Unreleased Duke Nukem Game Winds Up at Library of Congress

Were you one of the eleven people waiting for the Duke Nukem game that was supposed to come to the PlayStation Portable? Still bummed that it never came out? All hope is not lost. A disc containing the source code for Duke Nukem: Critical Mass was recently found in Washington, D.C. But getting at the guts of the thing was no easy task.

The Library of Congress gets about 400 video games a year, via the Copyright registration process. Most of those are games that come to the Library in their final published state. One nondescript DVD-R was different, though. It had the PSP version of Duke Nukem: Critical Mass on it, a game that publisher Apogee Software had talked up as part of a portable trilogy. A snippet of the game can be seen here:

After Gearbox took control of all things Duke Nukem, Apogee was supposedly going to release the game under another name but that re-titled creation apparently never came out. That game never came out. Here's processing technician David Gibson on the discovery:

Several months ago, while performing an inventory of recently acquired video games, I happened upon a DVD-R labeled Duke Nukem: Critical Mass (PSP). My first assumption was that the disc, like so many others we have received, was a DVD-R of gameplay. However, a line of text on the Copyright database record for the item intrigued me. It reads: Authorship: Entire video game; computer code; artwork; and music. I placed the disc into my computer's DVD drive to discover that the DVD-R did not contain video, but instead a file directory, including every asset used to make up the game in a wide variety of proprietary formats. Upon further research, I discovered that the Playstation Portable version of Duke Nukem: Critical Mass was never actually released commercially and was in fact a very different beast than the Nintendo DS version of the game which did see release. I realized then that in my computer was the source disc used to author the UMD for an unreleased PlayStation Portable game. I could feel the lump in my throat. I felt as though I had solved the wizard's riddle and unlocked the secret door.

It's really intriguing that Gibson had to turn to the findings from the PSP homebrew community—the hackers and experimenters who often found themselves at odds with Sony—to help him fully access the game code. But, file access doesn't necessary mean that they'll be allowed to reconstruct or run the game:

Providing access to the disc's content to researchers will, unfortunately, remain a challenge. As mentioned above, it was difficult enough for Library of Congress staff to view the proprietary formats found on the disc before seeking help from the homebrew community. The legal and logistical hurdles related to providing access to licensed software will continue to present themselves as we move forward but I hope that increased focus on the tremendous research value of such digital assets will allow for these items to be more accessible in the future. For now the assets and code will be stored in our digital archive at the Packard Campus in Culpeper and the physical disc will be stored in temperature-controlled vaults.

Given the courtroom throwdowns that the Duke Nukem franchise has been the subject of, it might be a long time before the code for Critical Mass PSP ever gets used for its intended purpose. But, once the legal radioactivity dies down, the Library of Congress will be ready.

Critical Mass did see a release on the 3DS DS, which you can see below:

I spoke to Gibson today and he had this to say about the Critical Mass anomaly that wound up at the Library: "The whole aim is to put this stuff out there to the dev community to help preserve their creations."