Great moments in PC gaming: Exploring the cinema in Duke Nukem 3D

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Duke Nukem 3D

Developer: 3D Realms
Year: 1996

There aren't many videogame spaces I know as well as the cinema in Duke Nukem 3D. The Hollywood Holocaust level is really just a couple of city streets and one building, plus some secret places scattered around it, but you can spend ages there because there's so much to do. 

One of the things that was so novel about Duke Nukem 3D compared to other first-person shooters of its time was how interactive it was. In the cinema's arcade you find a Duke Nukem 2 cabinet, and if you walk up to it and press E the Duke mutters "I don't have time to play with myself" while a wall slides away revealing a holoduke pickup. The security TVs let you view live footage from other rooms and while Duke Nukem was never a stealth game this, combined with being able to crawl through vents, let you ambush enemies who would otherwise ambush you.

The other thing that was novel about Duke levels like this was that they were based on places we knew. This wasn't a Nazi castle or a Mars base or an island full of cultists. It was just a movie theatre (although one that apparently played porn, and had secret doors). Familiarity made it easily readable as a connected space. When you're in the theatre an alien attacks from the projector window, and later you enter the projector room and find his corpse. 

The secrets fed into that feeling as well. The hidden jetpack let you access other areas, and a rocket launcher in a room overlooking the street can be used on a cracked wall to enter the building via the front rather than having to head round the back, and also blow a hole in the screen to reveal another secret. Even if you didn't need more ammo or whatever it felt great to find those secrets, a cascade of one discovery leading to another.

Later levels never quite equalled the cinema, even if they did let us demolish a building or play pool. Surprising an alien on the toilet can only really be funny the first time.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.