We knew better than to bet against the Duke. It may have taken a while--15 years to be exact--but Duke Nukem Forever is finally nearing its release date. This foul-mouthed first-person-shooter is back with all its vulgar humor and the title character's inflated ego. After covering the single-player and multiplayer, we got the chance to talk with David Riegel, president of Triptych Games, about the game's arsenal of weapons. They say clothes make the man, but as we soon discovered, it is the weapons that make the Duke.
GameSpot: From what we've played, it doesn't feel like Duke's new pistol packs quite the same punch as its semiautomatic predecessor. Why did you decide to make this change to his default starting weapon?
David Riegel: All of the weapons in Duke Nukem Forever are designed to have particular strengths and weaknesses. Duke's pistol has limited stopping power and a relatively small clip, but it's deadly accurate and perfect for taking out midrange foes. One or two headshots will drop most bipeds, and even if you're of the spray-and-pray mentality, the pistol will fire as fast as you can click. It also has the fastest melee speed of any weapon, and this can be important in close-range combat.
GS: In Duke Nukem 3D, steroids would increase your running speed, but in Duke Nukem Forever, they beef up your melee attack. Why the change? Was speed considered too strong of a boost?
DR: Steroids actually do make you faster in DNF! However, the combat in DNF is a little more tactical than it was in Duke 3D, and speed doesn't give much of an advantage by itself. As we iterated on power-up design, insta-kill melee attacks seemed like a natural fit for steroids. When we tried this design and combined it with the speed boost, we knew right away that we had a winner. Basic punch attacks are a blast under normal conditions; steroids not only allow you to punch stuff…but punch it and watch it explode! This is great in single-player but is even better in multiplayer. There's nothing funnier than watching a helpless character sprinting away from a steroid-crazed Duke who's running after him and swinging like a madman.
GS: It is hard to improve on classics, such as the shotgun or ripper. Nevertheless, can you tell us about the changes that have been made to these iconic weapons to adapt them for Duke Nukem Forever?
DR: The ripper and the shotgun are designed to be our most common medium and close-range weapons, respectively. Aesthetic updates--both to the models and the sounds--have gone through numerous iterations so that they look and sound awesome. You will encounter them everywhere, and it was really important to get the feeling right. In terms of gameplay tuning, it was largely about balancing these weapons against other weapons you can acquire in the game.
For example, the assault captain minigun is another medium-range weapon, and it can fire its entire payload or projectiles without a reload. However, the ripper shots hit their targets instantaneously, and the ripper has a larger overall round capacity. The freeze ray is our most powerful close-range weapon, but the shotgun can be used at midrange in a pinch. And while the freeze ray is great when you want to shatter enemies, the shotgun can be even more gratifying in that you can blow limbs and tentacles off of foes.
GS: We understand that the Holoduke has been tweaked so that it not only creates a decoy, but it also turns you invisible--a totally new ability. Was this to offset the fact that Duke Nukem Forever doesn't have the security cameras that Duke 3D had (which made the original Holoduke so insidious)? Or was it for some other reasons?
DR: Like all the power-up and weapon designs, the final Holoduke was born out of testing and iteration. In Duke 3D, combat was incredibly fast and took place in wide-open areas. It was easy to get mixed up just due to the speed. DNF is a lot more tactical, and we found that in multiplayer testing, just having a decoy wasn't powerful enough. Likewise, for single-player, it didn't make sense why enemies would only attack the Holoduke and not the real Duke if they were side by side. Making the enemies attack the Holoduke 50 percent of the time felt like a waste, so it made sense to make Duke invisible and have the enemies focus on the decoy. Plus, the light-refracting cloaking device looks cool!
GS: What's the deal with this new enforcer rocket launcher? It fires 15 different homing rockets? Isn't that just a little overpowered?
DR: Well, if you're not playing DNF for an empowerment experience, you're playing it wrong! But seriously, the enforcer gun is one of the last weapons you find, and it's very difficult to get. It fires homing rockets in three-round bursts, and it's a great way to clear out a room full of pig cops. But a 15-round capacity means you only get five trigger pulls before you run out of ammo, and restocking means that you have to find and kill another enforcer. Further, the rockets don't track enemies at medium and long ranges, making the RPG or devastator a preferable choice in certain boss fights. But make no mistake, it does kick butt.
GS: The combination of freezing someone with the freeze ray and then shattering him with a mighty foot to the chest was really satisfying. Can you tell us more about how the freeze ray will function in DNF and your reasoning behind switching Duke's melee attack to a fist?
DR: The freeze ray works like an ice flamethrower, spraying out cryogenic death to any enemy at close range. Frozen enemies can be executed with special melee attacks. Executions instantly recharge Duke's ego, so it's worth your while to run toward an enemy, absorb damage, and then gain back the ego with the finisher.
GS: Duke 3D's pipe bombs could be left to lie more or less until you detonated them manually. They seem to work differently in Duke Nukem Forever; for instance, they now explode on contact when thrown, like grenades? Can you go over how these weapons work differently now? Why the change?
DR: Actually, the DNF pipe bombs work almost exactly like they did in Duke 3D. You can throw them into the world and detonate them immediately, or you can leave them as traps for enemies. When you press the detonator is up to you. The one difference we made was to bind the pipe bombs to single button press. This provides an elegant interface solution and doesn't force you to put your other guns away to use them.
GS: So…Duke has a railgun now? What's the deal with that?
DR: The railgun was one of the last weapons we added. Long-range combat always felt like it was missing something, and the railgun turned out to be the missing link. It works like a sniper rifle…very accurate, but it has a slow rate of fire and a small magazine size. Of course, if you manage to kill a pig cop up close, you better be wearing a raincoat.
GS: Some of the new features in the game, particularly in multiplayer, recall the classic shooters of the late 1990s, like the damage-enhancing Duke statue, the railgun, and the instagib mutator. Is it fair to say that one of the core goals of Duke's shooting action and multiplayer was to bring back that feeling of old-school deathmatch? If so, why go in this direction?
DR: Like single-player, one of the biggest goals for multiplayer was to provide a core Duke experience with a ton of variety. There are four game modes, five mutators, and a ton of customizations that can be applied to each match. In addition to beer, steroids, and Holodukes, there are unique multiplayer power-ups in the world, such as invincibility, double-damage, and jetpacks. Deathmatch allows you play the game at a fast and furious pace, but the more strategic Capture-the-Babe and Hail-to-the-King modes are there if you want a more team-oriented experience. So I think multiplayer has a little bit of everything.
GS: With so many different multiplayer games available out there, building and supporting an active online community is now more difficult (and vital) than ever. What are your plans to keep the Duke Nukem Forever online community engaged in the game after it is released?
DR: There is a world of new Duke paraphernalia coming. Action figures, Internet game spin-offs, and themes for Xbox Live are just a few of the things planned.
GS: Is there anything more you'd like to add about Duke Nukem Forever?
DR: Forever is finally here!
GS: Thank you for your time.