Duke Nukem 3D

Duke Nukem 3D

Duke Nukem 3D remains the Duke’s magnum opus. With inventive weapons and unprecedented interactivity, it fought on the front lines against id’s fully-3D Quake. With the recent release of Duke Nukem Forever, the Local Ditch takes a look at Duke Nukem 3D.

Back in the day, the local software shop had packaged, boxed software lining the walls, while an inside aisle held racks of 5.25″ floppy disks, almost all of which were branded shareware. The concept: you pay for the price of the disks ($1 for a 1-disk piece of software, $2 for a two disker…) and get to use the program as much as you want. Only there’s a catch: you don’t get the entire program. If you liked it, you were encouraged to buy the rest of it. If not, you just gave the disk to someone else.

Duke Nukem was sitting on the shelf with the rest of them. On its disk was Episode 1: Shrapnel City. In the intro, there’s a brief dialogue between Duke and the game’s antagonist, Dr. Proton, ending with Duke promising to get home, “in time to watch Oprah.” A message pops up, “Get ready, Duke. You’re going in,” and the game starts with the hero falling out of the sky. Proton’s robots have taken over the place, and it’s up to duke to tear them up and get through the level using his trusty blaster and any other items he can find along the way. It’s a straight-up traditional sidescroller and I had a ton of fun with it.

So much that I had to order episodes 2 & 3 from Apogee Software. They were nice enough to include a tips and codes sheet with the purchase.

Duke Nukem II came out and as a die-hard Duke fan, I had to get in on the fun. Duke was back in even more detail, taking on aliens in his biggest adventure yet. So big, in fact, that I had to delete almost everything but DOS and Windows in order to make space for the game on my hard disk.

Then came the big one. It actually caught me off guard. I hadn’t been following PC games too much at that point. I think I was actually at a flea market (very exciting, I know), where a PC software/parts vendor had a booth. They were selling the Duke 3D demo for a buck a disk. This was a massive four 3.5″ disk game. Regardless, the price was paid and a sample of the new Duke 3D was in my hands.

Now, the series had changed dramatically since last time. Maybe not in attitude or spirit, but definitely in perspective. No longer are you looking at Duke from the side – now, you’re looking through the eye’s of the beast, as Duke enters the 3D world as a first-person-shooter. Similar to Doom, Duke 3D used a 2D engine to give the illusion of being in a 3D world, with characters and items represented by two-dimensional sprites. At the time, Duke’s main competition was the truly-3D Quake. It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but back then it was a pretty big issue, with two games facing off head-to-head and fans from each side arguing back and forth: “But Quake is really 3D.” “It doesn’t matter because Duke is more interactive.” Even the gaming mags had to devote articles to the debate.

While the Build engine used in the game had a few neat tricks, it wasn’t the graphics that made Duke 3D special. Instead, it was the humor, level design, creative weapons, and level of interactivity that elevated the game. Rather than being a nameless space marine, Duke was a full-fledged character, with a campy smart-ass sense of humor and a love for women and large guns – a man’s man. Throughout the game, there are tons of references to rival games and to current events. Even OJ’s van can be seen fleeing from the police on televisions early in the game. Ok, so maybe Duke’s lines were ripped straight from Bruce Campbell movies, but they still made Duke a kick-ass, larger-than-life entity.

The levels fit the part, too. The game starts out in a dingy, broken-down version of L.A., with aliens, bloodstains, and strippers littering the levels. Apparently, while Duke was kicking ass in space during Duke 2, some bad things happened on Earth. Perhaps even more important than fitting in with the game’s style, was their unprecedented level of interactivity. Everything in the game could be checked out. Duke would offer money to strippers, he’d make comments about Doomed space marines, you could shoot the balls on the pool tables. There was a quip to hear or something extra to see everywhere in the level. It was fun just to find it all.

Of course, levels with no enemies are no fun, and Duke is loaded with them. In retrospect, the game is actually pretty easy. There’s a ton of enemies, but there’s a lot of ammo and plenty of weapons to go around, a perfect match for a run-and-gun FPS. The weapons themselves were really unique. In addition to the standard aim-and-fire guns, missiles, and rocket launchers, Duke had a few tricks up its sleeves. Pipe bombs allowed players to drop a bomb (or several), and then hide to create ambushes. When an enemy got near the bombs, the player could set it off releasing a massive explosion. There were trip-mines, which would emit a small laser. When crossed, it would detonate the mine, so that traps could be set for enemies. The shrink ray would take opponents and make them miniscule, where they can easily be squashed like the bugs they are. There was even a freeze ray, which would turn an opponent to ice. Finishing them was only a kick away.

Multiplayer was a big part of the game, too. Take all of the weapons and dynamics and throw it into an online death-match and you’ve got a world of possibilities. Two players could team up and head through Duke’s levels in Co-op. I had a lot of fun cranking the difficulty all the way up (where enemies only stay dead if they’ve been gibbed) grabbing a friend and working through the game as a bomb-throwing team.

Duke Nukem 3D was a massive hit and had plenty of add-ons and variations to go around on just about any system that could run the game. More good news for Duke 3D came in 2003 when 3D Realms (formerly Apogee Software) released the Build engine open-source, allowing do-it-yourselfers to fix and port the Duke games as needed, guaranteeing that there’s a patch to make the game playable on your OS of choice. In the mean time, Duke Nukem Forever is still in development. Don’t rule it out though; If Guns N Roses can release Chinese Democracy, then anything can happen.

Originally written 3/24/09

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