These modders are reconstructing the Duke Nukem Forever of the Good Timeline

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A group on ModDB is attempting to finish the in-progress build of Duke Nukem Forever that leaked online back in May. The DNF2001 Restoration Project team is taking the bones of that mythical 2001 build and filling in the gaps, extrapolating its story and direction while also looking to make it playable from start to finish with minimal hassle. The team recently released a “first slice” teaser trailer of their work so far, featuring previously unused DNF trailer music by Lee Jackson, a retired 3D Realms composer who wrote Duke’s iconic theme, Grabbag.

Duke Nukem Forever has long been the shorthand for a troubled development cycle, with multiple reboots and years of silence culminating in an underwhelming Xbox 360 shooter. It didn’t have to be this way though⁠—Duke Nukem Forever’s E3 2001 trailer long remained a glimpse at what could have been.

Maybe it’s just the nostalgia talking, you say, or the enticing draw of the road not travelled, but when I saw the gameplay of that leaked ’01 build, I couldn’t help but think “Wait, this looks rad as hell.” I was really tickled by the protracted “Duke on a Late Night Talk Show” bit whose dialogue remains in the game in text form, an idea that was only briefly touched on in the 2011 game. The FPS action looks great too, with more sprawling levels and Boomer Shootery gunplay than the final release. As Gloomwood creator Dillon Rogers pointed out, Duke Nukem Forever ’01 might be right at home in the thriving retro shooter scene of 2022.

While extensive, the leaked DNF build is not yet a cohesive game, and still needs quite a bit of TLC to be playable from start to finish. According to the team, most of the work thus far has been on reconstructing the game’s first chapter, with a visual comparison video showing off the changes they’ve made to the Las Vegas chapter. The team is also working on streamlining the engine and renderer in the hopes of having something that plays well with modern hardware.

The DNF2001 RP team is also working on an “all-new story” for the game, one that can “bridge the gaps between what we know about the game and what we don’t.” That said, they’re endeavoring to keep everything period-accurate to this pre-2003 vision of Duke. I’m reminded of the essential Sith Lords Restored Content Modification for Knights of the Old Republic 2, or the Plus Patch for Vampire: the Masquerade⁠—Bloodlines: a bit of interpretive work is required when trying to reconstruct unused content like this.

I’m really excited for this project, and while it definitely won’t be the retro shooter of 2022, perhaps the Duke curse is lifted and it will manage to be the retro shooter of 202X. The team has been sharing updates to YouTube and ModDB, and also has a community Discord. 

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