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The Duke Nukem 3D prototypes are builds of Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition, or Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour that precede their commercial releases. Several of these builds have either been leaked or officially released as freeware. However, most are only known from screenshots or demo footage.
See Also: April 1994 Build Demo
The April 1994 Build Demo showed that Ken Silverman had nearly finished the Build engine used in Duke Nukem 3D. Although the demo footage precedes work on Duke Nukem 3D, the demo could be considered a Duke Nukem 3D prototype because it features a map that would later be incorporated into the December 1994 prototype as E1L9 of LameDuke.
See Also: Duke Nukem IIID
Official work on Duke Nukem 3D began sometime around the middle of 1994. At this point, Allen Blum was the only level designer on the team.
In 2014, 3D Realms released footage from a mid-1994 prototype. In the video, the name Duke Nukem IIID appears at the top of the in-game menu. Richard "TerminX" Gobeille, who signed a non-disclosure agreement and was given the complete archive of Duke Nukem 3D development files, has identified this prototype as the earliest build of Duke Nukem 3D. Fans have affectionately nicknamed the prototype LamerDuke because it preceded the December 1994 prototype, officially known as LameDuke.
Sometime after the release of the Duke Nukem IIID footage, Gobeille quizzed forum users on Duke4 as to which level in the commercial game they thought was the oldest. Derelict, which was nearly finished in the December 1994 prototype, was the most popular answer, but this was incorrect. According to Gobeille, the oldest map to appear in commercial copies of Duke Nukem 3D was Stadium. Because Stadium is older than Derelict, this would mean it must have been started in mid-1994.
Gobeille posted a screenshot from the oldest version of the map.
November 7, 1994
Early concept art for the Jellyfish is dated November 7, 1994.
November 29, 1994
December 2, 1994
December 4, 1994
Late December 1994
December 30, 1994
See Also: LameDuke
The December 1994 prototype, officially known as LameDuke, was finished and compiled on December 30, 1994.
Parts of levels from the final game could be found in LameDuke. These levels include:
- Hollywood Holocaust: The basis for a large part of this level could be found on E1L6
- Red Light District: The basis for a large part of this level could be found on E1L6
- Death Row: A proof-of-concept and the basis for a small part could be found on E3L1 and E3L7, respectively
- Toxic Dump: The basis for parts of this level could be found on E3L7
- Lunar Reactor: Areas resembling small parts of this level could be found on E1L4 and E1L6
- Overlord: Large parts of this level were finished and accessible on E2L8 and duplicated on E3L8
- Rabid Transit: The basis for parts of this level could be found on E1L5
- Hotel Hell: An early version of this level was playable as E2L6
- Derelict: This level was nearly finished and fully playable as E3L2
Early January 1995
January 24, 1995
February 27, 1995
According to a blog post on 3D Realms' website, Richard "Levelord" Gray joined the team on March 10, 1995. Although no images can be definitively dated to this period, Gray's earliest maps likely date to March, since his prior experience designing maps in the Build engine would preclude the need for much onboarding.
April 4, 1995
January - April 1995
February - April 1995
February - May 1995
Three of these images come from the June 1995 issue of Joystick (#61), and two come from Gobeille. The scar on Duke's hand has been removed, and the Tazer has been replaced with the Mighty Foot.
April - Early May 1995
A scrapped level known as AHB-Space appeared on season 5, episode 14 of GamesMaster, a British TV show. The episode aired on December 21, 1995, but there are several clues that the prototype shown in the episode comes from April or early May. Screenshots dated May 18, 1995 (such as this one) show that the blue HUD from the GamesMaster episode had already been replaced with the green HUD found in many subsequent screenshots. However, the fonts on the signs above the doors are no longer red like in earlier screenshots. Instead, they have been replaced with the tan font found in subsequent images. In addition, the scar has been removed from the back of Duke's hand. Taken together, this means the prototype precedes May 18 but comes after the January - April 1995 screenshots.
Numerous promotional screenshots were packaged on a CD with the September 1995 issue of Score Magazine. These screenshots are unusual in that the files on the CD contain precise timestamps, down to the minute. These timestamps concord with other known facts about the Duke Nukem 3D development timeline, and they even track the order of progression within specific levels, exactly as one would expect. Therefore, these timestamps are considered reliable.
In addition, a demo reel dated May 9, 1995 has been made publicly available.
In early 2014, Gobeille and Evan "Hendricks266" Ramos signed non-disclosure agreements and were given the complete archive of Duke Nukem 3D development files. 3D Realms gave them the files because they wanted the two to identify salvageable files and to package them in a distributable form. One of the project's first discoveries was a demo reel dated May 9, 1995. Gobeille recorded his live reactions while watching the reel with his son and posted the resulting video to the Duke4 forums. Shortly thereafter, Ramos uploaded the demo reel to YouTube. However, a lawsuit with Gearbox Software ultimately brought an indefinite halt to the project.
The demo reel below is still available on YouTube.
Lee Jackson, the musician who composed roughly half of the soundtrack for Duke Nukem 3D, released the following two unused music tracks. The first is an early version of "Plasma," the track that appears on Dark Side in the final game.
The second is "Beehive." An early version of this track can be heard for a couple seconds during a section of the May 9, 1995 demo footage.
The remaining screenshots come from an unreleased test map, which contains apparently copied-and-pasted elements from E3L7 of LameDuke. Gobeille stated that the map itself is not actually an iteration of E3L7. A couple seconds of video footage from this map can be found in part of the May 9, 1995 demo footage. The area with the cylindrical, yellow gears was incorporated into Death Row in the final game.
February - June 1995
This image is difficult to date.
Several screenshots that were packaged with the September 1995 issue of Score Magazine were dated to June, rather than May. Three of these have precise timestamps like the May screenshots, but two do not have reliable timestamps.
The two images with unreliable timestamps have copied-and-pasted messages across the tops. Several of the May screenshots also had these messages (those versions are not shown on this page), but the images with these messages included versions with and without the messages. The versions with the messages all had matching timestamps, indicating they were simultaneously processed in batches to apply the message. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that screenshots with this message across the top have reliable timestamps.
In fact, the images dated June 1 and June 30 come from batches of several images with known May dates that also had this message across the top, suggesting these two may have also come from May.
As explained, this image is dated June 1, but because the message across the top was applied as part of a batch with some of the May screenshots, this image may also come from May. However, it was the only file from this batch that did not come with a matching file without the message.
Similar to the June 1 image, this image has a message across the top, suggesting its timestamp may be unreliable. It was processed in a batch with several May screenshots, but unlike the others, there was no version of this image without the message.
July 8, 1995
May - August 1995
These screenshots are difficult to date. All of these maps either have not been seen in previous screenshots or have been significantly updated. Novel sprites are introduced for some of the enemies, and the Trooper's jetstream, which was once semi-transparent, is now opaque. The concept art is foreshadowing the Assault Trooper (particularly the alternate sprites used to make the Firefly Trooper), so it likely precedes the Assault Trooper's first appearance.
One image dated August 6 was leaked by Gobeille. Another seven were directly posted to the Internet by the developers. Because these screenshots were directly posted to the Internet without the delays associated with printing or publishing, these screenshots are likely representative of the build at that time.
These screenshots depict an updated HUD, and the colored lights that appear on the player's weapon now appear beside the ammo in the HUD.
August - October 1995
Except for the screenshots with HUDs, most of the images from this period are very difficult to date. One crucial assumption is that screenshots depicting blue Assault Troopers must precede green ones. This assumption is based on the observation that even many staged images later use green Assault Troopers.
According to Gobeille, there is no police cruiser on this version of Hollywood Holocaust or on any other maps in his archive; because the cruiser appears again in a later image, the police cruiser screenshots are likely from a separate staging map that has been lost.
At this point in development, the Plasma Cannon fired red projectiles instead of blue. In the image with the red plasma projectiles, there is an explosion on the street in the background that can be matched to the other screenshot taken from the street, indicating these two screenshots were staged simultaneously. Because the edge of the map is visible at the top of the image, this is in fact an early version of Red Light District, after it has already been split-off from E1L6 of LameDuke. Some of the leftover sector geometry from this building can still be found in the out-of-bounds area on Red Light District.
The number "1" corresponding to the Mighty Foot has been removed from the HUD.
The entire line corresponding to the Expander has been removed from the HUD.
The developers posted a collection of screenshots to the Internet on November 19, 1995. Because these screenshots were directly posted to the Internet without the delays associated with printing or publishing, these screenshots are likely representative of the build at that time.
In 2021, Gobeille leaked screenshots from a similar build that, based on the placement of the Access Cards in the HUD, must have come after the November 19 build. Gobeille said that his screenshots also came from a November build. In addition, he posted map blueprints for an earlier version of Red Light District and mentioned that these came from a build that was only two weeks older than his other screenshots. Because those map blueprints can be matched to many of the screenshots below, these are all expected to come from an early November build. Moreover, the numbers in the HUD use a "stubby" font in many of these screenshots, indicating they must have come before the November 19 build.
A promotional slideshow released through 3D Realms' website on November 19, 1995 included a small collection of frequently asked questions (FAQs) with answers from developer George Broussard.
Common Duke Nukem 3D questions: Q: When will it be out? A: The offical responce is "When it's ready". We are trying for a pre-XMAS release, but will hold the game to early January if we don't think it's ready to go out. We will NOT rush the game to make some lame deadline. We are getting more and more optomistic as the days go by though. Q: What are the system requirements? A: 486 DX2/66 (local bus recommended). The basic answer is "What are you happy playing on?" We are "happy" with the above system. 8 MEGS of ram and CD will be required. Also, a CD-ROM is required for the registered version. Q: What weapons are there? A: Still tweaking and working on them, but the basic list is: Kick, High speed pistol, shotgun, 3 barrel chain gun, rocket launcher, pipe bomb with remote detonator, shrink ray (really fun), microwave assault cannon, wall mounted laser trip bomb (plant and forget). Obviously some will be held back from the shareware version. Which ones? Dunno yet. Q: How many levels are there and how big is the shareware version? A: The shareware version will be 5 levels and a secret level. 4 of the levels are going to be really fun for network play and the other two fairly large, but slanted towards single play more. The full game will have another 21 levels or so, depending on time. At least 18 though. The shareware version will likely be between 4 and 5 megs in download size. Q: Can I be a beta tester? A: No. Sorry, but we have all we need at the moment. We'll post a message if we need any more. Please let us get back to work :)
May - December 1995
The following is an early version of "Stalker," the music track that accompanies Hollywood Holocaust in the final game. Jackson posted the track to his personal YouTube channel, noting that the only significant differences from the final version can be heard at the 1:52 mark and 2:00 mark. Although Jackson dated the track to 1995, he did not provide enough information to approximate a more precise date. The earliest screenshots of Hollywood Holocaust can be roughly dated to sometime in the summer of 1995, and because Hollywood Holocaust had not yet been split-off from E1L6 of LameDuke as of the May 9 demo reel, the earliest possible timing is May 1995.
December 1995 - January 1996
January 4, 1996
Duke Nukem 3D v0.99 Beta was compiled on January 4, 1996. The image below, which first appears on a screen following the defeat of the Battlelord in beta version 0.99, is from a staging map that was separate from the most recent version of Dark Side. This is known because the stripes on the building are red, which would date it before the August screenshots, yet this image also contains the newer character sprites for Duke, which would date it after the August screenshots.
The prototype, which is publicly available to download, contains notable differences in the layouts on all maps of L.A. Meltdown, as well as a different roster of levels for the other two episodes. However, only L.A. Meltdown is accessible as part of the leaked shareware.
January 29, 1996
Shareware v1.0 was compiled on January 29, 1996. It contains minor differences in weapon behavior, enemy health, and sprite graphics from the final version. Only L.A. Meltdown was finished and available to play.
January - February 1996
February 20, 1996
Shareware v1.1 was compiled on February 20, 1996. This version is nearly identical to the final, except that the Freezethrower or Devastator had not yet been introduced. Also, a few sprites, such as switches and rocket projectiles, had not yet been updated.
January - March 1996
This animated sprite likely precedes the implementation of the Overlord's hitscan attack, which is known to have been implemented in the non-shareware version of the Computer Gaming World Demo of the game that was compiled on March 4.
March 4, 1996
The Computer Gaming World Demo, long known by the nickname "Shareware v1.1+" in online forums, was compiled on March 4, 1996. At this stage of development:
- The Overlord had a secondary hitscan attack, corresponding to the machine gun in its crotch from pre-release screenshots.
- The Devastator was referred to as the "Cycloid," likely in reference to the fact that it resembles the weapon wielded by the Cycloid Emperor.
March 26, 1996
August 1995 - April 1996
There is not enough information to date this image. Because it depicts multiple Battlelord Sentries, it likely came after the earlier screenshots where only one is depicted on Occupied Territory, thus providing a lower bound for the date range. However, the screenshot appears to be from a very early version of Overlord, a level that dates back to LameDuke, so there is not enough information to determine an upper bound.
March - April 1996
March 1995 - August 1996
The following collection of map blueprints were shared online by Gobeille. Some of these images contain clues about their timing. For example, images that contain enemy sprites must come from builds that follow the introduction of those corresponding enemies during the development process. Some of these images also contain clear temporal relationships to other images shown above. However, all of these are relatively difficult to date. All but two of these come from maps designed by Richard "Levelord" Gray. It is known from the 20th anniversary developer commentary that Gray had left the team well in advance of August, providing an upper estimate. Moreover, Gray joined the team in March 1995, providing a lower estimate. It is known from the developer commentary that even maps introduced in the Atomic Edition used repurposed materials that were scrapped before the original April release.
The first four images provide crucial information about a longstanding controversy over the authorship of Pigsty. It has long been known that Richard "Levelord" Gray contributed to several levels from The Birth, but for reasons that are unclear, he was never credited for his work on any of them (see The Birth#Disputed authorship for more information). The most hotly debated of these was Pigsty, which Gray cited as his favorite level and "99.44%" his own work. However, the map was ultimately credited solely to Randy Pitchford, whose initials appear on the map in the final version.
The map blueprints below seem to argue strongly in Gray's favor. Although it is unknown whether any of these iterations were modifications by Pitchford in which he failed to remove Gray's signature, the last two versions clearly show that negligible changes were made when Gray's signature ("SUYT" in the top-right corner) was removed from the map.
The following maps were also authored by Gray:
The following maps all come from early builds of Hotel Hell. Except for the comparison images from LameDuke and the commercial version, Gobeille stated that none of these builds contains the swimming pool.
The following two maps are signed "LEE" and are believed to have been authored by soundtrack composer Lee Jackson. Gobeille stated that most of the level is "around average mid-90s usermap quality." Because the rest of the map is comparatively more "abstract," Gobeille is unsure whether the realistic mail truck that appears at the beginning of the level was designed by the same author or possibly by a different developer on the team. These maps correspond to two iterations of Going Postal, which was further developed by Allen Blum and packaged with the Atomic Edition.
See Also: Duke Nukem 3D v1.2
Jackson released the following unused track titled "233.778C" that was dated April 4, 1996 and intended to accompany Fahrenheit.
Gobeille has shared the following information about the contents of version 1.2:
- Overall, version 1.2 is nearly identical to the final release.
- The "Quick Kick" function for the Mighty Foot works like in versions 1.4 and 1.5, without the double-kick glitch from version 1.3d.
- Battlelord Sentry sprites use palette 19 instead of palette 21.
- Stadium is significantly different. By comparison, the commercial release reverted to one of the earliest builds of the level, circa 1994.
- The Overlord uses its original design from pre-release screenshots, with a machine gun in its crotch.
- Hotel Hell includes a giant mirror along the wall beside the front desk of the hotel, allowing the player to see the Battlelord Sentries before coming around the corner.
May - October 1996