Thursday, March 17, 2011

Backdated: Duke Nukem Forever?

I've been checking out whatever Duke Nukem information I can find. I should not be paying attention to it in any way that's serious, I know. But: There's something about Gearbox Software's ads that I really like. It's in the use of their fourth wall breaking. I liked it when Claptrap shows up in the ads all snarky and angry and mean, like he's the most adorable foulmouthed editor ever. And now they're working on Duke Nukem? That seems like a pretty good fit!

But the last Duke Nukem game came out literally in the last century (1996) and since them times and gamers have changed significantly. Oh, right, developer 3D realms started and restarted the game over and over for 13 years, on the profits of Duke 3D, originally and later on publisher 2K's dime, until 2K got sick of their not-finishing-the-game in 2009 and pulled the plug on the studio.

Gearbox, which is another shooter developer that has basically been formed from 3D Realms expats, who also develop games published by 2K, took over the project with 3D Realms' approval and it's 2011. The game's coming out. In May. Now, in June. Don't call it another delay, but that's what it is. Anyhow. The Gearbox PR process comes out again and it acknowledges the issue and makes the audience laugh, while reinforcing the Duke brand even in the admission. "Duke never comes early."

And that's the tamest of the videos so far. What's clear from the other promo videos is that fifteen years have gone by and Duke Nukem remains unchanged, aesthetically. It's still as juvenile and immature and completely ridiculous as it ever was. Apparently, Gearbox needed time to tighten up some issues, one of which may be the butt slapping physics.

(Yeah. That was simultaneously a joke and not one.)

But. When Duke was around, gamers were still white nerds, who didn't need to be designated as male. It was an assumption. And the market understood this and catered to them. What exists now is a landscape where there is a very good argument that anyone who plays Farmville is a gamer and a less significant fraction of those people identify as white male nerds. But. White male nerds, would be willing to put 40ish bucks down on a game that they knew not to take terribly seriously, one that had chicks and guns.

The scale of videogames was different too. There wasn't the kind of money in it that there is now. There were respectable $40 games, for God's sake. And there aren't those now, or if there are, they're bargain game stuff for the Xbox 360. Even during the last console generation, the centerpiece of which was the PlayStation 2, there were great $40 games, from Atlus' Persona series to the Insomniac oeuvre.

Maybe it was the understanding, that a worthy game could be made with a budget that wasn't 8 digits, with a little bit of wiggle room. Now, there's games that legitimately cost $30 million and need to sell about 2 million copies to make their money back. For whatever reason, publishers aren't interested in smaller bets for boxed games, they're interested in going big or, I suppose, going home.

Duke, I think, with its, let's say, polarizing (and not sexist) aesthetic, works best as one of those $40 games, not as a tent pole or something. There's more heat on videogames and especially for publishers looking to make a big push on each of their products. Let's imagine Rachel Maddow with her hands on Duke Nukem. (It would probably also sell more copies because of the critical bowel-loosening.)

But the Maddow of my mind, I think, would have a point: This is a game that had a place in time and is now, well, like one of those old embarrassing uncles that didn't get the message that we're legit now. It's not like it's Deus Ex, a game that's well loved for good reason, its open-endedness and its incredible construction. Duke Nukem is known for being a foul-mouth, titty obsessed pervert who happens to save the Earth.

Is that really a tentpole game?

As a pallate cleanser, have one of the best rock songs (and best videos for it) of the 2000's, Weezer's Keep Fishin'. Weezer's aesthetic meshes really, really well with the Muppets. Everybody's smiling. It works. Plus, Animal on the drums is an inspired touch.

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