It wasn't supposed to be real. It was supposed to be imaginary. Vapor. Yet, Duke Nukem Forever, a game in development for over 13 years, is very real.
Studio 3DRealms first revealed that it was working in the game in 1997. That means that when development on this game started, Google hadn't even been founded yet. Think about it.
Other games have had abnormally long gestation periods. Take action title Too Human, which was originally slated for the original PlayStation. The game finally hit the Xbox 360 nearly a decade later.
What made Duke Nukem Forever was that it became shorthand for vaporware. 3DRealms worked on the game for such an extended period of time that the title became a joke, something to laugh and point at.
Countless studios have begun work on games that never see the light of day. More often than not, they pull the plug, depriving the world of games like stealth title StarCraft: Ghost.
What makes video game development unique is the length of time it takes to complete a project. In that regards, it is more similar to animation than, say, film. Often movie directors would like to make projects, but are unable to get the funding to shoot the pictures. Just because Martin Scorsese wants to make a bio of George Gershwin, doesn't mean he'll necessarily get the chance. Game studios, on the other hand, have the resources to toil away on projects for years as they are not dependent on securing actors or locations.
While Duke Nukem Forever was being worked on, a handful of Duke games were released to hold over fans while they waited forever for Forever to be finished. While 3DRealms were able to knock out Duke Nukem, Duke Nukem II and Duke Nukem 3D in relatively rapid succession, the studio hit a wall with Duke Nukem Forever. The studio said the game would be released "when it's done". But done it wasn't.
As the 1990s gave way to the new millennium, the titular American hero began to feel somewhat dated. Duke Nukem was a carry over from the macho action flicks of the 1980s and early 1990s.
And as time passed, 3D Realms would occasionally release promotional art or show new trailers. The game didn't look like it was being worked on, but constantly restarted. The design looked slightly different and 3DRealms appeared as though it wasn't able to settle on what it was going to do with the game. Compare the 1998 E3 trailer to the 2001 trailer and to the 2007 trailer.
Because so much time had passed, expectations unnaturally ran high. If the game was taking so long, it must be good. It was akin to the follow-up album from The Stone Roses, which was over 5 and-a-half years in the making. By the time it did come out, it felt as though younger and new bands had passed the Roses by. Likewise, in the time that Duke Nukem has been out, gaming has seen a wide array of action heros that range from Master Chief to Nathan Drake.
Duke Nukem Forever went through several publishers waiting patiently to release the title. That changed when Take-Two, who had been scheduled to publish it since 2001, launched a lawsuit against 3DRealms for its failure to publish the game — a lawsuit that was later settled out of court.
By 2009, 3DRealms had collapsed, and the development duties were later passed on to Gearbox Software, the studio best known for Borderlands and the Brothers in Arms series. Gearbox isn't a stranger to game development hell. The studio has been working on Aliens: Colonial Marines since 2006. The game was supposed to be out in 2010. It has not yet been released.
Regardless, a release date for Duke Nukem Forever has been set for 2011. But then again, we've heard that before. Several times.