It’s a secret for nobody that knows me at least a bit that I’m a huge fan of ‘Build Engine’ games such as Shadow Warrior, Redneck Rampage and of course Duke Nukem 3D. And I have to say, I love Duke 3D. With all my heart. I love the setting. I love the humor (Except when it’s too much). I love the irrelevancy. I wasn’t too much of a fan of all the macho-ness, but since I saw Duke as a caricature, it made all that so much funnier. It was never a power fantasy for me, but just seeing through the eyes of a despicable human that was needed.
And boy, as a game, and just a game it still holds on. The level design is fun and imaginative, the opponents are great and challenging, the guns are ranging from the classic to the weirdest thing ever and have a great feel, the handling of the game and the momentum of the movements, so much more and everything that was inventive about it.
The game is still fun to play 20 years later, and after Wolfenstein and Doom, I’m sure the game could make a comeback. They could just do what they did with DOOM and adapt the gameplay, make it a bit more frantic and have vast spaces to play with.
What needs updating though, would be the story. And not even the character. Please bear with me, here.
Duke is an asshole, an unlovable, self-centered, sexist man. Someone that believes he’s always right and will always put his own fun before anything else. And, unfortunately, is the only one able to save the day when it comes to it.
Does it remind you of someone else? Another man who could precisely be described like this? From an amazing TV show?
I honestly believe that Duke and Sterling Archer share a lot of traits. But what works with Archer and where most of the humor comes from is the fact that everyone else is just annoyed by him, just pissed off by how little he learns every time, and it’s only because he is indeed the only man able to do the job. He never learns because he doesn’t have to, he can still be the best at what he does without that.
And this is where Duke needs to go. He needs to boldly go where he never went before. He needs to be hated by his own world. The humor needs to rely on how stupid the situations are in his eyes vs. the eyes of the world.
Duke Nukem 3D works so well because it’s a spoof of the action movies of late 80's and 90's. Where the over-the-top muscular man punched bad guys to throw them away in stylized but often over-the-top action and always get the girl. He needs to ‘grow’ and embrace the has-beeness of old actions stars that are now playing older men trying to stay ahead of the game. He needs to fall.
And for that I give you...
The story starts with Duke, in his penthouse atop his huge golden building surrounded by two massive golden statues of himself. He feels good, he’s the king of the world, and like every day he just says it to the world and his butler laugh, a forced smile although filled with admiration for the man which so selflessly saved the world so many times. Duke doesn’t see it though; he doesn’t care, for all he knows he’s hilarious.
But unlike other days, he hasn’t got the time to eat his cereals, Duke’s own brand of course, and has to fight some aliens while still in his bathrobe. Dr. Proton, his old foe, has launched the last attack he’ll ever launch, according to himself, as he broadcasts his final words over and over again through the building’s communications. It’s a suicide charge, and he’s sending all of his forces at the same time. All his creations and is helped by aliens.
Duke completely mows down the enemies (It’s part of the tutorial), and while everyone else seems to agree that it’s too easy, Duke doesn’t see it. He’s too busy making fun of the guys for being pussies and things like that. The bodyguards and the cops and the army, they’re all afraid of what it means, but not Duke. Always ready to jump into any dangerous situation. To show he’s the Alpha male. He’s killing countless Pig Cops and other Dukebots, but he never understands they don’t aim correctly and that they seem to lead him to a special place.
Duke arrives into an atrium of some kind where he saw one of his gorgeous ‘friends’ getting snatched and took away by one of the goons. Of course, he follows them and kills other pigs.
He ends up in a room with Dr. Proton himself and hands his ass to him. Saving the girl. He’s proud. He flexes his muscles. He gets the girl, but before he has time to kiss her, she stabs him with a needle.
Duke is losing consciousness as the real Dr. Proton arrives and laugh at him. He hasn’t lost because he’s not strong enough but because of his own hubris.
When Duke wakes up, he’s no longer in his building, hell he’s not even in America anymore. He’s in a brothel in Asia, surrounded by junkies and not very good looking hookers with a needle in his arm. Nobody seems to know who he is. He stumbles and falls but gets a hold of his body quickly enough, after all this is the Duke we’re talking about. He’s pissed off and needs to find out what happens.
This is when he sees a transmission from the benevolent and adored president of the world: Dr. Proton.
From here, shit’s about to go down. And you can have a lot of fun navigating a world where you’re not welcomed, where Dukeburger doesn’t exist and has been replaced by Protonburger. Where people boo you when you try to talk to a lady (or a beautiful man as I honestly believe that making Duke an obnoxious bi-sexual man that loves any kind of beautiful bodies but is just too macho would be amazing) because they no longer allow your behaviour because you saved them and then you go into some weird frenzy where you just punch everyone because Duke was never about doing the right thing but just what he wants.
Of course, please include any weird weapons and have Duke burst out of the ribs of some evil man like a chestbuster in Alien. Make funny references but only to old things, as Duke is old now. Make the man a relic of another age willing to do whatever it takes to kill Proton. Get him to stumble on a resistance group ready to attack Proton for altruistic reasons, such as Proton using humans to fuel his spaceships, and make Duke being completely bored by anything those guys tell them until he hears the word Bazooka.
Of course, mayhem ensues, pursuits, actions, and babes (like I said of both sexes) to achieve with Duke recovering his status when the telepathic field that Proton has launched into the world suddenly reverts and everybody ends up remembering who Duke is.
And of course, he has to learn nothing from his misery.
Like I said earlier, I don’t believe that Duke Nukem 3D is that old regarding his gameplay. Sure, some things need to be refreshed, updated, but you could keep almost everything. Keep the weapons because they’re a classic. Keep the enemies, and I don’t even believe that you have to create new ones except for maybe some boss. Speaking of bosses, keep them to a minimum like in DOOM. Make the game just a tad faster, in between Wolfenstein: The New Order and DOOM.
Regarding the humor, be subtle with the one liners. At least most of the time and once in a while be completely awful with it because Duke is also about guilty pleasures. Make most of the humor by shifting it and making Duke a stupid man. It can be a bit crass but don’t fall into the 12-year-old-boy-crass humor. Like with Archer, laugh because the man is completely crazy. Have some insane heroic thing that is fucking awesome, but nobody except Duke (And you the player) thinks it truly is because their building is now utterly destroyed.
Make everything about the level design, and make the set pieces unique. Don’t be afraid to do weird things like Duke getting inside a Pig’s cop body only to leave through his chest, as I said earlier. (Or if you want to be gross, somewhere else but I’d try to be subtle. Or not, depending on if this is one of these guilty pleasure moments I talked about, but these should be kept at a minimum) End up in space. Make a strange set piece where Duke is wearing a Protonburger outfit because the resistance is asking him to be their spy, flipping burgers while keeping a low profile, but of course, he doesn’t listen. (But have the player actually cook burgers until he can no longer bear it and shoot everything) Go crazy, go big, end up piloting Lady Liberty if you have to. But make it weird, and fun, and crazy, and gory, and explosive, and when the last of the pigs are dead. When Duke steps on his jaw, turning his head into mush, I want to hear Jon St John utter a good ol’ “Hail to the king, baby” while Proton is looking at him through some camera and is completely stunned by how stupid he looks.
I believe that Duke could be fun again, always thought so. Because no matter what you think about it, even crass, even rated R, Duke Nukem was mild by today’s standard. And I feel that the creators believed they had to top this. That this was where the heart of this game lie. That they had to do even worse to cope with the times. But they weren’t looking to the right direction. Duke Nukem 4ever, as well as being a sub par FPS, was first and foremost a failure because they thought Duke had to be the crassest human ever or that one liner dude who has to do obscure references about things we don’t really care.
All they have to do is to remember that he’s the worst man on earth, a stupid man doing stupid things, but the man we need nevertheless.
Hail to the king, baby!