“Damn! Those alien bastards are gonna pay for shooting up my ride!” With those words, 3D Realms laid into the FPS genre with gusto. Bringing Apogee’s 2D side-scrolling, planet-saving hero into the third dimension to compete with the likes of Doom was no easy task considering the whole internet was ablaze with talk of iD software’s forthcoming tour-de-force Quake. Having neither the financial or star powers to go head-to-head with John Carmack’s juggernaut, executive producer George Broussard, designer Alan H. Blume III and lead programmer Todd Replogle struck at the one weakness they saw in the FPS genre’s armor: a lack of main characters with any character. It’s time to make memories and chew bubblegum…and we’re all out of bubblegum.
Doom; Doom II; Quake; Wolfenstein 3D; Rise of the Triad; every one of these games had one thing in common–they all took themselves extremely seriously despite premises that were ludicrous. A lone Marine on Mars punching out demons? One guy single-handedly bringing down the Nazi war machine? A group of mercenaries attacking an old monastery on an island inhabited by warrior monks? There was room for some fun-poking there, and the 3D Realms team tore open that hole like I ripped into last night’s pizza. Duke marauds his way through the alien bastards who shot up his ride in locations all over Earth, starting with the red-light district in future Los Angeles and ending in a showdown with the alien overlord in a deserted football arena after a brief trip to outer space. He splatters foes in a maximum-security prison, a strip club, a submarine, a satellite orbiting the earth, and even a sushi joint–the guy can’t break for lunch without some (literal) Pig Cops harassing him. But none of this would be even remotely amusing or memorable if Duke himself had no personality. Enter voice actor Jon St. John, a veteran disc jockey and radio personality, who took to the role with zeal.
Thanks to St. John, Duke’s voice drips with the perfect level of machismo and sarcastic bad-assery. Clint Eastwood’s gravelly growl mixed with the self-centered and self-deprecating wit of Ash from The Evil Dead is exactly what a muscle-bound action hero who isn’t of Austrian descent should sound like. Of course he thinks the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is a convenience store: he’s Duke Nukem, bitch!
Duke’s inaugural 3D outing included only three missions, but thanks to a bevy of official expansion packs and thousands of user-created levels, the only limit to Duke’s alien-stomping, trash-talking rampage is the amount of space available on a user’s hard drive. He’s waded through a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C. to rescue the president, traveled to the North Pole to save Santa Claus, made the Caribbean safe for vacationing women everywhere…if gamers could dream it, Duke probably did it in his quest to give an enema to the all-too-serious FPS genre in the late 90s. Modern gamers looking for a great nostalgia trip can grab up the Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition for PC, Xbox, and PlayStation, which comes with the whole 4-mission original game and three official expansion packs along with a nice graphical upgrade for play on current systems thanks to Devolver Digital. It’s a mere ten bucks, so smash open your piggy bank and fork over the dough. (What are you waitin’ for, Christmas?) But that wouldn’t be possible without the release of the original DOS shareware, version 1.3d, of Duke Nukem 3D in 1996 today…in retro gaming history.
Duke’s 3D adventure also made its way onto the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, as you can see in this nice ad spread from the pages of EGM back in the day. One page just wasn’t enough to showcase Duke in all his ass-kicking, gun-toting glory.