The version of Duke Nukem Forever showcased at E3 in 2001 is connected to one of the most notorious development hell stories in the history of the industry—which culminated, after 15 years of development, in a 2011 game with a design and tone that felt woefully out of contact. But interest in the game’s very long development endures, and it seems that the die-hard Duke community will eventually get their hands on that long-lost E3 build of the title.
Via Duke4.net, a leaker going by the name ‘x0r’ uploaded pictures and gameplay footage to 4Chan, claiming that they were from the E3 2001 build of Duke Nukem Forever. Since the leak George Broussard, Duke Nukem creator, and lead project manager for most of Forever’s development, has confirmed on Twitter that the footage is indeed real, though also says he’s not particularly keen to drudge up memories of the game’s messy development:
Yes, the leak looks real. No, I’m not really interested in talking about it or retreading a painful past. You should heavily temper expectations. There is no real game to play. Just a smattering of barely populated test levels. I have no knowledge who leaked this.
— George Broussard (@georgebsocial) May 9, 2022
Looking at the footage, the game looks solid, if kind of uninspired. The most comprehensive clip shows Duke blasting his way through a strip club, shooting what appear to be SWAT officers and gun turrets. My question from this is: where are all the pig cops and other fun aliens? It looks like some kind of squiggly tentacle things burst from the dead SWATsters—suggesting that they’re probably alien-possessed in some way – but it doesn’t look nearly as vibrant or playful as the legendary Duke Nukem 3D.
Another notable feature is that Duke has an ‘Ego’ meter that fills upon killing enemies, which seems to function slightly differently from the shield-replacement Ego meter in the 2011 version. A few more gameplay clips have since appeared on YouTube, showing Duke driving a motorcycle through a tunnel as well as a showcase of the weapons in the game.
The leaker reaffirms Broussard’s statement that the build they got their hands on is very much unfinished, but adds that “almost every chapter is present in some form. A huge chunk is playable, a huge chunk is block-outs with no enemies.” X0r says that they plan to release the source code and editor for the build-in June.
So it looks like the Duke is making a comeback (of sorts), and as a fan of his early work, I’m intrigued. The whole Duke character—with his outmoded stylings and nostalgic appeal—seems better suited to the mod scene rather than mainstream, and it’ll be interesting if the release of this build can give him a bit of an underground revival. This build may end up being “just a smattering of barely populated test levels”, as Broussard puts it, but it is also nothing less than the Holy Grail for Nukem fans—who really have been waiting forever.