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Leap off that bus, get warmed up for the City and dip into the secrets, lore, references and mechanics of level 2 of Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius, "Embarco's Most Blasted".

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Download Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius (last update: 03/04/2024; v. 5.0.2)

Welcome to the continuation of this hopefully, eventually exhaustive series of articles addressing the secrets, lore, references and mechanics of each individual level of Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius. Today, we'll be ripping a new one into "Embarco's Most Blasted", the second map of the campaign, based around downtown San Francisco - you can catch up with the equivalent piece about level 1 here.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

History: "Embarco's Most Blasted" was built Dec. 27th, 2020 - Feb. 14th, 2021. Chronologically, it was the sixth map built for Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius after, respectively, level 3 "Big Apple Smoke Toke", level 7 "Lights, Camera, Revolution", level 9 "Nakano Nightmare", level 1 "Sunset Suicide" and level 6 "Koj Stil Borac".

Moving on from level 1's L.A., and away by the means of a borrowed Greyhound bus and a highway itinerary the signage in both levels gets real-life correct, San Francisco made perfect sense as a follow-up location and city.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB
Ready for action?


Again in order to better prepare the player for the true scope of their adventure with the reassurance of some familiarity still, Duke wouldn't leave the West Coast or even just California yet (and so the red tints from the introductory level would stay with him, now inherited by the sunset skies and pavement bricks).

The metropolitan settings themselves would feel different, however - and yet only so much after the official inclusion of a San Francisco level by Allen H. Blum III in the Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour exclusive episode: "Alien World Order".

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB
City view from Pier 7.


But Duke would still get acquainted with a larger sense of scale, under the guise of the pseudo-classic settings; the Embarcadero area of downtown San Francisco, in addition to being culturally iconic, felt like it would allow for enough room to practice typically underused mechanics such as steroids and jetpack logic, as well as new combat reflexes and strategy developments as constantly pushed onto the player by the Sunburnt Battlelords and Scorpion Tanks.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

Build engine reinterpretation of Hyatt Regency San Francisco.


The modernist appearance of the Embarcadero/Justin Herman Plaza as designed by Lawrence Alprin, but also of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, the Vaillancourt Fountain, various buildings around the Embarcadero Center and as far up Market Street as the Powell Street station would simultaneously allow for, on one hand, interesting terrain and, on the other hand, stylistic experiments in the vein of early development stage-Duke Nukem 3D urban level designs as depicted in LameDuke but also various other beta builds and screenshots.

Inspirational screenshots from the "Duke Nukem 3D" August-October 1995 prototypes.
More, here!


Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

The Vaillancourt Fountain.


The Ferry Building could also serve as an important gameplay element and clear horizontal divider to really confirm the importance of jetpack and steroids use to a player now frustrated by the construction blocking the space and therefore desperate for ways to save time.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB
Ferry Building demonstrates how practical distribution of space is everything.


Not to mention how the Harry Bridges plaza looked pretty fun to recreate as simple Build space, and how the port and docks just sounded perfect for escalating not just the action but also the feeling of urgency and stakes - since the theme would per se feel like strategic land to conquer from both the alien invaders' perspective and Duke's, all the while providing both camps with the necessary room for their dispute to happen.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB
Just like base Duke 3D, Blast Radius is riddled with pop culture references only the initiated might catch.
This discreet spot of the Vaillancourt fountain still bears U2's Bono's 1987 controversial graffiti.

In order to echo the Pig Cop-heavy level 2 shtick of base Duke Nukem 3D and complementarily to the Scorpion Tanks introduced at the end of Blast Radius level 1, "Embarco's Most Blasted" would need to reveal the Bomb Squad Pig Cops, sporting red and green uniforms and shooting mortars and rockets, respectively; in order to compensate for those extraordinary abilities however, a pattern was established that in-map, those would always operate in teams of three (that is on the Come Get Some game difficulty setting) and exclusively be met near explosion sites throughout the entire episode.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

Duke Nukem vs. Pig Cop bomb squad.


In "Embarco's Most Blasted", they are mostly grouped around S.F.P.D. bomb squad trucks, the design of which synthesizes small touches of real-life detail with traits of that trademark early days Build engine approximation and abstraction - thereby simultaneously solidifying the environmental credibility as one attached to an identifiable, coherent real-life locale, but also in regards to the original Duke Nukem 3D essence.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDBDuke Nukem beta static meet real life.


Inspirational 1995 "Duke Nukem 3D" prototype screenshot.


But first and foremost, in order to make for the strongest possible reveal of all the newly available terrain, a strategic player starting position upon level launch would be crucial. Therefore here, after a flashy yet domitable level 1, Duke spawns into level 2 mostly facing what originally appears to be rather open and larger, but otherwise reasonably comparable spaces on his right, with the bus he gets dropped off obfuscating his view on the left. That is, until the player takes a few steps forward to reach the first pistol magazines, therefore clearing the length of the bus and discovering how the city is in fact five times larger than they could anticipate - almost by accident.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

Then, on Duke's left just past the bus, Market Street consists in another subliminal callback to familiarity with its S-shaped, west-oriented spread that should evoke the first exteriors in - once again - the base game's "Red Light District" - just on an overwhelming scale and with the street corner reiterated several times over, to add new complexity but also represent and establish Blast Radius' relatively serious take on dimensions.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


"Embarco's Most Blasted" is where Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius begins showing some skin and it starts becoming apparent that it is designed as a literal expansion of the base game - in all possible senses of the term and for both better and worse, but that is also comprising positive supply in terms of item distribution, available terrain and general possibilities.

As such, a new dimension opens up and even most seasoned Duke Nukem 3D veterans might get destabilized upon the realization that adapting to those wild environments will take the development of new skills, moves, approaches and strategies, as well as the resort to otherwise commonly slept-on base game mechanics.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


"Embarco's Most Blasted" is when the border between the expected city textures and the unexpected spaces, the familiar enemy sprites and the unfamiliar behaviors, the comfort of the known and the fear of the unknown first noticeably rumbles, and when it starts showing that instead of simply repeating the old, Blast Radius might in fact be about teaching new things to whoever is willing to trust it.

The most frustrated of players might in fact be facing the final boss before they even realize!

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDBPeepin' down Powell Street station.


Another "Red Light District" nod is the relatively ambiguous progression towards, and utility of the first key.

In the first episode of base Duke Nukem 3D: "L.A. Meltdown", it always was possible to finish level 1 "Hollywood Holocaust" completely skipping using or even fetching the key by finding the secret jetpack and then flying to the exit (and that is without even mentioning speed runner strats). Said secret jetpack would become accessible from the same moment onwards the player would have reached the room containing the key, thereby consolidating the impression that its inclusion was purposefully meant as an alternate route and most certainly not an oversight.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Positive jetpack ownership would then carry over the start of level 2: "Red Light District" and confirm the extent of its powers by this time allowing for a direct skip to the first key, but also of the degree of base Duke 3D's lateral readability in terms of level design and episode orchestration.

It is supposed said lateral readibility mostly was the compromise by-product of an effort not to pigeonhole Duke Nukem 3D into a single player game campaign, and only so much of an original artistic choice; nonetheless, this resulted in a very specific and arguably fascinating style, which would reward even single players with an augmented sense of freedom (especially in the context of what at the time felt like realistic settings).

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


It made sense that as a Duke Nukem 3D episode, Blast Radius would have to not just respect but embrace that controlled looseness in direction; a choice which should be marked and presented early by purposely introducing doubt. "Embarco's Most Blasted" in particular was conceived to instill the same perplexity in the player as when ending "Hollywood Holocaust" with a spare key, or flying through the "Red Light District" window for the first time.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


As such, whilst the purely pedestrian player will need to go collect the keys in order, the most exploration-inclined might find their way to the second key lock barely a few minutes after map start, empowered by the exploration of an entire building their preconceptions might dictate should be off limits and, simultaneously, walking into pure adventure on egg shells since now uncertain of the existence of higher control or safety. A certain order of survival instinct now has leeway to kick in and tie back to the already distressing visual lore, and the immersion is complete.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB The inside of the Wells Fargo bank is a reference to that scene in John Carpenter's "They Live" (1988).


Another considered approach was having found any of the secret jetpacks in "Sunset Suicide" which would allow for skipping the first two keys altogether and thus a clear advantage - even over the par times, all of which were set on the Come Get Some skill setting as a pistol starter. But for those too, "Embarco's Most Blasted" actually conceals some of its own secret jetpacks, including one accessible as soon as map start if one knows where to look (hint: its location is reminiscent of where the key in "Red Light District" is in relation to player starting position).

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

Time to question photographic fidelity when EDuke32 looks clearer than early 1990's video stills of real places.


Now, the level has a lot of references peppered throughout: all the different buildings and stores do (loosely) correspond to real life locations and venues, the AT&T on Powell Street station does exist and thus makes sense would be near room 641A and have ties to the bank in the level; the Carl Jr.'s also exists, just not as openly worried about competition with In-N-Out as its virtual depiction is; FTC is a real San Francisco operation, albeit probably devoid of a secret back room from which for Bobby P. to "Film The Cops".

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


The Québec Libre/Vaillancourt fountain still has Bono's 1987 "Rock N Roll Stops The Traffic" graffiti on it; the police cars and trucks, but also the street cars, Muni buses and the BART train all are location- and line-correct.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius

It wouldn't be San Francisco without the Bay Area Rapid Transit;
it wouldn't be Duke Nukem 3D without literally flooding it.


Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB
Duke it out in Muni.


Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


The Wells Fargo bank interiors are a reference to the bank scene in John Carpenter's "They Live", and some players might recognize the Embarcadero/Justin Herman Plaza which already was playable in "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater" (Neversoft/Activision, 1999) and/or "Thrasher: Skate and Destroy" (Z-Axis/Rockstar Games, 1999). Once its supporting wall has exploded, the "Bank of America" sign drops a few letters and becomes more direct. Last but not least - continuing the trend from the transition from level 1 "Sunset Suicide", the final highway one unlocks in "Embarco's Most Blasted" to level 3 "Big Apple Smoke Toke" references an actual itinerary, this time from San Francisco to New York City.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


"Embarco's Most Blasted" in a pun on the local term 'Embarco's most blunted' (or EMB), the episode's name, and of course all the explicit action going on that Duke is just about to rock.


Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Walkthrough: This totally depends on how equipped Duke is already, but assuming pistol start: on your right is a parking lot with a few Pig Cops and an Atomic Health if low on HP. On your left, past the bus, next to a dead Pig Cop corpse is a shotgun and armor, but going for those will draw some malevolent attention your way. Once cleared of any threat, Duke can explore the collapsed tunnel for two hidden Atomic Healths.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Duke now has several options regarding where to go. In order to gear up, the red brick plaza right ahead openly admits to baiting him with a convenient tonne of goodies - including several Atomic Healths and two portable medkits - but also is an obvious set-up for a strong 'surprise' ambush. Whole northernmost section of the map past the Ferry Building is the docks, which can be visited at any point but also are home to the most hardcore guardians of the level and chief enforcers of the local invasion.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


For now, Duke might be wiser for settling for cleaning up the southernmost part of the level first, and has two ways of approaching Market Street: either by directly turning the corner, or by going up the stairs and navigating behind the FTC shop (the thorough exploring of which should return some pleasant rewards). But in no case should Duke miss snagging the RPG from the first Pig Cop bomb squad that will inevitably let its operation be known from just across the boulevard as soon as upon our hero's approach.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Keeping kicking ass his entire way to the south, Duke will run into a Carl Jr.'s fast food joint he should unlock then rampage through. Clean up on aisle four, in the back, will reveal a collapsed ceiling and rubble he should be able to navigate through, but maybe not before he has explored in and around the room for some supplementary weaponry. Past the rubble, the blue key card awaits him, but also the trigger of a major ambush.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


There really are two possible choices when it comes to handling the attack: one is progressively retreating in front of the influx of projectiles, Pig Cops and flying Assault Troopers, which in fact allows you to loop back to the Powell Street station plaza and approach it all from a perspective that is toe-to-toe; or the opposite which consists in braving the leap into the water below to then face all your foes head-on, which comes at the cost of some maneuverability (and having to climb back up once done) but guarantees more control and cover.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Once in possession of the blue key, Duke can use it on whichever of two possible locks that are distributed around the bomb squad trucks encircling the Embarcadero/Justin Herman Plaza. But before he does so, it is recommended that he should keep exploring the area around Powell Street station. That is how he might notice this building has just collapsed, just in case rummaging through its ruins could ever be useful.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius


Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Regardless, the option of climbing up the structure definitely should at least reward Duke with a view on where to go in order to get the red key card. And whether or not he felt this adventurous, it still would be wise of him to flick this one switch and ride the supporting elevator platform all the way up to the top of the AT&T building. There, some superficial terrain inspection should suffice for locating a floor of top secret offices operating for the U.S. National Security Agency and comprising Room 641A.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Flicking the switch on the Narus STA 6400 will open up one of the walls around the room that conceals an Atomic Health as well as one more switch. Now, pressing that one will overload the systems and explode a wall from inside the server room, revealing access to the red key.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Duke is now free to go back to the center of the level without a care in the world but the ongoing apocalyptic invasion. There, using the blue key on any of the aforementioned two locks will lead to the same end result, just observable from different angles: it will blow up a big part of the Embarcadero Center, including the whole of the westernmost building but also comprising exploding the next wall, allowing Duke to get inside the Wells Fargo bank vault.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Now the vault door is locked, but Duke can shoot a switch in the next room through a ventilation shaft outside, right next to the hole in the wall itself, to activate its mechanism. From that point onwards, simply exploring the bank should rapidly reveal the existence of a secret upper floor for 'security', which is where the red lock resides.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Using the red key will explode one more wall: on the docks, marked by a Bank of America sign (after the fact, now a 'Bofa' sign). Head that way, conquer the docks, snag the scuba gear from the pier (you will need it) and then climb on top of the bomb squad truck to leap inside the hole, where Duke will meet Blast Radius' first Octabrains. Immediately rip them a new one, locate what appears to be the entrance of a flooded area, then submerge ahead.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


It shouldn't take long until Duke finds his way to a submerged subway system, complete with a BART train, all entrapped in rubble. The yellow key (as well as an extra scuba gear) is inside, but all doors around the train are locked, with the exception of one opening in the back. Once inside, flipping every switch Duke encounters should progressively unlock all the doors, but also attract new Octabrains that he should waste with some particular care until the yellow key is his. An Atomic Health should be nearby, in case of need.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Now the titular master of the yellow key domain, Duke should consider returning to the surface in order to claim his prize sometime. Once that is decided, he can choose to either swim all the way back, or just follow the track of newly attracted Octabrains which should lead him to a vertical ventilation shaft, itself leading onwards to a dry exit with a view on the center of the map. Regardless, the yellow lock is waiting for Duke's soft touch just across the street from the Ferry Building.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


To Duke's uttermost surprise, what awaits behind the corresponding freeway entrance gate resembles grounds for absolute demolition. But certainly not Duke's own after he's already cleared the entire district from alien occupation, and geared up to match. After what feels strangely like one ultimate test of skills, Duke finally gets some peace and quiet - and a new ride out of the City.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Par time route: Off pistol start, the quickest way to the exit is rushing to the level's first secret jetpack and then using it to fly to the rooftop of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco building, where amidst some other items a secret scuba gear awaits. Now, use what's left of your jetpack to fly straight to the flooded BART tunnel's 'exit' and submerge from there. Swim to the back of the train, go get the key then rush back outside via the same way you came in. Jump or fly down to the yellow lock in the street below, run the key, ingest steroids if found and get to the Nuke Button as fast as possible in spite of all the hazards.

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

DNSKILL5's corner ("Damn I'm Good" difficulty deathless traversal):


Check out DNSKILL5's "Damn I'm Good" skills on YouTube!

Particularities: "Embarco's Most Blasted" is the only level in all of Blast Radius which recycles some old, released content, as the structure for the BART train was originally built for my 2015 user map "The End of the World, Part 1" which fellow mapper and artist, Blast Radius tester and friend Merlijn Van Oostrum has (generously) credited before for inspiring his own fantastic Duke Nukem 3D episode: "Shaky Grounds".

Story-wise, "The End of the World, Part 1" (there never was supposed to be a part 2) also takes place in San Francisco, albeit that's only marked in-game by the presence of the Powell Street BART station which in this case you don't get to exit, but do get to traverse. The train has to be visited in a similar fashion, too, but isn't underwater in that level - in spite of most of the station keeping collapsing around Duke as he progresses.

You can still grab that user map from the MSDN link above, or take a look at this video playthrough by YouTube user ViDi Games (train segment is around the 20:35 mark):

Soundtrack: "Shower Days" by NOFX / "Ribbed" / Epitaph Records, 1991 (MIDI version)


While originally from Los Angeles, NOFX have been operating out of San Francisco for long enough to earn the present right of association in my books; Suicidal Tendencies always had the Los Angeles spot secured anyway. I find this song to be one of their most interesting compositions, all the while sticking to a rather old-school hardcore tempo, construction and formula; both the fluctuating bass lines and rough yet articulate guitar riffs intertwine around the blocky structure of the fast beat, orchestrating chaos into a composition the format of which should be predictable and yet comes full of surprises.

In the context of "Embarco's Most Blasted", I like to imagine that the guitar layers correspond to all the surrounding aggression and general unpredictability of the level, where the bass grooves represent Duke's fluctuating response within whilst internalizing the events on display and their aftermath - an endless loop of feedback only punctuated by the drum beat of present time, direct action.

Or maybe I'm lying to you right now and just think it kind of bops.

Automap:

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB

Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Map stats (as of v. 1.0.8): 2239/4096 sectors, 16380/16384 walls, 11513/16384 sprites.



Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius on ModDB


Download Duke Nukem 3D: Blast Radius (last update: 03/04/2024; v. 5.0.2)

Comments
Guest
Guest - - 699,851 comments

Incredible level. One of the best in any FPS retro or modern. One question - how come the wall limit is almost all used up (16380/16384) while at the same time only half the sectors are used up (2239/4096)?

Also does the Build engine display polygons? Just wondering what is the maximum on screen polygon count you managed to achieve in Blast Radius

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ck3D Author
ck3D - - 103 comments

Thanks a lot, I'm glad you liked it so much. Wall limit always gets used up first as one sector has to be made of three walls minimum (and usually involves more than that). Build also does this thing where what it calls 'walls' are actually points, and so depending on context drawing actual lines will count as extra walls especially if traversable/double-sided (which makes them count as double). And so the actual sector limit is much lower than the hard cap and 4096 indication when it comes to what you can in fact do in the editor once all things considered. Wall limit is fully reachable (and actually most a mapper's pain in the neck). Sprite limit too except one needs to leave leeway for in-game sprite spawns and so being short of about 500 minimum is recommended for a playable environment (exceeding 16384 even once in game will crash it).

The Build engine can display models in Polymost if one is willing to work with that direction but here I didn't and so the closest you'll get to such an estimation would be looking at the wire frame map editor screenshot for the walls, and then all the decorative assets are 2D sprites, sometimes 'three-dimensional' collages of hundreds or thousands of them. How many can be rendered on screen at once is determined by the MAXSPRITESONSCREEN value in the source code, which used to be 4096 until EDuke cut that down to 2560 for... reasons. That actually was problematic since a lot of the Blast Radius maps had been articulated around the larger limit, hence including a specific old build of the port with the episode for now; any sprite 'overflow' on each given frame will just cease to render depending on a certain set of priorities (which over the years and EDuke updates looks like it keeps changing), meaning that in game they will flicker in and out of apparent existence in bulks depending on player action and movement once the mapper has tripped. Otherwise with no hard cap I'm pretty sure Build could display 16380 sprites on screen easily. Whether the engine actually draws a sprite that exists or doesn't has a lot to do with weird internal intricacies, e.g.. if any bit of the next sector(s) is/are called on screen for this or that frame. That whole rendering behavior looks like it's constantly being adjusted as well. A lot about making ambitious Build levels has more to do with constant feedback between, and balancing of all available resources in order to achieve the desired large scale results, and less with building single complex pieces one by one with no other planning than eventually running out.

Oh and yeah, those hard limits of 4096 sectors and 16384 walls and sprites already are modern enhancements, too. Back in the DOS Duke 3D days, one was limited to 1024 and 4096 respectively.

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Guest
Guest - - 699,851 comments

Thanks, always interesting to hear how you've been pushing the build engine to its limits.

It seems that if you know what you are doing, the build engine is extremely versatile and can create some incredible architecture and landscapes.

It is also disappoint that doom 2 moding is so active, while build pales in popularity despite its amazing capability as your project has shown. Hopefully this will also increase general interest in build moding.

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ck3D Author
ck3D - - 103 comments

I agree I think the Build engine is its own dimension of possibilities, personally I don't even really compare it to any other (albeit similar) engine(s) at all because it is those exact features which are very specific to it that make it interesting to me (but they're also the main catch for many other Build enthusiasts I know, I feel like). I'm inclined to think it very much feels like its own medium (maybe to a point that can transcend gaming), once you've understood the rigid but otherwise fundamentally simple logic in order not to build technically broken stuff, sector over sector allows one to literally draw dimensions into dimensions into dimensions without having to simulate anything and one can basically shape normally impossible spaces of most sorts that they might want. It's a very powerful creation tool which I'm sure more people are bound to realize eventually, not that I would especially worry about popularity when talking about such a historic part of gaming, something tied to Duke Nukem 3D can only be so niche. To this day I see countless people still using Build in amazing ways; there's this theory I have about how regardless of how (sometimes very) talented each and every project designer may have been, the engine always really was the most fun part of every Build game, supported by how popular the gameplay breaking cheats in them always were (invincibility, all items, monsters off) to people who for the most part probably never realized what they really were doing all these times was getting rid of nuisances in order to enter what's essentially editor mode.

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