Duke Nukem in History
The original Duke Nukem game, simply called Duke Nukem, was released in 1991 and looks nothing like you would expect it to if all you knew was Duke Nukem Forever. So how did it evolve into what it is today?
Duke Nukem was a very different game back then. Think of something related to Duke. Pig cops, perhaps. Maybe his pipe bombs. Maybe the strippers in the 3D environment. Maybe his sunglasses, or his cigar and beer combos. Now take a look at gameplay for the game. Go ahead, we'll wait.
What? Yeah. The game is nothing like what you would expect. Side-scrolling 2D platforming. Not a pig cop in sight. Soda instead of beer. Duke doesn't even have his trademark sunglasses! Not to mention any voice acting was far beyond the technological limitations of the day. 1991 was a very different time indeed. So different, in fact, that the only controversy the game generated was over the name. Due to Captain Planet having a villian named Duke Nukem, Apogee temporarily renamed the game Duke Nukum. Then they realized that the makers of Captain Planet hadn't registered the name for themselves, so they took it. So how did the Duke Nukem games get to be what they are today?
Duke Nukem In Space
In 1993 Apogee games released the sequel to their side-scrolling wonder Duken Nukem, and titled it Duke Nukem II. They finally establish the character as the tough guy he's supposed to be. Having saved the world in the last game, he starts this game off in an interview about his biography, appropriately titled "Why I'm So Great". He's then, of course, kidnapped by aliens and used to plan an attack on Earth. Obviously this backfires and Duke breaks free to fight the aliens into submission.
So, aliens, right? That means Duke finally runs into the pig cops he's famous for fighting? Well, not really. Even though they're finally establishing Duke as the arrogant hero he is, they have a long way to go. He still drinks soda at every opportunity, and the enemies he fights are largely stolen from other games. He fights everything from spiders to raptors to robots, but not a pig cop in sight. Put in their own words on the 3DRealms website for Duke Nukem II (yes it exists):
For fans of the original Duke Nukem, all of your favorite touches are still here: soda cans for health, turkey for food, spy cameras watching your every move, boxes you can destroy for bonuses and surprises, and more. Duke still flips, and he walks hand over hand across pipes, chains and ropes, with the new ability of shooting downward while doing so. Duke can also crouch, duck, and shoot upward.
Duke was an action-platformer. While it was building up its character, and still a solidly good game, it wasn't the Duke we know and love. He comes later.
Duke Nukem in 3D
Apogee changed their name to 3DRealms, a name that sticks today. Then they published the third Duke Nukem game, Duke Nukem 3D, and changed everything forever. Well, not really, but they cemented Duke as a contender for great FPS along the lines of Doom, and added a number of things to the game that caused controversy, or just added to the awesome. He also finally has voice acting, with Jon St. John lending his vocal talents.
FPS? What? That's right. Duke Nukem 3D is in fact in 3D. Who would have guessed? To fit with the change in genre and tone, the box art even resembles Doom's cover. Duke finally has his sunglasses and his edge. He has his signature weapons: the foot stomp, the pipe bombs, and of course, the Devastator. He can take Steroids, fly with a jetpack, and explore a large open world, for its time.
The real factor that cemented Duke in history is the edginess of the game. Duke often finds himself in strip clubs and can offer up cash to have a stripper flash him. He can, if he wants, even kill the strippers, though doing so spawns extra enemies and confers no benefit. Also, finally, the pig cops make their appearance. Wearing L.A.R.D. uniforms, they patrol the streets and oppose Duke in his fight.
After this game, there were many spinoff games and side games.
The Dark Times: From 3D To Forever
Duke Nukem Forever was announced in 1997, but it didn't come out until 2011. So what happened in between? Surely the Duke name was not forgotten. There were a good number of other Duke Nukem games in the time between.
Duke Nukem: Time to Kill was released in 1998 for the Playstation, and had gameplay quite similar to the Tomb Raider franchise, proving that Duke can do anything he sets his mind to. The game was solid, but not as controversial or as outstanding as it's predecessor.
Duke Nukem: Zero Hour was released in 1999, but it wasn't developed by 3DRealms. Developed by Eurocom, it's a third-person shooter with similar plot elements to Time to Kill, but with a different implementation. It was also released for the Nintendo 64, giving the Duke another platform to rule over.
Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes was a year 2000 sequel to Time to Kill. Also released for the Playstation, it followed the third-person mode, and took Duke through a future where he's the only man alive, fighting the pig cops to save all the babes. An interesting bit of trivia, the game was originally titled Planet of the Babes, but the upcoming Planet of the Apes film forced them to change the title.
Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is another genre shift, this time back to it's roots. Duke runs in a side-scrolling shooter similar to a Contra game, but played in a psuedo-3D. The environments and characters are all well-modeled in 3D, but the path taken through them is 2D. Interestingly, the company that made it was bought by another company that then went bankrupt, leaving the distribution rights for Manhattan Project in a void owned by the courts. Only recently has any resolution to the situation come up.
Duke Nukem Advance, like all games made for the Gameboy Advance, Duke just tacks the word "Advance" to the end of it and calls it a day. The game itself is a FPS similar to Duke Nukem 3D, but has an entirely original plot. It's considered one of the first good FPS games for the Advance, though that doesn't say much.
Duke Nukem: Critical Mass is next in line, if you discount completely the mobile phone games. In a genre similar to Manhattan Project, the game was released for the Nintendo DS in 2011, only a few months before Duke Nukem Forever. It's largely considered a bad game.
Duke Nukem: Forever was finally released in mid 2011, and has since been covered extensively by every game journalism site. Mediocre at best, left in development hell for 14 years, and it has very little to show for it. It's there, and it's there to stay, and hopefully the Duke name will live on past it.
Game information from Wikipedia.
Further game information from 3DRealms Website.
All cover art and gameplay images from the sites above