Duke Nukem 3d was released for the Playstation 3 and Vita last week–free for PS+ members–and it caught me totally off guard. I’d forgotten that anyone really cared about Duke Nukem anymore. I certainly didn’t think that, in the wake of the abysmal Duke Nukem Forever, there would be enough fond memories of the franchise to port even the best-regarded installment to the goddamned Vita.
I don’t have a ton of great memories from Duke Nukem 3d. I’ve always been more of a console gamer, which means that I missed the Duke zeitgeist. It also means that I first played the game on the N64. Feel free to write off all my opinions for this reason. I don’t really care; I played the PC version a year later and nothing of value was really lost in the port.
Less important than the platform was the timing. Since my first experience with Duke Nukem 3d was the N64 port, I came to the game a year and a half after it was released. And that was a year too late. Duke Nukem 3d was a product of a very specific time in pop culture and video game development and there was really no going back.
Duke Nukem 3d was released in January of 1996. At the time, it was the zenith of FPS development. It was the natural progression from Wolfenstein 3d to Doom to Hexen and all sorts of other similarly-designed titles. Duke specifically used the Build Engine, which improved upon Doom Engine/id tech 1 to allow for better “faking” of three dimensional space. The Build Engine was a hell of an achievement for its day. The only problem? Quake released five months later.
Quake, unlike Duke Nukem and other Build Engine games, featured actual 3d rendering and processing. I can’t overstate how much of an effect Quake had on everything that came afterwards. If you want to know how important the Quake Engine was, just look at this chart.
In a lot of ways, Duke Nukem was made obsolete less than six months after it was released. Sure, more Build Engine games were released (Blood, Shadow Warrior) but the 2.5d shooter was dying. If you didn’t catch Duke before you tried Quake, you were in for a bit of a disappointment.