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Before Duke Nukem Was An Asshole, He Was a Simple Man

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In the latest Duke Nukem game, the titular star is an offensive asshole, much of his macho charm having given way over the past decade to dick jokes even young boys would struggle to find funny.

It wasn't always this way. Duke Nukem was once just your regular video game action hero.


Before the over-use of the word "fuck", tampon jokes, dildos, strippers and "trademark" dark sunglasses became what the world associates with 3D Realm's Great American Hero, he was the star of two simple platforming games that owe more to Mega Man than they do to, well, whatever broth constitutes the inspiration behind Duke Nukem as he is today.

In 1991, Duke Nukem made his debut in a self-titled platformer released by classic PC label Apogee Software, which would later go on to be known as 3D Realms. Part of a little "golden era" of PC platforming, which included other legends like id's Commander Keen and Epic's Jill of the Jungle, Duke Nukem was a crude if enjoyable 2D game which over three episodes saw the hero fight his way through a ruined city, moonbase and the future to put a stop to Dr. Proton and his army of killer robots.


Duke Nukem was followed two years later by Duke Nukem II, again a 2D platformer that while changing up the plot (Dr. Proton replaced by the evil alien race the Rigelatins) and improving the graphics kept most of the same gameplay elements in tact.

What's worth looking back on with these games isn't the fact they were a successful implementation of "shareware" (giving part of the game away for free then charging for the rest), or that they were surprisingly enjoyable platformers given the fact they were on PC. No, it's the fact that Duke Nukem was such a different character back then.

While he was definitely a walking parody of action movie heroes, and by the second game had developed some of the ego he displays in later games (the game opens with Duke having written a book called Why I'm So Great), so little of what we now associate with the character was there in the early 90's.

There were no dick jokes. No tit jokes. No dildos, no strippers and no condoms. Instead of gulping down steroids and beer, the original Duke simply drank soda to regain his health. Instead of slapping tits on the wall, he made jokes about...Oprah Winfrey. Most importantly, there were no sunglasses. There was just a man in a tanktop with guns, killing bad guys to save the human race.


This was a Duke from a simpler time, before the move to 3D that was many people's first introduction to the character. And I think, looking back on it, time has been much kinder to this "proto-Duke", with his more timeless gags, than the corny, immature quips of the character we know now from 3D and Forever (as well as the various PlayStation and N64 spinoffs).

If you've never played these two original Duke Nukem titles, the free shareware versions are available from 3D Realms' website. You can grab Duke Nukem here, and Duke Nukem II here.


FUN FACT: Some versions of the original game are called Duke Nukum, after fears of a lawsuit (which never eventuated) over a Captain Planet villain.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.