ANDR01D writes PC game reviews and shares his views on the video game industry.
- Developer: 3D Realms
- Publisher: Apogee Software (3D Realms)
- Engine: Build
- Release date: January 29, 1996 (PC)
- Genre: First-person shooter
The 1990s was an excellent time for gaming, with 1996 being a particularly good year for me for two reasons. The first was that I became friends with a guy who had all the latest games and I got to play them, and the second reason was because he had Duke Nukem 3D.
Initially he had bought Wing Commander IV from a local store, which ended up not working, and so he swapped it for Duke Nukem 3D, which also very nearly didn’t work, but after a bit of fooling around with the settings, it came right.
And so my journey into Duke Nukem fandom started.
Why was (and is) Duke Nukem 3D so popular?
The question is not just, “What impact did Duke Nukem have on popular culture?” but “What impact did popular culture have on Duke Nukem?” as well.
The first thing everyone remembers about Duke Nukem 3D are the one-liners and the cussing, with a lot of them taken directly from Ash Williams (played by Bruce Campbell), the protagonist of Army of Darkness.
His character is a strange mix of some of the action heroes of the eighties and nineties, like Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell, Roddy Piper, and Bruce Campbell (Ash Williams), from the Evil Dead series.
He looks a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Dolph Lundgren.
The game itself was inspired by the Aliens series of films.
There were many other pop culture references in-game with cameo appearances by the Marine from Doom, a deathfire monk from Rise of the Triad, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones and the Terminator among others. I couldn’t help but feel upon discovering these Easter eggs that it set the tone of the alien invasion; all these resilient, tenacious heroes and villains had died in the struggle and Duke was the only one left up to the task.
It was a recipe for success and popularity, with Duke Nukem, the steroid-eating, cigar-smoking, egotistical strong man being the stereotypical American hero. He also had a soft side, where he would watch Oprah and soap operas on TV before he took off to save the world, because the aliens kept on interrupting his programs.
Speaking of which, there has long been talk of a Duke Nukem movie, and now it seems that those rumours have been confirmed, as Scott Faye, the producer behind Max Payne, has talked about making a movie adaptation of this famous series of games.
I can only imagine that just like most game-to-movie crossovers, it won’t draw in the masses, but probably just the cult fans and gamers alike. Critics don’t seem to like these types of films because of their lack of originality.
The game’s theme song, ‘Grabbag’, has been covered by many different people over the years. Notably, it was covered by Megadeth, and released on the Japanese version of their 1999 album, Risk, as a bonus track. It is also featured on the official music CD, Duke Nukem: Music to Score By.
Duke Nukem 3D continues the story of Duke as he is heading back from space to earth, after escaping and destroying the Rigelatin spaceship (Duke Nukem II), and realizes that aliens are attacking his home planet.
His ride is shot down over L.A. and Duke sets out to battle them and try to save the world once more.
- Three episodes (four in the atomic edition), playable in any order.
- Arsenal full of unique weapons like a Freezethrower, a Shrinker and the Devastator dual cannons!
- Plenty of interesting gadgets, like a jetpack, to play with.
- Graphic violence!
- An enemy that is more terrifying than anything Duke has ever faced before.
- Sense of humour just like ROTT’s; they were developed by practically the same company anyway.
- Plenty of Easter eggs to find throughout the game.
For its day the graphics were good but one must keep in mind that Quake was released in the same year and revolutionized the way games looked.
It had pseudo-3D looks using the Build engine developed by Ken Silverman (a guy barely out of high school at the time) much like Doom or Rise of the Triad, when it actually was pretty far from fully 3D. And so the term 2.5D was coined. Although this is true, it stands today that a number of games have used the Build engine, which was considered to be quite sophisticated for the time.
There’s a whole community of people who are dedicated to improving the looks of Duke Nukem 3D, and updating it a little. Since the source code was released, there have been source ports from DOS to modern O/Ss like XP.
The best of these ports in my opinion is EDuke32, and in conjunction with the high-resolution packs available online as well, the game has gotten a little bit of life pumped in it. Not that nobody plays the game anymore, but think of it as a facelift. The game could now pass for something not from the mid-nineties, but perhaps the late nineties or 2000 and it’s almost fully 3D now too.
Polymer is another project, with the main aim of further improving the look of the graphics in Duke Nukem 3D, by introducing more sophisticated lighting and detail effects to the environment.
EDuke32 and HRP
The Midi tracks composed by Lee Jackson and Bobby Prince sounded great, with a few of them sounding really catchy, and the song titles were funny too.
As of 2004 or 2005, Mark McWane stepped up and decided to compose all-new high-quality versions of the songs for Duke Nukem 3D. The best thing is that they are free to download off of his site, although if you want the whole collection in one go you’ll have to get it from File Planet. Individual MP3s or OGGs are downloadable straight, no questions asked.
Brandon Blume, AKA Musically Inspired, has also re-recorded the tracks and made them available in several formats including OGG, MP3 and even FLAC. He has stayed somewhat truer to the original sound than Mark McWane, opting to use a Roland SC-55 to record the music.
There was also an official album called Duke Nukem: Music To Score By that was released some time ago, and it had a collection of songs on it, including a cover by Megadeth of the theme song, Grabbag.
Another site, duke4.net, has a whole collection of tracks from trailers and fans alike.
The sounds were slightly more varied than those of Doom when it came to creature calls, as the aliens roamed around the halls, with one sounding like he was mumbling, “I’m gonna murder you.” That was creepy. Another familiar and unforgettable addition was the voice of Duke Nukem (Jon St. John) with his dry sense of humour and tough talk.
The sounds are still the same, although some of the other areas have received make-overs. But I suppose you can’t change everything otherwise that distinct thing that made a game noticeable is gone. For many games that is the sound and not just the visuals. If you stand outside of a room and you hear someone playing Duke Nukem 3D, you’ll know. Mods such as Duke Plus have added new sounds to the game, even copied from other Duke Nukem games, too.
Duke Plus Using the Polymer Renderer
In 2010, work began on a project called Duke Nukem 3D: Next-Gen. This eventually became known as Duke Nukem 3D: Reloaded. It has since been put on hold, with speculation saying that it has something to do with contractual disputes between Interceptor Entertainment, the developers and Gearbox Software, the owners of the Duke Nukem IP.
It was the same old push a button, get a key, and kill a boss saga that was popular in games back then. It was unsophisticated and brash, much like Duke himself. There was the odd bit of fun handing over cash to strippers and interacting with the odd piece of 2D scenery, like toilets, pool tables and such.
The sexual content was quite heavy for its day too, and we were always careful not to play the game in front of parents.
The game, aside from the odd bit of interactivity, was a run and gun affair with none of the RPG elements and open-endedness demanded from games nowadays.
Duke Plus is a mod, or game enhancer and customizer, for the EDUKE32 port of Duke Nukem 3D.
It creates an in-game menu that the player can access and set certain options to make the game more challenging to play. This includes new weapons, new functions and alternate fire modes for existing weapons, weapon replacements, more intelligent enemies, new sounds and visual effects such as weather, and many other options as well as fixes for the game. These all work to considerably change or update the gameplay of Duke Nukem 3D to make it feel more modern and keep up with newer games.
The controls were quite awkward, just like any game that requires you to play with just the keyboard. Too often, Duke’s screams of terror would fill the room as he plunged to his death…again, all because he wasn’t facing the right way when he jumped.
Jumping was something that you couldn’t do in Doom, so that was all right, I guess.
The controls have been improved because of the source ports and their improvements. You can now use the mouse properly because of better support, which makes shooting and even moving a lot easier.
There are a few ports, like XDuke, JFDuke3D and Duke3d_w32 (Rancidmeat) but I choose to go with EDuke32 as it has the most value, and it is still receiving updates.
Observations and other comments
To set itself apart from Doom, Duke uses his mighty boot instead of a fist.
Bugs and other issues
With the source ports, some of them are reportedly buggy, and with the HRP (high-resolution pack) is still in progress, so some of the textures and sprites are still of the original version of Duke Nukem 3D.
What I think of it now
Overall, having played Duke Nukem 3D when it was new was a real thrill. Nowadays, I have the Atomic Edition lying around somewhere as well as all the above-mentioned add-ons that serve to bring it back to life and into the twenty-first century, mainly because there isn’t a successor yet (DNF).
© 2008 ANDR01D
Eugene Brennan from Ireland on August 19, 2012:
I enjoyed playing this game in the 90s and Duke was non PC and chauvinistic to the say the least! It ran fast even on a slow PC, unlike Quake. It was great fun also designing you own "maps" and I used to have two PCs set up so that I could play with a friend over a serial link cable.
zorglub on April 02, 2010:
Back at their times, every Build Engines games (including Redneck Rampage, Shadow Warrior, Blood..) got the full mouse control optional. Had to bind the freelook key to capslock and activate it while ingame. It was working really well. I still use this trick to play non-ported build game in DOSbox. Duke was 'unconsciously' the first fps implementing this feature.
ANDR01D (author) from Hell on November 05, 2009:
Hopefully DNF will be out in the next five to ten years, as well as Duke Begins. I'd be very eager to play both. As for the movie, it would probably suck, but yeah, it would bring in some cash for good old 3DR.
Wezil on November 04, 2009:
I love Duke :) Thanks so much for this really nice review thingy :) BTW I hope DNF comes out and I think it will once the movie and Duke Begins are released which should provide some income for 3DR :D
- Wesley :D