An Ode To Duke Nukem
At the wet-behind-the-ears age of ten, my parents bought me a well-known PC video game titled Duke Nukem 3D; I had seen the shareware version of the game at a friend's house and of course had to have it. To some, an unremarkable event of a parent purchasing a video game for a child; to others an alarming one, as we all know Duke Nukem 3D as (for the time) an extremely graphic, sometimes crude, always over-the-top first person shooter. For most such kids, the story ends there; they enjoyed the game and after a few weeks or months probably moved on to the next big thing in PC gaming, such as Quake, Unreal, or Half-Life. Not for me.
Disregard whether the content was appropriate for the moment, particularly for a ten-year-old; it wasn't, and 15+ years later it still isn't. What Duke Nukem 3D represents in this story, rather, is the capturing of my imagination; it was an extremely fun game with as well-constructed and alive of a world as any other game I had played up to that point. The levels had working subways, elevators, teleporters, underwater exploration sections, controlled building demolitions, puzzles, traps, even inane things such as working bathrooms, working pool tables, working security cameras networks, enemies that pathed waypoints, environmental hazards such as slime and pistons... I was in awe that a computer game of all things could do all of this, that it could create a world that was so alive. That said world was viewed through the lens of the over-the-top overconfident character who was Duke Nukem certainly didn't hurt, either.
I spent the next eight or so years of my PC gaming life exclusively with Duke Nukem 3D learning exactly how that game worked, every nook and cranny. On my own time, I learned how to use the developer-provided tools to make my own maps to mimic the functionality I saw in the commercial levels. I started poking around at game variable files next, first making simple changes like to ammo count and enemy health, later learning how to changing enemy and weapon behavior outright, even adding new ones. I built a partial modification of the game as a high school project, repurposing the game as a 3D environment in which to review material from my AP European History class; in hindsight, probably not the best mesh of worlds, but at the time it was good enough for my tastes. I still have the C source code of the game on my computer, having downloaded immediately it after it was surprisingly released in 2003 in spite of the fact that I wouldn't know how to begin writing proper code until nearly three years later.
Duke Nukem 3D alone inspired me to pursue computer science in college, with that drive to learn how to bend computers to my will and an unrelated passion for the Dallas Cowboys and Virginia Cavaliers football teams being the only things I was truly sure of. Duke Nukem 3D was the impetus for teaching myself how to use the XNA Framework completely of my own volition, even while struggling in other areas of my life. Duke Nukem 3D was the jump-off point from which I was inspired to join a video game development club while in Charlottesville - the Student Game Developers - hoping to learn all the steps as to how something like that which I enjoyed so much is done. Duke Nukem 3D in a way inspired me to join forces with two UVa graduate students I met through SGD, agreeing to spend a summer working in a smelly hotel conference room seven days a week building (in tandem with three other great guys I was in school with) what would become Ash by SRRN Games. Duke Nukem 3D is still the driving force for me as I now work for SRRN, hoping to one day be able to make a game that was as fun and inspirational for someone else as the ridiculous character who is Duke Nukem and his interactive and alive world was for me.
Video games are now my chosen career path. In a way, I have chosen to make video games my life. It is what I have chosen to do with my life because I sincerely enjoy video games and so long as I can make them, I will.
Unrelated side-note and epilogue: this is my explanation as to why I was looking forward to and subsequently enjoyed the game's infamous sequel Duke Nukem Forever so damn much.