Publisher apologizes after fans spot signs of AI generation in contract artist's Duke Nukem promo illustration

Duke Nukem AI-generated promo image
(Image credit: Blaze Entertainment)

Earlier this week Blaze Entertainment announced a new Duke Nukem collection for its Evercade retro handheld, which will include remasters of the first two Duke Nukem games—back when he was still a blocky sidescrolling man. With all due respect to the Duke, it wasn't really a big deal as game announcements go, but it became one when people figured out, in very short order, that Blaze had used AI generated art in promotional images for the bundle.

At first blush, the image looks innocuous enough: It's Duke Nukem, standing on some big dead thing, guns in hand, blasting away at stuff off-screen. But as Kotaku pointed out, there are several red flags: I think some of it is overstated (the legs look fine to me, it's a pretty typical superhero-style pose) but the guns (the literal guns, not Duke's biceps) are noticeably out of perspective, and there's no doubt that the trigger finger on his right hand just ain't right.

(Image credit: Blaze Entertainment)

Any doubts about whether the image was AI generated seemed to be put to rest when Blaze took the images down and issued an official apology.

"An artist was commissioned to produce a lead image for the new Duke Nukem 1+2 Remastered game developed by Blaze Entertainment," Blaze CEO Andrew Byatt said. "It is abundantly clear from the response on social media that the work on this commission has fallen below the expectation and standards demanded by fans due to the artists’ use of AI in the process.

"We are immediately removing the art where possible to do so and will be announcing a replacement commission in due course that better meets the high standard expected. We would like to apologise to you, all of the fans, who have felt passionately about this enough and please be assured are working to remedy this. We also would like to thank everyone who's worked on the project to date for their input."

Blaze had initially defended the piece and artist Oskar Manuel, who describes himself as a "professional hybrid concept artist," but changed direction when followers on Twitter pointed out other examples of Manuel's work that was also clearly AI generated.

The reaction to Blaze's turnaround is widely positive, although a few reply tweets questioned the uproar and the need for a new image, saying AI is simply another tool for artists to take advantage of: One user, Retrowertyk, tweeted that complaining about the use of AI in art is "like expecting the artist to paint on canvas instead of using Photoshop." 

It's a fair point on a complex topic, but nuance is difficult to achieve in the heated, abbreviated forum of social media. And as we saw in the ugly reaction to the AI-envisioned Shodan in May, there's little patience for its use in any capacity. Manuel hasn't yet commented publicly on the controversy—I've reached out for more information and will update if I receive a reply.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.