Duke Nukem 3D
Producer(s)Greg Malone
Programmer(s)Todd Replogle
SeriesDuke Nukem
January 29, 1996
  • MS-DOS
    • NA: January 29, 1996 (Shareware Version)
    • NA: April 19, 1996 (Full Version)
    • NA: December 11, 1996 (Atomic Edition)
    • EU: May 17, 1996[1][2]
    Mac OS
    • NA: June 6, 1997
    Sega Saturn
    • NA: October 29, 1997
    • EU: October 30, 1997
    Nintendo 64
    • WW: November 14, 1997
    • NA: December 2, 1997
    • EU: December 1997
    Mega Drive/Genesis
    • BR: October 12, 1998
    • WW: October 16, 2015
    Xbox 360
    • WW: September 24, 2008
    • WW: August 11, 2009
    • WW: November 1, 2011
    Megaton Edition
  • Microsoft Windows, OS X
    • WW: March 20, 2013
    • WW: September 4, 2013
    PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
    • NA: January 6, 2015
    • EU: January 7, 2015
    20th Anniversary World Tour
  • Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
    • WW: October 11, 2016
  • Nintendo Switch
    • WW: June 23, 2020
Genre(s)First-person shooter
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Duke Nukem 3D is a first-person shooter video game developed by 3D Realms. It is a sequel to the platform games Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem II, published by 3D Realms.

Duke Nukem 3D features the adventures of the titular Duke Nukem, voiced by Jon St. John, who fights against an alien invasion on Earth. Along with Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Doom II, and Marathon, Duke Nukem 3D is considered to be one of the many titles responsible for popularizing first-person shooters, and was released to major acclaim. Reviewers praised the interactivity of the environments, gameplay, level design, and unique risqué humor, a mix of pop-culture satire and lampooning of over-the-top Hollywood action heroes. However, it also incited controversy due to its violence, erotic elements, and portrayal of women.

The shareware version of the game was originally released on January 29, 1996 as version 1.0 (later, the shareware version got re-released as version 1.1 on February 20, 1996 and re-released once again as version 1.3D on April 24, 1996), while the full version of the game was released on April 19, 1996, as version 1.3D. The Plutonium PAK, an expansion pack which updated the game to version 1.4 and added a fourth eleven-level episode, was released on October 21, 1996. The Atomic Edition, a standalone version of the game that included the content from the Plutonium PAK and updated the game to version 1.5, was later released on December 11, 1996; it is only available digitally for PC on ZOOM-Platform.com[3] and on console for the Xbox 360. An official fifth episode was released on October 11, 2016, with 20th Anniversary World Tour published by Gearbox Software. A direct sequel titled Duke Nukem Forever was released in 2011, after fifteen years in development hell.


Duke Nukem 3D gameplay at the beginning of the first level ("Hollywood Holocaust")

As a first-person shooter whose gameplay is similar to Doom, the gameplay of Duke Nukem 3D involves moving through levels presented from the protagonist's point of view, shooting enemies on the way. The environments in Duke Nukem 3D are highly destructible and interactive; most props can be destroyed by the player.[4][5]

Levels were designed in a fairly non-linear manner such that players can advantageously use air ducts, back doors, and sewers to avoid enemies or find hidden caches. These locations are also filled with objects the player can interact with. Some confer gameplay benefits to the player; light switches make it easier to see, while water fountains and broken fire hydrants provide some health points. Others are simply there as a diversion. Tipping strippers provokes a quote from Duke, and a provocative reveal from the dancer.

Duke's arsenal consists of the "Mighty Foot" (a basic kick attack), a pistol, a shotgun, a triple-barrelled chain gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, pipe bombs, freeze and shrink rays, laser land mines, and the rapid-fire "Devastator" rocket launcher. There is also an extra weapon known as the "Expander", the opposite of the shrink-ray weapon, which is only available in the Atomic Edition version of the game.

Various items can be picked up during gameplay. The portable medkit allows players to heal Duke at will. Steroids speed up Duke's movement, as well as instantly reversing the effects of the shrink-ray weapon and increasing the strength of Duke's Mighty Foot for a short period. Night vision goggles allow players to see enemies in the dark. The "HoloDuke" device projects a hologram of Duke, which can be used to distract enemies. Protective boots allow Duke to cross dangerously hot or toxic terrain. In sections where progress requires more aquatic legwork, an aqua-lung allows Duke to take longer trips underwater. Duke's jet pack allows the player to move vertically and gain access to otherwise inaccessible areas.

The game features a wide variety of enemies; some of which are aliens and other mutated humans. The LAPD have been turned into "Pig Cops", a play on the derogatory term "pig" for police officers, with LARD emblazoned on their uniforms. As is usual for a first-person shooter, Duke Nukem encounters a large number of lesser foes, as well as bosses, usually at the end of episodes. Like Duke, these enemies have access to a wide range of weapons and equipment, and some weaker enemies have jet packs.



Duke Nukem 3D is set on Earth "sometime in the early 21st century".[6] The levels of Duke Nukem 3D take players outdoors and indoors through rendered street scenes, military bases, deserts, a flooded city, space stations, Moon bases, and a Japanese restaurant.

The game contains several humorous references to pop culture. Some of Duke's lines are drawn from movies such as Aliens, Dirty Harry, Evil Dead II,[7] Full Metal Jacket,[8] Jaws, Pulp Fiction, and They Live;[8] the captured women saying "Kill me" is a reference to Aliens. Players will encounter corpses of famous characters such as Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Snake Plissken, the protagonist of Doom, and a smashed T-800. In the first episode, players navigate a tunnel in the wall of a prison cell hidden behind a poster, just like in The Shawshank Redemption. During the second episode, players can see a Monolith (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) on the Moon.


There is little narrative in the game, only a brief text prelude located under "Help" in the Main Menu, and a few cutscenes after the completion of an episode. The game picks up right after the events of Duke Nukem II, with Duke returning to Earth in his space cruiser. As Duke descends on Los Angeles in hopes of taking a vacation, his ship is shot down by unknown hostiles. While sending a distress signal, Duke learns that aliens are attacking Los Angeles and have mutated the LAPD. With his vacation plans now ruined, Duke hits the "eject" button, and vows to do whatever it takes to stop the alien invasion.

In "Episode One: L.A. Meltdown", Duke fights his way through a dystopian Los Angeles. At a strip club, he is captured by pig-cops, but escapes the alien-controlled penitentiary and tracks down the alien cruiser responsible for the invasion in the San Andreas Fault. Duke confronts and kills an Alien Battlelord in the final level. Duke discovers that the aliens were capturing women, and detonates the ship. Levels in this episode include a movie theater, a red-light district, a prison, and a nuclear-waste disposal facility.

In "Episode Two: Lunar Apocalypse", Duke journeys to space, where he finds many of the captured women held in various incubators throughout space stations that had been conquered by the aliens. Duke reaches the alien mother ship on the Moon and kills an alien Overlord. As Duke inspects the ship's computer, it is revealed that the plot to capture women was merely a ruse to distract him. The aliens have already begun their attack on Earth.

In "Episode Three: Shrapnel City", Duke battles the massive alien presence through Los Angeles once again, and kills the leader of the alien menace: the Cycloid Emperor. The game ends as Duke promises that after some "R&R", he will be "...ready for more action!", as an anonymous woman calls him back to bed. Levels in this episode include a sushi bar, a movie set, a subway, and a hotel.

The story continues in the Atomic Edition. In "Episode Four: The Birth", it is revealed that the aliens used a captured woman to give birth to the Alien Queen, a creature which can quickly spawn deadly alien protector drones. Duke is dispatched back to Los Angeles to fight hordes of aliens, including the protector drones. Eventually, Duke finds the lair of the Alien Queen, and kills her, thus thwarting the alien plot. Levels in this episode include a fast-food restaurant ("Duke Burger"), a supermarket, a Disneyland parody called "Babe Land", a police station, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez, and Area 51.

With the release of 20th Anniversary World Tour, the story progresses further. In "Episode Five: Alien World Order", Duke finds out that the aliens initiated a world-scale invasion, so he sets out to repel their attack on various countries. Duke proceeds to clear out aliens from Amsterdam, Moscow, London, San Francisco, Paris, the Giza pyramid complex, and Rome, with the final showdown with the returning alien threat taking place in Los Angeles, taking the game full circle. There, he defeats the Cycloid Incinerator, the current alien leader, stopping their threat for good.


Duke Nukem 3D was developed on a budget of roughly $300,000.[9] The development team consisted of 8 people for most of the development cycle, increasing to 12 or 13 people near the end.[9] At one point, the game was being programmed to allow the player to switch between first-person view, third-person view, and fixed camera angles.[10] Scott Miller of 3D Realms recalled that "with Duke 3D, unlike every shooter that came before, we wanted to have sort of real life locations like a cinema theatre, you know, strip club, bookstores..."[9]

LameDuke is a beta version of Duke Nukem 3D, which was released by 3D Realms as a "bonus" one year after the release of the official version. It has been released as is, with no support.[11] LameDuke features four episodes: Mr. Caliber, Mission Cockroach, Suck Hole, and Hard Landing. Certain weapons were altered from the original versions and/or removed.

Lee Jackson's theme song "Grabbag" has elicited many covers and remixes over the years by both fans and professional musicians, including an officially sanctioned studio version by thrash metal band Megadeth. Another version of the song was recorded by Chris Kline in August 2005. 3D Realms featured it on the front page of their website and contracted with Kline to use it to promote their Xbox Live release of Duke Nukem 3D.[12]

The original official website was created by Jeffrey D. Erb and Mark Farish of Intersphere Communications Ltd.[13]


PC versions

Expansion packs

Console versions and add-ons

Duke Nukem 3D was ported to many consoles of the time. All of the ports featured some sort of new content.

Nintendo 64 port. Note its level design changes and that some sprites were replaced with polygonal models.
Mega Drive/Genesis port


Duke Nukem 3D was a commercial hit, selling about 3.5 million copies.[53][54] In the United States alone, it was the 12th best-selling computer game in the period from 1993 to 1999, with 950,000 units sold.[55] NPD Techworld, a firm that tracked sales in the United States,[56] reported 1.25 million units sold of Duke Nukem 3D by December 2002.[57]

Source ports

Following the release of the Doom source code in 1997, players wanted a similar source code release from 3D Realms. The last major game to make use of the Duke Nukem 3D source code was TNT Team's World War II GI in 1999. Its programmer, Matthew Saettler, obtained permission from 3D Realms to expand the gameplay enhancements done on WWII GI to Duke Nukem 3D.

EDuke was a semi-official branch of Duke Nukem 3D that was released as a patch as Duke Nukem 3D v2.0 for Atomic Edition users on July 28, 2000. It included a demo mod made by several beta testers.[58][59] It focused primarily on enhancing the CON scripting language in ways which allowed those modifying the game to do much more with the system than originally possible. Though a further version was planned, it never made it out of beta. It was eventually cancelled due to programmer time constraints. About a month after the release of the Duke Nukem 3D source code, Blood project manager Matt Saettler released the source code for both EDuke v2.0 and EDuke v2.1, the test version of which would have eventually become the next EDuke release, under the GPL.[citation needed]

The source code to the Duke Nukem 3D v1.5 executable, which uses the Build engine, was released as free software under the GPL-2.0-or-later license on April 1, 2003.[60] The game content remains under a proprietary license. The game was quickly ported by enthusiasts to modern operating systems.

The first Duke Nukem 3D port was from icculus.org. It is a cross-platform project that allows the game to be played on AmigaOS, AmigaOS 4, AROS, BeOS, FreeBSD, Linux, Mac OS X, MorphOS, Solaris, and Windows rather than MS-DOS. The icculus.org codebase would later be used as the base for several other ports, including Duke3d_32.[61]

Another popular early project was Jonathon Fowler's JFDuke3D, which, in December 2003, received backing from the original author of Build, programmer Ken Silverman.[62] Fowler, in cooperation with Silverman, released a new version of JFDuke3D using Polymost, an OpenGL-enhanced renderer for Build which allows hardware acceleration and 3D model support along with 32-bit color high resolution textures. Another project based on JFDuke3D called xDuke, unrelated to the xDuke project based on Duke3d_w32, runs on the Xbox. Silverman has since helped Fowler with a large portion of other engine work, including updating the network code, and helping to maintain various other aspects of the engine.[citation needed] Development appears to have stopped; as of January 2015, there have been no new versions since October 9, 2005.

While a few short-lived DOS-based EDuke projects emerged, it was not until the release of EDuke32, an extended version of Duke3D incorporating variants of both Fowler's Microsoft Windows JFDuke3D code, and Saettler's EDuke code, by one of 3D Realms' forum moderators in late 2004, that EDuke's scripting extensions received community focus.[63] Among the various enhancements, support for advanced shader model 3.0 based graphics was added to EDuke32 during late 2008-early 2009. In June 2008, thanks to significant porting contributions from the DOSBox team, EDuke32 became the only Duke Nukem 3D source port to compile and run natively on 64-bit Linux systems without the use of a 32-bit compatibility environment.

On April 1, 2009, an OpenGL Shader Model 3.0 renderer was revealed to have been developed for EDuke32, named Polymer to distinguish from Ken Silverman's Polymost.[citation needed] It allows for much more modern effects such as dynamic lighting and normal mapping. Although Polymer is fully functional, it is technically incomplete and unoptimized, and is still in development. As of the fifth installment of the High Resolution Pack, released in 2011, the Polymer renderer is mandatory. In 2011, another significant development of EDuke32 was the introduction of true room over room (TROR), where sectors can be placed over other sectors, and can be seen at the same time. In practice, this allows for true three-dimensional level design that was previously impossible, although the base engine is still 2D.

On December 18, 2012, Chocolate Duke3D[64] port was released. Inspired by Chocolate Doom,[65] the primary goal was to refactor the code so developers would easily read and learn from it.

In February 2013, a source code review article was published that described the internal working of the code.[66]


All versions of the game have earned a positive aggregate score on GameRankings and Metacritic. The original release on MS-DOS holds an aggregate score of 89% on GameRankings and a score of 89/100 on Metacritic.[67][71] The version released on Nintendo 64 holds an aggregate score of 74% on GameRankings and a score of 73/100 on Metacritic.[68][72] The version released on Xbox 360 holds an aggregate score of 81% on GameRankings while it holds a score of 80/100 on Metacritic.[69][73] The iOS version holds an aggregate score of 64% on GameRankings.[70]

Daniel Jevons of Maximum gave it five out of five stars, calling it "absolutely perfect in every respect." He particularly cited the game's speed and fluidity even on low-end PCs, imaginative weapons, varied and identifiable environments, true 3D level designs, and strong multiplayer mode.[92] A Next Generation critic summarized: "Duke Nukem 3D has everything Doom doesn't, but it also doesn't leave out the stuff that made Doom a classic." He praised the imaginative weapons, long and complex single-player campaign, competitive multiplayer, built-in level editor, and parental lock.[89] Reviewers paid a lot of attention to the sexual content within the game. Reception of this element varied: Tim Soete of GameSpot felt that it was "morally questionable",[5] while the Game Revolution reviewer noted that it was "done in a tongue-in-cheek manner," and he was "not personally offended".[95] GamingOnLinux reviewer Hamish Paul Wilson commented in a later retrospective how the game's "dark dystopian atmosphere filled with pornography and consumerist decadence" in his view helped to ground "the game's more outlandish and obscene moments in context", concluding that "in a world as perverse as this, someone like Duke becoming its hero seems almost inevitable."[96]

Next Generation reviewed the Macintosh version of the game and stated that "Though it took a year, the Mac port of Duke Nukem 3D is an impressive feat, both for the game's own features, and the quality of the port."[90]

The Saturn version also received generally positive reviews, with critics particularly praising the use of real-world settings for the levels[80][93][97] and Duke's numerous one-liners.[80][93] Reviewers were also generally impressed with how accurately it replicates the PC version.[80][93][97] AllGame editor Colin Williamson highly praised the Sega Saturn port, referring to it as "one of the best versions" and that it was "probably one of the best console ports ever released."[79] GamePro summarized that "All the gore, vulgarity, go-go dancers, and ultra-intense 3D combat action that made Duke Nukem [3D] excel on the PC are firmly intact in the Saturn version, making it one of the premier corridor shooters on the system."[97] However, some complained at the limitations of this version's multiplayer. Dan Hsu of Electronic Gaming Monthly said it was unfortunate that it supports only two players instead of four,[80] while Sega Saturn Magazine editor Rich Leadbetter complained at the multiplayer being only supported through the Sega NetLink and not the Saturn link cable, since the NetLink was not being released in Europe, effectively making the Saturn version single-player only to Europeans.[93]

The Nintendo 64 version was likewise positively received, with critics almost overwhelming praising the new weapons[81][84][86][91] and polygonal explosions,[81][86][98] though some said that the use of sprites for most enemies and objects makes the game look outdated.[84][91] While commenting that the deathmatch gameplay is less impressive than that of GoldenEye 007, critics also overwhelmingly applauded the port's multiplayer features.[81][84][86][91] Next Generation stated that "The sound effects and music are solid, the levels are still interactive as heck, and it's never quite felt so good blasting enemies with a shotgun or blowing them to chunks with pipe bombs."[91] GamePro opined that the censoring of sexual content from the port stripped the game of all uniqueness,[98] but the vast majority of critics held that the censorship, though unfortunate, was not extensive enough to eliminate or even reduce Duke's distinctive personality.[81][84][86][91] Peer Schneider of IGN called it "a better and much more intense shooter than Hexen and Doom 64, and currently the best N64 game with a two-player co-op mode. If you don't already own the PC or Saturn version of Duke, do yourself a favor and get it."[86] Crispin Boyer of Electronic Gaming Monthly, while complaining that the large weapons obscure too much of the player's view in four-player mode, assessed that "You're not gonna find a better console version of Duke."[81]

The PlayStation console port met with more mixed reviews. GamePro and Tim Soete of GameSpot both found this conversion technically inferior, particularly the frame rate.[85][99] Both also complained that the control configuration only provides three presets, with no option for custom configuration.[85][99] Soete also found the game had become dated by the time this version was released, though he still recommended it for those who do not own a PC.[85] IGN's Jay Boor gave it a more enthusiastic recommendation, saying it "plays exactly like its PC predecessor" and praising the PlayStation-exclusive levels and link cable support.[87]

Duke Nukem 3D was a finalist for CNET Gamecenter's 1996 "Best Action Game" award, which ultimately went to Quake.[100] In 1996, Next Generation ranked it as the 35th top game of all time, called "for many, the game Quake should have been."[101] In 1996 Computer Gaming World named Duke Nukem 3D #37 overall among the best games of all time[102] and #13 among the "best ways to die in computer gaming".[103] It won a 1996 Spotlight Award for Best Action Game.[104] In 1998, PC Gamer declared it the 29th-best computer game ever released, and the editors called it "a gaming icon" and "an absolute blast".[105]

PC Gamer magazine's readers' voted it #13 on its all-time top games poll.[106] The editors of PC Game ranked it as the 12th top game of all time in 2001 citing the game's humor and pop-culture references,[107] and as the 15th best games of all time in 2005.[108] GamePro included it among the most important video games of all time.[109] In 2009, IGN's Cam Shea ranked it as the ninth top 10 Xbox Live Arcade game, stating that it was as fun as it was in its initial release, and praised the ability to rewind to any point before the player died.[110]


Duke Nukem 3D was attacked by some critics, who alleged that it promoted pornography and murder. In response to the criticism encountered, censored versions of the game were released in certain countries in order to avoid it being banned altogether. A similar censored version was carried at Wal-Mart retail stores in the United States.[111]

In Australia, the game was originally refused classification on release.[112] 3D Realms repackaged the game with the parental lock feature permanently enabled, although a patch available on the 3D Realms website allowed the user to revert the game back into its uncensored U.S. version.[113] The OFLC then attempted to have the game pulled from the shelves, but it was discovered that the distributor had notified them of this fact and the rating could not be surrendered; six months later, the game was reclassified and released uncensored with an MA15+ rating.[114] In Germany, the BPjM placed the game on their "List B" ("List of Media Harmful to Young People") of videos games, thus prohibiting its advertisement in the public. However, it was not fully confiscated, meaning that an adult could still request to see the game and buy it.[115] In 1999, Duke Nukem 3D was banned in Brazil, along with Doom and several other first-person shooters after a rampage in and around a movie theater was supposedly inspired by the first level in the game.[116]

Despite such concerns from critics, legislators, and publishers, Scott Miller later recounted that 3D Realms saw very little negative feedback to the game's controversial elements from actual gamers or their parents.[9] He pointed out that Duke Nukem 3D was appropriately rated "M" and had no real nudity, and speculated that that was enough to make it inoffensive to the general public.[9]


  1. ^ Released under the Deep Water brand name in North America


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