Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Lame Beginings of Duke Nukem 3D

With yesterday’s shocking announcement that Duke Nukem Forever is not only alive, but also blasting its way towards a release date sometime next year, it looks like the gaming public will finally get a mighty bootful of the most infamous vaporware title in history. Whether Duke’s crass attitude and cheap one-liners are still the stuff of gaming bliss nearly 15 years after the big man took the 2.75D plunge is up for debate, but it leads one to ponder how well the game would have faired if it had been released when it was supposed to be – approximately six months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

Old DNF screen shot of... some guy
“Wait a minute,” you might suddenly have thought, “I bet there are at least 100,000 beta versions of DNF running on completely different engines.” (And even if you didn’t just think that, I thought it for you, you wienie.) While 3D Realms has stated that due to copyright issues they can’t distribute any of the beta versions of DNF even after the game is commercially released, I’m sure a large faction of devoted, sick fans will daydream about tearing into Duke Forevers of the past until the next title in the series is released 20 years from now. What foul and remarkable secrets could these former iterations of the man who tears off heads and defecates down necks possibly hold?

The hell if I know, but seasoned players will recall that 3D Realms has a habit of programming games to about 90 percent and then using them to line George Broussard’s fireplace on Christmas Eve, then starting over from scratch about a week into the New Year. Presumably this is done because the fellows at 3D Realms are obsessed with making the perfect game, but really it’s because Mr. Broussard and company hate money: After the release of Duke Nukem 3D they ran out of drawers in which to stuff their gargantuan piles of cash, so they had to make room in the office somehow.

George Broussard, seen here pointing at the computer where he personally deleted the 1998, 2002 and 2005 versions of Duke Nukem Forever.

Thus it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Duke 3D also got a complete makeover before hitting the net in January of 1996, but this time I can’t really fault 3D Realms’ decision to scrap what they had and try again. To celebrate the one year anniversary of DN3D’s shareware release, the company unleashed a Dec. 30, 1994 beta of the game – lovingly called “LameDuke” – on unsuspecting players. The result was like a taco with a sandpaper shell: a devilish mix of curiosities and interesting tidbits wrapped in an irritating, occasionally treacherous shell.

Strinking the Power Ranger pose!
LameDuke’s 30 or so levels are broken up into four episodes with names that sound like titles of dirty movies: MRR Caliber, Mission Cockroach, Suck Hole and Hard Landing. Most maps don’t have exits, but some are surprisingly playable in spite of it. There’s a city with a very familiar vampire poster and a dance club from 1986, a prison on a secluded island, and a mansion with a hidden underground chamber that’s accessed through the fireplace. It’s easy to see where some of the ideas from the retail version of DN3D came from, and plenty of graphics and level structures were copied wholesale or only slightly altered, then reused. The biggest issue is that many maps look the same and it’s excruciatingly easy to get lost in them, but I’m assuming that would have been ironed out in the final release.

Kano- Er, Dr. Proton
Unlike the sinister alien invasion that’s the catalyst of Mr. Nukem’s xenophobic rage in the retail version of Duke Nukem 3D, LameDuke appears to continue the plot set up in the side scrolling days of the franchise. That means you’ll be fighting a gaggle of riotous robots, presumably sent by mad scientist and DN1 antagonist Dr. Proton (who kind of looks like Kano) to rearrange Duke’s anatomy in return for a previous defeat. Both on the ground and in the air, the mechanical marauders do their best to take out Duke, but often that just boils down to running to him and posing. However, shooting them spawns blood and gibs, so maybe they’re just henchmen in spacesuits; no one knows for sure. On the organic side of things, we’ve got a fly-like ancestor to the Octabrain, who in some ways is more intimidating than its tan skinned, sharp toothed brethren. There’s also some sort of punk chick who sports a Mohawk and an outfit she apparently borrowed from Judy Jetson, but her chief function seems to be running into streams and drowning herself, so I guess she’s more emo than punk.

Octabrain Prime?
While you’re mowing down the same three dudes hundreds of times over, you’ll be jamming out to one of three whole music tracks: “Fastway,” which I think was stolen from Rise of the Triad; a slow, sad song I don’t recognize and, oddly enough, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison presented in glorious two instrument midi form!

Duke’s trusty pistol is very similar to the one implemented in the final game, but here it’s got a cool-but-useless laser sight. Pipebombs look and function just like retail Duke 3D as well. However, instead of using his infamous Mighty Foot to do a little close quarters butt kicking, Duke instead wields a rather menacing tazer wrench for melee attacks. Using the weapon from a distance will cause Duke to spaz out and swing the weapon like a nerd in a slapfight, but get up close and you’ll be pumping thousands of volts of electricity through whoever is unfortunate (or dumb) enough to get in your way. Speaking of electricity, instead of the chaingun found in the Duke 3D we all know and love, there’s a sort of rapid-fire voltage cannon that cuts though lame enemies in two or three hits. Perhaps the biggest weapons change involves the RPG: Duke must ready the weapon before he can fire it, and it’s so honkin’ huge that it covers approximately 7000 percent of the screen.

"Did someone poke out my right eye!? Oh, it's just this RPG."
It’s pretty difficult to get LameDuke running on a modern PC and there used to be a virus in one of the .voc files way back when it was first released, but if you’d still like to give this beta a go, you can download it at Just scroll down to the Duke Nukem 3D section and click on the link to LameDuke. But no worries if you can’t get it to work; I’ve uploaded a fairly interesting YouTube video of LameDuke screenshots I took just days after the beta was released. I recently rescued them from an ancient floppy disk made of papyrus and fossilized dinosaur droppings.

If you’re a fan of the original Duke 3D or you just can’t wait for Duke Forever, perhaps LameDuke can temporarily satiate your hunger for all things Nukem. Just let this be a lesson to those who are salivating over the DNF betas: If they all suck as hard as LameDuke, maybe it’s better that they stay lost to the annals of gaming history.

…oh, who am I kidding. Bring on those betas, 3D Realms, or the Duke gets it!


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