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Can “Duke Nukem Forever” Possibly Be Worth The Wait?

Can “Duke Nukem Forever” Possibly Be Worth The Wait? (photo)

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Here’s a little bit of what happened in the world since “Duke Nukem Forever” was announced in 1997:

• Apple’s now the world’s most profitable and influential tech company
• Social networking and the mobile web–thanks to Twitter, foursquare and Facebook–make our lives more interconnected than ever before.
• A Black man ran for President of the United States and won.
• Video games have become a cultural force on par with movies and music.

A lot has changed, but Duke hasn’t. That’s bad. Now that the game’s finally on store shelves, critics are savaging it as a barnacle-covered relic that might’ve been better left in limbo. I’ve played a fair chunk of it and, honestly, they’re not wrong. “DNF” looks and plays like something that’s about seven to eight years too late. Oh, it’s crudely humorous at moments and makes fun of itself often. But whatever entertainment value that stuff has gets undermined by gameplay that’s glitchy, rote and boring. The question that comes to mind is why should “Duke Nukem Forever” exist?

Part of the answer is the accumulation of snark that surrounded the game. Let’s say three years is a long time for a game to be in development, acknowledging the fact that it’s probably already being worked on when it gets announced. By the time the Aughts hit and Y2K panic subsided, folks were scratching their heads at the lack of Duke. As the wait continued, the interminable delay became a meme unto itself. “Duke Nukem Forever” became gaming’s Bigfoot: it might exist but the idea of its elusiveness was the most attractive thing about it.

That’s why the surprise unveiling of “Duke Nukem Forever” at the PAX fanfest about a year ago shook the nerdsphere. Not only did it exist, it was playable. You could walk right up and touch it. The man responsible for the resurrection was designer Randy Pitchford. Pitchford–the CEO of dev studio Gearbox Software–worked at Duke’s original home 3D Realms during his days as an apprentice game-maker. It’s a tough spot to be in if you’re Pitchford. When the crowning achievement for a character associated with entry into your career might languish eternally incomplete, it seems like an obligation to finish pushing the baby through the birth canal. But when Pitchford brought the rights and intellectual property for the “Duke Nukem” franchise, it wasn’t just teary-eyed emotional attachment at work. People still respond to the memories of Duke Nukem games and that “DNF when hell freezes over” meme amounted to years and years of free publicity. But, as the final product shows, publicity doesn’t equal development time.

The closest pop culture analog I can think of is “Tron: Legacy.” With the original “Tron,” you had a nerd artifact tied closely to the technology of its time, both in the text and means of production. Old-school “Tron” never raked in the cash but it burned its way into a generation’s hearts for speaking to the live-in-the-computer fantasies that millions were having in the ’80s. Likewise, the Duke Nukem games brought the randy, screw-’em-all energy of a decade’s popcorn flicks into players’ hands. Sure, you were gun-toting heroes before Duke but, this guy, he threw down in strip clubs, drank beers and talked trash all the way. The Duke persona was the perfect redoubt for gamers who felt that they were outgrowing Mario and Sonic. That wave was a great one to ride in the mid-to-late 1990s, but it crashes really hard in 2011. The difference between “Tron: Legacy” and “Duke Nukem Forever” are obvious but are worth drawing out. Even if it didn’t call out the new digital reality terribly, the new “Tron” at least reflected the passage of time and looked like an ultra-modern update. “DNF” jokes at its own expense but the jokes just underscore how dated the whole thing feels.

Last week at E3, I had dinner with a few friends. Among them was Cheo Hodari Coker, who’s currently a producer on the cop drama Southland. Coker’s been a cultural critic and screenwriter and regaled me of a story where he was paid to hang around with Sean “Puffy” Combs and cook up ideas for a movie. This was around the time that Puffy’s first solo album was coming out and Mr. Combs floated the idea of naming it “Forever.” Coker tried to impress upon him what a bad idea that was by rolling out examples of how putting “forever” in an album title doomed the artist to irrelevance. Bobby Brown’s “Forever” precedes a long ugly fall into obscurity and an uglier return to reality TV. “Wu-Tang Forever” foreshadowed the break-up of the Staten Island shaolin MCs. And, of course, Puffy’s “Forever” bore out the idea that he might be a better shaper of talent and promotion than an actual performer.

Now, Duke’s not a hip-hop or R&B star but he’s not part of that august body of “Forever” eff-ups. However, he may yet find the kind of redemption that keeps, say, R. Kelly on the charts. A new Duke game built from the ground up with modern sensibilities may give the King his swagger back. But, to really rekindle gamers’ love affair with Mr. Nukem, Gearbox may have to make Duke or the world surrounding him more sophisticated. Whatever shape Duke’s future takes, the games are going to have to be different if players are going to, in the words of the an himself, come get some.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.

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It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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