Recently I spent a large amount time looking up everything I could about the notorious Duke Nukem Forever. Its lengthy Development time is considered hilarious, incompetent, and almost legendary. But the thing that stood out to me was how sad and tragic Duke Nukem Forever is, and here is the reason why.
I know that sounds like an unbelievable thing to say considering the final product is a mediocre mess with some fairly good moments, But let me rewind the clock a bit. When this game was in its earlier development stages, it was clear that there was at least some ambition to the game. The trailer released for Duke Nukem Forever in 2001 is awesome, and shows off the scope this game was aiming for. Kick ass vehicle segments, new enemy types, and at times it had very epic moments with lots of impact.
The 2001 E3 trailer shows off some great and epic moments. My favorite part is when lightning strikes a radio tower as a Octobrain swoops past it. Epic moments like that were very much absent in the final product and lacked any impact.
I sometimes watch the 2001 trailer just because it is so epic and well put together. The
game looked like it had weight to it, it made the alien invasion look larger than life and apocalyptic. Octobrains swooped down from the skies, and high octane moments on roads and in minecarts were shown off in the trailer. The enemies were intimidating and the set pieces looks explosive and energetic. It truly looked like the development team set out to make the most kick ass, explosive, and varied shooter they possibly could. But in a way that was its downfall, it aimed to be the best shooter around while other games were beating it to the draw.
Half Life 2 came out and changed the way a first person action game could be played, with its physics puzzles and interactive world being some of its many highlights. It seemed if Duke was going to compete, it would need some upgrades in a effort to go head to head with its competitors on the market. And in the final product, you can see where these upgrades took place. The final version of Duke Nukem Forever has physics puzzles like Half Life 2. just nowhere near as creative.
While playing the game you can actually pin point the moment where someone charged into the 3D Realms office in a panic and said "I just finished Half Life 2, They have Physics puzzles, we need Physics Puzzles, lets go back to beginning and start development again". This isn't really the only time either, it has other things inspired by more modern games that started to make there way into the game.
Quick time events also make an appearance, something obviously added to make it more like modern shooters like call of duty. Duke Nukem Forever was so obsessed with fitting in with the crowd that it lost its vision. It became more about creating the ultimate shooter where everything was thrown into the mix, rather than a well structured and well executed game. The final product is basically like playing spot the gameplay mechanic, where you would see something and swear you had seen it before somewhere else but actually done well.
3D realms clearly wanted to make the king of all shooters by putting once popular features into the game so that it could compete. If the game had actually come out when it was supposed to it might have been well received, if the 2001 trailer is anything to go by that is. Obviously there is other footage floating around out there, stuff from 2003 and 2006 and stuff like that, but the 2001 trailer was what presented itself as an exciting game that people even now wish they got to play instead of what we actually got in 2011.
Physics puzzles, check, quick time events, check, the ability to pick up and throw turds? sure, why not.
Its tragic that people worked on this project for so long only to be one step behind every time they made some progress. They constantly switched engines, they constantly added new features, and they constantly set goals for themselves that they didn't need to set.
Even after the great response to the 2001 trailer at E3, they still were not satisfied, and wanted to make it even better. And that's what fascinates me, no matter how great the game looked to the public, they still didn't think it was good enough. People were hyped for its release yet the developers still felt it needed work and could be better, which is something that doesn't happen much these days. Often games are rushed into production and released in playable yet bland and mediocre states. The developers obviously wanted to deliver a game that matched their creative vision, and they slogged through 12 years of development hell in a effort to do it.
An artists depiction of development hell.
Ambition killed Duke Nukem Forever, instead of creating a worthy follow up to Duke Nukem 3D, It seems they were obsessed with creating a worthy follow up to every shooter in existence. They wanted to pull out all the stops and make Duke Nukem Forever Ground breaking, instead it was soul crushing. But after all the disappointment with the final product, I would be lying if I said I didn't admire that they had a vision to create the most kick ass shooter of all time. And although it may have failed, they didn't go down without a fight.