Once was, 3D Realms was associated with some of the biggest names in the business, particularly the shareware side. Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Crystal Caves, and, of course, Duke Nukem 3D were all developed or published in partnership with the company. id Software of DOOM fame collaborated with them on their earliest projects before breaking away, and Realms’ partnership with then-powerful Apogee Software made it a force to be reckoned with.
The true “force,” though, was the mighty Build Engine, developed by wiz kid Ken Silverman and first introduced in Duke3D. Unlike the DOOM engine, the then reigning champ of first person, Build allowed players to look up and down and – more importantly – created the illusion that player action could affect and deform the environment in-game. Thus it was possible to blow up buildings and watch them tumble, experience an earthquake, and much more. Build was hugely popular, powering more than a dozen games in the mid-nineties.
Duke3D, reviled by many for fairly overt sexism and crude toilet humor, was nonetheless an exceptional first person shooter, one which captivated a generation of players still entranced by the FPS format. The announcement of Duke Nukem Forever in 1997 was a no-brainer at the time. But as the years went by, technologies came and went and Duke Forever seemed less and less likely to see the light of day.
Perhaps more significantly, Duke himself seemed less relevant in the post-Balkans, post-9/11 era. The ripped, sexist, Busch Lite-drinking, stripper-watching Rambo type had given way in American hero culture, replaced by more cerebral action heroes. That Duke was so effortlessly ridiculed in the Serious Sam games seemed to me a perfect sign of the character’s impactlessness.
But production continued, for a dozen years since announcement, until yesterday. Rumors floating around the net are conflicting, and there may be an eleventh hour save, but for right now, folks, it’s the end of the line.