Anatomy of a Blockbuster: Duke Nukem Forever

Anatomy of a Blockbuster: Duke Nukem Forever

By Stuart Richardson

August 12th 2011 at 8:00AM

Develop's monthly dissection of a recent hit game

Duke Nukem Forever


Publisher:
2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software, 3D Realms, Triptych Games, Piranha Games
Format: PC/Mac, PS3, Xbox 360
Price: £39.99 – £49.99

Develop's index of all games featured in Anatomy of a Blockbuster can be found here.

THE SENSATION

The vulgar, cigar-chomping, beer-swilling antics of the ‘80s action hero throwback Duke Nukem have been delighting and appalling gamers in equal measure since the release of his eponymous first game for MS-DOS back in 1991.

Walking a fine line between tongue-in-cheek and just plain insulting (and spending most of his time leaning to the latter side), Duke found easy fame amongst a generation of gamers raised on the films Swartzenegger and the ‘comedy’ of Tom Green.

Monotone, muscle-bound and full of hateful one-liners for both his alien foes and the entire female gender, the Duke was the anti-hero Generation X both wanted and deserved, and they loved him for it.

THE GAME

An jarring mix of FPS conventions from every gaming era since the early ‘90s, Duke Nukem Forever was never going to win any prizes for gameplay innovation.

The odd combination of styles brought on by its staggeringly long development makes it even more difficult to engage with than its predecessors, however.

This is a game with the shooting mechanics of Doom, and the restricted weapons loadout of Call of Duty. It is a game with the character models of late 90s FPS titles trying to replicate the scripted scenes of the likes of Half-Life 2 (minus significant amounts of subtlety and characterisation). Duke Nukem Forever plays out like a badly designed brief history of the first-person shooter.

THE STUDIO(S)

Having developed the series’ most iconic and well-loved instalment, Duke Nukem 3D, 3D Realms had to fire a large amount of staff and cancel work on DNF in 2009 when its funding ran dry.

A lengthy and bitter legal battle with publisher Take-Two resulted in the retention by the latter of the existing game assets that had been developed from 1997 up to that point, which led into the project being handed over to Gearbox Software. In the period in-between the end of work by 3D Realms and the start of work by Gearbox, indie studio Triptych Games kept the project development ticking over.

Under Gearbox the disparate and disjointed elements of over a decade’s worth of development were brought together and lodged uncomfortably into place. With the aid of Piranha Games on multiplayer dev duty, the Duke’s long brewing adventure was finally made as ready for action as it was ever going to be.

UNIQUE SELLING POINT

A difficult point considering that the game’s humour and gameplay are largely lifted wholesale from earlier series entries, and have been improved upon far more competently in other games (Bulletstorm, anyone?).

Aesthetically the game is fundamentally lacking as well, its confused and half-baked jumble of textures producing an ill-defined, mostly grey and brown mess. Character models resemble those of the PlayStation 2/Xbox era. What draws ‘em in, then, and seems to blind many to the game’s obvious deficiencies, is the dumb thrill of throwing poo and slapping breasts. Duke Nukem Forever’s ‘unique’ selling point is its gutter brain, plain and simple.

WHY IT WORKS

Another difficult point. DNF clearly works in the sense that it is a blockbuster game. Its sold very well.

To compliment its design, its audio or its plotting, or any particular aspect of its development is insulting to the countless triple-A studios still producing top flight, exciting and clever games, however.

That’s not to say that the many people who put their time and effort into the 14 years that it took to get the game out weren’t hard-working, talented individuals. It’s just that their talent was wasted on a mismanaged, out-dated product that was maybe better left to the annals of history. Then again, it sold really well. Whatever it is that Duke Nukem Forever does for people, it does it right.

TRY IT YOURSELF

Tease your fan base. No, tease is too nice. Torment them. Tout the biggest game you’ve ever worked on. Preferably make it a sequel to an already very well received title. Make sure to let them know that it will include the kind of gameplay elements their dreams are made of. Karp fishing in a jet on Mars. Conkers with bombs at the bottom of the ocean. Breakneck speed. Cutting humour. Legendary characters.

When fever-pitch is achieved, don’t release this game.

Then, after people are starting to get over the initial disappointment, set a new release date, and don’t release the game then either. Repeat this process for as long as you can manage. Then, drop the game. Then pass it on to another studio. Make sure that, when they release it, it’s an ungainly mess. Profit.