Duke Nukem Forever and Jim Redner’s Balls of Squeal


(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more)

Those of you who read gaming blogs with any fair amount of regularity may have heard of Jim Redner — head of The Redner Group, a PR agency that was recently fired by 2K Games after threatening to blacklist those reviewers who deemed “unfair” in their assessment of Duke Nukem Forever. Redner would go on to make a public apology — and email private ones to reviewers such as myself — for what he deemed an outburst of emotion that he sincerely regretted.

With that in mind, it seems like Redner is a particularly disingenuous man, as he made the exact same threats again — albeit thinly veiled this time — in the form of a recent Wired guest column. Apparently he wasn’t that sorry since he still stands by everything he apologized for, and my apology email looks rather hollow reflected in this new light.

Now, I could spend an entire column talking about the dishonesty of apologizing for a rash statement before making the exact same statement again, but Redner said a lot more this time, and just as he feels reviewers should be held accountable for the content of their articles, I feel Redner cannot say what he said unchallenged, because what he said was — quite frankly — total bullshit.

“Opinions are never wrong,” wrote Redner. “Reviews, when backed by fact, are always correct regardless of the score. The reviewer’s story was downright mean spirited. It’s as if the reviewer had a grudge and finally found an outlet to unleash his hostile brand of negativity. The review goes so far as to disparage the people who poured thousands of irreplaceable hours of their life, spent absent from families and loved ones, into the creation of this game.”

Redner never mentions the review by name, in keeping with the passive-aggressive behavior I’ve seen from several people involved with DNF’s development. It is entirely possible he is talking about my own review, written on Destructoid. Redner’s original (now deleted) Tweet references a “2/10″ review, and I did certainly question the mentality of those who developed the game — with good reason. I wanted to know what Gearbox and DNF’s prior developers were thinking when they created a game that presents the torture of women as a good enough joke to stand up on its own and presents Duke Nukem’s sociopathic, sexually maladjusted nature not as a real point of humor, but as something laudable and aspirational. I believe that was pretty fair. At no point — in any review I’ve read on the subject — was anybody personally insulted. A studio’s motivations and design decisions should be just as much a part of the review as anything else.

The really contentious part of Redner’s argument, however, is the fact that developers should be let off the hook because they “poured thousands of irreplaceable hours” into a game. This is an argument that I’ve seen many times before, that a reviewer needs to consider the feelings of the people who made it. I’d say that’s the last thing a reviewer needs to think about when assessing a game. Like it or not, a reviewer isn’t there to protect developers from feeling sad. This is not pre-school, where everybody gets a star and no child is left behind. This is the realm of business conducted by adults, and if you’re going to turn on the waterworks when your game is trashed, you should not be in an industry where art is produced for public consumption. It’s simply not the place for little princesses made of eggshells.

Redner denies that he blacklists reviewers. Instead, he uses a “selection process” based on whether or not he thinks a reviewer will like a game, or is a good fit for their particular tastes and interests. This is not wholly unreasonable. Publishers have a right to send what they want to who they want, whenever they want. Nobody’s going to question that, and the reasoning Redner puts forth is sound. He argues that his job is to build positive hype and that he sends review copies out to those outlets who he thinks will provide it. Again, that’s fine. Nobody deliberately sets out to get their game a bad review. The thing is — it’s always a gamble. You can build your hype, you can send your review copy to a fan of the genre or a fan of the series, but that’s no guarantee they’ll like the game. In the case of Duke Nukem Forever, the gamble did not pay at all — the game’s been almost universally panned with varying degrees of harshness. It is this harshness that Redner seeks to address, and where he truly goes off the deep end.

“It is my opinion that when someone exceeds their journalistic integrity and publishes a scathing, derogatory, uncalled-for review, I have the right to question it. Integrity isn’t a badge that can be waved around to suit your situation. It is a lifestyle. If you ask for a copy of the game for review, you have an ethical duty to provide a fair review of the game. You do not have to like the game. You do not have to publish a glowing review. However, you must be fair and accurate. You owe it to your audience, yourself and the video game community.”

This is where we start to wade in some very murky waters. What does it mean to be fair? To me, being fair is being as brutal and uncensored as possible, in the interests of giving the reader an emotionally honest review. Be it lavish praise or harsh criticism, my personal code of ethics dictates that I pull absolutely zero punches when talking about how a game makes me feel. Yes, it can lead to a harsh tone, but if I feel a game deserves it, I have been as fair as I can be. To some, fair means that you can’t say mean things. Again, it’s this pre-school mentality where everybody has to be “special” and nobody can be criticized. Fair is being able to back up everything you’ve said, and I’m yet to see a harsh review that fails to do that. Everybody had their reasons for hating Duke Nukem Forever — be it the outdated gameplay, unfunny jokes or the blatantly hateful, ignorant, sometimes homophobic content.

“Hardworking people, including myself, spent thousands of hours away from family and friends working on Duke Nukem Forever. The game is what it is, but we poured our hearts into bringing the game back from video game purgatory. That single story hurt and I acted rashly, vented my frustration and I am paying for my actions, more so than you know. Shouldn’t the journalist have to pay for his? Should I continue to support him?”

And this is where Redner goes from murky to downright pathetic. A journalist should pay for giving his honest opinion? Seriously? The suggestion that any reviewer should be punished for being truthful and refusing to dress up their opinion is absolutely abhorrent to me. I cannot think of a more vile professional ideal. At the end of the day, you worked on a game, you put it out there, and you sent it to a reviewer in the hopes that he’d provide his opinion — good or bad. If a reviewer did that — regardless of his tone or choice of words — then he did his job. He did ALL that his job requires of him. The proposition that a reviewer must suffer in some way for fulfilling his job requirement fills me with a disgust so pure you could strip paint with it.

As far as “paying” for the review goes, I can certainly say I paid for mine. I had to play Duke Nukem Forever. That’s punishment enough.

“We should not supply games to journalists who are capable of such hatred. Life is too short to surround ourselves in such baseless hatred. We should focus on the hundreds of other writers who are capable of being fair, even when writing a poor or low scoring review. Reviews are subjective but fairness should always be a constant.”

Redner says this as if he’s never hated a videogame, or a movie, book, television show, food, government decision, or anything, ever. The idea that any review was written with a level of hatred that Redner has never seen before is bitterly amusing. What is less amusing is the assessment that criticizing a game is fine, so long as you refuse to hate it. What utter shit — a reviewer OWES it to his readers to let them know if he hated a game, and if that hatred is best communicated with strong wording and harsh tones, then so be it. In the case of Duke Nukem, I can’t say I found a single positive thing to say about the game. It was garbage, and I stand by that. That is as fair as I am capable of being. Many reviewers felt the game was trash, and they said so. You can’t be fairer than that.

According to Redner, arbitrator of all that is fair, some reviewers “work outside the line of ethics.” Unfortunately, he never defines what those “ethics” are, and thus leaves the impression that by “ethical” he means, “says things I agree with.” That’s a habit many butthurt gamers adopt when a reviewer doesn’t like a game they happen to enjoy. They scream “bias” or “unprofessional” not because they actually know what those words mean, but because they’re upset over being disagreed with and are too cowardly to admit it, so they hide behind vague ethical rules that they’ve half-baked themselves in order to justify their unwarranted grievances. Unless Redner can actually provide a detailed explanation of what it means to review ethically without just saying, “Don’t hate my games, be fair,” then I’m afraid I can only treat his views with the same level of contempt that I reserve for commenters in the threads of IGN reviews.

I’m not so arrogant as to dictate to Jim Redner what his ethics should be. I would expect him to extend that courtesy to reviewers. It’s actually fine if Redner doesn’t want to send copies to certain people — what galls me is a man imposing his own values on other people and demanding that all reviews stick to his inflexible idea of what a review can and cannot be. Personally? As a reviewer I have one ethical rule — be honest, even if one must be ruthless. So long as a reviewer did that, then they did fine by me, whether I agree with them or not. I don’t care how a review is written, so long as it’s not bullshit. I didn’t see any bullshit with the Duke Nukem Forever reviews. I saw a variety of criticism with a variety of tones, and it was all fair to me, because I didn’t think anybody was lying.

If you don’t like a review, by all means say so. But have the f**king balls to own your opinion and say so. Don’t hide behind ill-defined ethical values as a way to deflect attention away from the fact that your feelings got hurt. You insult those you work with, those you represent, and yourself when you do that, and I’m more than happy to buy the games myself if it means not having to work with glorified GameFAQs posters.

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23 Comments on Duke Nukem Forever and Jim Redner’s Balls of Squeal

Tobbii

On June 21, 2011 at 9:03 am

Good read, I fully agree that reviews should always be honest no matter what. A guy a know reviewed No More Heroes 2 last year, and he HATED the game and gave it a 3.5, perfectly fine by me since he backed up his reasons very well, and I felt you did with the Duke review as well. Even if I disagree with you on various things regarding the game (I loved it), I can’t say you were wrong in any way for not finding Duke funny or feeling if the controls were bad etc. etc., after all, that’s the main idea of different tastes and opinions, that you can’t hate on one person for not thinking the same.

Redner seems to be trying to say that reviewers were lying about stuff in the reviews, I’m trying to figure out what he meant by that. If someone would have said that the game was 4 hours long or something, that’d be a lie, but as of yet all I’ve seen is people who just did not like the style and tone of the game.

However, to change gears entirerly, I need to ask…

What was homophobic in the game? I’m a bisexual male and I did not find anything anti-homosexual in the game on either of my runs so far.

Jim Sterling

On June 21, 2011 at 9:08 am

Tobbii: It was Ben Kuchera over at Ars that stumbled on the homophobic stuff. I know he specifically found a mag called “s” which is just … like … no.

Again, it’s the context of the joke. The entirety of that “joke” is that “ people are called s. LOL” and that doesn’t sit well with me at all, especially as a guy with similar gender preferences as yourself AND who lives in a state where homophobic slurs are something you need to seriously watch out for.

As with every problem I have with Duke, it’s not that jokes about these situations can’t be funny, it’s that I don’t think DNF actually tells a joke. Its humor consists merely of regurgitating slurs and tortuous scenarios and expecting us to laugh at them without further provocation. I find that pretty unsettling.

Tobbii

On June 21, 2011 at 9:21 am

Jim: I see, all I remember regarding “s” was the cigarette packages called “gs”. But I can see your point, that isn’t very funny.

Alan

On June 21, 2011 at 10:12 am

I agree completely, the only way to be ethical is to be as honest as you can.
It’s bad enough when the forum dwellers try to paint reviewers as unethical or unprofessional, but seeing that column on wired is ridiculous.

@Tobbii s is slang for cigarettes here in the UK which I guess was the “joke”, I think i only laughed mildly once in the game (the comment on mileage of the monster truck)

Geoff

On June 21, 2011 at 10:24 am

I guess I missed the Duke hate-bus somewhere. I for one thought the game was funny, if not at all classy. And where you’d say “outdated”, I’d say “retro”. I honestly thought the game was a breath of fresh air from a sea of carbon-copy, ultra-serious military shooters. I didn’t come across any homophobic content, but I’ll grant that such a joke was in bad taste. All the misogyny probably is too, but it’s hard to take that as major issue. That’s just Duke, that’s the environment he came from. Not liking Duke is no different then not liking other 90s or 80s action heroes. No need to wax intellectual or moral about it.

I really don’t think any of it needs to be taken as seriously as you’re taking it. The way you write, you act like this game is concentrated evil and that Redner is the anti-christ for defending it, however stupidly he went about it. I’m not questioning your judgment of him so much as of the game. Maybe it IS ty. If so, can we talk about something else now? Hearing people lambaste this game is getting as old as the game itself.

Andrew Peacock

On June 21, 2011 at 10:51 am

As someone who was born in the 90s and therefore wasn’t old enough to play the old Duke Nukem games, I find the justification of blatant misogyny and other vulgar or crude topics as, like Geoff said, “That’s just Duke, that’s the environment he came from.” a little perturbing. The environment he came from, the 80s and 90s, allowing such things to be commonplace disgusts me a litte.

Never mind the game’s poor controls or other technical issues, it’s the fact that the game makes jokes about legitimate societal issues (homophobia, the equality of men and women, etc.) that prevents me from ever playing it. Personally, I think the only people who can find the entirety of this game humourous are chauvinistic men who are quite a bit older than they were when such figures were popular.

I can only hope that the solid and deserved thrashing this game received will not only kill the franchise, but keep future games from attempting a similar sense of “humour”.

Victoria

On June 21, 2011 at 10:54 am

Geoff: This debate is not just about DNF, the game only served as the catalyst to the bigger issue of how critics review games. What you need to understand is that this is not the first instance, nor will it be the last (sadly), of reviewers being criticized because of the tone they take regarding a certain game.

What Jim Sterling is saying, something I agree with, is that a critic needs to be critical of games, but when they are critical they are punished for it. And Mr. Redner has attempted in his tweet (which was removed) and his Wired article, is to force his ethics onto critics.

Mr. Sterling: I honestly hope that this ridiculous idea of reviewers using kid gloves and sugar-coating their opinions to spare the feelings of others will one day fade out. Thank you for respecting your readers enough to tell the truth, rather than pandering to the developers and publishers. I do not always agree with your reviews, but I respect what you are doing. As for Mr. Redner, he seems to have missed the point of this whole thing completely. His article in Wired was a frustrating read.

SupremeAllah

On June 21, 2011 at 11:18 am

People offended by this game probably shouldn’t be playing mature rated games if their sensibilities are so fragile.

The killing women thing was also present in Duke 3d. The women used to beg “Kill…meeeee” which was a reference to Aliens.

So what I gather, is the politically correct crowd would rather let the women live, partially merged with alien DNA so they can die a painful death rather than the quick death Duke would grant them.

Duke doesn’t crack jokes when he kills the women. He is pissed. He even says “There’s nothing I can do for you, babe”

Since I already mentioned Aliens, if any of you guys were in the colonial marines, and you saw the chick on the wall who you know has a facehugger in her chest, are you gonna kill her or just walk away?

On another point. I don’t care if one reviewer doesn’t like a game I like if the reasons are VALID. However, the same people now who talk about not holding back in their reviews and such, sure that’s fine and all. But do you really think these people will do that for all games? Duke is a game that was easy to hate from before the start for many people, reviewers included. They may claim to be being honest, but what happens when they have a game they like pop up? Would this same reviewer blow his hot wad on a COD Modern Warfare 3 review because he LOVES COD, even though the game very well may be more of the exact same we’ve already seen?

I think reviewers being honest is fine. Everyone’s got their opinon. But I’d certainly like to see it spread evenly, and I highly doubt that will be the case given how a lot of people are who are currently writing the reviews. I post here because I have at least some respect for the people here. But there’s a lot of children and fanboys who are also reviewing stuff, and that ain’t right. Opinions are fine but when you have the ability to reach millions of people thru the media, you also have a responsibility.

PopeJamal

On June 21, 2011 at 11:44 am

I guess my big problem is that I personally view reviews and critiques as two completely different things.

I don’t want opinions on plot, story, or humor in a game review. I want to know if the “dodge” mechanic actually works, or if the animations are of high quality. I want to know HOW the game works. Anything else, in my opinion gets too far into the realm of personal opinion to be of any interest to me.

So in summary, I want reviewers to tell me whether a game is “broken”, because they have no idea what I personally consider “fun”, “smart”, or interesting. Anything outside of that should be left to discussion on forums, essays, or anything else that doesn’t have a score or rating.

SupremeAllah

On June 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Excellent point.

Phil Owen

On June 21, 2011 at 2:32 pm

PopeJamal has an interesting thought. That’s the reason I refer to myself as a critic rather than a “reviewer.”

Aids

On June 21, 2011 at 3:13 pm

VIDEA GAMEZ are srs bizness.

Shikaka

On June 21, 2011 at 4:48 pm

@Jim Sterling, couldn’t agree more with you on all points. Yes the destructoid review was _very_ harsh, but the score was definitely backed up in your written opinion.

I don’t agree with your take on everything, but I damn well respect that it’s your honest opinion and how you viewed the game so kudos for sticking to your guns.

The only instance where I think low-scoring reviews are uncalled for is when publications choose the wrong person for the job. ie: you don’t get someone that doesn’t like sports games to review the latest FIFA.

This, i thought was an issue with many of the recent reviews of Brink, in that many publications had people reviewing that game that clearly weren’t fans of team-based shooters and were playing it as if it was supposed to be Halo or Call of Duty.

In that instance, I think a PR rep has a valid criticism, but that’s certainly not the case here with Redner’s whining about Duke.

Duke isn’t a game that’s targeted at a niche, it’s an action game that leans very heavily on humour and many of us found that humour to just not be good enough to make up for it’s other technical faults.

Sanity

On June 21, 2011 at 6:29 pm

I think all of you are OTT. I think the reviews were way OTT, the reviews of the reviews are OTT, and now the reactions to the reviews of the reviews are totally OTT. I’m not sure what cardinal sin of gaming DNF violated but the vitriol on both sides is completely uncalled for. It was just a game, get over it and move on.

It’s ironic that I for many years I have complained that reviews for games have become very vanilla and that it is really rare to see scores for games under 7/10 on any site for any game (even ones that never deserve scores that high *I’m stating at you EA*) and then DNF comes out and I can’t find a single site giving it anything close to 7/10. If any good comes out of the DNF controversy maybe the review sites might start pulling their heads out and as a whole salvage their reputation. There needs to be a more combative environment hostile to the developers. Developers need to stop gaming the system and rehashing crap and the review sites have failed to do that. It would be nice to see real game scores for a change. Why should Yahtzee be the only one giving an honest assessment.

chad w

On June 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm

I can’t believe that people are agreeing with this blog. Jim Sterling is the reason I stopped going to Destructoid, because his over-negative trollish rants, disguised as ‘reviews’, were too many and too awful. Its no surprise that he gave DNF a very low score, because that’s just par for the course for Jim. It’s like he single-handedly brought back the 1 out of 10 score for all of us.

Jim Redner’s point was simple: all over a company’s game, and you won’t get another. Makes sense…except to Mr. Sterling, who has been ting all over new releases since day one.

You can dislike a game, but leave the creative douschebaggery for the forums. Don’t call it a review.

Arkdiablo

On June 22, 2011 at 7:56 am

Sniff…Can’t we all just get along??? Sniff…I need a hug…Sniff

Crito

On June 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Couldn’t agree with parent article more.

That said, just your friendly neighborhood male 8800GTX-having feminist scold here to remind you that calling crybaby devs “princesses” plays to stereotypes of women as weak, and accusing commenters of lacking “balls” plays to stereotypes of women as lacking the ability to form/express opinions. Same misogyny that permeates DNF, writ small.

Gendered language, especially among those of you who write thoughtfully about games (such as the commenters on this page), reinforces the cultural status quo that encourages devs to make games like DNF.

SupremeAllah, quaere: Why do you accept the -premise- of a game that requires us to kill women to save them from alien rape? What storytelling function does kidnapping women for rape serve? Why did the devs, confronted with a gameplay scenario involving women being raped say, “Let’s have the PC kill them, and call them ‘babe’ in the process,” instead of, “Will players still feel compelled to repel an alien menace if we DON’T have said menace also kidnap women for the purposes of rape”?

Garlock

On June 22, 2011 at 1:02 pm

@Crito

First of all, I take issue with the people who talk about all of the “rape” in the game. These words invoke images of some sort of interactive snuff film. That’s not what’s in DNF. You simply have women, standing in green gooey pods, moaning in fear and pain. It’s EXACTLY what we had in Duke Nukem 3D, except the graphics and sound effects are more detailed. The concept is the same.

The story of Duke Nukem 3D was this: aliens invade. What was their motivation? To steal Earth’s women. Why? Procreation, presumably as part of some kind of diabolical army-growing plot. You’re SUPPOSED to find that offensive. They’re ALIENS. They’re EVIL. And most importantly, they’re FICTIONAL.

You’re arguing that the bad guys in DNF shouldn’t have any sort of motive, that the plot shouldn’t have any dimensions to it. You’d rather it be a very generic “good versus bad for no reason” conflict rather than having the aliens’ evil plot be something that’s truly terrible.

I accept the premise of killing DNF’s Pod Girls because the only alternative is to let them sit there and suffer. I’m not going to ask for a third option, because there is no third option. The aliens are evil bastards and this is what they do to the women they kidnap. That’s why you, as the player, are trying to kill them.

J

On June 22, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Seems to me the original post was made by a troll that felt he got called out for being a troll and is now pissed off that some people don’t like trolls.

Frankly I liked DNF. However if I was a reviewer I would rank it low because the controls were annoying but not because of its plot/content. Its plot/content is not a review that is a critique on its humor and story telling. If you wish to give your opinion on that then don’t claim you are reviewing the game say you are giving your opinion. My opinion is that it was very 80ish and frankly that is what I was looking for. If I wanted another Halo/COD game I would have just gone and found the next lame ass version that reviewers/critics all seem to love or better yet just play the original one I have.

Alan B

On June 23, 2011 at 1:46 am

> It’s simply not the place for little princesses made of eggshells.

The whole Duke Nukem game experience probably isn’t for little princesses made of eggshells either.

Crash

On June 23, 2011 at 6:35 am

*Yawn* Sounds like some people have grown too old and serious for video-gaming.

Maybe you should start a blog reviewing accountancy methods instead.

Pentara

On June 23, 2011 at 8:25 am

Just want to say I really enjoyed Duke Nukem Forever. It wasn’t groundbreaking by any means but it was fun and full of all the brash, crude humor that i was expecting. More of the same isn’t always a bad thing even if it took several years to develop.

CHoedy

On June 23, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Lets say you disliked Zelda.You did not enjoy playing it and so you bash it like you do every other good game because YOU don’t happen to like it.I guess that’s fair because theirs millions of others who say your wrong.Just because you suck at a game and do not have fun playing it does not mean its a ty game.