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Switching Engines

Cast your mind back to 1997, if you can; April 28th to be exact. It was a long, long time ago – twelve years if you’re counting. During that year Bill Clinton was appointed President for his second term, OJ Simpson was controversially found liable in court for two deaths, Tony Blair became Prime Minister – ending years of Conservative rule – Princess Diana tragically passed away and Manchester United once again won the Premier League title.

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Again, I must stress, it was a long, long time ago. Since then natural disasters have shaken the world’s core and terrorist attacks have left nations in mourning, changing the lives of millions across the globe. George Lucas went back to Star Wars and ruined it for everyone, Peter Jackson’s magnificent Lord of the Rings Trilogy was released and thousands of video games have found their way into our hands along with twelve primary consoles spanning three generations.

April 28th 1997 was a long, long time ago, and yet, a game that was announced on that date has yet to see the light of day. “Come get some”? Be prepared to wait a while.

Most games that go that long without seeing release would have been cancelled long ago, drifting out of memory as we await the next Mario or Halo. Not Duke Nukem Forever. 3D Realms have spent the better part of the past twelve years teasing us with screenshots, videos and plenty of news that seems pretty redundant right now. Of course it all started with that announcement back in 1997, back when Forever was supposed to see a mid-1998 release date on the state of the art Quake II 3D engine. But even that wasn’t good enough, apparently. After an appearance at E3, and with the middle of 1998 approaching, fans were getting excited until George Broussard – co-creator of Duke Nukem – shot them down with the announcement that 3D Realms were changing engines to Epic’s new Unreal Engine.

“Can I get a refund?”

Normally when you pre-order a game you expect to be playing it within a few months of putting your deposit down; but, of course Duke Nukem Forever is that rare kind of beast that defies all matter. Just ask user Slash000, who is still holding onto his receit from way back in 2001. I think it’s time that old, brown – and, no doubt, smelly – piece of paper made its way into the trash and you got your money back.

Broussard insisted that this sudden change wouldn’t hold back release, despite all logic pointing to the contrary. Little did anyone know that this would be the first of many switches over the years as we saw delay after delay after delay – the next of which came a year later in 1999 when Forever failed to show up yet again. Y2K panic came and went as the world entered the new millennium, still with no Duke; a muscle-bound-action hero in the purest sense. He’s the ultimate bad ass, spouting one liners left, right and centre as he blows away aliens and ogles women; he’s an egotistical womanizer – the Bruce Willis or Sylvestor Stallone of the video game world – and that’s why so many people love him. He may be a one-dimensional character but he provides the perfect escape from the stress of the real world – a world that was still excited for the fun escape Forever would hopefully deliver.

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Sadly, no one could experience this fun as engines switched once again to an updated version of the Unreal Engine they were already using. Come December, 3D Realms teamed up with Santa Claus to send out a Christmas card hinting at a 2000 release; but predictability set in as 2000 came and went just like the years before it. Could 2001 bring some much needed hope? Surprisingly the answer was a resounding “yes!”, as a two minute gameplay trailer was released to the world. “The Ultimate Ass Kicker” was here, as the trailer so elegantly put it, with vehicular sections – which included a donkey – plenty of action and grotesque new aliens, this trailer showed a lot of promise; the voice acting was cheesy as hell but the graphics were impressive, especially in the facial animation department. Could Forever finally find its way onto store shelves? 3D Realms official word was that it would be here “when it’s done”.

“Most games that go that long without seeing release would have been cancelled long ago”Well, people moved into 2002 and it still wasn’t done as another shake-up occurred in development. Rather than switch to another new engine, 3D Realms hired a bunch of new programmers and set upon creating their own engine – obviously forcing many more delays. At this point people were beginning to get restless. The 2001 trailer brought about plenty of optimism, but this move was another giant set back.

After changing their stance of “when it’s done”, 3D Realms announced a release date of 2004 and then eventually 2005. By this time another engine switch had taken place as they began using the Quake III 3D engine. To put things into perspective for those that haven’t been paying attention, that’s two different Quake games in the time it has taken them to do nothing with Forever.

But then, recently, in 2007, a very short teaser trailer was released. It showed nothing other than Duke, and by this time interest in the game was flagging, not helped by a trailer showing no more than a character model. But for the die hards it provided some hope that they were still actually working on the game and not just playing World of Warcraft as they jokingly said.

Although they may as well spend all of their time doing that now. Yes, after all this time, all of those different engine changes and redundant screenshots and news, Duke Nukem Forever may actually be finis… ahem, cancelled. If you were to give it a tombstone it would read:

RIP
Duke Nukem Forever
April 28th 1997 – May 6th 2009
“Forever, we hardly knew ye”

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Because on May 6th 2009, 3D Realms closed its doors. Could this spell the end of Forever? It certainly looks like it. Take-Two are still publishing it to our knowledge, but it’s highly unlikely they will take over development and finish it. Who knows? The project could be sold to another developer to churn it out in a few months, or it may just sink to the bottom of the river, never to be seen again. Either way, this has been a long twelve years. Development hell may as well be re-named Duke Nukem Forever.

“We should just be glad this is all over and Duke’s adventure through time can finally end.”At least we’ll always have those screenshots and videos to look back on, because that’s all we can take from this long, arduous process – providing no surprises await us at this year’s upcoming E3. It’s a shame really, the gameplay footage shown after 3D Realms closure wasn’t too shabby and it actually seemed like it was close to completion. You never know, though; they could have gone back to the drawing board and switched engines all over again. We should just be glad this is all over and Duke’s adventure through time can finally end.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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