Developed by id Software for release in 1992 by Apogee Software, Wolfenstein 3D was the video game that popularized the first person shooter genre. The concept was to modernize and redesign Muse Software’s Castle Wolfenstein, an action-adventure stealth based WWII shooter. Apogee promised id Software $100,000 to deliver a marketable shareware title, an advertising tactic that was made popular with the release of Wolf 3D. To ensure this titles future, Wolfenstein 3D was developed on a computer known as the NeXT Computer, a powerful workstation that cost $6,500 in 1998. When it was finally released, Wolf 3D featured 1 free shareware episode which incorporated 4 weapons, lots of treasure, hidden rooms, a secret level, and a final boss battle. By the end of 1993 the game had sold more than 100,000 units, proving that the shareware marketing concept could be a success.
Wolfenstein 3D utilized a ray-casting engine that was capable of rendering walls in 3D point perspective. The engine achieved this pseudo-3D effect by mathematically placing textures at the point in which two lines intersected. The 1-dimensional deep buffer created at this point allowed scaled sprites such as objects and enemies to be placed. The engine was made faster by utilizing a vertical scanline scaling algorithm. This algorithm required pre-calculated texture coordinates and set textures sizes. The result of which was an engine that lacked ceiling and floor height changes, sloped floors and lighting, but benefited from a tremendous performance boost. Ray-casting technology was not new for id Software, as they had previously used a similar engine in Hovertank 3D and Catacomb 3-D for Softdisk. It was because of Wolf 3D that this type of engine would become widely popularized and later used in many first person perspective games.
The full game featured 6 episodes with 9 maps each, and 6 hidden maps for a total of 60 levels. Each level was made up of a maze like structure with identical textures making them rather difficult to navigate. The first episode has our hero, William B.J. Blazkowicz, attempting to escape from Castle Wolfenstein. In the second episode, B.J. enters Castle Hollehammer while attempting to thwart the Nazi mutant-soldier program headed by Dr. Schabbs. In the third episode our hero takes the fight to Hitler himself while attacking the bunker under Reichstag.
The game was originally planned to include only 3 chronological episodes. After the head of Apogee Software, Scott Miller, discovered that the Wolf 3D team was capable of creating a level per day, he successfully argued for the inclusion of 3 more episodes. These 3 episodes were released as The Nocturnal Missions and formed a prequel story line for Wolfenstein 3D. In this story the Nazi’s are developing plans for chemical warfare and B.J. must seek out who is behind it, obtain the plans, and successfully take down the person responsible.
Each episode concluded with a boss battle. Unlike other sprites in the game, the boss characters were drawn from a single angle so that they always faced the player. This made it impossible for gamers to sneak up on boss characters and forced players to attack with strategy.
While attempting to 100% each level for kills, secrets, and treasure, gamers spent a great deal of time looking for hidden bonus levels. Each episode contained 1 hidden bonus level accessible by a secret elevator. The most famous of which was episode 3’s Pac-Man level, complete with the Pac-Man ghosts. The bonus levels built upon the maze-like structures of the game while adding new levels of difficulty. Some were so large that they were near impossible to beat without plotting them out on paper. The level found in episode 4 included only one correct path, forcing players to attempt it by trial and error. These design choices made the bonus levels extremely challenging yet extremely frustrating at the same time. When the game was released, many gamers argued against the purpose of the bonus levels. Today they are often considered an extremely memorable aspect of the game, a design element that almost was not included. Before the game was released the idea of secret doors and hidden passageways was debated among the developers. Thankfully designers Tom Hall and John Romero argued that a video game was not truly a video game if it lacked secrets!
Wolfenstein 3D was a controversial game that was forced to embrace graphical censorship for increased sales. The PC game was initially confiscated in Germany due to the use of the swastika symbol, where the use of the image is a federal offense. Nintendo of America had concerns as well and asked for all Nazi references to be removed from the SNES release. Additionally Adolf Hitler’s image and name were altered, and the enemy blood was replaced with sweat in an attempt to make the game seem less violet. When the SNES game was sold in Germany the sweat was colored green and attack dogs were replaced with giant mutant rats.
There are many first person shooters that are worth playing, and Wolfenstein 3D is among them. It attests to a period of great achievement and ingenuity within video game development. Its engine, concepts, and designs have influenced a wide variety of games which followed. The Wolf 3D engine (officially and as Homebrew) has been ported to a staggering amount of systems including, but not limited to, the Apple IIs, NEC PC-9801, SNES, GBA, 3DO, iOS, PS3, Xbox, PSP, and Wii. If it is available on a system you own, and you have not played it, stop waiting! The fluid first person experience, fast-paced action, amount of secrets, and exciting plot will have you looking for more. After you have 100%'ed the original 6 episodes give the Spear of Destiny prequel and the Lost Episodes a play, we recommend them as well!
Genre: First-person shooter
Release Date: 1992
Developed by: id Software
Published by: Apogee Software
Designed by: John Romero, Tom Hall
Programmed by: John Carmack
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