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Ebert Presents Exhibit A

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | January 26, 2011 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Industry | January 26, 2011 |

We don’t normally cover video games much unless Ebert decides to bring it or Uwe Boll purges another reel of film like a celluloid tape worm, but I thought that this deserved notice. Duke Nukem Forever has a ship date in May of this year.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Then, I’ll add the mandatory caveat that the game previously had ship dates off and on for the last 12 years. Then, I’ll explain what the hell Duke Nukem even is to anyone under twenty who may or may not have even heard of it.

In the heady days of the early and mid nineties, PC video gaming erupted with an interesting business model by the folks who ended up making such legendary titles as Doom, Quake, and many many others. The bottom line was that these teams of a couple programmers would code games in their garage and release the first chunk of the game as shareware (meaning you could play it for free, pass it around, etc.). But to play any further, one had to purchase the entire game. It was in many ways the start of what became “demos.” One of the seminal games of that era was Duke Nukem, which was equal parts action and raunchy humor, and packed with homages to sci-fi action movies, like a 16 bit version of “Community’s” Modern Warfare. That spawned Duke Nukem II and then Duke Nukem 3D.

The titular character was a cross between Ash from Evil Dead (the cover image of Duke Nukem 3D is an obvious take on the movie poster from Army of Darkness) and various Ahnold characters. There was swearing, nudity, and an endless series of catch phrases that were mostly movie references.

When it was announced that Duke Nukem Forever would be released in 1998, it was assumed that it would be one of the biggest video games ever released. And then the delays began. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say, the Wikipedia page for Duke Nukem Forever reads like the antithesis of The Social Network. A couple guys start at the bottom, reach the top, and then become the laughing stocks of an industry as they revise and revise and revise … for thirteen years.

Here’s the trailer:

I have waited almost half my life for this game, and this is what the end result is? A couple blurred out asses, painfully witless jokes, graphics that look no better than games from a decade ago? The problem isn’t simply that this looks bad; there are a hundred merely bad video games every year that don’t merit mention. The real problem isn’t even the puerility of the entire thing, the reveling in juvenile idiocy that most eleven year olds are too mature to find endearing. No, the real tragedy is the sheer waste of the endeavor. When someone burns effectively unlimited resources and 13 years of their life on endless revisions, burning businesses down around themselves as they work towards their vision, pardon me if I have elevated expectations. To see an end result fail, to not meet those nigh unattainable expectations might be disappointing, but this is different, this is infuriating. This is not even trying.

This trailer? This is exactly what Roger Ebert thinks video games are.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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