Duke Begins, also known as Duke Nukem Begins, is a canceled third-person shooter video game that was in development by Gearbox Software. Development began in late 2007 and was halted in early 2009. An initial leaked trailer in 2019 revealed that some of the assets from the project were recycled in Duke Nukem Forever. A second trailer was leaked in 2021 by a former developer hoping to revive interest in the project.
Based on public statements from Gearbox Software, it was widely speculated that development of the game may have been rebooted following the release of Duke Nukem Forever in 2011 and subsequently canceled as a result of the Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction lawsuit in early 2014.
Because Duke Begins was never officially announced, most of what is known about the game comes from court filings and a leaked trailer.
Based on court documents, Duke Begins started in October 2007 when 3D Realms licensed Take-Two Interactive to publish a console-based Duke Nukem game, with a target launch date in 2010. Within two months, Take-Two Interactive signed an agreement with developers at Gearbox Software to begin working on the game. However, the title was put on hold in April 2009 after $2.5 million in advance royalties were delivered to 3D Realms for the continued funding of Duke Nukem Forever.
In June 2009, 3D Realms announced the cancellation of Duke Nukem Forever, which had been in development since 1997. In 2010, possibly as an effort to avoid bankruptcy, George Broussard of 3D Realms sold the Duke Nukem intellectual property to Gearbox Software, which immediately recruited Allen Blum and several other creators of the Duke Nukem series to finish the game.
At the time, Gearbox Software promised to revisit Duke Begins after the releases of Duke Nukem Forever and another delayed project, Aliens: Colonial Marines. Duke Nukem Forever was released in 2011, and Aliens: Colonial Marines was released in early 2013. Since then, Gearbox Software still has not made any public statements about the game.
In February 2014, Gearbox Software sued 3D Realms for continuing to license the Duke Nukem franchise that was legally sold to Gearbox Software in 2010. According to a June 2020 article in Digital Trends, CEO Randy Pitchford stated that the reason for the lawsuit was that Gearbox Software was in negotiations with a publisher for another "big-budget" Duke Nukem game in production, but upon learning that 3D Realms had just licensed the development of Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction, the publisher halted negotiations because they could no longer be confident that Gearbox Software owned the intellectual property. It is rumored that Duke Begins may have been the canceled "big-budget" game.
In 2017, an employee at Gearbox Software stated in an interview that the company had no interest in further developing the Duke Nukem franchise, confirming that no other Duke Nukem games were in production.
In October 2019, visual artist Gregor Punchatz posted on YouTube a reel of unreleased game trailers he produced, including what was purported to be the unreleased trailer for Duke Begins. Two days later, video game composer Andrew Hulshult independently confirmed on Twitter that the trailer was genuine.
Punchatz's original video included trailers for many games. The following video is the official trailer by itself, extracted from Punchatz's longer video:
Footage from the trailer shows that some of the assets from the project were recycled in Duke Nukem Forever. In particular, the Octabrain character models are nearly identical.
A second trailer was leaked by Punchatz on August 7, 2021. Punchatz said he leaked the trailer in the hopes of reviving interest in the project. He also revealed that developers on the project were told that the game was canceled "due to the legal issues with Duke Nukem at the time."
The second trailer showcased an impressive number of original 3D assets and gameplay mechanics not seen in the first trailer.