Duke Nukem 3D is one of the most influential games of the past 25 years, and for good reason.
The Build Engine, which powered the game, created a sort of “2.5D” effect, allowing worlds built using the technology to feel much more realistic and dynamic than what we were used to seeing in the Doom engine. And the Build Engine was put through a workout with Duke Nukem 3D; the game launched with a series of levels filled with interactive elements and hidden secrets. The world of Duke Nukem felt alive and whole in a way that separated it from its competition. No other game of its time came close.
But these are things that made it a good game without giving it any attributes that would also make it a good movie. Duke Nukem himself was a caricature of the action stars of the time, and spouted quotes from well-known B-movies. And that’s kind of the whole problem.
Duke Nukem 3D was a brilliant game when it came to its technology, level design and use of interesting weapons, but the trappings of that game came from the movies. Duke Nukem 3D never really got around to creating its own identity outside of those references, and that’s a big problem if the game is going to become a movie of its own. We love Duke Nukem for reasons that have nothing to do with the story or, I would argue, even the character.
Nathan Drake and Lara Croft were both heavily influenced by Indiana Jones and, well, Indiana Jones, but those characters created a mythology and a world that exists just as well away from the games. We know who they are and we care about what they go through. Duke Nukem never really created the same framework, nor did it ever have to. How do you write a movie where the lead character’s best lines were already taken directly from movies?
That’s why the modern remake was such a flop; the character doesn’t hold up when compared to the worlds and stories of modern games. Duke himself starred in a game where his inspirations were propped up by technical achievement and design brilliance. Take that away and he’s just a big guy quoting someone else and waving money at women.
Yeah, that script is going to go over well in 2018.
The idea of Duke Nukem dropping a bit of the sexism and coming back as a silly throwback to the R-rated action films of the 80s and 90s played with a completely straight face has promise, but creating a movie based on a game that was inspired by movies is more masturbatory than creative. It’s unlikely the studio is going to OK an R-rating on a movie that will be seen as a product aimed at kids and teenagers ... even if that audience barely knows who Duke Nukem is.
That’s fine for a game that’s basically a nostalgia act these days, but it gives us no reason to be excited about a movie adaptation.