As part of my “I used to play…” series of posts, I get tempted to track down the original developers (which can be tricky enough) and then coerce them into answering some questions. I’ll be following up this post with a “I used to play… Duke Nukem 3D” one sometime next week.
In this case I contacted Ken Silverman who was the man behind the engine which powered the games:
- Duke Nukem 3D
- Shadow Warrior
- Witchaven I + II
- Redneck Rampage + Rides Again + Deer Huntin’
I was a huge fan of Duke Nukem 3D and spent way too much time in Ken’s editor, creating my vision of the perfect level that I never managed to complete and release (but it was flipping awesome ).
Here is the interview, which was conducted via email so I couldn’t really follow up his answers with questions based on them.
Any chance of a little introduction to yourself and your current situation?
I live in Rhode Island. I have not had a real job since 1996. I volunteer 3 days a week at Brown University, where I work on hardware projects with my dad. I fill the rest of my days working on my own software projects, mentoring kids at my old high school, playing volleyball, and answering emails.
From what I’ve read, you’re quite addicted to programming. What is it about programming that you love so much?
As a kid, I was good at math, bad at sports, and had few friends. So I filled my time with hobbies. I gravitated towards programming because it was something that I was good at, and a platform where I could test ideas without having to buy parts (other than a new computer every few years).
Currently, are you working on anything special or just maintaining current projects?
I’m always working on interesting projects. I don’t like to announce things prematurely though. Besides new things, I do spend a lot of time maintaining EVALDRAW. I will revisit other projects only if there’s a need, and the changes don’t require much time.
Anything you want to plug?
Well, the biggest thing right now would be EVALDRAW:
http://advsys.net/ken/download.htm#evaldraw. It’s a programming environment featuring C-like syntax and instant feedback. I use it almost exclusively for testing algorithms.
What did it feel like to be considered a major rival to John Carmack and having him mention you as such?
Apparently, I was excited when I found those quotes in 2000. That’s now ancient history.
Are you a gamer nowadays? If so, which platforms do you use and what are you currently playing?
No. I don’t play other people’s games anymore. Modern games just make me depressed, because it shows how far behind I have become.
What prompted you to release the source code for your engine?
I did it to please the fans. Also, I wanted to see a native Windows port without having to do the work myself.
Do you know of anything that sprouted from the released code?
Sure. I did a lot of work for JonoF’s port. My contributions mostly ended in 2005 and I haven’t really been following the scene since then.
Out of all the games that you’ve seen using the Build engine, which is your favourite?
I would have to say Duke because it was first big game, and it made the most money. I thought Blood had the best artwork, and Shadow Warrior had the cleanest code.
Apart from Duke3D, which Build based game would you like to see released on modern gaming consoles?
I don’t own a console, and so I don’t really care.
When creating the Build editor, did you design it for your own needs or think about others using it?
I always design things for myself at first, by a process of evolution. When I signed on with Apogee, they were pushing me to make Build easier to use. That’s what prompted my idea to move some of the editing to 3D mode. A month later, I rewrote the engine to use sectors, thanks to a hint from John Carmack. After that, I was mostly fixing things when people complained. I don’t bother with a fancy GUI until I see other people taking an interest in the project. Sometimes, writing documentation prompts me to clean things up, often it’s easier to fix code than to write about its quirks.
How does it make your feel seeing the amount of levels / mods etc… the communities have created for their Build based games?
For the first few years, I was definitely looking through all the user levels. It’s not so interesting anymore.
What kind of involvement did you have with the development of Duke 3D?
While in Texas, I worked mostly with Todd Replogle. I would help him implement my latest network code, fix bugs, and do other miscellaneous stuff. Sometimes I would watch Allen Blum or Richard Gray design maps. When in Rhode Island, I could spend more time on big things without distraction.
Could you describe what it was like working on the game and the experience at 3DRealms/Apogee?
My memories are fading like a DRAM without a refresh of charge. You’ll have to find the answer in one of my previous interviews.
What were your thoughts on Duke’s source being released?
I was happy to see it released.
If George Broussard had asked you to update your engine for Duke Nukem Forever, would it have been released by now?
It wouldn’t have mattered, since I was going to leave the company anyway. I don’t think I would have been able to compete with Quake or Unreal.
I spent way too much time incessantly building and tweaking my own Duke3D level, because you made a great editor and engine. Thanks for that. Can I have that time back please?
Sorry, I cannot bend time and space.
With Duke3D having been released on the Xbox360 Arcade, how does it feel having your engine running on a modern gaming console?
I have never seen the XBLA port. I have no interest in things outside the PC realm.
A huge thanks to Ken for taking the time to answer the questions of a lowly blogger like myself. It certainly seems that Ken has moved on from his Duke related past, enjoying life with his family and programming what he wants to. Now I wonder if I could tempt another Duke3D legend like Todd Replogle out of hiding…