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Build Engine Retrospective Part 1: Duke Nukem 3D

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GAME: Duke Nukem 3D



YEAR: 1996




When it comes to first person shooters, the most groundbreaking games in the genre undoubtedly came out during the 90's. This time period was truly the golden age for the genre, releasing a ton of classics in the genre that laid the groundwork for much of today's titles in the genre. Wolfenstein 3D started it all but then we got titles like Doom, Rise Of The Triad, Blake Stone and eventually a game would come out that really carved its own unique place among other so-called "Doom clones". With its groundbreaking engine, impressive amount of interactivity and one-liner spouting titular action star protagonist, Duke Nukem 3D managed to create quite a few ripples in the gaming community despite the incoming Quake which would make its technology look a generation behind in comparison. So today on my blog I'm starting a new series called Build Engine Retrospective where I'm taking a look at games that utilized the now legendary Build engine, many of these released in the years between 1996-1998. What these games often share in common is a unique theme, scripted events and a ton of other features that for the time and given the limitations of the engine make them quite memorable to play even today. And I'm starting with the first commercial game to utilize the Build engine, the king himself, Duke Nukem 3D.


I practically grew up with Duke Nukem so the character holds a very special place in my heart. The very first game I remember ever playing was the very first Duke Nukem, an EGA platformer for DOS that was a really popular shareware title around '91. Already then Duke Nukem was established as a gun-toting badass who was Earth's only hope. In the first game he went after the evil Dr Proton and his army of Techbots, and while his personality was a bit derivative and referencing pop culture like watching Opera Winfrey show, it wasn't until Duke 3D his personality as a woman-loving pill-popping ultra-macho amalgation of 80's action heroes came into play. And in a way, Duke grew up with me. When Duke 3D came out I was about 8 years old and just about to enter my teens and with Duke 1 being my first game, it felt as if the character had grown up with me. I was always interested in a lot of typical boy stuff at that age, watching a lot of movies that I wasn't allowed to, playing games I wasn't allowed to and generally showing more and more of an interest in the kind of masculine entertainment that there was a lot of when I grew up. And a lot of it really influenced my tastes and shaped me to be the person I am today. I of course also liked feminine stuff, I hung out with other girls a lot, played with dolls and did all of that stuff, but I was also into guns and shooters and such things, and always have been. And something about the Duke Nukem games almost embodies all of those core interests. There's a dystopian and almost cyberpunk future feel to the games, and this carried on very well into Duke 3D although it has a distinctly more realistic feel than the first two games.



I can't let you rip off that movie, Duke...


The story is pretty simple. After returning to Earth after defeating the aliens in Duke 2, Duke finds that another alien race has wiped out most of Earth's population and taken most of our women, and turned all the police into pigs. His mission becomes to wipe out most of the aliens on Earth and take the fight to their mothership in space, culminating with a battle with the one-eyed commander of the entire fleet and the alien queen in a bonus episode called The Birth.The story never takes itself seriously, with Duke at one point saying he'll shit down a boss' neck after killing him. And promptly does so. So yeah, it's not a huge story or anything but it's funny, works for setting the game's derivative tone and there's nothing really bad I can say about it.


What really set Duke 3D apart from its contemporaries such as Doom and Quake was its environments. Up until that point, levels in shooters were often very abstract and maze-like. Duke 3D's levels on the other hand almost had a bit of an open world feel to them and were often much more urban in nature, giving them a very realistic feeling. They felt like locations that could potentially exist in real life as you moved through buildings, underground tunnels and visited everything from brothels and strip clubs to a burger restaurant. Of course, all of the levels still have an exaggerated look to them and feel like something out of an action movie, but compared to the levels of Doom for instance, the difference is night and day. The exception of this is obviously the second episode which takes place in space and has more of a Doom-like sci-fi influenced level design that pays homage to H.R. Giger's Alien environments among other things.



Episode 2 features some pretty cool sci-fi esque levels.


The game really does feel like an homage to the 80's and 90's, with its plentiful references to everything from Aliens, Evil Dead and They Live to OJ Simpson's car escape. It ends up feeling a little dated but in today's nostalgia-driven retrowave culture it still holds a lot of appeal and it's easy to see why this game continues to be so influential to a lot of modern oldschool shooters. Control-wise it was pretty ahead of its time allowing for not only mouse aim but also remapping the movement keys to WASD makes it feel surprisingly modern in terms of controls. It even allows for jumping and ducking (which was actually a fairly new idea at the time). Another new idea it added was an inventory with different items, which could be activated at your leisure and adding some tactics to the game in when you used these items. The idea of an inventory would be used again in several other Build games, often copying Duke's item selection, which consists of a portable medkit (which can be used to heal up to 100 health points), Night Vision goggles (that really don't work as you'd expect, they mostly just put a green filter on the screen and make enemies into glowing green figures), Boots (give protection against acid, lava and other harmful substances), Steroids (pretty much turns you into Sonic and I think they give you additional melee strength), and Scuba Gear (lets you breathe under water). The final one is the Holoduke, which I probably end up never using as it is far more useful in multiplayer matches than single player. It projects a fake version of the player but most of the AI simply doesn't give a fuck about it.



Dem titties! Shake them!


The weapon selection is also pretty classic but also has some guns that are pretty unique to Duke 3D itself. You have the expected Doom-style loadout with the melee (Duke's mighty foot), pistol, shotgun, chaingun and rocket launcher, but then we get into the somewhat more iconic weapons. The pipebombs are throwable grenades that explode when you click the button a second time, meaning they explode exactly when you want them to which is perfect for not only getting rid of badguys but also blowing up parts of the environment to reveal secret areas You then have the shrinker which does what it says on the tin, it shrinks your enemies to action figure size and allows you to step on them. Of course the reverse is also true and if you get hit with a shrinker beam you yourself become tiny and will have to watch out for enemies stomping on you. The Atomic Edition also adds the Microwave Expander, a gun that does the exact opposite, blowing up your enemies literally until they explode. You then have the Devastator, a really powerful dual rocket launcher that fires miniature rockets at a high fire rate. It's probably my favourite weapon in the game and fits its name as it makes short work of most enemies in the game sans bosses and larger enemies, but its major caveat is that it burns through ammo like a fat guy through a donut shop. You then have the laser tripmine which is pretty good for multiplayer matches but like the holoduke rarely comes into play in single player. Finally you have the Freezeray, which freezes enemies and allows you to break them easily with a kick or fire from any of the projectile based weapons. It creates this unique tactical combat where some of the weapons give a basic combo attack, like the shrinking and stepping on enemies, or freezing and shattering them. I can't really think of any shooter at the time who had this kind of combat.



Can't a man enjoy a flat martini and a looping animation in peace?


As varied as the guns are, so is the enemy roster. You have your basic grunts, the assault troopers who do little more than shoot lasers at you though some of them have the ability to temporarily teleport out of experience before appearing behind you. Some of the may even fake their death (if you see them going into their choking animation upon death there is a chance they will get back up again). You then have the iconic pig cops, who wield shotguns and take a little more damage before going down. After that you have the Fat Commander (officially called the Assault Commander), a flying slob firing rockets out his ass while grunting "suck it down". They can be a right pain in the ass but using the shrinkray on them makes them surprisingly easy to kill (a trick that also works well in Duke Nukem Forever). In addition to these you have the larger enforcers who shoot chainguns at you, and the Battlelord, a hulking monstrous alien firing miniguns at you and launching grenades. You also have the iconic Octabrain, a flying brain with tentacles shooting sonic waves at you, and the Protozoid Slimer born from alien eggs who attaches to your face, similar to the facehuggers from Alien.



Boss fight time!


Most of the gameplay revolves around grabbing keycards, much like in Doom, and reaching the end of the level. Interestingly a lot of the levels seem connected as you may seem parts of an upcoming level near the end of the current level and so forth, a concept that further evolved into the level structure of games like Half-Life. You also have babes scattered around a lot of the levels (particurarily the alien environments) who are trapped in vines. You can choose to mercy kill these poor women, though doing so will provoke the enemies and spawn in additional reinforcements. Of course, killing babes that are NOT trapped is NEVER okay and the game will punish you for this by spawning in enemies.



Should've been the title of the game, lol


Graphically the game looks pretty good for the time. While not as good as Quake, it still looks like a pretty logical evolution of the kind of technology used in Doom, and allows for more advanced level geometry, larger levels and a lot of the levels are pretty good at giving the illusion of rooms above rooms. The most fun part of Duke 3D is the interactivity though and it's what truly set the game apart from its contemporaries at the time. You could blow up parts of the level (indicated by cracks in the textures), you could drink from fountains, use toilets, break toilets, drink from said broken toilets, play pool, oogle women, oogle yourself, you get the point. This helped a lot in making the game world feel real and believable in addition to the realistic level design. It was also one of the first games to rely somewhat on scripted events (something that would be greatly expanded upon in other Build games), with parts of the levels being restructured in a pretty impressive fashion, a great example being when Duke blows up a building in a level and climbs into the ruins, or creates and earthquake in another level to reveal more of the level. This kind of interactivity in the levels made the game feel much more alive and explosive than something like Doom and even Quake.



How about no.


In addition the game featured some pretty nifty lighting for its time, featuring light switches that could dynamically light up an area and coloured lighting that directly affected the player's sprite and everything around it. The developers really made sure to push as much as they could out of the engine and it shows. The screenshots in this review are from the latest version of the game which is the 20th Anniversary World Tour edition and it's probably the best looking version of the game so far.


Sound-wise the game presents some pretty cool MIDI tracks (in modern source ports like the aforementioned World Tour edition these have been remastered as ogg files) that have more of a rock feel to them than Doom did. None of the tracks aside from the main theme can really be called memorable though and most fall into the category of being pretty much background music. And of course, Jon St. Jon's portrayal of Duke is now legendary with the game's many one-liners being classic quotes even today, so not a single bad word about his performance. Although his re-recorded lines in the World Tour edition does lack a bit of their original punch. The weapons all sound really cool, ranging from the beefy shotgun and peppering chaingun to the satisfying explosion sounds makes the game a joy for the ears.



Slurp. All space stations should have water fountains.


So a question remains, which version of Duke 3D should you get? Well, at the moment there is only a single version available and that is the World Tour edition. It comes with re-recorded lines from the Duke himself, improved graphics, as well as some rather lazy developer commentary (and most of it coming from Randy Pitchford himself, who isn't exactly popular among Duke fans nowadays), but for the most part is kind of lacking as it does not include the 3 expansions Duke It Out In DC, Nuclear Winter and Duke Carribbean: Life's A Beach. It does however include a new fourth episode which is worth playing. The earlier Megaton Edition did include these expansions and multiplayer but lacked some polish, especially on consoles, and the original DOS version was included as part of 3D Realms' Anthology pack but this pack has since been discontinued as well as the Megaton Edition, since Gearbox claims to own the IP and won't allow 3D Realms to release any of the original Duke Nukem games (which is highly ironic considering 3D Realms gave birth to the franchise...). So that's a kind of sad affair altogether. However due to how well the game has sold it's not hard finding physical copies online on places like eBay (which is where I bought my own boxed copy) and most of these physical copies work fine with DOSBox so however you obtain the game, it's definitely worth playing, cause even 22 years later, Duke Nukem 3D is still one of the most badass shooters in existence. I mean, it may seem a bit dated today but when this game came out, there was simply nothing like it.


Hail to the king, baby!


Stay tuned for part 2 of my Build Engine Retrospective where I'll be taking a look at what many consider the spiritual sequel to Duke 3D, namely Shadow Warrior!


STORY: 10/10



SOUND: 8/10




Source: http://alyxxgameroom.blogspot.com/2018/04/build-engine-retrospective-part-1-duke.html

Game developments at http://nukedprotons.blogspot.com

Check out my music at http://technomancer.bandcamp.com

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