    Good point.
    I’m from the 16-bit generation so I may not appreciate Atari beauty, but I recognise hw much better games from the Amiga up to the PS2 looked on CRT’s. Now they’re just sterile pixellated abominations. Plug your PSX into an LCD TV and you will realise how bad it looks without the softening pillow of CRT imperfections.

    I have always wondered why ATI/nvidia never built a “noise/smoothing” option into their drivers. (Anti-Aliasing is not the same thing)

  29. Nutkins Victory Otter says:

    I often play games in a massively low res to have my imagination fill in the details, so this kind of thing can go love itself.

  30. WaywardBuddha says:

    Is it odd that I find the lower resolution picture to be significantly better? It is pixelated and betrays its age, but the color palette is deeper and the shadowing gives a depth to the creature that the higher resolution pack washes out. In addition, the background actually gets more atmosphere from the dirty muddled colors and blockiness. It makes it feel more dystopian and grimy. From an aesthetic point of view, I am going to have to go with the original here.

  31. Serondal says:

    Think you’d like dwarf fortress if you enjoy filling in the blanks with your imagination Nutkins (if you’ve not already played it )

  32. Jeremy says:

    I think this is the very reason that most video games now have lost their charm. I have fond memories of my past and playing games like FF3(VI), Chrono Trigger, River City Ransom, etc. These games had charm, they had a style and that brought a big love for games back in the day. These are games that I still go back to with emulators when I play a recent game and realize that the charm is gone. That’s why I loved World of Goo and that’s why I love little games like Spelunky or Dwarf Fortress. I’m not anti graphics, but it seems that most of the time, with high production you lose a certain amount of joy and wonder in playing a video game. For example, I just recently got FarCry 2 for the pc, and I know technically its a fantastic game, and there’s a lot of crazy energetic stuff that happens. However, the game is not memorable at all, there are good moments in the game, but it isn’t going to be something that I think back on fondly. This could be just my opinion, but I’m just kinda sick of games with high production values and slick functionality and absolutely no charm.

  33. Serondal says:

    Cod 4 was good for me. It had great graphics and moment over moment the game was the one of the most exciting games i’ve ever played. same as CoD when it first came out as a matter of fact

  34. bhlaab says:

    I think high res textures are fine, but trying to remake sprites as 3d objects and then making the engine pretend that the 3d models are sprites is just asking for trouble

  35. DMJ says:

    I would never have guessed that the “after” shot was Duke Nukem, but I would have recognised the “before” shot from across a crowded room. Possibly even a room filled with hookers.

    I don’t even think that higher resolution texture maps help. The effect is somewhat spoilt by the fact that the entire world has less polygons than Alyx Vance’s hair. The world of Duke Nukem appears to have been carved by a cube-fetishist with a scalpel and a micrometer. Making it shiny does not help.

  36. Heliocentric says:

    Mario 64 looks fucking awesome emulated. And the 2 zelda games when you are not on a sprite based backdrop.

    A fair few ps2 titles look better at 1280*960 (3:4) than modern games in the stills i’ve seen. But i’ve yet to try them in motion as i only emulate what i have a hard copy of. Emulating sub-pc titles has never had any attraction to me. What does atari has to appeal to me what am i missing?

  37. Y3k-Bug says:

    I dunno, I think its rose colored glasses here. I’ve never played DN, and I think it looks great.

    Where would I go to buy DN if I were so inclined, by the way?

  38. Nick says:

    It really pisses me off that people aren’t allowed to like things over X years old without it instantly becoming nostalgia or rose coloured glasses. Do people go “oh, that black and white film was made in the 50′s so it’s obviously not as good as a modern blockbuster, you must be remembering it wrong”?

    Meh.

  39. Bret says:

    Buying Duke?

    Good old games would work, I suppose. Picked it up recently.

  40. teko says:

    Wow, I would love old Lucasarts adventure games remade in HD and surround sound!

    Yes please, but keep them in 2D.

    Newer Lucasarts games like Monkey Island 3 still looks good today, except for the lack of anti-aliasing in subtitles and poor video compression on the cinematics.

  41. Warduke says:

    That television simulator for the Atari emulator is interesting. It’s always fascinating to see what people are passionate about. Working on something like that wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of my list of “fun things to do today” but it is for someone else. Interesting..

  42. ChaosSmurf says:

    To earl-grey for the PG Tip? AHAHHAHAHAHA. Wit.

  43. Chis says:

    Jad: Please have a look here!

  44. bhlaab says:

    @Y3K-Bug: gog.com, BUT, for the love of god pick up the eduke source port. You don’t need the hi def pack, but you’re going to want the widescreen resolutions and full mouselook support

  45. lumpi says:

    It’s the subtle shades, the 3 pixels of different proportions, the style hidden behind blurry backgrounds that simply cannot be extrapolated into higher resolution… No matter how good the remake artist is.

    Fun project, but I cannot stand pure “HD” remakes. Black Mesa Source… well that’s a whole different level (though I’m still skeptical). ;)

  46. notlimahc says:

    On the CRT emulation front, check out Blargg’s NTSC Libraries.

  47. Jetsetlemming says:

    I always wish thjat these fans so devoted to Duke3d would take some time out and include basic Blood support. It’s the same engine, and I don’t need new art or anything, but running Native Blood in DOSbox is pretty painful to get working.

  48. Blood fan says:

    Blood would be great, still my fave of all the build engine games. However, the source code is lost in time and apparently cannot be released. There have been a few attempts to reverse engineer it (ie, winblood) and versions using a quake port (transfusion) and zdoom (zblood) but nothing has really managed to be as good as the original.

    Worth checking out http://buildxp.deathmask.net/ for a fix once solution for blood, takes a while but is ultra stable once done

  49. bhlaab says:

    Someone’s started up a Blood hl2 mod.

    I’m sure it won’t get far, but hey

  50. BoltingTurtle says:

    This might have worked, but they didn’t stick with the same color scheme. Darken it up a bit. That Alien looks too cuddly now, and less like it has fleks of dried blood in its fur.

    But in general, this is the same kind of question as whether or not your girlfriend should get cosmetic surgery. Unless there was an accident or something that has altered her appearance, or there was some deformity that can be overcome by the wonders of modern medicine, most guys would say no.

    In a video game, unless there is a major change in the technology that prevents the graphics from showing in their original medium (solved by an emulator), or the graphics were in some way unnaturally detrimental to the game’s ability to communicate its content, then the graphics are better left alone. For the most part, artwork is about creating an atmosphere that best presents the content. Duke Nukem would be worse off for having modern Graphics, for the simple reason that its gameplay is not exactly modern. In order for the gameplay to keep pace with better graphics, certain things would have to be tweaked, mechanics altered or added, and when you do that, you haven’t given an old game a new suit, you’ve just made a new game.