In this weekly feature, CheatCC contributing writer Steve Haske explores the rich history of video games, from notable and memorable games to important events in the industry, as viewed through the lens of gaming's contemporary standards, design, and culture.
Those of us who have grown up gaming have probably grown up with, or at least are peripherally aware of, Duke Nukem. I'll admit I never played the games much in their original iterations—I mostly blame point-and-click adventures, and then, later, Half-Life and Team Fortress—but I remember Duke 3D as much as the next guy, as well as the King's emergent presence on consoles just after 3D hit. Forever, so long delayed that many gamers (myself included) figured it was never coming out, is now nearing its release date. It's been a turbulent road for Duke's development, which started in '97 (I wasn't quite in high school yet) using a proprietary engine from 3D Realms before making the switch to id's then-groundbreaking Quake II engine…before again switching to the Unreal engine in few years later.
The name of the game, as far too many gamers are painfully aware, is delays. From Forever's Unreal debut at E3 2001 onward, the developers at 3D Realms have had to consistently go back and tear down most of whatever established structure the game has had in any given version, starting again almost from scratch. I'm not going to bother detailing a complete history of the game's development, as that angle has already been written about to death elsewhere. Anyone that's aware of Duke is probably intimately familiar with at least the major points in its history by now anyway.
Watch the various teasers and trailers for the game that have piled up from different eras of its development cycles is interesting—the game in its various forms still looks pretty impressive, taken in context to the time each respective version was being developed for. In fact, in watching these videos one can literally stitch together an entirely different (wildly different) game as though from an alternate universe and the evolution of its content and tone is an interesting one to watch as artifacts in a study of pop-cultural anthropology.
Now that Duke is actually one-hundred percent about to be released, though, where does he fit into the larger picture of the gaming industry? Well, to be fair, he kind of doesn't. Randy Pitchford and his team at Gearbox seems to have been well aware of this when they bought the game from the now-defunct 3D Realms—Forever, then, has all the makings for a self-aware throwback to the PC gaming of yesteryear that in some ways almost paradoxically exists for the sole purpose of giving the finger to current state of the gaming industry. It may not quite hit post-modern game design (or even come close), and yet Duke's nth coming, as all impressions go, is like an old-school new-school, conceding to both eras in a weird design mash that will hopefully make the game both nostalgic and playable.