The Duke Nukem Forever story

It's been delayed so often gamers have dubbed it 'Duke Nukem Whenever', but could the new in-game footage released by 3D Realms indicate a breakthrough?

A Duke Nukem Forever screenshot from, er, 2001

It’s true. Internet and Xbox Live video programme The Jace Hall Show landed some exclusive gameplay footage of Duke Nukem Forever, a game so often delayed it’s become a running joke amongst gamers. Jace also interviews 3D Realms’ CEO Scott Miller and the games’ director George Broussard, in which they talk about this most elusive of games. You might argue the time to whet our appetites with Duke Nukem Forever footage was ten years ago, and you’d be right, but let’s take a look at what was shown…

Like most DNF teasers, the new footage is pretty dodgy. And not that new. According to Broussard it was filmed at 3D Realms’ offices around six months ago, and not originally intended for public release. It’s recorded on handheld cameras so the quality is pretty ropey, and Broussard insists it shows out-of-date particle and combat effects, which ‘have been replaced by now with new hotness’.

So what do we see? Does the new footage yield any clues about what the game will be like? To be frank, it looks like Duke Nukem 3D with better graphics, but perhaps that’s no bad thing. As a forum commentator put it, “with all FPS games now having a recharging health system, limited weapon inventory and a serious plot, it could be just the right time for a traditional shooter with an immature sense of humour”.

So is this the beginning of the end for Duke Nukem Forever’s endless development cycle, or just another false dawn? Past experience would suggest we shouldn’t get our hopes up. Originally planned for release on the first PlayStation console and based on the Quake II engine, the game was first announced in April 1997. No, that’s not a typo. I actually mean Nineteen-ninety-seven. One-nine-nine-seven. Eleven years ago. Bearing in mind it was worked on for more than a year before the announcement, this means Duke Nukem Forever has been in development for over 12 years.

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In June 1998, the Quake II engine was dropped in favour of the Unreal engine. Director George Broussard promised the change-over would take ‘a month to six weeks’, and would not significantly delay the game’s release, which would appear in 1999. It didn’t. 3D Realms upgraded to a newer version of the Unreal engine, releasing more screenshots and a Christmas card suggesting a 2000 release date. In 2000, they sent a Christmas card suggesting a 2001 release date. A forum wag commented that at this rate, Dave Lee Roth would reunite with Van Halen and release an album before Duke Nukem Forever was released. Although said in jest, Roth reunited and toured with the band in 2007, and an album is already planned…

In 2001, in-game footage was shown at the E3 industry games show. Its intended publisher, Gathering of Developers, closed down and the rights to the title were bought by Take 2 Interactive. In 2002, massive changes were made to the game engine and according to Broussard, 95% of the level design was scrapped. Hiring new programmers, the team were almost starting from scratch.

Conflict with its publisher followed in 2003, when Take 2’s then-CEO Jeffrey Lapin said the game would definitely be out by the end of 2003. Broussard responded with “Take 2 needs to STFU imo”. By the end of 2003, publication had been put back to ‘the end of 2004 or beginning of 2005’. In 2004 it was rumoured that the game had switched to the Doom 3 engine, but this was later denied, and the game was still based on a heavily-modified version of the Unreal engine.

And so it goes on. In 2005, rumours suggested the latest incarnation of Duke Nukem Forever would be shown at E3, alongside Prey, another 3D Realms game that was previously canned. Prey was shown and has since been released, but there was no sign of the Duke. Come February 2006, Broussard reported it was basically finished and had all its features in place, but was now being tweaked. In March, CEO Scott Miller hinted at a sequel, saying ‘of course as soon as Duke is done we’ll begin a new one’.

In August 2006, it was reported several key employees left 3D Realms. The company claimed this would not affect the game’s release schedule. The following year, job adverts appeared showing very small screenshots of the Duke and a mutant pig. It was later confirmed these were in-game shots. More shots followed in July, followed by a video in December. This video was a ‘teaser’, and despite being one minute ten seconds long, around a third of it was taken up with logos and stings, and there was no gameplay footage at all.

In February of this year, 3D Realms appeared to confirm a 2008 release date to the Dallas Business Journal, and also that Xbox 360 and PS3 versions would appear alongside the PC release. Broussard later retracted this statement, claiming it was based on a comment which was ‘off the record’. “The release date is still ‘when it’s done’, and will be until the appropriate moment,” he said. “Platforms have not been finalised or announced.” And with the Jace Hall Show footage, released this month, that brings us up to date…

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So after 12 years in development and more false starts than a hyperactive sprinter, all we’ve got of the game is a few seconds of choppy, wobbly in-game camcorder footage and an official release date of ‘when it’s ready’. Duke Nukem? Whatever…