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Library of Congress discovers unreleased Duke Nukem game

UPDATE: Apogee responds, still owns the copyright to Critical Mass PSP.

UPDATE 07/08/2014 11.42pm: Former Duke Nukem IP-holder Apogee Software has shed a little light on what went down with the unreleased PSP version of Duke Nukem: Critical Mass.

"An early alpha version of the game was submitted to the Library of Congress by Apogee as required for the copyrighting process," said Apogee co-founder and CCO Terry Nagy in a correspondence with Eurogamer. "Subsequently, Apogee decided not to release the game in 2011, even though we had a build submitted to Sony for final approval. This decision was not due to the loss of any rights by Apogee."

When asked why the PSP version of Duke Nukem: Critical Mass never got released, the developer declined to comment.

That being said, Nagy noted that Apogee still owns the copyright to Duke Nukem: Critical Mass and has been rather successful in the period since. "Apogee has had tremendous success with Rise of the Triad that released in 2013 and have been focused on new game development, working with indies on their games, and continued support for Rise of the Triad," Nagy continued. "Some really exciting new things happening here at Apogee, but if you would have bet us $20 back in 2011 that Duke Nukem: Critical Mass was going to be making news in 2014, I suppose we would have lost 20 bucks."

ORIGINAL STORY 06/08/2014 10.32pm: An unreleased Duke Nukem game has been unearthed by a Library of Congress technician.

The man in question, David Gibson, works for the Moving Image section of the Library of Congress, which he described as "the custodial unit for video games". He noted that this section of the library receives roughly 400 games a year through the copyright registration process. Sometimes the Library of Congress is sent ancillary materials like videos of gameplay or pieces of source code. In this case, Gibson found the seeds of an unfinished Duke Nukem game for PSP.

So we know it would've had jetpacks.

It all began when the technician happened upon a DVD-R with the curious label: "Duke Nukem: Critical Mass (PSP)".

"My first assumption was that the disc, like so many others we have received, was a DVD-R of gameplay," Gibson stated in a Library of Congress blog post. "However, a line of text on the Copyright database record for the item intrigued me. It reads: 'Authorship: Entire video game; computer code; artwork; and music.'"

"I placed the disc into my computer's DVD drive to discover that the DVD-R did not contain video, but instead a file directory, including every asset used to make up the game in a wide variety of proprietary formats."

"I realised then that in my computer was the source disc used to author the UMD for an unreleased PlayStation Portable game," the technician explained. "I could feel the lump in my throat. I felt as though I had solved the wizard's riddle and unlocked the secret door."

After a bit of research Gibson realised that Duke Nukem: Critical Mass was released on DS, but this PSP game of the same name was "a very different beast" than that.

Unfortunately, Gibson can't share its contents as it's all copyrighted material. "The legal and logistical hurdles related to providing access to licensed software will continue to present themselves as we move forward but I hope that increased focus on the tremendous research value of such digital assets will allow for these items to be more accessible in the future," the archivist said.

"I feel that access to the game assets and source code will prove to be invaluable both to researchers who are interested in game design and mechanics and to any preservation efforts the Library may undertake," Gibson said of this discovery.

As for the unfinished PSP version of Duke Nukem: Critical Mass (PSP), its "assets and code will be stored in our digital archive at the Packard Campus in Culpeper and the physical disc will be stored in temperature-controlled vaults." It's all very Raider of the Lost Ark, it seems.

"The source disc for the PSP version of Duke Nukem: Critical Mass stands out in the video game collection of the Library of Congress as a true digital rarity," Gibson stated. "Receiving the source disc for an unreleased game directly from the developer is analogous to receiving the original camera negative for an unreleased film, along with all of the separate production elements used to make the film. The disc is a valuable evidentiary artifact and I hope we will see more of its kind as we continue to define and develop our software preservation efforts."

We've reached out to then-Duke Nukem developer Apogee to see if it can shed any light on why this game was cancelled and if it has any objections to its recently discovered contents being published. In the meantime, here's a leaked video of the PSP version of Duke Nukem: Critical Mass from 2010.

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