Wolfenstein 3D from id Software, cited as “the Grandfather” of First Person Shooters (FPS) and also mostly known as the first FPS ever created.
Yeah, one can not deny the importance Wolfenstein 3D has in gaming history. But before I go on, I just want to rectify a couple of things. Wolfenstein 3D was not the first ever FPS, it wasn’t even the first FPS from id Software themselves as they had made Hovertank 3D and Catacomb 3D both in 1991 before Wolfenstein 3D. Plus there are other notable games from other developers that could easily claim the crown of the first FPS.
Its not even the first Wolfenstein game, there is a subtle clue in the title… Wolfenstein 3D. Its the third game in the series. And that is what this article is going to look at, the Wolfenstein series of games right from the very first title up to the newest entry as well as look a few interesting Wolfenstein tit-bits along the way.
Better crack on with the first Wolfenstein game.
Castle Wolfenstein: Developed by Muse Software and released in 1981 for the Apple II, DOS, Atari 400/800 and Commodore 64. Castle Wolfenstein is a mix of action/shooting blended with stealth. This game was Metal Gear 6 years before Metal Gear even existed.
Taking place in the titular Castle Wolfenstein you have to find the war plans of the Nazis and escape. You start the game as a Private but go through the ranks up to Field Marshal as you play. You can move from screen to screen of which there are 60 different ones on 5 separate floors and the items and guards for each room are randomly generated at the start of the game, but the rooms themselves are always the same. For such and early game, there is a lot of variation and options open to the player. You can go all guns blazing and shoot all and every guard you see, or you can try to sneak past guards instead and leave little evidence that you are there.
Armed with a gun as well as grenades, but guards will react to the sound they make putting risk on you getting caught. If you take out a guard, you can search them and find helpful items such as extra ammo, keys, grenades and even bullet proof vests. You can even find items in the various chests scattered around the rooms though these are locked but can be opened with a lock-pick or keys. You might also find food and drink and can even get drunk via wine and Schnapps and this affects your aim with the gun. Aside from main walls and stairs, the rooms were destructible and you’ll find yourself having to blow up walls to gain access to other areas.
If you didn’t want to go in shooting everyone in sight, then you can always sneak up on a guard with your gun drawn and force them to surrender. The game featured digitised voices as the guards would call out “Halt!” and “Kommen Sie!” if they spotted you. It all looks rather primitive by todays standards, but Castle Wolfenstein was very advanced for the time with its many options open to the player and with no one set way to complete the game as how you played was up to you, as well as all the little touches that are now common place in stealth games today. This featured plenty of replay value and I recall spending hours upon hours exploring and trying to find those damn plans from the Nazis. For 1981, this game was a revelation and without knowing it, it set the standard for a genre of gaming that would become massively popular in the 90s, the stealth based game. Hideo Kojima and his Metal Gear series owes a lot to this game.
Castle Wolfenstein was a pretty big hit for developer Muse Software and a sequel was released following its success.
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein: Released in 1984 also from Muse Software, this sequel to the original game looked and felt pretty much like its predecessor but with a few gameplay tweaks.
The story had changed with you now having to explore and make you way through a secret bunker to find Adolf Hitler and assassinate him via the use of a bomb. The idea was based on the infamous “20 July plot” plot under Operation Valkyrie from 1944. The main gameplay remained pretty much the same as before but also brought with it some new ideas such as guards now asking you for papers and if you had the correct pass for each of the floors then they would let you pass. If you didn’t? Well they would raise and alarm or try to kill you. But you could always try to bribe the guards if you had the money to do so.
You could also now drag the bodies of guards away to avoid them from being spotted by others. Another addition was being armed with a dagger which you can use to silently kill any guards in your way adding another layer to the stealth mechanic. More speech was also added as well as improved sound effects. But on the whole, this game was more of the same… which was not a bad thing at all as the last game was great as was this one too.
And that was it for the franchise as it lay dormant… until 1992 of course when the ‘Grandfather’ was released.
Wolfenstein 3D: This was the big one, the game changer, the true ‘birth’ of the FPS genre. id Software came up with the idea of building on their previous FPS games but couldn’t decide on the setting. Then the idea to make a game similar to the first two Wolfenstein games came about as the team were big fans of them, but they knew they couldn’t afford to buy the license to use the name. It was soon discovered that Muse Software had gone bust a few years earlier and the Wolfenstein name was free to use… so they used it.
The game was not only hugely influenced by the original Wolfenstein games, but also by the classic Gauntlet from 1985. While this shared the Wolfenstein name, its gameplay was vastly different. Gone is the stealth mechanic of the previous games as the action is amped up in its place. With the focus being more action orientated for a faster moving game though the setting remained the same of Castle Wolfenstein. You now play as William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, an American spy of Polish descent… so he doesn’t much like Nazis. The game is split into three different episodes with each episode having its own story inspired by the original Wolfenstein games.
Episode 1: “Escape from Castle Wolfenstein” has you, wait for it… being captured and having to escape Castle Wolfenstein. Episode 2: “Operation: Eisenfaust” in which you discover plans the Nazis have to create an army of undead mutants and Episode 3: “Die, Führer, Die!” you have to infiltrate a underground bunker and kill Adolf Hitler… who is in a robotic suit equipped with mini-guns. Each of the three episodes feature multiple levels for you to make your way through. The gameplay is very similar to that of Gauntlet as you have to make your way through various levels, killing enemies and collecting keys to make it to the exit, but the view point is now that of a first person. The levels themselves are full of secret areas for you to discover where you can find treasure to add to your score as well as ammo and weapons.
It was a simple enough game and definitely ‘dumbed down’ over the originals by removing all the stealth gameplay… but that was not a bad thing at all as Wolfenstein 3D was a fast placed, bloody/gory, gun filled extravaganza. Again, not the first ever FPS but this was the game that cemented and popularised the genre. You know how you kids are playing the latest Call of Duty game? Well that exists because of Wolfenstein 3D.
But the fun didn’t end when you completed Wolfenstein 3D as two prequels were released as add-ons. First was; The Nocturnal Missions and like the main game, it too was split into three episodes. Episode 1: “A Dark Secret” where you pursue a weapons research scientist. Episode 2: “Trail of the Madman” and here, Blazkowicz has to find the maps and plans for a chemical war. Episode 3: “Confrontation” has you confronting the Nazi general in charge of the chemical warfare initiative. Then finally there was the other add-on; Spear of Destiny and its episodes that included; “Return to Danger” and “Ultimate Challenge”.
Wolfenstein 3D changed gaming forever and put id Software on the map. The game was a revelation and you really had to be there to understand the impact it had on the industry. It reinvented the FPS genre and its influence can still be found in modern games today. id Software went on to (again) change the face of the FPS genre with another franchise about some space marine and some demons from hell, but that will have to wait for another time as I have a lot more Wolfenstein games to cover. But before we move on to all of that, how about some Wolfenstein trivia?
One of id Software’s earlier games was a called; Commander Keen and he starred in four games; Invasion of the Vorticons, Keen Dreams, Goodbye Galaxy and Aliens Ate My Babysitter.
They were quite popular platform/action games. But what does this have to do with Wolfenstein? Well a fourth game was planned at the time and it was originally going to be a 3D version of Commander Keen but that became Wolfenstein 3D. Also the star of Wolfenstein, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, is said to be a direct descendant to Commander Keen.
Nintendo asked id Software to work on a port of Wolfenstein 3D for their SNES console which they did do. However, Nintendo censored the game in a HUGE way removing all the blood, Nazi imagery and even replacing the dogs in the game with rats. This censorship angered id Software, so they gave the game’s source code to another company (Wisdom Tree) so they could make an unofficial Nintendo game…
Super 3D Noah’s Ark was released in 1994 for the SNES and it was Wolfenstein 3D with a graphical change and a religious theme.
In Episode 3, floor 10 and Episode 6, floor 10, there are secret areas that reveal an homage to some very specific famous, classic game characters…
Yes, the Pac-Man ghosts are in Wolfenstein 3D.
There was even a direct sequel planned for Wolfenstein 3D from id Software and it was quite far in development before they turned their attention to another project (DOOM). But that sequel was eventually released, just not as a Wolfenstein game.
The game was reworked and released as; Rise of the Triad in 1994. The game even still has a Nazi theme as the plot tells a story of the fall of Hitler (which would have carried over from Wolfenstein 3D).
I’ll end part I here, but in part II Wolfenstein gets rebooted for the first time, but not the last.