Despite years of creative neglect, Duke Nukem remains a popular character among veteran gamers. As an unreconstructed 1980s-style action hero, he’s famed as much for his deadpan quips and visits to strip clubs as he is for fighting alien invasions.
On Wednesday, Randy Pitchford, chief executive of Gearbox Software, took to the stage at the Develop conference in Brighton and said he hoped there would be another Duke Nukem game. His company bought the classic first-person shooter brand in 2010 and then finished the long-stalled title Duke Nukem Forever – but it was savaged by the critics.
“I did not acquire the franchise merely to make sure we could all experience Duke Nukem Forever,” Pitchford said. “That was sort of the toll we had to pay.” He then explained that while Gearbox has carried out some concept development for the franchise, they’d need to work with the “correct developer” to make a new game.
So who would be the correct partner to really explore this macho iconoclast? The answer, of course, is an indie developer.
To help out the clearly very busy Gearbox team, we interviewed several candidates for the job. Here are our favourite pitches.
Simon Roth, Machine Studios (Maia)
I’d have Duke start off on a bus ride, because you’ve got to start every good first-person shooter on a tram. He’d be sat there reading 50 Shades of Grey, mumbling it to himself. This would be a 35-minute cut scene. Then you’d go into your job, where you’d be like, “I saved the world,” but no one would remember.
Then he’d be working at a check-out, and it would be like Papers, Please. Shoppers buy random stuff and you have to take their card and put it in the card reader, and then make sure their pin is correct, then hand them their receipt. Then you get shoplifters and aliens that you can shoot at. And then everyone has to go home because you’ve shot an alien.
Jay Baylis, Chucklefish Games (Starbound)
Duke Nukem is a relic of a bygone age – all his cultural references are outdated. You’d have to get rid of all his They Live and Terminator quotes and replace them with more modern things. He’d have to read books. He’d have to better himself.
He has to go on dates, but then he’ll reference 80s rom-coms and no one wants to hear about them anymore. He must learn to cook, probably, instead of shooting. He’ll get a job, something productive. Maybe he has to rise up from working in a shooting range, some really obnoxious job, and then he eventually ends up in the community helping out less able people. Maybe he works as a teacher by the end of it.
Then he goes back to his birth name, which is probably not Duke Nukem, it’s Nathaniel Esquire, and he’s from Shropshire. Duke was his nickname when he was 14 years old, and it stuck, and he never really outgrew it because he’s still, mentally, 14. It’s about Duke becoming a better person.
Jennifer Schneidereit, Nyamyam (Tengami)
One thing that I like about the Battlestar Galactica reboot is how Starbuck became a woman and it completely changed the dynamic between Starbuck and Apollo. Because Duke Nukem is so sexist and 1980s boys’ club, I think it would be really awesome if you created an Imperator Furiosa-style Lady Nukem and then made a game around her.
Will Porter, writer (Alien Isolation, Project Zomboid)
I’d do Austin Powers with it. I’d have a man out of time. I think it would really work. I’d keep the original way of having very key locations with the Doom-style locked doors thing, but every time you opened a door I’d change the environment. I’ve thought about this so much. As Austin Powers, it would really work, right? Everyone’s really embarrassed of him because he’s got these old 1990s-style opinions and attitudes. I just think Austin Powers would really work. It’d be great. Give it to me, Randy.
Sarah and James Woodrow, Utopian World of Sandwiches (Chompy Chomp Chomp)
In Duke Nukem 3D, when he walked into a room and was looking for something he used to go, “Uh, uh, where is it?”. That was really funny to us, so we’d just make him look for stuff all the time. We’d turn it into a first-person find’em-up.
Viki Johnson, A Little Red Panda (Princess to the Rescue)
I don’t know much about Duke Nukem, but it’s a lot of guns and a lot of manly men, so it would be quite nice for him to see the error of his ways and reject the whole persona of this big horrible manly stereotype, and help poor children. I think his statistics would work like that morality system in Fable. There’d be certain things he could do, helping out in his community, that would make him a better person. But if you wanted him to be evil, he could just go and kick some pigeons.
Alistair Aitcheson (Codex Bash, Dash & Bash)
For better or for worse, the one thing everyone remembers about Duke Nukem is the bit where he threw money at the pole dancers. So how about a physical game like Laser Quest where you’re running around a room but instead of firing lasers at each other you’re throwing digital Monopoly money, and every time some money hits you, you have to remove an item of clothing.
Sam Barlow (Her Story)
Duke Nukem goes into a Vegas strip club at 4am, and it’s kind of empty, and there’s only two strippers working. He throws some money at them. Then, because there’s no one else around, they sit down and they talk to him, and Duke sits there and he listens to this stripper talk about her life, why she’s stripping, her family back home and how they live a state away but she flies into Vegas for two weeks of the month to earn money, then she goes go back and looks after her kids.
Then after an hour of this conversation, of him just listening to the woman talk, she asks Duke about his life, and then it flips. It’s the first time anyone’s actually asked about him, and he’s forced to look inside himself and understand why he does these things, why he feels the need to kick ass, and it’s just a lovely moment that they share. He walks away from it feeling like he understands himself a little bit better, but the ending is kind of ambiguous. We see Duke leave the strip club and we don’t know what happens next.
Dan Pinchbeck, The Chinese Room (Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Dear Esther)
Make it funny. Duke Nukem was really funny to begin with. It was fucking hysterical. It wasn’t this ponderous, horrible, awful, cynical shitbag that it ended up being. In a similar way to the stuff they’ve hopefully gone back to with Doom 4, make it really, really fast, make it really funny, stick your tongue in your cheek as firmly as it’ll go, and just make something that’s just big and stupid and fast and fun, because that’s what it’s supposed to be.
The most fun I had in the remake of Duke Nukem was throwing actual shit at the wall. You picked up the shit and you threw it at the wall, and it made a stain, and then you did that a few more times. Then you went and played the game for a couple of hours and thought, “Actually, the most fun I had in this game was just throwing shit at a wall”. So we could just do that – Duke Nukem: Shit Wall Simulator.
James Parker, Ground Shatter (SkyScrappers)
The problem with Duke Nukem is that he is kind of a symbol of his day – of big, bold, stupid action heroes, which is not as acceptable as it once was. So now he would have to understand the context of kicking people through windows and exploding aliens, and he’d probably have to negotiate a lot more on their terms.
So I’d make a game where each of the aliens would come into Duke Nukem’s office, he would deal with the paperwork and decide whether they needed kicking in or not, and then every now and again he’d get to go on a team away day where he could really flex his muscles, do a load of shooting, and then he’d go back to the boring office job. Deep down, he would yearn for the days when he was shooting stuff indiscriminately.
Martin Darby, Strike Gamelabs
I’d get the entire cast of Downton Abbey involved in Duke Nukem. He could just go there on a retreat, and they would cook him meals. That’s it, you’ve got to run Downton Abbey for Duke Nukem. You’ve got to get him in good shape. He’s had a hell of a hard time. He’s just saved the world. Now it’s time to put his feet up and have the butler bring him a sherry.
This article was written by Jordan Erica Webber, for theguardian.com on Thursday 16th July 2015 12.29 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010