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Duke Nukem Taking Forever: So What?

Put up your dukes.

I’ve been a full-time games journalist for close to a decade now, and it amuses and surprises me every time I think that Duke Nukem Forever was already a delayed and mysterious thing when I joined this dark fraternity. We were making Duke Nukem Taking Forever jokes back in 1999, for Christ’s sake.

Of course, that’s one reason why I eye-roll a little at the general scorn that surrounds the game. I’m bored of Duke Nukem jokes as much as I’m bored of waiting for Duke Nukem. More so, in fact. 3DRealms are acting like creators in control of their own destiny, for better or for worse. We’re acting like…

Well, “Vapourware”. It’s a fascinating, vile phrase which stinks of misplaced entitlement.
The idea is that if a game isn’t being played by a specific gamer, it doesn’t exist. It’s the idea that it’s THEIR game. It’s not. It’s the creator’s game, and always is. A creator who pretends otherwise is just currying favour by flattering their fanbase, which is deceptive and ultimately harmful to their status as creators.

Looked at with detachment, what have 3D realms done? They’ve announced a game which they’ve proceeded to work on, at their own rate. What right have you to think anything of them? Over in films, when Kubrik disappeared for a decade at a time, it was considered an auteur pursuing his own visions. 3D realms have never done serious hype of Duke Nukem Forever. They haven’t done a preview for years – last major one I can recall was in PC Gamer circa the turn of the millennium. They haven’t released any shots. All they’ve done is done is not release a game.

So what?

They are very rich men working with a relatively small team with a large cash fund gained by smart deals (Tens of millions of dollars from the sale of the Max Payne IP alone). Be playful, sure. You have no right, in any seriousness, to judge them. It’s nothing to do with you.

Mock playfully, sure, but actual resentment is completely misplaced.

Obviously, there’s interesting questions to be asked about Duke Nukem. All manner of rumours have reached us over the years – and pretty much every year, someone from their publisher mentions they’re “sure” Duke Nukem Forever will be out this year. Why has it taken so long? Most credible story I heard was something told to another journalist – the delays were primarily a side effect of the somewhat over-rigorous design ethos. Rather than making the game, they concentrated on a single level at a time, getting it complete, before moving to the next. The problem being, when they’d done that one, looking back at the previous one – due to the increase in competence and vision and skills and whatever – it looks a bit duff. So it was scrapped, and restarted. And, clearly, this is a perpetual cycle of creation and trashing. If that rumour is true, it’s both obvious why it’s taken so long, and may be a good reason why it’ll never be done. If they have all the money in the world for their purposes, there’s no pressure to release with something they’re not satisfied with. The thing is, they’re never going to be satisfied. As any creative knows – I paraphrase – no work is ever completed – only abandoned.

Hopefully 3D realms can learn that lesson eventually, if only for the only people in this whole story who have any reason to feel aggrieved. That is, the people who’ve worked on the game and never had an audience beyond one Texas office for their work. The idea that you could spend several years working on something which is never released is the primary reason why I’ve never pursued any opportunity in game development. People have joined and left the team in its marathon, and those efforts are just wasted. But even them – well, they accepted the pay cheque. They knew the risks of work-for-hire development.

So, while Walker may not be, I’m interested in whatever they’re going to show – because after all the years, that they’re willing to show anything at all implies we may be reaching some kind of ending of this saga. And, at the least, I want to read the Gamasutra Postmortem.

Random, idle, final thought: This year’s best multiplayer game was vapourware for most of a decade.

Wouldn’t DNF being great just be the best Fuck You in gaming history?

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Kieron Gillen

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Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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