DID YOU READ

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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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