Gearbox is suing 3D Realms parent company Apogee Software for a breach of contract in regard to ownership of the Duke Nukem franchise, according to a lawsuit filed last Friday. This is just the latest in a series of Duke-related legal complaints stretching back over a decade, and at this point, I can’t help but wonder if the time-worn series is even worth the headache.
According to reporting by Digital Trends, Gearbox was supposed to obtain Duke Nukem “free and clear” of any copyright infringement when it bought the franchise from Apogee Software in 2010. But a recent lawsuit brought against Gearbox by original composer Bobby Prince after the release of Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour showed that there were still unresolved liabilities. Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford told Digital Trends that his company was forced to file this latest complaint after Apogee failed to settle with Prince and denied a request that would have absolved Gearbox of responsibility.
When it comes to legacy, Duke Nukem is right up there with Doom and Half-Life for the way in which it pushed the first-person shooter genre forward in its time. Duke Nukem 3D, for all the outdated humour and attitude, is fondly remembered as one of the greatest first-person shooters of the ‘90s. Sadly, that legacy now revolves around litigious potshots and 2011’s Duke Nukem Forever, an “abysmal” continuation of the franchise that failed both critically and financially.
Look, I understand nostalgia. But what do we really lose if Duke Nukem just fades away? Even as a parody of action heroes of the era, Duke Nukem the character — a brash arsehole who revels in misogyny and toxic masculinity — just doesn’t work anymore. He’s essentially the president of the United States if Ben Garrison comics reflected real life in any way. And from a gameplay perspective, I just don’t see what Duke Nukem, both the classic games and any future abominations Gearbox might produce, could possibly bring to an already-crowded ecosystem.
By setting the stage for first-person shooters to come, the series has essentially contributed to its own death. The genre has expanded and evolved in such a way that the advances made by Duke Nukem 3D in characterization, sound design, and interactable environments seem paltry. I have nothing but respect for the original developers, all of whom contributed so much to video games in general, but it’s hard to imagine what a new Duke Nukem game might bring to the table other than a brand of sophomoric frat-bro humour that society has mostly left behind..
While I do think there are avenues to reviving Duke Nukem for the modern era, both in terms of its humour and gameplay, that would require levels of grace and ingenuity that Gearbox hasn’t been known to possess. Pitchford told Digital Trends that Gearbox’s recent complaint is more about “goodwill” than any minimal profit the Duke Nukem franchise might bring in these days. If the owner of the property recognises that there isn’t much to gain from putting Duke Nukem on life support, it might finally be time for everyone else to let him go to that great strip club in the sky, too.