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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.