Like every other industry in the world, there are literally thousands of video game projects that never make it to stores. The Duke Nukem franchise is no exception – here are five games involving Duke that were publicly revealed (to some extent) but have never been released.
Duke Nukem Forever (1996, Apogee, DOS)
One of the first projects to be announced after the smashing success of Duke Nukem 3D was a return to Duke’s 2D side-scrolling, platforming roots in a game called Duke Nukem Forever. The project was led by Keith Schuler, the lead designer and programmer on Paganitzu and Realms of Chaos, and a level designer on the Plutonium Pack.
Schuler wanted to create a Duke Nukem title that used the same graphical techniques as Donkey Kong Country. He also wanted to bring back Dr Proton, Duke’s original nemesis. Proton returned to unhatch a plan involving setting off explosives along the San Andreas Fault to separate California from the US mainland, and renaming it Proton Island. The US president is apathetic, happy to be rid of California, but Duke Nukem steps in, having recently purchased a condo in Malibu.
The 2D Forever was planned to mesh many of new concepts of Duke Nukem 3D with the old style play of the first two games in the series. Duke’s look, personality and armory from the recent shooter would be matched up with run and gun platforming, with a few new objects like a cloaking device and five piece weapon called the Heavy Barrel added in. Players would face off against Dr Proton’s minions, the Protonite cyborgs, along with other level-specific grunt enemies. Each episode would end with a boss fight, with the last one being against Proton himself.
Development on Duke Nukem Forever stalled in the middle of 1996 when Keith Schuler was reassigned to work on maps for the Duke Nukem 3D expansion pack. The game’s cancellation wasn’t publically announced until 1997, at such a time where 3D Realms had decided to reuse the name for their sequel to Duke Nukem 3D.
Duke Nukem: Endangered Species (2001, Action Forms, Windows)
Duke Nukem: Endangered Species was a hunting game developed by Russian developer Action Forms, whose previous titles included Chasm: The Rift and the dinosaur hunting series Carnivores. Endangered Species was being positioned as a budget hunting action game that was described by George Broussard as being “not your father’s Deer Hunter”.
The concept for Endangered Species had been floating around 3D Realms for a couple of years, having been thought up during the early stages of Duke Nukem Forever’s development cycle, but the company did not want to develop it internally. Once Miller and Broussard saw what Action Forms had accomplished with Carnivores 2, they got in contact with the group and began production in 2000, targeting a summer 2001 release.
The key concept behind Endangered Species was that it was a hunting game with all of the personality of Duke Nukem attached. Strange creatures have been threatening innocent lives, and with local law enforcement proving ineffective, Duke is brought in to level the playing field. Using basic hunting techniques, players would have to take down fierce creatures like lions, polar bears, alligators and sharks – but such creatures aren’t enough to satisfy Duke’s ego. Players would also be able to encounter much more dangerous beasts like werewolves, aliens and even a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Duke’s ego was a key mechanic of the game – stalking your prey, and executing a quick kill without detection would boost Duke’s ego and grant equipment upgrades.
Endangered Species missed its planned summer release in 2001, and the game drifted off the radar. In December 2001, a representative from Action Forms confirmed that the game had been cancelled. No reason was provided at the time, but Joe Siegler later stated on the 3D Realms forums that the company did not like the way development was going. Some of the concepts in Endangered Species ended up making it into another Action Forms title, Vivisector: Beast Within, which was released in 2005.
Duke Nukem: D-Day (2003, n-Space, PlayStation 2)
After the success of Time to Kill on the PlayStation, 3D Realms quickly signed a deal for another third person Duke Nukem game, this time with Rockstar Games and Gathering of Developers, who intended to publish the game on a then unnamed next generation console, later revealed to be the PlayStation 2. The deal was inked in 1999, and Rockstar hoped to have the game out in 2000. Eventually, the information leaked that the game was called Duke Nukem: D-Day. It has also been referred to by an alternate title, Duke Nukem: Man of Valor.
There is some residual confusion as to what D-Day was, with some convinced that it was a PS2 port of the Unreal engine driven Duke Nukem Forever, but it was most certainly another third person shooter, developed by n-Space, who had developed Time to Kill and Land of the Babes.
George Broussard described the game on the 3D Realms forums;
“It was a PS2 game where Duke went back in time and was a key factor in all the major WW2 events, and helped turn the tide. Of course it was a kind of alternate reality and there were alien Nazi’s. I wish that game had worked out because it would have been among the very first WW2 games to come out, before you saw one a week.”
D-Day was in production for four years, having started development in 1999 and being cancelled in 2003. It is said that n-Space experienced considerable difficulties working with the notoriously developer-unfriendly PlayStation 2. The Apogee/3D Realms FAQ refers to the game as being cancelled for “lack of sufficient progress.”
Duke Begins (2009, Gearbox, 360/PS3)
Legal wrangling between 3D Realms and Take 2 Interactive over the non-delivery of Duke Nukem Forever after 3D Realms laid off all development staff in 2009 revealed that the two companies had agreed on the production of a console targeted Duke game in October 2007. 3D Realms accepted the deal in exchange for a $US2.5 million dollar advance on royalties in order to continue to fund development of Duke Nukem Forever. Gearbox was later revealed to be the developer of the game.
Very few details exist on what Duke Begins actually is. From what one can deduce from the name of the game and the court filings, the title was intended to be an origin story, showing how Duke came to be the ridiculous ego-driven ass kicker that he is.
The status of Duke Begins is not clear. Development on the title began within two months of the October 2007 agreement with the intention of a mid 2010 release. 3D Realms alleged in court filings that the title was put on hold in April 2009 in order to deny them royalties to pay back the $2.5 million advance. Whether Duke Begins was put on hold after 3D Realms approached Take 2 to request $US6 million to finish Duke Nukem Forever is yet to be confirmed.
Gearbox has since shifted to working on Duke Nukem Forever after finalising a deal with 3D Realms to acquire the unfinished game and the rights to the Duke Nukem franchise. One could assume that Duke Begins has been kept on hold in order to finish Duke Forever, and that development may recommence on the game if Forever is successful. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Duke Nukem Trilogy (2009, Frontline Studios, PSP)
When Duke Nukem Trilogy was announced in 2008, it was intended for release on the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable. Each game in the series was to have two versions that shared the same story – the Nintendo DS game was a side scrolling affair, while the PSP version was to be a third person shooter not unlike Time to Kill. The PSP version was said to be the more adult-oriented of the two games.
It is not determined exactly when the PSP versions of the Duke Nukem Trilogy games were cancelled, but one can safely say that the drawn out development of the title, low quality of the game and the poor sales of PSP software since 2008 were certainly factors.
That’s the end of our History of Duke Nukem feature. Believe it or not, Duke Nukem Forever is (finally) available in stores right now!
Retro Gaming Australia’s Duke Nukem Week,
reprinted with permission.