Duke Nukem Forever: A life in trailers

A look back at the videos that teased the longest-awaited disappointment in videogame history

The long and frustrating saga of Duke Nukem Forever came to a sad close last Wednesday, when developer 3D Realms closed its doors after some 12 years of working on the still-unfinished game. Ironically, Duke’s demise has shown us more of the game than we’ve ever seen before, as a ton of screens and a new gameplay video have since been leaked online by former 3D Realms employees.

Above: Clichéd mineshaft aside, this actually doesn't look half bad

With the game officially dead (for now) and its secrets laid bare for the internet to pick over, it seems like as good a time as any to look back at how far the game has come since its announcement in 1997. Beginning with DNF’s first trailer in 1998 and ending with the leaked footage, the following videos are a chronicle of one of the videogame industry’s most enduring and overwrought fiascos.


1998 – E3 trailer

Duke Nukem Forever’s first trailer since its 1997 announcement was impressive, especially for its time. The realistic physics on display were a rarity for 1998, and the idea of being able to actually blast levels apart was damn near revolutionary . Sadly, it wouldn’t be by the time 3D Realms unveiled its next trailer.


2001 – Second E3 trailer

In the three years since it gave fans their first taste of the game, 3D Realms had gone back to the drawing board and remade DNF practically from scratch. But no matter. The game still looked great, and the working vending machines, cool-looking vehicles and promise of an awesome sense of scale made us all eager to play in Duke’s world. Too bad we wouldn’t see it again until…


2008 – Third E3 trailer

Really? The next Duke trailer didn’t come out for another seven years? Not that it really mattered by this point; since 2001, Duke Nukem Forever had gone from an eagerly awaited dream project to an industry joke. When the 2008 trailer hit, its jump-cuts and overall lack of substance were all the ammunition the internet needed to make fun of it. Rumors circulated that 3D Realms never actually intended to produce a game at all. Duke was, by this point, a relic whose time had passed. And everyone seemed to realize it except for 3D Realms.


May 2009 – Leaked trailer

Released only after 3D Realms had finally closed its doors, the above footage gave us our first - and probably last - real look at Duke Nukem Forever in eight years. While unfinished, it's not unimpressive, and watching it makes reports that the game was about a year away from release suddenly seem believable. The vehicles that lit up previous trailers are absent (although the screens reveal that there would have been a least a few driving levels), but in their place is what looks to be a fun FPS in the goofy spirit of Duke Nukem 3D. It's enough to make us a little sad about the game's demise, and after 12 years of pent-up bitterness, that comes as a shock.

That said, it may be a little too early to close the book on Duke Nukem Forever completely. Take-Two still owns the publishing rights, after all, and it's possible the half-finished game could be handed over to another developer for completion. (Never mind the rumors that the "closure" and subsequent leak are actually a publicity stunt to drum up support fot the game.) It might take a while, but then, Duke Nukem fans are used to waiting.

May 12, 2009


After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.