The History of Duke Nukem – Part Three: Duke Nukem 3D

Duke Nukem 3D (1996, 3D Realms, DOS)

Duke Nukem 3D effectively picks up at the end of Duke Nukem II, with Duke returning to Earth aboard an alien spaceship. As Duke prepares to land in Los Angeles for a much needed vacation, his ship is critically hit by an energy blast. While sending out a distress signal, Duke discovers that Los Angeles has been attacked by a new alien threat, which has transformed the LAPD into pigs.

The game begins with Duke ejecting from his ship, and swearing revenge on “those alien bastards” for shooting up [his] ride.” The opening level, set around an adult movie theatre and street, does an excellent job of establishing the tone of the game, and demonstrating the factors that set Duke Nukem 3D apart from the competition like interactivity and destructible environments.

The opening episode has some unforgettable moments and locations. One level that sticks with most players is the game’s second level, which features a strip club, complete with scantily clad women that will give you a little show for some cash (of which Duke has an unlimited supply).

Duke heads into space to battle the alien threat head on in the second episode. Here the game ups the ante, throwing out more difficult enemies (like the Assault Commander and mini Battlelord) and putting players through longer, more challenging levels.


The final episode sees Duke heading back to Earth to wipe out the remainder of the alien threat. The last set of levels is more urban focused, taking time out to take a few jabs at Los Angeles and Hollywood on the way to the final encounter with the alien overlord.

Duke has an excellent selection of weapons at his disposal, encompassing a range of standard issue weapons alongside a couple of gimmicks and gag weapons. The shotgun tends to be one’s main offensive choice – the chaingun cannon and devastator are also good options, but ammo is scarce. RPGs and pipe bombs are handy for clearing a room or tearing through the environment, but one needs to keep their distance when they go off. If you’re looking for a more unconventional disposal, one can shrink or freeze their opponent and let Duke’s mighty boot do the rest.

In addition to weapons, Duke has a number of items to help him on his way. There’s the portable medikit for on-demand healing, the night vision goggles for seeing in the dark and steroids for when you need that extra boost. Some devices kick in on their own, like the protective boots for walking through toxic waste or the scuba gear when going under water. There’s even a decoy called the HoloDuke, useful for tricking enemies and flanking them. Duke even has a jetpack he can use to reach high places.


Players will face off against a variety of alien enemies. The assault troopers are the basic grunts, armed with a weak laser cannon and a jetpack. The assault captain is similar, but has the abiity to teleport at will. Pig cops are on the next tier – they are former LAPD officers, transformed into pigs by the alien threat. Their armor now bears the letters LARD. Octabrains are among the fiercest enemies in the early parts of the game as its psychokinetic energy attack packs a punch. Enforcers and drones are introduced in the second episode, and both can cause players some grief – the former with his chaingun, the latter with its kamikaze attack. Assault commanders, fat aliens capable of flight and armed with rocket launchers are also introduced here, and are a right pain in the butt. None are more fearsome than the Battlelords, whose minigun can tear through your lifebar in a matter of seconds.

At times, it can seem like Duke Nukem 3D is following the rest of the first-person shooter crowd, following a structure of killing all of the enemies while finding keys to get to the next part of a level – particularly in the somewhat tepid second episode – but it never ceases in finding new ways to surprise and entertain the player, be it through clever, multi-pathed level design or the amusement one gets from Duke yelling “Suck it down!” after taking down an assault commander.

Duke Nukem 3D is filled to the brim with pop culture references, easter eggs and hidden messages from the development team to encourage players into looking at every inch of a level. You’ll see references to Aliens, The Terminator, Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more.


In addition to solo play, Duke Nukem 3D also supports Deathmatch (called DukeMatch) and cooperative play for up to eight players. The maps provided with the game come solely from the single player part of the game, but plenty of multiplayer maps are available online. Multiplayer was originally conducted through serial cable, head-to-head modem connections, IPX LAN connections or through the TEN multiplayer service online, but TCP/IP was added in later source ports.

Duke Nukem 3D was a smash hit on release. By releasing the game in stores in addition to their standard shareware model, 3D Realms ensured a wider reach for the product – it ended up selling in excess of 3.5 million copies worldwide. The game scored big with critics too, with many PC magazines of the era giving the game scores of 90+.

Censorship

The shareware version of Duke Nukem 3D passed through the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification in February 1996 without issue. However, in the four months between the release of the shareware and full versions of the game, Australia bore witness to a horrific tragedy when a lone gunman, Martin Bryant, killed 35 people and injured 21 others at tourist town Port Arthur in the worst killing spree on Australian soil. The government acted swiftly, bringing into law tough new gun laws, but the country’s media watchdogs launched into attacks on any kind of violent media, including video games. This influence found its way into the country’s classification board, who informed Duke Nukem 3D distributor Manaccom that it would now allow the game to pass in its uncensored form.

Manaccom released a version of Duke Nukem 3D where the game’s parental lock is always on, which still carried an MA rating. This version was also released in the American chain Walmart, who refused to carry the uncensored version. However, within mere hours of the game’s release, Australian players had circumvented the parental lock and word on how to do so spread across the country like a wildfire. Furious, the OFLC issued a recall on all copies of the game for reclassification, seizing the 18,000 copies of the game Manaccon was readying for distribution. However, when Manaccom challenged the OFLC in court, the court ruled in the distributor’s favour, finding that the OFLC had exceeded its authority and ordered the seized games back onto shelves. The OFLC would later approve the uncut version of Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition in 1997.

Duke Nukem 3D also found its way onto the German Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Schriften/Medien (Federal Examination Office for Youth-Endangering Publications/Media) index. It is illegal for a game listed on the index to be advertised publicly or sold to a minor.

Brazil also banned Duke Nukem 3D and a host of other games from sale after a 24 year old man killed 3 people and injured 8 others in a Sao Paolo movie theatre. The media made out that the shooting was influenced by a Duke Nukem 3D map the gunman had made, but it was later found that the gunman was suffering extreme depression and had taken cocaine before the shooting.

Duke Nukem 3D: Plutonium Pack / Atomic Edition (1996, 3D Realms, DOS)


Immediately after the release of the full version of Duke Nukem 3D, the 3D Realms crew began work on an expansion pack. Dubbed Plutonium Pack, the add-on introduced a fourth episode, The Birth, new alien enemies including a queen boss, new dialogue provided by Jon St. John, the microwave expander gun and computer controlled bots for DukeMatch.

Some fresh blood was brought into the team for the Plutonium Pack, with Randy Pitchford and Keith Schuler replacing the Levelord in the level designing role, the latter having headed off to join Hypnotic Software. The new levels aren’t quite as cohesive as those in the original release – some users complain that they rely too heavily on gimmicks and references as opposed to quality design. Irrespective of some players’ feelings about the new levels, the Plutonium Pack was well received by press and fans alike.

Players could get the Plutonium Pack either alone (if they already had the base game), or as part of the Atomic Edition, which included the full version of Duke Nukem 3D, along with a few extras like themes for Windows 95, some screensavers and jigsaw puzzles.

Duking it out on the Consoles

The popularity of Duke Nukem 3D made it a prime target for porting to other platforms. 3D Realms signed a publishing agreement with GT Interactive, who would end up publishing almost all of the Duke Nukem console games prior to the release of Duke Nukem Advance.

Duke Nukem 64 (1997, Eurocom Entertainment Software, Nintendo 64)


Of the three Duke Nukem 3D ports GT Interactive released in late 1997, Duke Nukem 64 is probably the most unique. The game got a rather substantial visual overhaul, with redrawn weapon sprites, 3D explosions, redrawn textures and expanded geometry. Many of the levels have been heavily altered, either expanded or having parts of levels from the Plutonium Pack superimposed into them.

Due to content restrictions imposed on the game by Nintendo, Eurocom were forced to cut many of the adult references, and remove controversial sections like the adult movie store from the second level. Players could no longer kill the women trapped in alien pods – they are now rescued instead. New DukeTalk lines are included along with a few new movie references (Mars Attacks, A Clockwork Orange and 12 Monkeys to name a few). Strangely, the game’s music has been removed entirely.


Duke Nukem 64 also adds in an introductory scene showing Duke’s ship being attacked by aliens. Three new weapons, a grenade launcher, plasma cannon and dual machine guns are introduced at the expense of the RPG, Devestator and Freeze Ray. The microwave expansion gun and alien enemies from the Plutonium Pack are also included. DukeMatch is available for up to 4 players (with bots included), while two players can play the main story co-operatively.

While Duke Nukem 64 will come across quite oddly to those coming from Duke Nukem 3D, the game is entertaining in its own right, and quite good in spite of some of the harsh censorship imposed by Nintendo. The game sold roughly 290,000 copies in North America alone.

Duke Nukem 3D (1997, Lobotomy Software, Sega Saturn)


The Saturn version of Duke Nukem 3D was developed by Lobotomy Software and published by Sega under their Deep Water label reserved for games with adult content. Sega sublicensed the rights to Duke Nukem 3D from GT Interactive and handed the game to another developer, but were displeased with the results. Upon hearing about the successful Saturn port of PowerSlave, which was built on Build engine tech, Sega sought out the services of Lobotomy Software.

Lobotomy’s experimentation with porting PowerSlave showed that Build was too much for the Saturn to handle. They developed their own engine, SlaveDriver. Unlike Build, SlaveDriver is a full 3D engine. It was designed to minimise the world information and maximise the speed of the game. The game benefits from the edition of superior lighting, but the low memory of the Saturn resulted in a number of frames of enemy animation being cut and the level texturing being simplified. Support for the Saturn Netlink system and analogue controller was also added late in development.

The core levels of the original release of Duke Nukem 3D are retained in the game, with a new secret level developed by Lobotomy added for good measure. Many Saturn fans will also tell tales of the hidden multiplayer tank game, Death Tank Zwei, which Lobotomy graciously included in the package. Death Tank Zwei is best described as a real time version of Scorched Earth. Unlocking Death Tank Zwei requires players to trash every toilet in the game – no easy feat.

Duke Nukem: Total Meltdown (1997, Aardvark Software, PlayStation)


The PlayStation port of Duke Nukem 3D is considered the lesser of the three fifth generation console versions. The game suffers from a number of technical setbacks – the framerate is poor, animations have had to be cut down (moreso than the Saturn version), and there are long load times prior to each level.

Total Meltdown is not completely without merit, however. The game has a remixed soundtrack from Mark “madfiddler” Knight, a noted Amiga demoscene artist, and a new episode called Plug n Pray. The extra episode features six standard levels, one hidden level and a new end cutscene. There are also three new types of pig cop enemy and a new boss, Cyberkeef.

In spite of the technical deficiencies, Total Meltdown sold approximately 275,000 units in North America alone. It was also the only Duke Nukem console game to be released in Japan.

Duke Nukem 3D (1997, Tiger Electronics, Game.com)

No, it’s not a joke. 3D Realms licensed the rights to Duke Nukem 3D to Tiger Electronics for a Game.com port of the game. The game is heavily cut down, working on some weird grid-like interface – you can move forward, backward and side to side, but cannot turn. While it features all of the episodes from the original PC release, they are heavily cut down – the game simply restarts when you finish, too. Only four of the original weapons and four enemies are included in the game.

Duke Nukem 3D (1998, TecToy, Mega Drive)

Brazilian company TecToy was the official distributor of all Sega systems in that country, and experienced some success producing new games for the Master System and Mega Drive long after they had been abandoned by other developers.

TecToy’s version of the game is an entirely different beast – the Mega Drive had no chance running Duke Nukem 3D the way it was, so TecToy effectively created a corridor shooter not unlike Wolfenstein 3D, using heavily modified assets from the PC game. Unsubstantiated rumours suggest the game was an extensive ROM hack of Zero Tolerance.

The game is based around the second episode, Lunar Apocalypse, but the levels are entirely different. Animation is incredibly limited – in fact, the whole game is damn near unplayable. It is an interesting piece of work, though.

The legal status of this version of Duke Nukem 3D is up in the air. 3D Realms claims to have never authorised the project, while TecToy says they got permission to develop the port from the now defunct GT Interactive. Regardless of the copyright status, this thing exists, and getting a copy is no easy feat.

Duke Nukem 3D (2008, 3D Realms, Xbox Live Arcade)

In order to raise funds for the completion of Duke Nukem Forever and boost the profile of the character, 3D Realms decided to port Duke Nukem 3D to Xbox Live Arcade. The XBLA version of the game is one of the best, featuring silky smooth action, enhanced visuals, all of the levels from the Atomic Edition, and some enhancements from the source ports and mods made after the source code was released in 2003.

The main new feature in this version is the replay and rewind function. The game records your play sessions behind the scenes and allows you to resume from any point in the level upon death. Some other changes were made to the game, like increasing the amount of health gained from drinking water. DukeMatch and cooperative play are also Xbox Live compatible.

Duke Nukem 3D (2009, Machineworks, iOS)

Duke Nukem 3D made its way to the iPhone and iPod Touch in 2009 courtesy of Machineworks, but the result was not good. The port utilises a combination of fiddly touch screen directional controls and an aiming mechanism called TapShoot. It does feature the three main episodes from the original release untouched, but the port suffers from major technical issues, a distinct lack of multiplayer and the omission of all music.


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