Development History: Duke Nukem Forever

"Yes, it seems that 3D Realms have been doing something other than giving each other piggyback rides for the last 10 years. In a stroke all the anticipation we haven't felt since 1998 returned like a tazer gun to the base of the spine. I just hope that 3D Realms understands that if this game doesn't turn out to be history's greatest contribution to human culture and the cure for at least one type of cancer, then I and every other reviewer on earth are going to saw its bollocks off."

(For the actual Game-page, go here)

Development History

Just as numerous game developers named the third installment of a popular series "3D" back in The '90s, 3DRealms decided to extend the trope to Duke Nukem's fourth game by titling it Duke Nukem Forever ("4-Ever"). 3D Realms probably didn't anticipate how the other potential meaning might come into play — because when they said Forever, they meant it.

DNF became the prime example of Vaporware by way of Development Hell; numerous industry pundits thought of DNF as the videogame equivalent of Chinese Democracy note  or the infamous The Last Dangerous Visions anthologynote .

Wired News gave the game a Vaporware Lifetime Achievement Award for its continued delays; as DNF kept winning Vaporware awards too often, Wired created the award specifically for DNF. When readers complained about this move, DNF returned the following year to win more awards.

To grasp the scale of DNF's development cycle, take a look at The Duke Nukem Forever list; this page — last updated in 2009 — lists off major events that happened between the announcement of the game and the present day. Las Vegas probably laid odds on which would happen first: the release of DNF or the Chicago Cubs winning a World Series (pretty much the only thing that didn't happen during DNF's development cycle; those poor, poor Cubs).

3D Realms released numerous trailers and teasers throughout development, including a trailer in 2001 that featured footage tailored together from non-interactive cutscenes (according to a former 3D Realms developer) as a "proof of life". The company released another teaser trailer in 2007 alongside the release of Prey (3D Realms' other vaporware title), which suggested that Forever's development might have finally gotten somewhere.

George Broussard showed off another video of gameplay footage during his late-May/early-June 2009 appearance on The Jace Hall Show. Gamers remained jaded after seeing it, however, since DNF never seemed to break out of alpha stages (as 3D Realms would often restart from scratch when it didn't find itself satisfied with the results). Several from-scratch restarts did happen during 3D Realms' development of the game; Wired detailed the history of the people who designed, developed, and ultimately failed the project. To make a long story short (too late), George Broussard's perfectionism led to endless revision of DNF to avoid flaws in the final product, regardless of the budget or any lingering deadlines.

A few months after the 2009 trailer premiered, Take Two pulled the plug on 3D Realms' funding and released the development team; since Take Two retained the rights to the Duke Nukem name, it sued 3D Realms for damages (the lawsuit ended in a settlement). A countersuit filed by 3D Realms suggests it had Forever slated for a 2010 release on PC and Xbox 360 (and later announced for PlayStation 3) — and that it had another Duke Nukem-related game in the works (under the working title of Duke Begins).

This would normally mark the end of the story — the publisher fired the development team, the game has become an industry-wide joke, and no gamer alive expects to see the game released — but everyone should have remembered one simple fact: always bet on Duke.

After 3D Realms' development ended, Gearbox Software (the makers of Borderlands, Brothers in Arms, and Half-Life expansion packs Opposing Force and Blue Shift) picked up the scraps and finally wrapped up development on the game. Gearbox's first involvement with the franchise came from early development work on Duke Begins before its cancellation — and Gearbox founder Randy Pitchford himself once worked at 3D Realms employee (even he probably didn't think he would complete the game 3D Realms started just after he left them).

At PAX 2010, DNF made a surprise appearance with a playable demo, which marked the first time any member of the general public ever managed to play a version of the game during its ridiculously long development cycle. After a fourteen year wait (and a minor hiccup at the end of development before going gold), Take Two released Duke Nukem Forever on June 10th (internationally) and June 14th (the United States) — to a tepid critical reception. The game sold well enough for Gearbox to say Duke Nukem 5 will come out sooner or later, however — and this time, they'll try and make the gap between sequels a bit less than sixteen years.

As a final note: the famous preorder receipt from 2001 belonged to a Penny Arcade forumite by the name of "slash000" — and he kept it safe throughout the years. Videogame retailer GameStop told gamers that it would honor any legitimate preorder receipt for the game (even decade-old receipts), so slash000 managed to secure his preorder discount — and he snagged a bunch of swag from Gearbox, to boot.

Duke Nukem Forever's development contains examples of the following tropes:

  • The Ace: The promo art for the game depicts Duke as an astronaut, MMA champion, and a recipient of some kind of an award. Also on a snowy mountain with a sign that says "HAIL TO THE KING EVEREST". He also fishes for sharks. With his bare hands.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the 2011 trailer:
    Narrator: When the invaders came back, they came back angry. They tore our planet apart, bit by bit. But they made one mistake... they shouldn't have gone after our women.
    Duke: Dammit. Why do they always take the hot ones?
  • Bad Export for You: The Russian release of the game not only features a controversial new voice actor for Duke, it also went through the pains of translating all the swearing... and then bleeping it out. And there's no way to un-bleep it. And locking out the usual Steam ability to change a game's language. And retaining the game's 18+ rating because nothing else was censored!
  • Cue the Flying Pigs: A few days before the unveiling at PAX, 3D Realms president George Broussard (who once said it would be ready "when pigs fly") tweeted a link to... guess it. Hell, even Duke has his fun with this trope.
  • Follow the Leader: A weird case of this: Now that the game is actually out, there have been complaints about how "dated" certain parts of the game are and that it has been done before, such as realtime keypad tapping as shown in Doom 3, protaganist-based storytelling and physics puzzles as in Half-Life, destructible terrain in Red Faction, etc... But truth be told the features would have been groundbreaking if the game had been released, a decade earlier (or in some cases even half a decade earlier), if the trailers for Duke Nukem Forever showing these features were any proof. Also an interesting case of Older Than They Think.
    • During development, Broussard demanded that elements from other games be incorporated. For instance, he wanted snow to be included, solely because he saw it in the video game adaptation of The Thing. Eventually, this became a running joke among the staff: "If a new game comes out, don't let George see it!"
  • Lampshade Hanging: Even the game's announcement press release calls the release "shocking" and claims, "Seriously, flying pigs spotted heading towards Penny Arcade Expo!"
    • The trailer has a pretty nice one, after Duke uses a pig cop's rough hide to light a cigar:
    "What? Did you think I was GONE forever?"
  • Preview Piggybacking: Owners of the Borderlands Game of the Year Edition, another Gearbox game, could sign up for the Duke Nukem Forever First Access Club to be among the first to play the public demo version of Duke Nukem Forever. Members of said club also get the first DLC, the "Hail to the Icons" pack, for free.
  • Rated M for Manly: The ESRB classification for this game is "M for Mature", and has the entire rating box filled out. And then there's the description.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Expected. Gearbox was worried that the game would be too crude, and were surprised they didn't have to cut out any of the "Strong Sexual Content".
    • The game's special edition is officially titled "Balls of Steel". Doubles as a Mythology Gag for the "Duke" pinball.
    • When the game met with a delay in the final launch date, Gearbox announced it with a video that, at one point, stated: "Duke never comes early."
    • Gearbox eventually decided that the sheer, absurd vulgarity of Duke's world was one of the shining traits of it. The lead developer expressed that things like people visiting the Fellatio Hotel (and thinking nothing of it) were key to the 'Duke World'.
  • Self-Deprecation: Gearbox knew fans would not be happy when they announced a delayed release date, so they threw the first punch at themselves with the announcement trailer.
  • Sequel Gap: Duke Nukem 3D came out in 1996. Most of what happened in those 15 years warranted a whole site.
  • Sir Not Appearing In This Game: All of the Forever trailers up till Gearbox took over featured the prospector, Gus. He had been dropped sometime before Gearbox took the game, however. At first he was going to give you a donkey to ride back to Las Vegas on. 3D Realms eventually just decided to turn the donkey into a monster truck to quicken the pace of the levels and got rid of Gus.
    • Revealed in the Collector's Edition art book: there was originally a Distaff Counterpart to Duke named Bombshell who was supposed to not only appear in the game as an ally, but also get her own spin-off game. She was dropped in favor of EDF Captain Dylan. See What Could Have Been below for the other reason Bombshell ended up shelved.
  • Take a Third Option: Invoked in a gameplay clip.
  • What Could Have Been: During the whole development cycle, rumors said Duke would meet a female sidekick named Bombshell. Gearbox created a model of Bombshell for the final iteration of the game, but scrapped the character and replaced her with Captain Dylan. While Word of God says Captain Dylan became more popular than Bombshell, an examination of trademarks shows the Bombshell trademark still belongs to 3DRealms (who renewed it on December 15, 2011), which means Gearbox didn't have the rights to use Bombshell.
    • Bombshell was eventually spun off into her own game by 3DRealms (which is, ironically, supposed to be another Duke game until they lost the lawsuit), which takes place in a completely different universe from Duke's. They even took several seething jabs at Duke and Gearbox while at it.

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