‘Duke Smoochem 3D’ creator Dan Douglas on capturing Britain’s weirdness

"Someone asked why the game depicts Keir Starmer killing an alpaca, and my only response was 'to fully enjoy Duke Smoochem you need to spend 20 hours a day on Twitter'”

Since July 2021, Dan Douglas has been lovingly reconstructing the minutiae of British culture, armed only with the classic 1996 first-person shooter Duke Nukem 3D, and the game’s own built-in level-editor, Build. But if you’re picturing a lofty likeness of the United Kingdom – all ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, and guffawing royals waving Union Jack flags – then think again. On Douglas’ own brilliantly batshit creation, Duke Smoochem, he’s more interested in capturing the absurd and ridiculous little happenings that define our nation – think “the lady who put her cat in the bin”, a gang of feral children interrupting this notorious lockdown-era interview on BBC News, and the big red Brexit Bus (complete with its ‘£350m a week to the NHS’ slogan) jammed across a road like a more pathetic version of the Ever Given container ship blocking the Suez canal. In other words, it’s less Platinum Jubilee, and more a carnage-riddled “platty joobs”-themed bottomless brunch.

Even Lee Jackson, who composed music for the original Duke Nukem 3D game, has now come on board. “Honestly, it’s a dream come true,” Douglas says. “In my opinion, his music is some of the best ever composed for video games, especially his contributions to the Rise of the Triad and Duke Nukem 3D soundtracks. He was super attentive about creating exactly the synth-driven post-punk sound I wanted for a level, which sees Duke escape on a sightseeing tour bus mobbed by seagulls, and was just an absolute pleasure to work with.”

“The tone is all over the place, and I see it almost like a collage,” the game’s creator explains, of its overall feel. “The ludicrousness of modern Britain filtered through reading too many deranged social media posts. Someone asked why the game depicts Keir Starmer killing an alpaca, and my only response was “to fully enjoy Duke Smoochem you need to spend 20 hours a day on Twitter.”

Duke Smoochem 3D. Credit: Dan Douglas.
Duke Smoochem 3D. Credit: Dan Douglas.

Though Duke Smoochem certainly contains more satirical elements – like Neil Parish MP angrily driving a tractor into the House of Commons after being caught watching porn at work, for instance – the real beauty of Douglas’ game is that you couldn’t make most of this up. From TikTok losing its collective mind over Coventry establishment Binley Mega Chippy and causing queues around the block, to those four ripped lads in skinny jeans who took over the internet for about 24 hours back in 2020, the entire project is essentially a shrine to the brilliance of meme culture, and its ability to create everyday heroes (and poke fun at power-wielding villains) in a matter of minutes. And when it’s not celebrating flying wheelie bins, Duke Smoochem also skewers the UK’s particularly toxic brand of patriotism, and its deeply weird obsession with horrifying phenomenons like making old-age pensioners race around their gardens to raise money for the NHS. “I see it as an interactive shitpost,” Douglas says.

Based in south-east London, 38-year old Douglas works in broadcasting, and has recently returned to work after taking a two-year break to recover from a psychotic episode. Initially he began work on this seemingly endless quest to document the farcical nature of Brexit Britain as a creative distraction, originally inspired by Matt Hancock’s antics during the height of the pandemic. Now an image that will unfortunately be emblazoned across our retinas forever, the former Health Secretary was caught snogging his aide on the job, while patting her down with all the grace of a reversing dump-truck without any tyres on (to quote Come Dine With Me contestant and fellow Duke Smoochem character Peter Marsh). In the opening stages of the game, players are cast as a version of Duke, who is an intrepid reporter for The Sun. Intent on securing the incriminating CCTV footage of Hancock, Duke soon flees to Stonehenge on a sightseeing bus with the goods, before swiftly getting lost in a web of seagull-shooting and endless cultural references points.

“Seeing an absurdly detailed floor plan of Matt Hancock’s former Department of Health office in the Daily Mail, following the publication of CCTV images revealing his affair, with labels for “Union Jack” and “Queen painting” seemed at once completely unnecessary and also very funny,” Douglas says. “It reminded me of an automap view from a video game. Duke Nukem 3D famously has a security camera effect, so I thought it would be amusing to recreate the scene in the game using the Build engine editor, which is the only level design tool I had experience with. It kind of snowballed from there.” he adds, in something of an understatement.

Almost a year on, Douglas continues to painstakingly craft Wetherspoons piss dungeons, blackcurrant-squash chugging gorillas, and other genius new additions for Duke Smoochem, which has gradually evolved into a Twitter project as well as a game. Likely to be “years in the making” the main difficulty with the project – besides mastering the tricky art of delay triggers – is now finishing it. It’s a difficult prospect when there’s no limit to the stupidity and strangeness on show in the UK; it’d be his worst nightmare to release the game a day before Duncan from Blue hypothetically announces he’s running for London Mayor, for example. “There’s an inclination to keep it perpetually unfinished and simply enjoy that side of the project,” Douglas says. Other events which feel custom-made for Duke Smoochem – like the wildly expensive Wagatha Christie legal battle between Coleen Rooney and Rebecca Vardy – are also complicated to bring to life. “It’s something I’d like to add,” Douglas agrees, “but I’d need to build a courtroom first which will take some time!”

Duke Smoochem 3D. Credit: Dan Douglas.
Duke Smoochem 3D. Credit: Dan Douglas.

Naturally, Douglas has also been pondering the deeper links between gaming and memes, as work continues on his mammoth endeavour. From the side-splitting immortalisation of a piece of Harry Potter dialogue created on the sandbox game Garry’s Mod (“you’re a wizard, harry!”) to an entire sub-category of memes created by in-game glitches, there’s a visible crossover, particularly aided by customisable engines players can tweak to their hearts’ content.

“I think It’s massive, especially over the past decade as social media and gaming have converged and streaming has exploded,” Douglas says. “I think the implementation of content sharing features on consoles has really helped solidify the relationship too, suddenly there’s this surfeit of user-generated imagery regularly showing games in a humorous light that just wasn’t produced 15 years ago. Although obviously a lot of gaming memes are self-referential and rely on a knowledge of the game itself, stuff like the “Ah shit, here we go again” caption from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas completely transcends the medium. I think more than anything I’m looking forward to people playing this and hopefully sharing their own screenshots and clips of all the daft stuff I’ve put in,” he says, adding, “although hopefully not too much of the technical jank.”

“One of my very favourite things about this project is people learning about weird events through it, either topical or historical,” Douglas concludes. “Eventually I’d like to create a commentary mode, devoid of enemies that the player can just wander around in and discover the origins of all the reference points I’ve thrown in, like some kind of meme museum. Although that will be a massive undertaking in itself.” One day, eh? And until then, the eventual promise of Duke Smoochem is more than enough to get by on.

To keep up with everything that’s added to Duke Smoochem 3D, make sure to keep an eye on Douglas’ Twitter account

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