The Rise and Fall of Duke Nukem

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When first-person shooters were introduced in the early 90s, most of the studios making them were content with keeping their protagonists silent. They believed that doing so would allow players to step into their shoes with far greater ease, and that the worlds their shooters explored already had plenty to say in their place. Any additional dialogue would be novel – yet wholly unnecessary.

But before these assumptions could become fact, a PC game from Texas-based developer 3D Realms entered the market, and proved that dialogue – if done well – had its place within the genre. This game was Duke Nukem 3D, a bawdy shooter that followed its titular protagonist on a quest to liberate Earth from an alien menace, and riveted a generation of players with its real-life settings, high level of interactivity, and one-liner spouting protagonist voiced by Jon St. John. While the Duke proved a figure of controversy due to some of his more salacious tendencies, most found that his added character greatly elevated the rest of the experience around him. And before long, gamers on almost every other platform under the sun were nodding in agreement alongside their own copies of it.

In the wake of such widespread success, 3D Realms had every intention of building Duke Nukem out into a sprawling franchise, and producing sequel after sequel that would outdo its gun-toting opus. Before long, however, those in control of the series found themselves corrupted by their own success, and these plans began to veer off course. While there would be no shortage of Duke Nukem spin-offs that would pop up in the years following 3D’s release, a proper follow-up to the shooter would remain locked in development hell within 3D Realms’s offices for years after its announcement. What was once an immensely promising series became one of the video game industry’s longest-running jokes – and when 3D Realms finally managed to get its prodigal entry out the door, most who played it found that the joke was on them.

This is the rise and fall of Duke Nukem.

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