The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good: Duke Nukem Forever

04:08 Tue 22 Dec 2009
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Duke Nukem Forever is the vaporware king of games, a game that was promised for so long that its release was a punchline even in the late 1990s. At one point it and Daikatana were frequently compared to each other; Daikatana was also extremely late and ultimately a failure—but it came out in 2000.

Wired has a long look at what happened, and it seems fair to conclude that one of the problems was a lack of limits.

Duke Nukem Forever was a project that had almost unlimited money, and a significantly longer development period than any other game I can think of. Its project lead, George Broussard, was more concerned with quality than money or deadlines, but this appears to have led to an inability to ever call it done. More than other creative projects, computer games are yoked to technical advances. There will always be a better graphics engine than the one you built your game on.

I enjoyed Duke Nukem 3D when it came out, and looked forward to the sequel for a couple of years. My interests moved more towards multiplayer, to competitive Quake 3 Arena and CPMA, but Half-Life made clear that extremely compelling single-player first-person shooter games were still relevant, and I thought that perhaps Duke Nukem Forever would be in the same class.

Extremely long development cycles aren’t necessarily indicators of failure; Half-Life 2 took five years, and Team Fortress 2 was released almost ten years after it was first announced. But in that regard at least, Duke (or his reputation?) turned out to indeed be bigger and badder, an ultimately invincible final boss.

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