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Legacy:Ucc Make Columns/0.5 Duke Nukem Whenever

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Duke Nukem Whenever

DaiKatana has become a boogeyman for the gaming industry, and especially for first person shooters. It is the portrait of a game that becomes over-hyped and over-developed. Years in the making, Daikatana was closely followed by the gaming media, and Ion Storm constantly made the stance that they were making the "next great thing".

id Software, of which Daikatana's creator John Romero had left in something of a media frenzy, essentially coined the term "when it's done" in reference to software release dates. For the most part, they have a good track record of releasing games in a sensible time frame. Quake, Quake II and Quake III Arena are practically calendar dates for marking the evolution of 3D gaming. This development-orientated method of releasing games has it's own hazards.

Daikatana was supposed to be the next logical step for FPS games. Romero, in a GameSpot interview, said that the game would have "a great storyline and plenty of hardcore action to keep the most jaded FPS gamer happy". Everyone knew that the genre's days of running, gunning and finding keys were numbered, and who better to lead the charge into lifting the games out of that muck than one of the men responsible for the genre's popularity in the first place.

Well, Valve for one. Half-Life really gave us our taste of in-game story telling for an FPS. Half-Life could be considered Daikatana's opposing force (no pun intended). Also delayed well beyond it's original date, Half-Life was a heavily modified Quake (not Quake II as often reported - though the two engines share some things) game which had more in-depth characters, story and puzzles than any FPS proceeding. Instantly, the bar was moved for the genre.

Half-Life, though, had an early start. Perhaps a better example of how Daikatana was trumped is Deus Ex. This Unreal-powered game brought to bear the combination of role-playing and action that Thief and System Shock had been building. For Deus Ex, Warren Spector and some of the Looking Glass Studios, the original creators of the Thief and System Shock games, had come to Ion Storm alongside John Romero.

Deus Ex was released (more or less) as scheduled, and became a critically acclaimed game and a huge win for Ion Storm.

Daikatana, running years behind, was released to almost global panning, flaming and bargain bin destiny.

Duke Nukem Forever, running years late and having undergone multiple engine shifts (now using a build of the Unreal engine, although nobody seem sure of the feature set it's capable of), is expected to be released this year. If Legend and Digital Extremes stay on their task, DNF sure better.

In the post-Medal of Honor landscape, Unreal II looks to be the shooter of the coming year. Legend is promising a captivating story, ground breaking graphics, and a solid multiplay. Digital Extremes is looking to bring us an even more engaging multiplayer title in the form of Unreal Tournament II.

Can Duke Nukem Forever survive?

What does this have to do with modding?

When it comes to the Unreal modding scene, and I'm guessing the Quake modding scene as well, everyone is looking at the next great thing. Mods left and right are postponing development until the material for the new engines are released. Outright, there's nothing wrong with that ... particularly if the mod knows they are relying on features which the new games will provide (vehicles are an excellent example).

DNF won't be using the latest engine, however, and yes I think it can still survive. Gameplay is not always determined by the engine. The engine provides a playing field, but within that field developers are allowed to create their own rules.

Duke Nukem 3D, which brought Duke to the mass market, was not that technically advanced for it's time. It did have a great lead character (Evil Dead controversy aside), a storyline with serious comic book appeal, and some wonderful design elements to it. The most popular mod ever, Counter-Strike, is still using the Half-Life engine, and looks like it will be attached to it through the coming year at least (unless the Team Fortress 2 engine emerges from the shadows, but that's another column on it's own).

If DNF provides compelling gameplay, people will play it. Since it may not have the eye candy of Unreal II, it had better be able to at least go toe to toe when it comes to the rest of the game design. The longer it waits, the better it will need to be. If DNF comes out after Unreal II with yesterday's engine and yesterday's gameplay, then the way of the Daikatana it may go.

Only the developers of a mod can decide when to release it and how. The engine is one factor, but so is the gameplay. Develop without the tools required, the mod runs the risk of never being completed. Waiting too long to develop runs the risk never really getting started, or becoming obsolete so fast it doesn't matter.

My suggestion is to always develop what you are reasonably able to. I plan on porting the Freehold code to the new engine at some point, but I'm not waiting until later this year to start coding, as much of the gameplay would remain anyway. Aside from coding, there are conceptual designs that can be drawn up for weapons, characters, items, etc. Sometimes it's best not to think about a game in terms of it's technology, but just in terms of the game itself. Waiting for the next great thing can be a long wait, and waiting can kill a mod.

Let Daikatana be your boogeyman. The timeline of development can have as much of an impact on the game as the game itself.

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