Wired.com created the Vaporware Awards many years ago to honor products that were hyped, promoted and promised but never released. Tech and gaming companies love to throw smoke and mirrors in our faces and make us think that barely begun (or simply imaginary) products are humming along quite smoothly; the Vaporware Awards attempt to cut through the spin.
Duke Nukem Forever was mentioned in our Vaporware Awards 12 times as the developers of the first-person shooter let years upon years go by without shipping the game.
Released Tuesday for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t live up to the years of hype. But simply shipping the unshippable game should be counted as an accomplishment for 2K Games and Gearbox Software, which stepped in last year to get Duke back on track after the collapse of developer 3D Realms.
To mark the occasion, we thought we’d take a trip back through Duke’s history as Wired.com readers’ favorite vaporous punching bag.
Chronology of Vapor
Duke Nukem Forever was first mentioned in Wired.com’s Vaporware Awards in 1999. Ironically, it was mentioned as an entry that didn’t quite garner enough reader votes to merit a spot on the list. The fact that it was mentioned at all is telling of the state of game development at the time, however — at the turn of the century, two years was considered an excruciatingly long period of time for a game to be in development. Now it’s positively rigueur to announce a game and not ship it for that long.
By 2000, Duke’s delay had become long enough to get it a spot on the list, although it still came in at No. 2 behind Mac OS X.
“Duke Nukem Never? Duke Nukem Whenever? The jokes are endless,” wrote reader David Henkin. Good thing they were endless, as they would have to last quite a while.
“Given the apparent revolving door in 3DRealms’ developer ranks, it’s very possible that I will be nominating it again next year,” said reader James Hewett-Hicks.
He did in fact nominate it again next year, and so did a lot of people. In 2001, as the dot-com bubble was bursting and many promised projects were going belly-up, Duke Nukem Forever took its first (of many) No. 1 slots on the Vaporware Awards list.
Heirs to the Throne
With Duke Nukem’s reign at the top of the videogame vaporware charts over, which long-in-development games are vying to take his place?
Final Fantasy Versus XIII: Square Enix announced this action spinoff to its role-playing series five years ago at E3 in 2006. Work has progressed at a snail’s pace since then; there has never been a playable demo, and this year’s E3 went by without a mention of Versus.
The Last Guardian: Sony’s long-awaited follow-up to its artsy 2005 masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus has been in development hell since its announcement in 2009. Its winter 2011 release date has now been pushed back to sometime in 2012. Sony doesn’t want to rush out The Last Guardian, but at this rate it might be the last PlayStation 3 game ever.
Diablo III: Blizzard is notorious for only releasing games when they’re done, but the company sure does like teasing players until then. First announced in 2008, this dungeon RPG has yet to receive a release date.
Half-Life 2 Episode Three : Technically, Valve never announced this. But what exactly were we supposed to expect after episodes One and Two? The second in this series of mini-shooters ended with a cliffhanger back in 2007. Since then, Valve has produced several games that are not this one.
“This is the game I’m going to be telling my grandkids about waiting for — and then they’re going to tell me, ‘Yeah, we know. So are we,’” said reader Dennis Murphy.
Wired.com’s reporter tracked down Scott Miller, CEO of 3D Realms, for a response. “It’s a very ambitious game,” Miller said. “It’s not [a] cookie-cutter shooter like most are nowadays, and we’re pushing a lot of standards. The proof will be in the pudding.”
By 2002, the pudding was still a lie. Duke (beating Valve’s Team Fortress 2, which it would eventually release in 2007) became the first game to win back-to-back top Vaporware awards. That year, developer George Broussard penned the acceptance speech.
“We’ve switched engines a couple of times, and we’ve started over a couple of times. We’ve made some mistakes, and we’ve learned from them,” he said. “I’m just glad we’re in a position to do those things, and to be able to make the game we want to make, instead of being rushed out the door to meet stock projections.
“In the end,” Broussard said, “all that matters is the quality of the game.” Indeed.
For the 2003 awards, Wired.com’s editors decided Duke’s domination of the dubious distinction was unfairly keeping other imaginary products from their share of the spotlight. So we took the unprecedented step of giving Duke Nukem Forever, which had garnered more votes than all other entries combined that year, the first and only Vaporware Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if dictionaries actually began printing it: ‘vaporware: n. See Duke Nukem Forever,’” said reader Jeff White, who suggested the creation of the Lifetime Achievement Award. That year, two games topped the list: Fallout 3 (released in 2008) and Half-Life 2 (2004).
Having received the Vaporware Award to end all awards, Duke was never mentioned again. Ha ha! Just kidding. We of course could not stop Wired.com readers from submitting Duke Nukem Forever again and again in 2004, and had we been counting any of those votes, it would have been the winner yet again. Instead, the title went to the phony-baloney Phantom game console.
“NASA has planned, designed, developed and successfully landed a rover on Mars in the time this game has been in development,” wrote reader Ray O’Neill, lamenting Duke’s status.
Two never-released game products made the list in 2005; Phantom and Blizzard’s StarCraft: Ghost. But due to the constant cries of our readers, and Lifetime Achievement honor be damned, Duke Nukem Forever took the top slot again.
“It’s been in development for almost a fucking decade now. Give 3D Realms a medal or something,” wrote reader Robert Danziger. We did! It didn’t help.
In 2006, Duke won his second pair of back-to-back top awards. 3D Realms CEO Scott Miller chimed in again with an acceptance speech.
“Thanks to the overwhelming success of Prey (our latest [intellectual property], and another game that took 10 years to release), we have been afforded another five relaxing years on the making of [Duke Nukem Forever],” Miller told Wired.com. He was just kidding, of course; it actually took six years.
2007 was Duke’s 10th anniversary of development. Again, we were ready to simply strike him from the list, but 3D Realms released a new teaser trailer for the game and our readers wouldn’t stop voting for him, so back to the top of the list Duke went.
The year 2008 kicked off with a high-level Wired.com meeting in which the editorial staff decided that Duke Nukem Forever finally, once and for all, definitely had to be removed from the top spot of our list. But then something crazy happened: 3D Realms showed a journalist an actual, playable version of the game. Duke took his fourth straight title that year.
By this point, 3D Realms’ commentary on the state of the game had devolved into deflective humor. “There’s a lot of mistakes and lessons we had to learn,” said creator George Broussard. “But most of all, there’s also been a lot of World of Warcraft.” (Things that will not happen next year: Blizzard blames Diablo III delay on its developers playing too much Duke Nukem Forever.)
2009 was a pivotal year in the history of Duke Nukem. As ably covered in Wired magazine by Clive Thompson, 3D Realms finally had to let its staff go and stop development on the game. Although we mentioned Duke Nukem Forever in our Vaporware Awards, we struck the game from the final list. It seemed the Duke was finally dead.
That is, it seemed that way until Wired.com showed up for Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle that fall to a major surprise: Duke Nukem Forever was alive and playable on the show floor. 2K Games was promising that the game would definitely, absolutely ship in 2011. We took this with several grains of seasoned salt, but since 2K wasn’t promising Duke in 2010, we only gave it an honorable mention on that year’s Vaporware Awards list.
And since Duke Nukem Forever is finally out in stores, that’ll be the final time he graces the Awards. The king of vaporware is dead. Long live the king of vaporware!