Ken Silverman’s long-lost BUILD2 engine released


A tempting morsel for the techies, creators and archivists among us before RPS news signs off for the weekend. Apogee/3D Realms’ BUILD engine has seen a bit of press in recent weeks, thanks to the early access launch of Ion Maiden, a Duke Nukem 3D successor built using the famed DOS-era codebase, albeit running through a modern source-port.

After abandoning a first attempt at a successor engine way back in the day due to difficulties in creating a first-person editing interface, original engine developer Ken Silverman returned to the fray in 2006. Work continued on BUILD2 until 2011 before he lost interest. Now, he’s released the final work-in-progress version to the public, and it’s impressive enough that I find myself wondering what the retro FPS scene would look like today if this came out 7 years ago.

The BUILD2 engine is an impressive piece of work, and seemed (at least at one point) largely backwards-compatible with Duke 3D and Shadow Warrior’s maps and entities. Sadly, it falls short on a few notable features such as transparency rendering and animated textures. On the other hand, BUILD2 goes far beyond the original in a variety of ways, including a much more advanced lighting engine, voxel rendering for entities and true room-over-room 3D spaces.

Given the explosion of Doom-based modding and engine work that’s happened over the past few years, plus the resurgence of the Duke 3D scene resulting in a whole new, well-received throwback shooter, I can only begin to imagine what the current landscape would look like if Silverman had spent just a little longer working on BUILD2, at least long enough to bring it up to par and ideally backwards-compatible with BUILD1’s best games.

You can pick up the BUILD2 engine, editor, sample scripts and all here. Kudos to YouTube channel CuteFloor for the excellent video explaining the trials and tribulations the engine went through to get to this point.


  1. TimePointFive says:

    This is extremely cool. I love the Build Engine games. There’s something so…crunchy about them.

    • Unclepauly says:

      I recently read an article about input lag on newer PC’s/os’s/games vs older ones. The conclusion was something about all the complexity of our modern stuff adding up to much higher input lag vs older “stuff”. “Closer to the metal” is a good expression for the phenomena. Maybe that explains your crunchy feeling.

      • Addie says:

        The simplicity of the engine makes for much more destructible environments, too. Whether Duke Nukem or the new Ion Maiden; in build, if you break a window, bits of broken glass fly everywhere, and it doesn’t just fade away after a few seconds. Chairs get wrecked, lights break (and stop switching on and off); walls explode away when you shoot barrels, cars blow up. I’d say that in general, the weapons are more interesting too – whether it’s Nukem’s shrink / expand rays, and the laser tripmine / pipe bomb combos that encourage you set traps; or the fact that the second weapon to be had in Blood is TNT, which you light and throw – the standard FPS pistol / shotgun / machine gun progression is avoided, and you’re encouraged to use weapons that really go boom.

        Most modern games, you can tell where you’ve already been, because there are no more enemies and their corpses have faded away. Build engine games, you can tell where you’ve been because the entire place looks a wreck and there’s debris everywhere.

        • Kriever says:

          Much oficial that stuff is what impressed me on Duke3D back in the day. My jaw really dropped when I first player the shareware version of Duke Nuken 3D.

  2. Gus the Crocodile says:

    Build’s reserved place in my mind is that was the first time I encountered a level design tool that happily let you build entirely impossible spaces. I was pretty blown away when my brother showed me, he’d made a corridor that made far too many left turns and re-emerged in the same place in the room (or something along those lines, I forget exactly).

  3. NuclearSword says:

    Very fascinating to see this, and hear about the history. It would be really cool if this wound up powering modern games – stuff like DUSK or STRAFE that are trying to imitate the older engines might be able to…. just feel better(?) if they start using older tech. I mean, look at Xonotic, which is built on DarkPlaces – a modified Quake sourceport? Feels freakin’ beautiful. It would be really interesting to see the next wave of retro FPS’ – after Amid Evil, Ion Maiden and the like – start just diving into the old engines. Because I’ll be honest: stuff like Brutal Doom and Powerslave EX just play better than a lot of modern stuff.

    Plus, y’know, after Prey and DNF went onto other engines, doesn’t the BUILD2 engine deserve at least one commercial release? Even if it comes in 2020 or whatever? :)

  4. BeardyHat says:

    Build Engine 2? Ion Maiden better start development over, wouldn’t want to be on dated technology.

  5. April March says:

    I hope that this does get adopted. It seems to be made for doing a lot of things that are getting done already anyway.