So, Gearbox has made a start on a new Duke Nukem game, and Randy Pitchford wants a co-developer. Given that Duke Nukem Forever was made over the course of 10 years by four separate teams, at the cost of millions of dollars, billions of salty sadness tears and one series' reputation, it could be a hard sell to even the most avaricious dev.
Which is where I come in. I'm here to suggest a few choice developers who could make something truly special (and that absolutely doesn't mean "good") with the Duke Nukem license - and explain what the pitfalls might be along the way. With any luck, I'll inspire both you and the developers involved to think about what could come out of such match-ups, and we'll see a new game that doesn't make you think of the smell of human gas when you hear the term 'vapourware'.
Flying Wild Hog (Shadow Warrior, Hard Reset)
Why it could work: The "big three" on the fabled Build Engine were Duke Nukem 3D, Blood (more on that one later) and Shadow Warrior. While Duke became a parody of himself and game development in general, this Polish Studio took the latter and polished it up for a new generation. By keeping the streamlined, gameplay-first spirit, removing all of (OK, most of) the racism and popping in some modern ideas, they made a worthy successor to a much-missed oldie. It's a trick that'd work just as well for Nukem - just swap excising xenophobia for misogyny, swordplay for gun trickery and dick jokes for... well no, keep all the dick jokes.
What could go wrong: FWH's focus on all-action gameplay might lead it to ignore the genuinely excellent level design of Duke 3D, its love of secrets and interactive set pieces. Or the studio could go mad and make the entire game a self-reflexive joke about its own name, given that flying, wild hogs are actual enemies in the Nukem-verse.
MachineGames (Wolfenstein: The New Order)
Why it could work: On first glance, this just looks like another Flying Wild Hog old game update - but the Swedish dev team took their ancient franchise in a very different direction. Some (me) would argue that much of The New Order's gunplay wasn't actually up to much, but there's no arguing that its storyline took what was originally a retro-futurist joke and turned it into something compelling, emotional and deeply disturbing by turns. Give me a Duke Nukem game that performs the same trick, and I'll call you a genius.
What could go wrong: That last bit proves physically, philosophically and hilariously impossible. Contractually locked into the struggle to make Duke anything but a swaggering machismo hydrant, MachineGames' staff barricade themselves in their offices, eventually going mad. When police finally break in, all they find is a single, dusty monitor, endlessly playing a video of a beautifully-rendered Nukem saying "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn" and laughing horribly.
Monolith Productions (Blood, Condemned, Shadow of Mordor)
Why it could work: The likes of Strafe prove that there's a genuine interest in seeing new games use old visual techniques - so why not use the original Build Engine to make a whole new game? And if you're going to do that, why not use the people who knew how to use it in the first place. Monolith's always been an underground hitmaker, and Blood was one of its earliest successes - a grottier, weirder game than Duke Nukem, but necessarily similar in approach. If you want something truly authentic, give it to these guys.
What could go wrong: Driven wild by the ability to mess with the superstar that made Blood a second-tier game back in the day, Monolith makes the worst Build game of all time. Even worse that William Shatner's Tekwar.
id Software (Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein)
Why it could work: If you're going to go old-school, you do it with the best. The new Doom is so back-to-basics that it's literally reusing the original's name, not to mention its ideas about weapon inventories, health systems and gibberish plotlines. It rejects most new-fangled ideas of how a shooter should work, simply because it doesn't want to be new. Frankly, it's so authentic that I'm surprised it's not a total arse-ache to aim along the Y-axis. After Duke Nukem Forever's stinking gumbo of old and new gameplay elements, some proper focus is precisely what the series needs.
What could go wrong: Still owing a favour to John Carmack, id announces that Duke Nukem will be VR-only. After years of testing, it becomes clear that the only thing people enjoy about the experience of looking through Duke's eyes is going for a piss. The game becomes Duke Nukem: Lava-tory, a game about micturating in increasingly dangerous situations, the finale being you extinguishing an active volcano through sheer force of bladder ejection. Entire hundreds of excited gamers wet themselves on day one.
Insomniac (Sunset Overdrive, Ratchet and Clank)
Why it could work: Ted Price and his crew have been making self-consciously kitsch games involving aliens, ludicrous weaponry and occasional swearing for many years now. This is just a natural fit. Expand Duke Nukem 3D's opening level into a city-wide playground, pepper it with dumb '90s references and smother the whole thing in a fabulous butt-rock soundtrack. This is the stuff really stupid dreams are made of.
What could go wrong: Everyone remembers that the '90s were awful, the latest hipster mores become a celebration of the austere browns and greys of the 1910s, and Duke's hypercolour/MTV Real World/Crystal Pepsi/Gen X jokes end up looking exactly as heartfelt and unironic as they were in the original games. We all sigh, and continue using our antique spinning wheels to knit the newest band logos.
Ubisoft Montreal (Far Cry, Prince of Persia)
Why it could work: Did you play Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon? The ludicrous spin-off managed to balance knowing bro reference humour with a neon-spattered take on open-world stealth-combat. It's a spitballed idea that snowballed into a full project and came out as a game in which balls were occasionally the topic of discussion. Michael Biehn's Rex quipped constantly and badly while acting out a cheesy sci-fi plot worthy of the worst off-brand Hollywood had to offer. It's practically a Duke Nukem game already.
What could go wrong: A mistake's made on a memo and Ubisoft accidentally take a Far Cry 2 direction instead. The new Nukem becomes a plaintive metaphor for the folly of violence and the impermanence of fashionable haircuts. We watch as a nuclear blast turns LA into the desert it has always threatened to be, and Duke stumbles around with a single, half-loaded revolver. In an irritating gameplay twist, Duke is going bald, and peroxide blonde wisps will occasionally float down your field of view - at which point you must stop completely and jam scavenged hair plugs into your scalp, moaning all the while.
Quantic Dream (Beyond: Two Souls, Heavy Rain)
Why it could work: Do you know what's more interesting than Duke Nukem Forever? The making of Duke Nukem Forever. And do you know who'd love to make a game that knows it's a game about a game? David Cage. I present to you Duke Nukem Forever: Forever, an existential interactive love story set over the course of the game's development. Starring a depressed 3D Realms UI Artist and a surprisingly sentient wireframe of Duke, all they want is a finished game, and each other. And to laugh at the misfortune of women.
What could go wrong: Literally everything I just wrote.
Whoever makes Clash of Clans (probably some other games that make children spend others' money)
Why it could work: We've already seen Devolver port Duke Nukem 3D to modern devices, but it simply wasn't greedy enough. That game is rife with opportunities to squeeze money out of players. The adult theatre screen you can blow up in 'Hollywood Holocaust'? It plays adverts for Chillingo games. Every time Duke flashes the cash to see a flash of pixelated stripper-boob? Real money microtransaction. That boss Duke kills and then takes a dump on? It's a white Angry Bird. Winner.
What could go wrong: Nothing - this is a solid gold cash cow with a thousand, sparkling coin-udders.
Phil Fish (Fez)
Why it could work: This would be the story of the century. Phil Fish returns to Twitter to write a single message: "FEZ SEQUEL. OUT NEXT WEEK". After days of speculative list features not unlike this one, everyone downloads the mysterious game, whether to enjoy or mock, play through or pillory - and finds out it's a level-for-level remake of the original Duke Nukem platformer, except every pick-up in the game contains a different hieroglyph. When translated and read backwards, it forms a compelling mystery novel, except the twist - revealed in the final sentence - is missing. A year later, Fish logs into Twitter once more, simply to write "SUCKAS".
What could go wrong: I actually think Phil Fish could make a pretty interesting Duke Nukem platformer if he wanted to, combining the mechanical ingenuity he clearly has a flair for with the furious, intelligent persona he uses to distance himself from the industry. The problem is that no one would talk about it, because they'd all be too busy discussing Phil Fish.
Harper Lee and Axl Rose (N/A)
Why it could work: The problem with Duke Nukem Forever wasn't really the game itself. The problem was that it was many games, by many people, pushed into a too-small mould and sold to recoup the losses from several failed projects. What Duke Nukem needs is project managers, people who know how to cope with creative work that requires a long gestation. Who better than the novelist who took 55 years to release a second book, and the musician who took 15 to make something new that I guess we can call music? A steady ship is all Duke needs to come back strong.
What could go wrong: It turns out that the reclusive Lee is a total rager, sending a vulnerable Rose back down the rabbithole of drink and drugs. A new Duke Nukem comes out 34 years later, but is released three console generations behind contemporary standards, and plays like hot ass.
Me, Joe Skrebels, funster critic
Why it could work: Just look at this list! I'm positively brimming with ideas.
What could go wrong: Everything. I'm not a game developer, and I've never claimed to be. I can't code, draw, spell, cook or make papier mache. Does that make me qualified to talk about industry matters in such lengthy and occasionally disrespectfully flippant terms? Honestly, I don't know. Look, let's not turn this into a treatise on criticism; the relationship between artist, commentator and consumer is at best fraught and at worst grotesquely tangled, and you and I simply don't have the time to go into it.
Does that invalidate everything you read, every thought, joke and throwback observation in this piece? Hey, I'll let you decide. I'm just a man in his bedroom, watching my waistline and the time go by as I try to make sense of the endless Niagara churn of Internet news, try desperately to shape the info-clay into something you and I can connect over, agree on, discuss and share. Isn't that why we're here now, my thoughts touching yours, but separate in time? To share? Isn't that why we play games? To share experiences, with people real and imagined. To make sense of our space in the world and that of those around us?
Look, all I'm saying is that I'm doing my best, and that the idea of a Frenchman falling in love with Duke Nukem is pretty funny. Goodbye.