The forgotten magic of nineties shooters
Duke Nukem, an action hero of the nineties, a fighter against aliens attacking the planet Earth, is a figure known to almost all kids who had access to a computer in the nineties. By far the most successful game in which this hero appeared and at the same time the game that brought him into the limelight was Duke Nukem 3D.
At one time, it was a revelation – unlike the previous two parts, the third episode used Ken Silverman’s Build engine, which gave players a much more fun pseudo-3D (or 2.5D) environment. This fact, combined with appropriate marketing and amazing gameplay, made Duke a legend.
However, other, sometimes more and sometimes less successful games were created in Duke’s shadow at Build. In addition to a common engine, their common denominator is similar system requirements – an Intel 80486 processor or compatible, at least 8 MB of RAM, a graphics card with VGA support, approximately 50 MB of disk space and a DOS system version 5 or higher.
Incompatibility of today’s systems
Why do I mention the operating system last in the parameters? Because this is currently the biggest obstacle preventing these good old games from being played on modern systems. DOS was a 16-bit system, which means you can’t run software for it on modern Windows. The NTVDM support layer for 16-bit applications is preserved by Windows only in the 32-bit edition, which, however, is expanded to a very minor extent.
By default, you are thus dependent on DOSBox, which, however, has to be set up somewhat inconveniently, and the final user experience from it is not nearly as pleasant as those interested in playing builds might expect – the software does not implement any modern mechanisms and the control behaves the same as it used to be on DOS. Retro, you might think, but know that after experiencing modern FPS shooters, it’s not something you’ll get used to. In addition, the image is adapted to the original resolution of the monitors of the time, and if you don’t put up with the tiny window on your large FullHD monitor and switch to fullscreen, you will be faced with a rather blurry and pixelated image.
At this point, you might say that it would be better to leave the old games in the drawer. But that shouldn’t be the BuildGDX project here.
BuildGDX, or How to run builds on modern systems
As the name suggests, it is an emulator of games built on Build, written on the basis of the Java library libGDX. Since this is software written in Java and which uses OpenGL ES to render graphics, you can originally play DOS games both on Windows and on your Mac or Linux station – all you need is the installed Java Runtime Environment.
The author is Alexander Makarov, known under the nickname M210, who is no unknown figure in the field of reincarnation of building games. The whole project that resulted as BuildGDX de facto started as BloodCM, the build game Blood from Monolith Studio remade to run on the eDuke32 engine. Makarov subsequently abandoned the project due to inauthenticity, when the eDuke32 engine showed some different characteristics than the original Build. This is how the BloodGDX project was born, which ported the original Blood including the Build engine under the libGDX library.
Over time, Makarov expanded support for other games built on Build – namely Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, Redneck Rampage, Tekwar, Powerslave, NAM, Seven Paladins, and Witchaven I and II. Today, it is a de facto platform with which you can run a lot of period shooters on any modern system.
Now we will show you how to start any game according to your personal preferences. First of all, you need to download BuildGDX from the website of the project author. It is available here in two variants – one with an implemented JRE and the other without it. The first variant is more data intensive and assumes that you do not have the JRE in the system and that you will only use it to run BuildGDX (it is not registered anywhere in the system). In the case of the second version, you get a JAR file that you run through the JRE that you already have on your system. It should be noted that in the first variant, BuildGDX is compiled into an EXE file and can thus only be run on Windows. If you are on macOS or Linux, you will always have to go for the second variant and, if necessary, install the JRE.
After unpacking and starting the program, an information window will appear that allows us to choose the game we want to play. It is worth mentioning that although some of the implemented games are nowadays considered abandonware, for licensing reasons the author does not include them and the user must supply the game data himself, while it is assumed that he holds it legally and officially.
BuildGDX main window. Source: own
After selecting the game, the user is forced to enter the path to the game data, which is necessary for its launch. This selection is only necessary after the first launch, as well as all applied settings – everything is saved in the folder created in the root of the user profile, where it is until you change any settings again.
Bringing BuildGDX to the game data folder. Source: own
By clicking on the gear wheel, we get to an understandable interface, where we can set, for example, the resolution, whether we want to run the game in fullscreen, the rendering method, the sound driver, or whether we want to load user content from the autoload folder, which can be used to mod games.
Now we can start the game itself. If you want to play around with the settings that were available in the previous dialog, you are allowed to do so. But I’m assuming that at this point you’ll mainly want to play with the game itself, so have fun!
Duke Nukem 3D running in BuildGDX. Source: own