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Features That Made Duke 3D an Instant Classic

The other day I was sitting at my desk playing Half-Life, which is something I do from time to time. My mind started to wander and I got to thinking. What was it that made Duke 3D stand out? Even these days against newer, flashier games like Half-Life and Unreal, Duke holds a strong base that is still growing. I talked with a friend who runs a local software store and he says that the original Duke 3D sells more copies than Quake 2 does in a given month. What was it that made Duke so fundamentally different from it's competition that it's still selling extremely well today? I managed to boil it down to ten features that I thought had set it apart from the pack. These are the reasons I think that Duke 3D became a hit:

10. The Humour
Peppered throughout the game, there are tons of references poking fun at movies and pop culture. 3D Realms pulled no punches, sticking it to their competition with the doomed spacemarine' and "I ain't afraid of no Quake." The humour broke some of the tediousness when going through the singleplayer game and when playing dukematch. I haven't found a game that has the same quality since. Other games try to be funny, but end up just sounding corny. Making the game fun to play is something that I hope will carry over to Duke Nukem Forever, as it's a 3D Realms trademark.

9. The Levels
This is the first game I saw that successfully pulled off the feeling of a real-world environment. Most things were in proper proportions and the city of LA looked convincing. Dukeburger, Bankroll and Hollywood Holocaust are still some of my favourite levels in any game. 3D Realms managed to include a wide variety of settings for levels such as a prison, space stations, a nuclear power plant and a movie studio. They were always challenging, but never without leaving the player having no idea where to go. While the game had few dukematch only levels, the singleplayer maps facilitated multiplayer perfectly; something you don't see much in games these days.

8. The Soundtrack
There are few games that have a theme song as memorable as Duke's. They're even bringing it back for Duke Nukem Forever. Not many game series have a reoccurring theme song. All you have to do is hum a few notes and people recognise it instantly. As for the in-game music, while underrated by most, it really helped to set to mood for the level. Go play Fahrenheit, It's Impossible or Babe Land if you don't believe me. At the time, the sound FX were the sweetest thing I ever heard. Explosions had base to them, the way Pipebombs clinked on the ground, the sizzle of the Expander and the "tinkle" of glass when you smashed a frozen victim. It all added to the "immersiveness" of the game.

7. The Plot
Ok, so there wasn't much of a plot compared to today's games, but compared to Doom or Quake it ruled. The story unfolded while you played as you found out why the aliens were kidnapping Earth's women and then the babes' ultimate fate. The game had a fitting end and not just some stupid screen that said The End.' It had twists and turns and left me wanting to know what was coming up next. It took me totally by surprise when Duke's sub sank, the level he ended up on Old Sparky' and what he ended up doing to the episode two boss. Word is out that 3D Realms has got a Hollywood script writer to help them round out the story for DNF, so I expect nothing but the best this time around.

6. A Lead Character
For once we had a real character with a name and a history to guide in a quest. Other FPS's didn't even bother with this and when they did, it was just as a formality. Most companies have concluded that it's more fun to play the roll of a character than to control a nameless grunt, but a lot of games still don't do this. Gordon Freeman could have been anyone, since there was nothing to distinguish him from any other FPS game hero other than that they bothered to come up with a name. He never talked, expressed himself or even showed that he had a personality. The only thing we know about the Unreal guy was that he is a prisoner. They never even mentioned his name, what he was in jail for, or if he was even guilty or not. On the other hand, Duke was a fleshed out, three dimensional character. He was a somewhat egotistical tough-guy action hero type who had a pension for cigars, guns and loose women. Who wouldn't want to take on this roll?

5. The Strippers
Well, not just the strippers but the whole adult edge the game had. Duke swore, the game was violent and had an air of controversy. They commented on the O.J. Simpson affair, poked fun at abortion and let us explore LA's own Red Light District. Other games wouldn't even touch that kind of thing. Duke 3D raised the bar above goofy shooters like Doom with Pink demons and (compared to today)squeaky clean gameplay. Duke appealed to an older audience and even merited a strong RSAC advisory. Let's hope that Duke Forever is as edgy for these times as Duke 3D was back then.

4. The Build editor
This was one of the few games that came packed with the tools used to make it. To top it off, they were easy to use. Within a few minutes of playing with them, you could have a basic level going. The scripting language of the CON files led to a wide variety of modifications in gameplay and let the user tweak lots of game settings. I spent many hours creating fiendish dukematch levels and challenging singleplayer missions with these tools. Their ease of use spawned thousands of TC's, CON hacks and addons; thus extending the already long life of playability the game had.

3. Interactivity
Duke offered unparalleled interactivity. You could interact with everything in this game. You could break lights and the room would go dark. Smash a fire hydrant and water sprayed into the air. Working movie projectors, telephones, water fountains, and poll tables could be found around the game and players could launch rockets or blow up buildings to their hearts content. The game to surpass Duke in terms of interaction was Shadow Warrior, which was also made by 3D Realms.

2. Duke's Arsenal
Duke 3D had the best arsenal of any FPS. It was the perfect balance of real world and sci-fi weapons that made it fly. All the weapons were balanced and each one had good and bad attributes. Every one was useful in dukematch and games were seldom won because someone got the biggest gun first. The sheer originality of the Shrinker and the Freezer added a new wrinkle to multiplay. With the advent of Tripbombs and Pipebombs, players could now set traps and add some strategy to the frantic pace of a dukematch. Jetpacks let players have in-air dog fights and holodukes became the tool of choice for many gamers.

1. Duke's Attitude
This is what made duke stand out the most. Duke was a badass. It's that simple. He blasted the aliens to chunky gibs while spouting a tough-guy one liner. I can't think of another video game hero with the same can-do attitude and well timed sense of humour as Duke. He was bad tempered, chauvinistic and a self absorbed, but he still managed to repeatedly save the world from any threat. You could accuse him of being a bad influence on kids, but he'd probably blow you away with an RPG first. It's the fact the Duke is so un-PC that makes him stand out.

These were just some of the things that made Duke Nukem 3D as cool as it was (and still is). I know there are tons of other factors and everybody has their own opinions, this article is just mine. This brings me to my question: What do you think was the *worst* part about Duke 3D? What's the feature you hated? Post your response on the Planet Nukem Forum, or e-mail to the address below. Some replies will be posted in a future article when we get enough good responses, so be sure to write some responses.

- Article by: Maveric

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