Modding Duke Nukem 3D into an English culture joke may be good for your mental health

Modding Duke Nukem 3D into an English culture joke may be good for your mental health

It’s well documented that creativity can help calm the waves of stormy sanity. Hours of documentaries tell how artists expressed their struggles through brushstrokes, or how an actor agonized over creating a precise character to counterbalance his impostor syndrome or anxiety. It’s unlikely that many creators have found “safe haven” in a 27-year-old retro game engine – but that’s exactly how Dan Douglas talks about his sprawling mod for Duke Nukem 3D.

You may have seen Douglas’ work on Twitter: Boris Johnson suspended from a zipline or, more recently, throwing a can of Heinz tomato soup at a Van Gogh, all created in the Duke Nukem 3D construction engine. What started as a tongue-in-cheek, albeit elaborate, joke for Twitter became the sprawling Duke Nukem 3D mod project, still ongoing sixteen months later. We can attribute the continued creation of this mod, now officially titled Duke Smoochem 3D, to several different things: much of the UK is now a hellish landscape of memorable moments; everyone finds Gilliam’s punchlines to be a great visual summary of said memorable moments; and, more importantly, it has been a healing space for its creator.

Duke Smoochem 3D started life as a joke. “The initial inspiration was seeing a floor plan of Matt Hancock’s office printed in the Daily Mail after his affair came to light via leaked CCTV footage,” says Douglas. “It was ridiculously hilarious, overly detailed, with labels like ‘coat rack’ and ‘kiss door’.” It reminded him of a video game auto card and Duke Nukem 3D’s security camera feature. The original joke landed with Douglas’ relatively large Twitter account, which immediately latched onto and started retweeting this new gag.

Unknowingly at the time, Douglas’ joke would become a one-liner in a whole series of amusing jabs at the British state. This retro-inspired map from Matt Hancock’s office, of course, needed some extra parts – for “world-building, and I still haven’t stopped,” laughs Douglas. The thread of jokes continued, but the coding became therapeutic. Douglas was diagnosed with bipolar 1 some time ago. His condition tends to be episodic. He explains that he can be “relatively balanced and functional” for long periods of time, but all of that is disrupted by rapidly worsening hypomania or catastrophic psychotic episodes, often followed by long periods of deep depression.

When I ask how creation has helped him, Douglas is brutally honest. “Since my last psychotic episode, in March 2020, I’ve been severely depressed and plagued by intrusive thoughts. I find going deeper into Build Engine’s level editor helps calm them down,” he explains. trained myself to direct my thoughts to what I’m going to add alongside the project and how to make the effects work, so just having that as a constant reference is almost like a little mental refuge or something.”

For a long time, Douglas struggled to return to some form of normality. This 2020 episode saw him severed and prescribed antipsychotic medication which had brutal side effects. “I couldn’t read more than a few tweets, or follow the plot of TV programs, or often even communicate properly, so devastated and desperate was I,” he says. Douglas fell into a deep spiral of depression. He spent a long time in bed, hiding from the world, wishing he didn’t exist. He had been placed on long-term medical leave from his job and he was worried about how he would return to his career.

“Developing Duke Smoochem 3D showed me that I was still able to learn, problem solve, think creatively. I’m happy to say that I managed to get back to work earlier this year after two years, and after a gradual return, I am now back to full shifts. Along with therapy classes and ongoing support from family, friends and medical professionals, Douglas credits the work on the mod as a big catalyst for his recovery so far.

A Sainsbury's Local supermarket in a screenshot of the Duke Nukem 3D Duke Smoochem map.

Creativity can put our brains into a state of flux. We can become so focused on a project that we step into “the zone,” feeling euphoric, more relaxed, more aware. Where players may experience that sense of accomplishment while playing a game – completing tasks or seeing an ending cutscene – others may experience it while creating a game or mod. And Douglas also believes humor is a great tool for those recovering from or suffering from mental illness.

“The way we consume information now is so relentless, hyperactive and distorted. I see Smoochem as another bias on this. I try to keep it light and slapstick,” he says. subtle social commentary, I tend to be more interested in quintessentially British detail.” This perspective is clearly demonstrated by some of the levels we will eventually play. Douglas programmed retailer WH Smiths, government offices, a typical British beach made shale and stones, and much more.

“With Matt Hancock stepping into the jungle for I’m a Celebrity, I think I may have finally found a nice conclusion to the mod’s narrative.”

It’s hard to think that a game will ever come out, rather than an endless social comedy experience. After all, Duke Smoochem 3D is a game – or at least many hope it will be, including Douglas. In his dev Twitter thread, Douglas jokes that he needs an “end point with this project before it literally consumes years of my life”, and it feels like the mod could go on forever. , a farcical platform for ridiculing British news. But Douglas has set his sights on a form of ending.

“With Matt Hancock stepping into the jungle for I’m a Celebrity, I think I may have finally found a nice conclusion to the mod’s narrative. I’m pretty confident that I put a limit on the number of locations I’m going to include because the sprawl was getting ridiculous,” he says. Given how much this has helped him over the past sixteen months, does Douglas really want this to end? “On the one hand, yes. My ten-year-old PC is gradually becoming more and more unstable,” he explains. ” Furthermore. It gets very technical. I think the hardest piece I’ve put together so far has been the BBC News interview interrupted by children – although it’s only viewable via a camera feed, which removes any d Random interaction with the player, getting the timing right for all the elements was extremely tricky.

Boris Johnson hangs from a zipline waving union flags in a screenshot of the Duke Nukem 3D custom level, Duke Smoochem.

It is often difficult to move on after filling a void or helping us through a difficult time. I’m sure many of us could pull a game, movie, or book off our shelves and say “this thing saved my life” – or at least, words to that effect. Douglas’s statement on the end of Duke Smoochem is not without qualification: “On the other hand, there are fears that it will not live up to expectations, and I fear that I will find myself without a creative outlet once the mod released. .”

And while some would be sad to see Duke Smoochem 3D unreleased, Douglas isn’t one of them. “Even if I’m out of breath, or the project is still in constant development, I take so much pleasure in continually trying to outdo myself,” he tells me. “Although I’m confident that I’ll eventually release something, the enjoyment and satisfaction I get from it is enough on its own, even if a game never materializes. The whole project has been a journey that many people undertook with Douglas, as he spit ideas on Twitter or flashed the concepts Even if it ends up being a vehicle where one man fought his way to recovery, it’s something special to do part, and perhaps a journey that only a 27-year-old game could facilitate.

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