During the simple times of Windows 3.1 and MS-DOS, computer games were fun, simple, and easy to play. The sound from these games were presented through either a sound card, or the internal PC speaker. Many small start up companies made small games that would fit on one or more 3 ½ inch floppy disks. Many of these disks were purchased through mail order after playing through the “shareware” (essentially a demo) version of the game.
Apogee Software started game development in 1986 with a variety of small games ranging from adventure, puzzle, trivia, and word games. Starting in the early 90’s, Apogee started focusing on more action/platforming games, including Commander Keen, Dark Ages, and Duke Nukem.
Duke Nukem was released on July 1, 1991 for the MS-DOS operating system by lead designer Todd Repiogle. It was a 2D side-scrolling action/platformer game where you control Duke through 3 episodes (10 levels each) of total carnage and mayhem to stop the evil Dr. Proton from taking over the world!
After the first release of the game, Apogee suddenly became aware of a character named “Duke Nukem” in the animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers. To avoid any sort of lawsuit with the creators of the show, Apogee released Version 2.0 of “Duke Nukum”. Fortunately the name Duke Nukem was not a registered name, so Apogee seized the opportunity to copyright the name for their own use in future games.
On December 3, 1993 the follow up titled Duke Nukem II was released for DOS. The game follows the same concepts and gameplay as the first game with improved graphics and sound as well as a new series of guns for Duke to pick up and use. This time the evil Rigelatins are out to take over the Earth and they capture Duke Nukem in the process. Duke breaks free and is out to save the world once again!
The game contains 4 episodes with 8 levels of platforming action per episode. Both games had the first episode playable completely for free as Shareware. Afterwards you paid roughly $30-35 (sent by cash or money order to the Apogee mailing address) for the full versions.
This was pretty much how the “try before you buy” business model worked with a majority of DOS games of the time since there was no internet to simply download the games. How did you acquire these shareware programs? Through demo disks offered by the companies themselves. You order through a catalog of games, and the companies will send out floppy disks containing the games that you order (usually paying just a small shipping fee).
Of course with the internet going public in 1996, shareware versions of DOS games were uploaded onto FTP and web servers for people to download directly and play off their computers for free, however obtaining the full versions still required sending money to the companies of those games. But enough about the backstory of DOS games, lets get back to Duke.
1996 was the year that Apogee Software rebranded themselves to 3D Realms, and on January 29th, released their third Duke Nukem game in the series, Duke Nukem 3D. Gameplay has switched over from a 2D action platformer to a 3D first person shooter similar to games such as Doom and Quake.
The game was developed on a $300,000 budget with 8 people on the development team for most of the project and increasing to 12 or 13 by the end. Duke 3D was almost going to have multiple camera views where the player can switch between first person, third person, and fixed camera angles. What made this game different from other FPS games was the use of real-life locations such as a movie theater, strip club, bookstores, etc. The first episode of the game takes place in Los Angeles, California.
Duke 3D was initially released with 29 levels spanning across 3 episodes. A fourth episode containing an additional 11 levels was included in the game’s Atomic Edition, which released in November of 1996. On October 11, 2016 Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour was released with a brand new fifth episode expanding the game even further with 8 brand new levels.
10 expansion packs were released for the game including one called “Nuke It” which was developed by Micro Star in 1996 that contained over 300 custom made levels. However, they were charged for copyright infringement by FormGen and 3D Realms for unauthorized sales of the pack. Micro Star lost their case and sales of the expansion were stopped.
Between 1998 and 2002 four spin-off games were released by outside developers such as n-Space, Eurocom, and Sunstorm Interactive. These games all play in a third person perspective (except for one which was a 2D side-scroller), and were much more story driven with cutscenes and voiced dialoge. These were all stand alone games with Duke as the main star on his never ending quest to save the world from weirdo aliens.
Duke Nukem: Time to Kill was a third person action adventure title that played very similarly to the classic Tomb Raider series. It was developed by n-Space and published by GT Interactive and was released as a Playstation 1 exclusive on September 30, 1998 in the US. The game has been humorously dubbed “Duke Raider” by developers because of it’s similarities with the Tomb Raider series.
The story follows Duke as he was celebrating at the Club Bootylicious, when suddenly the party was interrupted by pig cops. After taking care of the problem and finding his motorcycle had been turned into a pink girls bike, Duke discovers that aliens have been trying to take over the world before he was around. Using the alien time gate, Duke sets out to save the world both in the past and in present time.
The second spin-off to be released was called Duke Nukem: Zero Hour, developed by Eurocom and published by GT Interactive and released on August 31, 1999 in Europe and the next day in the US exclusively for the Nintendo 64. It is once again a third-person shooter with more serious story elements, cutscenes, and voice acting dialoge. It also revolves around time traveling, aliens trying to eliminate Duke’s ancestors, Duke gotta go back in time and kick some alien ass.
The third spin-off titled Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes, was released on October 16, 2000 developed by n-Space and an exclusive PS1 title. It is a direct sequel to Duke Nukem: Time to Kill and plays very much like the other spin-off games in a third person perspective. This time Duke travels to the future where all men are exterminated and all women are captured and treated as slaves. The world is ruled by Silverback (a pigcop/ape hybrid) who is leading the assault on UBR (Unified Babe Resistance).
The final spin-off to be released was called Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. It was released on May 17, 2002 by Sunstorm Interactive and published by Arush Entertainment. The game is a 3D side-scrolling action platforming title that resembles a similarity to the classic DOS Duke Nukem games before jumping into the FPS genre. The story takes place in Manhattan, New York City, where a mad scientist named Mech Morphix is using radioactive slime to metamorphosize creatures into deadly monsters to take over the city.
Back in April of 1997, 3D Realms announced the next major hit Duke Nukem game titled Duke Nukem Forever. Between 1997 and 1998, promotional information for the game was being announced including teaser images, video and different release dates. By 2001, 3D Realms retracted any definitive release date and simply announced the release as “when it’s done”.
6 years would go by without any new information on the progress of the game until 2007 when a new teaser trailer was released for the game. In May 2009, 3D Realms downsized to only production and publishing roles, resulting in the loss of the game’s development team. Take-Two Interactive (the holder of publishing rights to the game at the time) filed a lawsuit against 3D Realms over the unfinished development of the game. 3D Realms however responded stating that Take-Two’s interest in the game was only legally limited to their publishing right and nothing more.
On September 3, 2010 Gearbox Software continues development of the game under publisher 2K Games. 15 years after many delays and development woes, Duke Nukem Forever finally releases on June 2, 2011. Of course, by this time the name of Duke Nukem was long forgotten and was no longer a staple name in the FPS genre (with hits like Halo, Call of Duty, and the Battlefield series taking the reins).
So after all that time in development limbo, was the game any good? Unfortunately not. Many design flaws including long load times, shooting mechanics, and level design were all to blame for its poor presentation. This along with the offensive humor and the aging design just did not live up to the games of the current generation.
Three DLC packs were released for the game including 1 GameStop exclusive titled “Duke’s Big Package”, which gave players access to a Big Head Mode, and an additional Ego Boost bar, which doubles the amount of Ego (the game’s “rechargeable shield” mechanic) available in the game. “Hail to the Icons Parody Pack” contains 3 new game modes and 4 new multiplayer maps with new weapons. Finally “The Doctor Who Cloned Me” includes a new single player campaign which sees the return of Dr. Proton from the original Duke Nukem DOS game.
Duke Nukem Forever holds the record for longest development time in video games with an official length of 14 years and 44 days as recognized by Guinness World Records. The game spawned many memes as being the game that took “Forever” to develop, and even saw some people actually posting their pre-order receipts dating back to 2001. And yes, those pre-orders after all those years were in fact fulfilled when the game officially released.
During those years of fans waiting for Duke Nukem Forever, Duke has had a series of games made by various studios and released on mobile and handhelds including the Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advanced, and Nintendo DS. Along with the portable games, there have also been at least nine games that have been canceled, including an HD remake of Duke Nukem II, a remake of Duke Nukem 3D, a Duke Nukem Trilogy, and even a reboot game by Gearbox in 2011.
Duke Nukem had a pretty shallow start and suddenly took off in popularity with the release of Duke Nukem 3D at the heart of the FPS craze in the mid 90’s. However due to the never-ending delays of Duke Nukem Forever, his fame was slowly dropping and even with all of the spin off and portable games being released during its development time, fans were already moving on to new trends in gaming.
Of course, by the time Duke Nukem Forever had finally released, it was already too little too late. Had Duke Nukem Forever released on its tentative release in the late 90’s and early 2000’s it might have done better, but unfortunately gamers can only wait for so long before giving up and moving on to bigger and better games. Regardless, with Duke Nukem 3D being the peak of the franchise’s 30 year lifespan, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the other releases to see both where he’s come from and where he’s gone since.