RPS published a great article by Robert Zak, which talks about the rise and fall of the amazing technology, created by Ken Silverman.
If you’ve been lucky to play PC-games in the 90s, you’ve got to remember The Build Engine. It’s a new technology, which was extensively used in a number of FPS games: Duke Nukem 3D, Witchaven, Blood, Shadow Warrior.
Technically, it wasn’t really a 3d engine, but rather 2.5D technology. The environments were three-dimensional, but the enemies and other content was rendered as 2d sprites. Everything was very dirty, pixilated and low rez. And it was a lot of fun. For me personally, The Build Engine was the first technology that sort of showed what level design was all about. It was this engine, that introduced the concept of level design to thousands of amateurs like myself. It was fun to find that Robert Zak from RPS still remembers this great technology and was kind enough to write an article about it.
The environments in Build games were uniquely interactive and grounded in reality. Up to that point (and for a few years after it, with Unreal, Quake and their derivatives), shooters took place in netherrealms – metallic bases on distant planets, alien hives, or maybe vaguely fantasy-themed yet equally implacable mazes that seemed to exist for the sole purpose of you shooting stuff in them; you pick up coloured cards, you press big buttons on walls, you kill kill kill without uttering a word.
But Build games took the action to urban centres, morgues and small-town Americana. We were whisked away to more fantastical worlds by Shadow Warrior and the wonderful Outlaws (not a Build game, but also among the last 2.5D shooters, and one of my favourite FPSes of all time, so I’m mentioning it, OK?), which took place in Japan and the old west. What unified all these environments is that they felt like real spaces designed for humans to reside in, but which just happened to be beset by zombies, aliens, or foul-mouthed shotgun-wielding hillbilly clones (that’s Redneck Rampage, in case you were wondering).
Be sure to check out the full article over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.