Ion Maiden may just be the second coming of Duke 3D

Ion Maiden

Every cloud has a silver lining, and let’s be honest; isometric ARPG/shooter Bombshell was a pretty big (possibly mushroom-shaped) cloud. Originally planned as a Duke Nukem reboot, legal scuffles forced the game to re-brand, and it all turned out a bit pants anyway, leading developers Interceptor Entertainment to fold not long after.

The silver lining may be just what old-school shooter fans have been clamouring for, though. The Build-engine retro FPS now known as Ion Maiden was originally planned to be a promotional tie-in with Bombshell (and still shares a protagonist). It fell off the radar after Bombshell turned out a dud, but it seems that side-studio Voidpoint never stopped believing. Without warning, and under the (recently purchased) 3D Realms banner, Ion Maiden has launched direct to early access.

To everyone’s surprise, it may actually be really good.

While Voidpoint/3D Realms have been rather remiss and forgotten to send me (our resident retro FPS nerd, after Alice, of course) a preview build, I’ve heard quite a lot positive about Ion Maiden on the grapevine from a folks that wouldn’t be satisfied with anything short of true old-school authenticity. After watching a chunk of it being streamed live. I reckon this may well be something special.

The quality of the game isn’t a massive surprise once you dig into who Voidpoint are. The team mostly consists of long-time Duke Nukem 3D mappers and modders, as well as some of the development crew from EDuke32, a popular source-port that brings hardware rendering, improved controls and a lot of bug-fixes to the occasionally wonky old Build engine. Ion Maiden runs on a variant of this engine, effectively making it a real DOS game running under emulation, of a sort.

One of the biggest departures from Duke Nukem 3D is the removal of hitscan weaponry. Bullets from enemies are fast-moving and avoidable projectiles, rather than just instantly deducting precious digits from your health pool. This isn’t the first neo-retro FPS to do this either – it’s a feature that’s found its way into some major Doom and Quake mods such as Brutal Doom & Arcane Dimensions.


Perhaps taking a note from Blood’s book, thrown explosives are used a lot more than in Duke 3D as well, appearing in the form of the Bowling Bombs. Thrown like grenades, once these projectiles land on the ground they roll for a distance, homing in slightly on any enemies in their path, meaning that trick-shots around corners are not just possible but highly encouraged. As with the best Duke 3D derivatives, there’s a lot of environmental interaction and a lot of breakable objects, made all the more clear when you start playing around with things that go boom.

One other divergence from Duke Nukem standards is the absence of crude sexist humor. Everything I’ve seen so far seems relatively innocuous, with protagonist Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison frequently cracking wise, but not particularly at the expense of anyone beyond the expendable cyborg goons that you’re chewing through. In the official art, she’s even wearing practical-looking gear, including a chunky, flat breastplate that actually looks like real armor that might stop bullets. A significant improvement over her wonky design in Bombshell itself.

The current version of the game in early access is technically not a shareware-type release, but rather a standalone handful of levels designed for preview purposes, capped off with a boss fight. A glorified demo, then. While they will be updating the early access build with some new features and content over time, it won’t grow that much until the full game is released in an estimated six months. The final product will include full mapping and modding tools, and Steam Workshop support from day one, or so Voidpoint promise, and the price won’t be going up after release.

Ion Maiden is out on Steam Early Access now for £14/$18, and the final game is planned to release DRM-free via GOG as well.


  1. Michael Fogg says:

    I was concerned about the fact that apparently the enemies are mostly humanoid hitscanners from what I’ve seen in the vid. Interesting to know that this will be implementing some kind of actual flying bullets.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Yeah, enemy variety seems a little flat at the moment and that’s something I hope they build on in the full game, but hitscan is out.

  2. Spacewalk says:

    Man, I hope it’s authentic and not bullshit like all the other so-called throwbacks we’ve gotten.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Pretty sure this is authentic as it comes. One of the lead mappers is one of the guys behind that really impressive Duke Nukem Forever trailer-inspired mod for Duke 3D.

      They also just sent me a copy of it, and it’s a massive, bandwidth-crushing download of… 37 megabytes. It really is a Build engine game, huh?

      • Spacewalk says:

        Whilst it looked impressive I felt that I Can’t Believe It’s Not Duke Nukem Forever™ was a bit too narrow and not wide enough to interest me in repeat playthroughs but if they can nail proper Duke style levels I’ll still be on board.

        But holy shit, 37MB is massive. I’m going to have to start stockpiling internet cards and reserve an 1 1/2 hour slot at 3 in the morning in order to get this.

        • Megatron says:

          Christ alive, that’s going to keep my 33K baud modem squealing for days.

          This’ll have to be a CD release or no-one’s going to buy it.

          • Premium User Badge

            phuzz says:

            It’s only about 35 floppy disks, you could install that inside of an hour or two.

            Beneath A Steel Sky came on fifteen floppies, I still remember installing that on my Amiga. Even with two floppy drives it still took about 45 minutes of mindlessly swapping disks over and over again.

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            I remember playing the demo of Prince of Persia 2 from a 3.5 floppy. It made the floppy noise every time you went to a different screen.

          • Shazbut says:

            Monkey 2 on the Amiga ran off 11 floppies. I remember to go from Booty Island to Phatt Island meant inserting disk 5, then disk 6, then disk 5 again before it would load.

  3. satan says:

    Colour me cautiously optimistic.

  4. Dominic Tarason says:

    Now I’ve had a chance to play a little of it, I’ll say this: Mobility is life. Enemies are more accurate than hitscanners, but not so great at hitting moving targets.

    Also, set the game to Borderless Windowed mode, and turn off the engine’s own Vsync. EDuke’s old Vsync code is a bit janky and it runs way smoother this way.

  5. Sic says:

    The final product will include full mapping and modding tools


  6. King in Winter says:

    Ion Maiden! Wait, that’s not Eddie the Head!

    • Captain Narol says:

      lol, when I have read the title in my head it was “Iron Maiden” instead of “Ion Maiden” !

      I’ve probably listened to too much Metal… But I’m quite sure the Devs did it on purpose !

  7. faircall says:

    Dude this looks awesome. I don’t normally do early access but I’m guessing I will probably buy this when I get home.

  8. Dominic Tarason says:

    So, now I’ve had a chance to play it myself, I can confirm that my impressions from watching streams were pretty much correct. This is a legit good Build engine game, with detailed levels, plenty of secrets to find (some are quite satisfying to get to) and solid combat.

    My main issue right now is that most enemies are some variety of Dude With A Gun, although their behavior does vary quite a lot. Hopefully the full game has a broader mix.

    The Eduke32 engine is a major improvement over the original DOS Build engine, but it’s still not perfect, and still doesn’t quite hit 60fps+ consistently in larger, more detailed scenes. The recent Duke World Tour release had a nicer engine, but it seems that Gearbox aren’t going to release that to anyone.

    Oh, and the bowling bombs are good to the point of being overpowered. They can be thrown a good way, they bounce around corners and home in on enemies, and if they don’t hit anything they stop and defuse so you can pick them up again. It’s like Blood’s dynamite with none of the opportunity to blow yourself up.

    • Addie says:

      I was wondering how that could possibly be – you’d expect that a straight port of the build engine to use eg. OpenGl rather than software rendering would cause issues by running at 60,000 fps rather than <60 fps. The build engine lighting was pre-baked, was all flat surfaces and billboard sprites, and it used texturemaps and glowmaps only; that should run like crazy on a modern card.

      Answer (by looking at the EDuke32 page) – the updated engine does per-pixel lighting, as well as having support for bumpmaps and specular maps, and character models made out of polygons rather than billboard sprites. A naive renderer seeing ten thousand lights in a large open scene will bring even modern machines to a crawl.

      Am not sure it looks 'better', though. Build engine games still hold up well today by being stylised and having great sprite work. Moving to basic polygons and lighting makes them look like an early playstation 1 game, which have not aged nearly so gracefully.

  9. Megatron says:

    This. Looks. AWESOME.


    PS: Loving the Title. Pushes all the right buttons for me. (fnar)

  10. Blake Casimir says:

    More exciting than pretty much every AAA release happening lately, imho. Creativity in FPS died a long time ago, it seems that sticking to the kind of limitations the Build engine has forces developers to make things… that are actually fun?

  11. bill says:

    Just from the video, this looks way better than most of the rubbish looking retro-fps we’ve had recently… but…

    Your definition of a glorified demo must be a bit different from mine, as I don’t remember demos costing 15 quid.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      What I was getting at was that rather than getting a rolling series of updates bringing you more content over the course of early access, this one is offering less than usual.

  12. dr.denton says:

    On a scale of ten to ten, how much of a sad *uck does it make me, to find playing a Girl Duke is sexy?

  13. Cloak says:

    link to

    So this is Duke Nukem with a chick, they could have came up with a better title like Chick Nukem or something else.

    I swear woman are taking over the world. Which is fine with me, I love me some woman. :)

    But I think this game is going to suck. Looks like 3drelms drank the libtard coolaid. You just can’t replace Duke Nukem with a chick cause it’s Duke Nukem!

  14. Kinsky says:

    This is extremely my shit. Was sad to see Bombshell end up as lame as it was, but this looks awesome! Love the title.

  15. vorador says:

    Well, that’s one way to sell nostalgia. By making them like they did, down to the engine used.

  16. Ribonizer says:

    Funny how, the more sensibly dressed version of the character is so much more sexy and attractive to me. And I usually am perfectly fine with chain-mail bikinis, mind you. But there’s something to be said about good design. Just went back to look at the original game’s work and it’s all CG rendered pic of Miss Generic.

  17. April March says:

    Well, they either know how to make a real good Build engine game, or know how to fake a trailer real well.

  18. hfm says:

    Totally digging the attempt to make a realistic battle armor suit on this protagonist. Wishlisted.

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