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Duke Nukem Forever was ahead of its time, but nerfed before launch

Duke Nukem Forever, the infamous and controversial FPS from 3D Realms, apparently looked much better before launch, as modders discover various cut features

Duke Nukem Forever was ahead of its time, but nerfed pre-launch: Duke Nukem punching the screen confirming the game has gone gold

Duke Nukem Forever, the infamous FPS from 3D Realms, at one time rivalled GTA 6, Half-Life 3, and a new Silent Hill on the list of upcoming games players were most curious to see released. Its 2011 arrival wasn’t exactly met with fanfare, but that might be to do with several key visual features being cut, features that modders are starting to piece back together.

Vinícius Medeiros is a computer science student who has just started exploring the innards of Duke Nukem Forever, using a range of modding tools put together by the game’s surprisingly active fan community. As discovered by one modder, Justin Marshall, apparently, the retail code for Duke Nukem Forever contains all the files required to use the game’s level editor – it’s only the frontend executable that has been removed, in order to hide the editor from players.

By restoring this, modders like Medeiros, his colleague known as Josh, and the rest of the Duke Nukem community at fansite Duke4.net have been able to explore the various tools and effects used to build DNF’s missions. As it turns out, Duke Nukem Forever originally contained an advanced, dynamic lighting and shadows system, but this was apparently taken out or simply not used in the game’s final level designs.

“The key change to the game’s graphics is its advanced lighting system,” Medeiros tells PCGamesN. “The lighting system is very reactive. It’s in the game. It’s just that the devs set most of the objects to not cast a shadow. There are some scenes that still have shadows present, but it’s not used to its full potential.”

Duke Nukem Forever was ahead of its time, but nerfed pre-launch: the Duke Nukem Forever looking better in the unreleased version

Medeiros shares a series of comparison images, showing how in the released version of Duke Nukem Forever, many objects do not cast shadows, and light appears in each level at consistent, singular brightness and tone. Enabling the tools hidden in the game’s code, however, reveals shadows that move around the player and various light sources, as well as more varied and vibrant shades that create a much stronger ambience. Particularly curious is the Duke Nukem Forever’s outdoor, Las Vegas skyline, which eschews all the game’s advanced systems for a simple, and much less visually impressive, pre-made texture with lighting effects baked in.

“Some objects present in DNF’s outdoor areas actually make use of pre-baked lighting instead of the game’s actual lighting system,” Medeiros says. “When you place an object in the levels they are set to cast shadows by default, but the devs manually disabled shadows for most of them. The Vegas skyline is actually fully modelled, but the sunset lighting isn’t using the actual game lighting system.”

Medeiros also speculates the reason that these features were hidden and went unused in the final version of Duke Nukem Forever, supposing they may have been cut by the developers in order to accommodate the game’s various platforms and versions.

Duke Nukem Forever was ahead of its time, but nerfed pre-launch: a room in Duke Nukem Forever that had better lighting before launch

“I suspect that It got downgraded due to optimising the game to the 360 and PS3,” he says. “Most of the features were disabled due to console optimisation, so the PC version suffered as a result.”

There may be other reasons Duke Nukem Forever’s lighting features were disabled, but what’s perfectly clear is the troubled shooter looks much better with them all enabled, as you can see in some of Medeiros’ footage. As for the modder himself, he says he plans to create a single mod that overhauls the aesthetics of Duke Nukem Forever.

“I’ve messed with the Build Engine before,” Medeiros explains, referring to the tech behind the original Duke Nukem 3D and other classic shooters like Blood, Redneck Rampage, and Shadow Warrior, “but this is actually the first time I got invested into modding a game. I’m planning to make an aesthetics overhaul mod as a long-term plan. The modding scene of this game just got started.”

If you can’t wait to sample an overhauled version of Duke Nukem Forever, you can always kill time with something from our list of the best FPS games. In terms of long-awaited games, there’s plenty of news brewing right now about the next Grand Theft Auto, so be sure to also check out our GTA 6 release date, rumours, news, and speculation guide, for all the info on Rockstar’s upcoming sandbox.