Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Things Best Left to Rot.

There are surely more pressing things that require my attention, but I feel like ranting patronizingly from my ivory tower, so let's do this -

[Forget] Duke Nukem, and [forget] Duke Nukem Forever. Let that franchise die and be eclipsed by its betters.

There is no reason why anyone should give any attention to this ghost. It is not "exciting." It is not a "big announcement." Leave aside that it's spent the past thirteen years as a vaporware swindle pulling valuable capital out of the games market - that argument's been made. Leave aside that the little info we've seen on the game is about as promising as the familiar hacking of a cat throwing up- a common shooter with nothing to offer but its proximity to something with history, itself soured with regret. Leave Duke Nukem Forever entirely out of the equation, even. Duke Nukem, as a brand and as an icon for video gaming, is best left long dead.

I'm not going to try and say that Duke Nukem 3D was not an important game. It was. There are fps conventions that it did first, and it makes a strong statement about how seriously games need to take themselves. It would be disingenuous of me not to recognize that. However, historical importance within the techniques, mechanics and conventions of a given media or genre is not support for its content, nor is it justification for a sequel. Take Birth of a Nation, for example. No one is drooling for a sequel simply on the strength of its technique. Yes, I just compared Duke Nukem to Birth of a Nation. Stick with me, it gets better.

Duke Nukem 3D, and Duke himself, as a character and a brand, fills a similar space in gaming as Birth of a Nation does within film. It's the shameful history that we must begrudgingly recognize. It is juvenile, misogynist, and asinine (the pigs wear cop uniforms! Get it?! Hilarious!).  Unlike Birth of a Nation, which is an important reminder of our capacity for hatred and evil, Duke Nukem 3D is merely a reminder of our capacity for troglodyte churlishness. And, unlike Birth of a Nation, its innovations are nominal. It earns recognition for its interactivity and its cleverly imaginative weaponry more by virtue of being first than of truly starting any such conventions - it was closely followed by other, better games which, through parallel evolution, included the same ideas - while its tongue-in-cheek lack of seriousness, itself more a product of its juvenile character, was a double edged sword - it opened up a space for games to be self-deprecating, towards themselves and the medium (and thus increasingly self-referential), but it also opened space for games like Redneck Rampage or the ever-nauseating Postal series.

Duke Nukem 3D was an ignorant, if fun, game when it was released in 1996. It was an ignorant game in 1997, when  the shooter genre saw offerings as cleanly polished as Quake 2 and as innovative as MDK, Goldeneye: 007, or the under-appreciated Outlaws. It was an ignorant game in 1998, when, at the height of the golden age of gaming, we saw Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, Starsiege: Tribes, Unreal, and, of course, Half-Life, among many others within and proximal to the shooter genre.

And now, twelve years after the brand should have died, we're getting a new one. At least it's carrying on the tradition, as the images and quotes I'll leave you with attest. Support intelligent games - let Duke Nukem die.

Instead of a health bar, you have an EGO bar! Comedy!
"Vehicle sections!" 
" Not just any vehicle sections - these are in a Monster Truck!"
"So crazy! So Duke(tm)!"

Lastly, a real quote, typical of the reaction I've seen to the demo at PAX. I want to provide sarcastic commentary, but, really, this mocks itself as it hypes the game's mind-numbing normality and overplays the allure that Duke, as a character, holds: 

"Our first impression was simply shock and awe that the classic pixelated Duke had been so well transformed into his new modern 3D world.  The designers haven’t messed with a winning recipe and you will recognize characters and weaponry from Duke Nukem 3D instantly.
"The limited gameplay kept very true to classic Duke formula as well. He is the Terminator in the flesh, while not invincible, you can deliver a whole lot of ass kicking with the well rounded arsenal of rocket launchers, shotguns, sniper rifles, ray guns and pistols that border on the ridiculous. Duke comes standard with regenerating “EGO” bar, so it actually takes a special bit of skill to die.
"Let Duke get close and he delivers a knockout punch through melee. Against our giant alien foe in the first round, after he was down, Duke proceeds to kick a field goal with the poor saps [sic] eyeball; classic Duke."
-source (emphasis mine)

[I'm picking, somewhat unfairly, on Hardware Canucks here - where I got both the quote and the images (stills from this video). I don't want to disparage their site - they are not alone in hyping this tripe, and I have read interesting, thoughtful games journalism there.]