Wednesday, 3 June 2009

DNF? Did Not Finish

I suppose this event was inevitable and has been for about a decade now. What began in April 1997 has ended on May 8th of this year, Duke Nukem Forever has been cancelled. 12 years of development on a single game and in the end there are but a few screen shots and leaked gameplay videos to show for it. 12 years to develop what was a sequel to a First Person Shooter that was great because of novelty. I remember playing the shareware of Duke 3D back as a 12 year old and it was fun. Wasn't the greatest FPS even at the time, but it was still an enjoyable experience. Combine Duke's action-hero persona with 2.5d gore and pixelated stripper boobies and there's recipe for success. A sequel would surely be on the cards, possibly leading to a great franchise of games.

A lot has changed in first person shooter gaming since 1997. The Quake engine revolutionised 3D, as did the Unreal Engine. Half-Life showed the quality of story and gameplay that could be achieved in the genre, while the mod Counterstrike changed online FPS gaming. Deus Ex and System Shock 2 brought RPG elements to the FPS world and again brought about change. Then there were the likes of Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament ushering in the idea of multiplayer. As network costs came down, then the likes of Battlefield 1942 brought about even further changes. Now consoles are a target market, taking away the monopoly that PCs had on the genre, and online multiplayer is pretty much a standard part of gaming experience.

12 years, so much has changed. The gaming landscape is radically different. I wonder how much the initial design has changed to accommodate the shift in gaming standards? Was DNF envisioned to be a revolutionary shooter for it's time? What did it lose? What did it gain? It would be hard to imagine that the only thing that got an upgrade in that time was the graphics engine, DN's core audience has moved on, and there's a whole new gaming audience out there with different expectations and experiences. Action heroes on the screen these days aren't in that mould anymore, he would be an anachronism by today's standards.

Though this event was inevitable, there was still a part of me that wanted to play this game. And there was a part of that which secretly hoped that this game would blow me the fuck away. It can't not, a developer puts in a decade and millions of dollars into a production and there's inevitably going to be the hype that this would be the event to end all events; that Duke would come and rock our socks off. Maybe the developers knew this hype too, maybe that hype got to them. If they released it any time at all, if it wasn't the greatest gaming event in the history of FPS then it would be considered a waste of effort.

The reaction of the gaming community seems to be one of slightly disgruntled apathy, those few gameplay snippets have emerged were encouraging enough that the game had potential, but the game itself has been nothing more than an in-joke amongst gamers for about a decade now. This event has finally come to be, and I guess in a way its eventual demise is better than playing a stock-standard FPS that lost its cultural relevance a decade ago. It might have been great, it could have blown us away. But all that we are left with is speculation and claims of incompetence among staff at 3D Realms. Was it over-ambition? Technical incompetence? Competitors releasing genre-changing products? I guess we will never know, short of a Gamasutra post-mortem on the whole experience.

So goodbye Duke. I couldn't wait forever, and neither could it seem the gaming community or those funding the enterprise. Maybe in a parallel universe, quantum physics means that in that alternate reality a copy was released and maybe it really was the best gaming experience of all time. But in this reality, we now will never know.

1 comment:

Danny said...

I'm sorry for your loss with the game. I am upset that most games these days do not have multi player options unless you are online. For me and my wife to play together on some of the games we love, we would have two identical game consoles and hook up online- in the same room. Very upsetting. I'm waiting for more baulders gate like games that rock.
But, the gaming industry is coming out with some awsome looking stuff in the next year.
take it easy.