Duke Nukem Forever is infamous among PC gamers of a certain age for its long and tortured development cycle. Fifteen years passed between the release of Duke Nukem 3D in 1996 and the eventual release of Forever in 2011, and in that time the game went through many permutations and development teams.
Earlier this year, a 4chan leaker called x0r_jmp leaked a 3D build of the game from circa 2001 (we played it). This week, the same leaker has shared an even older piece of the puzzle: a playable version of a 1996-era 2D iteration of Duke Nukem Forever. Screenshots and gameplay video show a game that looks a lot like the first two 2D Duke Nukem games, but with an updated visual style that tosses pixel art in favor of trendy 3D rendering.
This is the first time that a playable version of this game has been available, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen the 2D version of DNF. Scott Miller, founder of original Duke Nukem developer Apogee Software, ran an interview with developer Darrin Hurd back in August that talked about the origins of the 2D version of Duke Nukem Forever. (This interview, as well as the included screenshots, would seem to confirm this leak’s authenticity.)
Hurd says that the game’s look came from rendering Duke Nukem 3D as 2D sprites, which would explain why the game more closely resembles 1994’s Donkey Kong Country than the pixel art of the original Duke Nukem games. He also explained how the Duke Nukem Forever project got its name; perhaps unsurprisingly for anyone familiar with Duke Nukem‘s comedic stylings, it involves a boob joke.
“It was originally a bit of a pun,” Hurd said. “The main protagonist in our [first] game [for Apogee] was a female Russian soldier called Eva… So when we as a group were coming up with a name, we thought it would be funny if Duke fell for Eva and her massive assets, and given this was the 4th installation of Duke, the name “Duke Nukem 4 Eva” was born. Over time the 4Eva eventually transformed to Forever.”
Hurd said that the 2D version of Duke Nukem Forever was canceled mainly because of the rising popularity of 3D games, including Duke Nukem 3D. It might be hard to believe given the success of 2D games like Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy, Cuphead, and Hollow Knight, but in the mid-to-late-90s PC Games like Quake and 3D-capable home consoles like the first PlayStation and Nintendo 64 created a clear separation: 3D was the wave of the future, and 2D games were relics of the past.
Neither leaked version of DNF has much at all to do with the version that Gearbox Software eventually released to brutal reviews in 2011. But taken all together, the three versions of the game do make one thing clear: Duke Nukem Forever has much more entertainment value as a story than it does as a video game.
Listing image by Apogee Enterprises