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   Planet Duke | Features | Interview: Ken Silverman (11/29/98)

Ken Silverman (11/29/98)
...on the one and only Build engine, made famous by Duke Nukem 3D
Interview by Brad Wernicke - Originally seen at Dukeworld

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What's your favorite language to program in?
Ken: I use Watcom C 11.0 most. Actually. my favorite programming language is QuickBasic 4.5! Not a joke. QuickBasic is a better version of QBasic. It's more complete, faster, and you can compile with it too. There are some things that suck in Basic, but you wouldn't believe how nice it is to have instant compiles and no crashes. I don't make exe's often with it, but I use QuickBasic as a tool for testing algorithms.

How were you involved with other parts of Duke Nukem 3D's development?
Ken: I did some network code for Duke 3D, but then sometime in 1995, Apogee decided that Mark Dochterman's code should be used instead.

How much experience do you have designing levels in Build?
Ken: I've made about 20 levels or so, but just in my own Build test game. I haven't made any Duke 3D levels, my maps only work in my Build test game. My Build game has a 500K of my own artwork (similar to Ken's Labyrinth artwork) that I used for the test levels. I could make my own Build game and sell it, but I'm a terrible artist!

What was your role in making 3Dfx support happen for Shadow Warrior, and what is it about the engine that keeps it from matching the looks of GLQuake, for example?
Ken: My role was just giving source code to 3Dfx and handling a couple of tech support calls during the development of the 3Dfx patch for Shadow Warrior.

At one time, I played with some 3D accelerators. One was ATI RAGE, and the other was a beta 3Dfx. I thought it was a lot nicer, but that it wouldn't do much for my engine. The main reason 3Dfx doesn't help FPS is that Build draws walls with vertical spans and ceilings/floors with horizontal spans.

3D accelerators like to draw triangles. Build did all the front to back clipping with a vertical span buffer (which was really great for software), but that meant that polygons had to be drawn one line at a time (or four at a time with some special optimizations)

Why did you decide to eventually leave Apogee/3D Realms?
Ken: I left Apogee because I felt that I wasn't keeping up with technology and I wanted to go back to school while I was still young. My breakup was certainly not a "walking out in the middle of the night" kind of thing, it was more of a phasing out because I had no engine comparable to Quake at the time.

Are you working on any game or engine projects on your own time?
Ken: Every once in a while, I play around with some new project. Actually, I have a couple demos rotting on my hard drive right now. They're not games, but they're really cool. One of them is a 3D globe simulator with correctly positioned planets and stars... I also made a nice Rubix Cube program, with a nice smooth interface (the computer doesn't solve it for you though).

So, will we see Ken Silverman again in the gaming industry someday? Do you realize the mark you have made?
Ken: Well I would say that's pretty unlikely in the next 2 years, and after that, I really couldn't say. That's not because I'm keeping a secret or anything. I just don't know what the hell I'm going to be doing. I've had plenty of job offers, but not too many recently. I would say it's just as likely I do something else (related to computer programming) as gaming.

I do realize that I made some mark, but at Brown I remain anonymous, so I don't really see it every day.

What are your thoughts on Duke Nukem 3D's popularity now? How do you feel about all of the user maps and total conversions out there for Duke Nukem 3D?
Ken: It's great that it's popular. I couldn't say I truly understand how much of a huge success the game is. It's great that so many people are playing with our tools! I just hope that the "when I switch into 3D mode I get a black screen" bug doesn't plague too many people. Actually, the reason for that was that they released Duke when I was in RI and I never got a chance to look at the final version before release. I MAY have caught it if I was there at the time.

Any comments on today's newer 3D engines?
Ken: Not really, I've seen Quake 2 and Unreal... not much else. One thing I was proud of Build was that it didn't use BSP trees. This allowed things to be easily modified by a programmer. For example, as long as walls didn't intersect, the game programmer (Todd, Frank, Nick) could simply say wall.x = -17; and the wall would move without any precalculations. I really don't know too much about those engines though.

Are you a die-hard gamer?
Ken: No. I don't play games very much these days. At one time I got pretty good at Dukematching, but I would lose to anyone who said they were good. I have an EXE which allows my Duke bots to play for you while you hold down a key. It's some seriously annoying cheating which if released could really annoy players, so Apogee/3D Realms would have to clear it if I ever wanted to release it.

Thanks again to Ken Silverman for taking the time to ask these questions that the community has been dying to hear the answers to for so long. Also, many thanks to the folks in Undernet #3drealms for providing some of the questions used in the interview.

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