Castle Wolfenstein




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What would you think is the best “generic” type of enemy in a video game? If you thought of Nazis, then you’ve probably played a Wolfenstein game. While most gamers remember Wolfenstein as a series of first-person shooters, the series originally started on Apple II and Commodore 64 systems, as a pair of almost Metal Gear-esque games written by Silas Warner, which ultimately inspired id Software’s John Carmack and John Romero to make the legendary FPS and its successors.
Castle Wolfenstein (1981, PC, Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari 800)
You’ve been captured by the SS and thrown into the dungeons of Castle Wolfenstein. Your mission is twofold: escape from the castle, and steal the war plans for Operation Rheingold. To do so, you have access to a pistol, grenades, bulletproof vests, and enemy uniforms.
Written by Silas Warner in 1981, Castle Wolfenstein can be considered a very early form of stealth game. Major elements include picking open chests to receive extra items like food and armor, avoiding patrols by staying behind them, and holding guards at gunpoint and frisking them for keys and ammo. You can only carry 10 bullets and 3 grenades at once, both of which are extremely valuable and not to be squandered. Guards will sometimes take multiple shots to kill, especially if your aim is hindered from drinking Schnapps. Chests are littered about, as are doors. Chests must be lockpicked open and can take anywhere from 10 to 255 seconds to pick (where a “second,” in this game’s terms, is one footstep from an onscreen guard), but can be sped along by shooting them, which might not be advisable given that some chests contain explosives which will go off when shot.
Castle Wolfenstein’s Berzerk-esque levels are generated from scratch when the game is booted up. Unlike Rogue-like level generation, the generated castle is persistent between games and even saved to disk, unless you choose to generate a new one, or shoot a chest of explosives, which kills you and generates a new castle. The level designs are simplistic maze-like constructs that generally have entrances on the edges of the screen, or stairs going up and down. If you manage to complete a castle, whether by escaping or finding the war plans and then escaping, Allied High Command may give you a promotion, which determines the difficulty of any future generated castles.
Keyboard and joystick controls are actually somewhat progressive in their execution, if a bit awkward in practice. When playing with joysticks (two of them are required), one joystick controls movement (point in a direction to face that way, and press the button to step forward), while the other controls aiming and firing (point your gun in a direction and press the button to fire). This dual-joystick setup actually predates Midway’s arcade game Robotron by a few years, perhaps making Castle Wolfenstein the first “twin-stick shooter,” even though the actual game mechanics are quite a bit slower-paced and less chaotic than Robotron and its successors. Wolfenstein also supports two paddle controllers (spin the dial to control facing/aiming direction, and press the buttons to step forward or fire the gun), or a keyboard, where the twin-stick setup is emulated by using the QWEADZXC keys to move and the S key to stop moving, and the IOPK;,./ keys to aim and L to fire.
The major problem with movement in this game is that, when pressing a movement key, you will start walking in that direction and not stop unless you press the S key or run into a wall, which will daze you for a few moments, clouding the screen and playing an irritating high-pitched noise for about 3 seconds, while time continues to pass for any guards still in the room. Over time, you’ll get better at stopping at the correct time to avoid a collision, but accidentally hitting a wall when guards are after you can mean the difference between life and horrible, humiliating death.
A very cool aspect of Castle Wolfenstein is that it features digitized speech, in German. It’s a bit difficult to make it all out, given the technology of the time, especially in the case of the Apple II version, but it’s very cool nonetheless. The instruction manual even includes a translation guide to help you understand what is being said. Guards will alert each other with “Achtung!”, taunt you with “Schweinhundt!” if you run away from a room while a guard is chasing you, and surrender with “Kamerad” if you’ve managed to get one at gunpoint.
Castle Wolfenstein was first released by Muse Software on the Apple II+ in 1981. Around two years later, ports for the Atari 800 and Commodore 64 were released, and one year after that was the port for IBM compatible PCs. The Apple II version is generally the most functional, though there is no button to holster your weapon, so you must be careful when in uniform not to point your gun at guards, or else you will hold them at gunpoint automatically and blow your cover; the graphics are the weakest on this version, since the Apple II isn’t known for its graphical prowess. The Atari 800 version adds the holster function, but moves the Fire button to the out-of-the-way function keys on the right side of the keyboard, and is the only version where the guards lack speech. The Commodore 64 version looks the best (relatively speaking, since they all use the same pixel art, just different color schemes), but is plagued with long load times between rooms and when starting the game. The PC version only supports CGA graphics (of the red-yellow-green variety), but is still capable of playing speech out of the on-board speaker, providing that the CPU speed is at the correct frequency (lest the voice pitch be too high), which is quite impressive considering that the game was designed for the very oldest IBM-compatible PCs. Another advantage of the PC version is that it does not flash the screen or squeal at you when you bump into walls, but you are still stunned momentarily (albeit for slightly less time).
Castle Wolfenstein is a game that has pioneered far more gameplay elements than most people would think. Game mechanics from this game have been reused in games like Metal Gear (patrolling guards and threatening guards from behind with your gun), Thief: The Dark Project (lockpicking chests), stealing uniforms (Hitman), searching dead enemies for items (most PC RPGs), and random level generation. And, of course, this is the game that inspired John Carmack, John Romero, Tom Hall, and the rest of id Software to create the legendary Wolfenstein 3D...but not quite yet, because there is one other game in Muse Software’s series.
Unofficial: Wolfenstein 2600 (2004, Atari 2600)
In perhaps the coolest bit of resourcefulness I’ve seen from the Atari community, there is a “port” of Castle Wolfenstein for the Atari 2600 - however, rather than write it from scratch, this port is actually a seriously elaborate hack of the 2600 port of Exidy’s arcade game, Venture.
Wolfenstein 2600 plays similarly to the original Castle Wolfenstein, but given the Atari’s less complex control method, your controls are now limited to merely moving and firing. When the game starts, you are on the overhead map of the castle, where you must avoid the patrolling SS and enter one of the four rooms on the map. There, you must fight all resistance, obtain the one item in the room, and leave. Once you have the items from all four rooms, you move on to the next level.
By default, your shot does not travel very far (since you don’t start with a gun, but rather a knife), but collecting a gun will greatly boost your range, and thus your survivability. If you take too long to finish a room, an indestructible SS will appear and kill you unless you can escape. It sounds a lot like Venture on paper, but developers neotokeo2001 and Robert M made every effort to make it feel like Wolfenstein. It’s actually not bad, and makes efficient use of the Atari 2600’s highly limited computing power. It can be obtained from AtariAge.
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (1984, PC, Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari 800)
Muse Software’s sequel to Castle Wolfenstein sends you back into Germany, this time with the ultimate goal of assassinating Adolf Hitler. You start the game at the top floor of his bunker, and must make your way down to the third basement level, all the while searching supply closets for a briefcase full of explosives that a Resistance fighter has hidden for you, then planting it outside of the Fuhrer’s conference room. You begin the game in disguise as a German officer, so from the start (and hopefully as long as possible), you must keep up appearances by showing your papers to any guards who demand to see them (or bribing them if you don’t have the right pass).
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein is actually quite a bit more complicated and deep than its predecessor, given that this one has had another year in the oven. Instead of chests and lockpick timers, you must now raid supply closets, which are generally not locked, but sometimes are equipped with combination locks that you will need to manually crack using the number keys (quite possibly the world’s first lockpicking minigame). You use the numbers 1 through 0 to guess at the safe combination; if you dial the first digit correctly, you hear a clicking noise. If you then dial the next digit, you’ll hear another click, but if you don’t dial the second or third digits correctly, the lock resets and you’ll have to dial the first digit over again. Supply closets can contain bullets, first-aid kits, alcohol, art, money, passes to show to guards, or other useless items like coat checks.
There is now actually a health system in the game, where before it was random whether a given shot would kill you or not. If you are wounded, you will move more slowly than usual, with a sort of limping rhythm. This can be fixed by finding and using First Aid kits. Otherwise, you’re basically a sitting duck if the guards come after you.
A very large part of succeeding at BCW is keeping your cover for as long as possible. You generally have free roam of the bunker, but guards may call you over and demand to see your pass. There are five passes that you can be carrying at a given time, and when a guard asks to see one, you must press a number, 1 through 5, to show it. The guards will not specify which pass you need; if you show the wrong one, they’ll take it from you and again demand to see your pass. If you don’t think that you have the correct pass, you can press the M key instead to bribe them to let you through. You can also bribe certain guards, sitting at desks, to get information from them (often in vague terms, like “USE SAUERKRAUT TO JAM LOCKS”).
If you accidentally alert a guard (by failing to show the correct pass a number of times in a row, firing your gun, or walking away from a guard who has told you to “Come here!”), the alarm is sounded and officers will chase you through the bunker until you can deactivate it. You can attempt to “clean up” a mess that you’ve caused by dragging bodies around (pointing your gun at a dead guard and pressing Space will drag them to your current position, at which point you can press Space again to search them) and stashing them in corners where guards don’t usually patrol. It is now also possible to kill guards silently if you have found a dagger, by pointing your dagger at the guard and running into him from behind. This is difficult on some guards, as if they are facing you when you collide with them, you are arrested and have to restart the bunker.
When you find the bomb in its supply closet, its timer is automatically armed, and you have 1000 (in-game) seconds to get it to its destination, or else it will go off, you will die, and the bunker is destroyed and a new one is generated. If you find the bomb, you do not immediately pick it up, so it may be useful to keep a map while playing and mark the location where the bomb can be found, so that you can leave it there until such time as you can come back and get it. It is also possible to reset the timer on the bomb while carrying it, but this must not be done in view of guards, or they will immediately sound the alarm.
If you successfully bomb the conference room and kill Hitler, you are given a promotion to another rank, and any further generated bunkers will be more difficult, though there is now the option to select a lower one without resetting back to the basic “Resistance Fighter” rank. As with the previous game, if you are caught or killed, the same bunker is reused until you either complete it or generate a new one.
Like Castle Wolfenstein before it, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein was released on Atari 8-bit computers, Apple II+, Commodore 64, and IBM PC. The PC version looks the best, with characters actually being drawn in all three available CGA colors (in this case, the cyan, pink, and white palette), and there is support for composite monitors for improved color. Nazi uniforms now actually look like the real thing, with the belt and shoulder strap, instead of them wearing helmets and sweatshirts with swastikas on them. The Apple II version shares these new graphics, though naturally isn’t as clear in displaying them. The Atari and Commodore versions just use the old graphics from Castle Wolfenstein. The Atari version does not contain the speech samples (which, by the way, are now clearer than before, thanks to improvements to Silas Warner’s “The Voice” system).
Unofficial: Beyond Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (1984, Apple II)
Back in the day, some Apple II enthusiasts paid tribute to their favorite games by making “movies” out of them. Beyond Beyond Castle Wolfenstein is an animated reel that closely mimics someone playing Beyond Castle Wolfenstein...up to a point. The “player” spends all of his money bribing the guards, until he runs out and tries to bribe one with a credit card, at which point he is arrested and thrown into prison. The Nazis make the mistake of granting him his one phone call, which he uses to call “RESCUE RAIDERS: Video Game Mercenaries.” They respond by sending in other famous video game characters, like Ultima’s Avatar, the Space Invaders, a Pac-Man ghost, and finally, the USS Enterprise, which destroys Castle Wolfenstein with its phasers and then warps out. It’s just general silliness, and doesn’t last more than a few minutes (even though it takes up both sides of a two-sided floppy disk), but it’s certainly amusing the first time around.
Wolfenstein 3D (1992, PC, Macintosh, SNES, 3DO, Jaguar, Acorn Archimedes, Game Boy Advance, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, iOS)
Here’s the bit that the majority of gamers probably remember the most. In 1992, id Software uploaded the shareware episode of Wolfenstein 3D, entitled “Escape from Castle Wolfenstein.” The game featured full-screen textured 3D levels, using a “raycaster” engine highly optimized to run smoothly on older computers, reputedly inspired by a tech demo of Origin Systems’ Ultima Underworld that John Carmack saw at a trade show. Even in spite of the engine’s origins, this isn’t the world’s first “true” first-person shooter - Carmack’s own Hovertank 3D technically qualifies.
Wolfenstein 3D places you in the tattered prison uniform of Agent William J. “BJ” Blazcowicz, who has just been captured by the SS while attempting to infiltrate Castle Hollehammer in search of the war plans for “Operation Eisenfaust.” Unlike most FPS games, you’ll know your own face quite well, as it is displayed on the status bar, cautiously glancing from side to side and appearing increasingly bloody and bruised as you take damage. Armed with only a knife, a Luger and 8 bullets, BJ must escape from Castle Wolfenstein, taking down whatever Nazis happen to get in the way.
As you fight through the castle, you’ll encounter quite a number of different types of Nazis. Much like anything else, they come in all manner of shapes, sizes, and colors - everything from the generic brown guards, to the much faster white-clad Officers, to the machine gun wielding SS, German Shepherds, and the dreaded Mutants, who make no sound whatsoever until they’re right up in your face rapid-firing you to death. There are also bosses, one per episode, generally involving oversized Nazis in heavy battle armor with two (or more) chainguns. There is also mad scientist Dr. Schabbs, who throws mutagen needles at you; Otto Giftmacher, who has a rocket launcher; and ultimately, Adolf Hitler, who first meets you in the form of a ghost-like, fireball-spewing apparition, and finally does direct battle with you from his mech suit, sporting four chainguns. For most of these bosses, killing them triggers the “DeathCam” - the action freezes, and the game says, “Let’s see that again!” Then, with the flashing “DeathCam(tm)” message at the top of the screen, you get to watch the boss go through his death throes a second time.
While many of Wolfenstein’s gameplay conventions were nothing new to gaming in general, many of them having appeared in Carmack’s previous game, Catacomb 3D, the presentation and sheer speed of gameplay was unprecedented. No longer were players confined to the snail’s pace of Catacomb’s wizard protagonist; players were now capable of running at breakneck speeds through the castle, clearing rooms in record time with their chainguns. It wasn’t always like this, though. It has been explained in the past, by both Carmack and Romero, that Wolfenstein 3D’s gameplay originally took more after Silas Warner’s two Wolfenstein games on the Apple II, with players needing to spend time moving dead bodies to prevent enemies from being alerted to the player’s presence. It is unclear whose decision it was to remove these stealth elements, but the reasoning was clear enough: they slowed the game down too much. Players wanted to get in there and shoot things, not waste time dragging around dead Nazis.
Throughout the castle, there are tons of goodies such as jeweled crowns and golden goblets, as well as extra lives (your character’s face on a blue sphere) that also give you a health and ammo boost when you get them, and my personal favorite, the Chaingun. These days, rapid-fire weapons are the basic weapon that you get at the start of the game, but in Wolfenstein’s day, the Chaingun was really something impressive. This was the single deadliest weapon in the entire game, eating through your maximum carry limit of 99 bullets in about 10 seconds if you held the fire button for that long without stopping. Even the mighty blue-clad SS troopers will fall in a mere split second if they dare to pass in front of you. The sound it makes is a glorious rapid-fire drum beat, the perfect rhythm of destruction. Its only weakness is its hunger for ammo - during boss fights you’ll be rushing to find the nearest armory. But that’s what makes the boss fights so fun. Even though every boss in the game is just a bullet sponge that can take more damage than you can do with full ammo, every boss level has stashes of ammo somewhere, and once you’ve emptied your first salvo into the boss, it turns into a hectic chase as you try to locate more ammo while they hunt you down across the level.
And let’s not forget about the single most famous boss fight in the series: Hitler himself. Sure, Bionic Commando on the NES might have predated this game by a couple of years by showing Hitler’s exploding head, but Wolfenstein ups the ante by having Hitler riding in a mech suit, which is equipped with four chainguns(!) and can take a massive beating at the hands of your own considerable weaponry. When you’ve finally knocked off his armor and pumped Hitler’s unarmored form full of more ordinance than the average German infantry unit uses in a week, Hitler pauses, issues forth a whimpering “Eva, auf wedersehen...” and melts into a fine red paste, complete with a digitized slurping sound. And if you happened to miss it the first time, the DeathCam appears and shows it to you again. This ridiculous display wouldn’t be rivaled for almost 17 years, with Bionic Commando: Rearmed and its three-shot Hitler head-explosion masterpiece.
There’s a lot of secrets in Wolfenstein. Most of the time, pushable walls will lead you to treasure, extra lives, stacks of ammo or first-aid kits. But in one level per episode, one of them will lead to a secret level with extra goodies to be found. The weirdest of these can be found in Episode 3, where the secret level is a complete replica of a Pac-Man maze, complete with all four ghosts and loads of treasure to collect. True to Pac-Man convention, the ghosts cannot be killed with your weapons and will seriously injure (if not kill) you if you touch them. Episode 3 also has a sort of musical easter egg for those who can interpret Morse code: the steady beeping in the first level’s music actually translates to “TO: BIG BAD WOLF, DE: LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. ELIMINATE HITLER. IMPERATIVE, COMPLETE MISSION WITHIN 24 HOURS, OUT.”
Much of the charm of the original Wolfenstein, these days, lies in just how B-movie cheesy it is compared to more contemporary games like Call of Duty: World at War. History buffs would likely call the game on inaccurate Nazi uniforms, anachronistic weaponry, ludicrous bosses, that sort of thing - but honestly, the funniest bit is the fact that the German spoken by all of the in-game enemies is not grammatically correct at all, due to (apparently) having been literally translated from a dictionary. While the “Achtung!” and “Spion!” are convincing enough, there are the ever-present cries of “Mein leben!” (“My life!”) from dying SS men, shot officers whimpering “Nein, so was!” (“Well, I never!”), and the first-episode boss greeting you with a hearty “Guten tag!” (“Good day!”) before opening fire with his pair of chainguns. It is arguable that “Mein leben!” may be one of the greatest spoken lines in all video game history, and possibly one of the best-recognized results of translation error, even up to the point where, as recently as 2009’s Wolfenstein reboot, enemy infantry still have a rare chance of screaming “Mein leben!” when shot.
When Wolfenstein neared release, id Software and Apogee planned two separate contests. The first involved a maze of secret push-walls in a certain level that, when finished, ended in a hovering sign that reads “CALL APOGEE, SAY AARDWOLF.” However, crafty gamers were able to find this sign in the game data files before the contest was announced, and it had to be canceled. The other contest was a high score contest, as when an episode is completed, a special code appears next to your name on the high scores list. Calling Apogee with this code would have entered you in said contest. However, those same crafty gamers cracked this wide open as well, and the second contest was also canceled.
Wolfenstein’s development had a storied history. The game engine was originally designed to run on EGA systems, but it was decided later on to switch to VGA only, to make the game look and run smoother. The color palette does still have some evidence of an EGA base, especially the fact that most in-game graphics and textures are hued in shades of blue, turquoise, or purple. Another aspect of development came up when it was decided that, out of respect for copyrights, the game shouldn’t necessarily be called Wolfenstein. According to the official hint book (and later, the official Apogee FAQ), a few of the suggested working titles included Castle Ochtenstein, Luger's Run, The Fourth Reich, Adolph's Bane, Hard Cell, Luger Me Now, Tank You Very Much, Castle Hasselhoff, and How Do You Duseldorf?. Eventually, though, the team met with Silas Warner and asked permission to use the Wolfenstein name.
The success of Wolfenstein’s marketing had to do with its distribution method. Players could download the entire first episode - 10 levels - from their local BBS, with the other five episodes sold as two separate trilogies. The first of these, The Original Missions, consisted of Escape from Castle Wolfenstein, Operation Eisenfaust, and Die, Fuhrer, Die!. The second trilogy, The Nocturnal Missions, contained A Dark Secret, Trail of the Madman, and Confrontation. These two trilogies could be purchased separately, or together for a small discount. The fact that the shareware episode contained one-sixth of the complete game, roughly a few hours to complete for a new player, is practically unheard of in today’s game industry, where demos of new games barely last 15 minutes and rarely contain more than half of a larger level. Also, the shareware episode could fit perfectly on a single 5.25” floppy disk, bringing meaning to “shareware,” as players could spread word of the game by literally giving copies of it to their friends. Not long after the game’s release, Apogee Software began to sell it exclusively as a complete 6-episode compilation, with the trilogy versions no longer available.
id Software paid tribute to Wolfenstein 3D in Doom II: Hell on Earth, whose pair of secret levels are almost carbon copies of the game’s first level, and Hans Grosse’s boss arena at the end of Episode 1. The twist, though, is that instead of Hans, you have to fight a Cyberdemon, and to finish the level, you are forced to kill four hanging Commander Keens to open the exit button. And instead of fighting the usual zombies and demons for most of the level, the SS trooper appears...and isn’t very menacing at all (though he does still cry “Mein leben!” when he dies). I guess the apparent power level of a soldier with a machine gun is somewhat lesser when you can fight back with rockets and plasma.
Wolfenstein is perhaps most infamous for having been banned in Germany for several reasons. The Federal Examination Office for Youth-Endangering Publications/Media (BPjM) placed Wolfenstein 3D on its “Index” in 1994 due to excessive violence. Under normal circumstances, when a game is “indexed,” this means that it cannot be advertised or displayed on store shelves, and must be kept “behind the counter.” In Wolfenstein’s case, however, the game could still not be legally purchased, due to a German federal law that forbids using “characteristics of unconstitutional organizations” - in other words, Nazi imagery such as swastikas and portraits of Adolf Hitler, and the game’s opening theme, an Adlib-powered rendition of the Nazi Party anthem, “Horst Wessel Lied.” While it was not illegal to own a copy of the game or download it from a BBS, it was certainly illegal to sell it, so many German fans of Wolfenstein took to referring to the game by a codename, “Hundefelsen 4C,” so that they could continue distributing copies among themselves.
Wolfenstein 3D had a successful legacy with numerous ports, both official and unofficial. The first official port was for Super Nintendo, and was developed in-house by id Software. Imagineer, the SNES version’s publisher, had originally hired another contractor to develop the port, but nine months passed and the contractor could not be contacted, forcing id Software to stop all work on their current project, Doom, and develop it by themselves - from scratch! - in only three weeks. The SNES port has mostly new levels and two new weapons, a flamethrower and a rocket launcher. The 30 levels are somewhat less detailed than the PC version’s, with fewer decorations and smaller rooms, and only a small handful of them bear resemblance to levels from the PC version. Some playability changes were also made. There is no score display, but treasures add to an “Items” counter which will award an extra life and a health boost when 50 are collected. It is now possible to circle strafe with the L and R buttons, which is impossible in the PC version since there are no separate Strafe Left and Strafe Right keys. Finally, there was an automap added, which helps immensely for navigating the rather samey corridors, since there are fewer landmarks to go by.
However, Nintendo of America’s notorious censorship guidelines bit Wolfenstein the hardest out of any game at the time, forcing id Software to remove all Nazi references such as swastikas, remove the dogs (these were replaced with giant rats instead), remove the blood (it is now “sweat”), and further de-emphasize the Nazi aspect of the game by making all enemy guards speak English (mostly just “Halt!” and “Stop!”) and removing Hitler’s moustache (he has also been renamed to “Staatmeister Meisterstaat”). Nintendo was also somewhat notorious for censoring religious symbols; in Wolf3D, you no longer collect jeweled crosses, but generic gold sceptres instead. There is a beta floating around where these changes are only half-implemented - the swastikas are still gone, but the Iron Crosses remain on the walls (instead of the generic plus signs), levels are somewhat different, and Hitler is now renamed to “Hister.” Also, in the beta version, the status bar labels read “Health” and “Ammo” - in the final, they are changed to “H.P” and “Shots.” This version was released in Europe with no changes (beyond those already in the US version), and in Japan with the mission briefings removed, and in their place, chapter titles in Japanese. id Software was reputedly so dissatisfied with these forced changes that they gave Christian game developer Wisdom Tree their engine, which they used to make the only American-released, commercial, unlicensed SNES cartridge ever: Super 3D Noah’s Ark. The book “Masters of Doom” also mentions that the development team was so frustrated with the original contractor that they stabbed his chair with a knife.
The Macintosh port, which was alternately titled “Wolfenstein 3D: First Encounter,” “Second Encounter,” or “Third Encounter” based on whether you were playing the shareware demo, the mail-ordered full version, or the retail boxed full version, was ported and distributed by MacPlay, a division of Interplay Productions. The Macintosh version is based on the SNES version, but restores the blood, the dogs, and most importantly, Hitler and his Nazis. The same 30 levels as the Super Nintendo version are present, as are the two new weapons and the automap feature, but the graphics and sounds have been given quite an overhaul. All graphics are now twice the size as their PC versions, with a much greater attention to detail. The sounds are of vastly higher quality, with guards now speaking proper German instead of the roughly-translated “Mein leben!” from the original game. There is one shortcoming, though, in that the enemy sprites no longer have rotations, so enemies are always facing forward, removing the ability to sneak up behind unaware guards. Also, despite the addition of separate keys for strafing left and right, it is not possible to circle-strafe, as the controls behave oddly when both a strafing and turning key are pressed. The First Encounter (the shareware demo) includes only the first three levels, ending when first boss Hans Grosse is killed. The Second Encounter provides all 30 levels from the SNES version of the game, while The Third Encounter includes not only those, but also all 60 of the PC version’s levels in their entirety, as well as improved support for third-party level packs, like Laz Rojas’ Astrostein series. The music in the Mac port is all new, composed by Interplay’s resident musician Brian Luzietti, and has nothing to do with Bobby Prince’s original compositions - not even the Nazi anthem is present. (Random side-note: the Mac version was ported back to the PC, entitled “Macenstein: The Second Encounter SDL” - it contains the 30-level Second Encounter episode and all of the graphic and sound improvements from the Mac version, just running in the PC version’s engine in SDL.)
The Atari Jaguar’s port was based on the Macintosh Second Encounter version, with 30 levels and the high-resolution wall tiles and enemy sprites. It was developed in-house by id Software, as a “test” to determine if the Jaguar had enough horsepower to run a Doom-like game. The Jaguar version actually contains brand new weapon sprites, obviously patterned after Doom’s but with BJ Blazcowicz’s grey shirt sleeves instead of the Doomguy’s flesh-toned rubber gloves. It is one of the few official ports to retain Bobby Prince’s original music, slightly remixed to play on the Jaguar’s sound hardware, and the sound effects are mostly from the SNES version, though the guards have gone back to speaking German instead of English. There are actually some major gameplay changes to this version, too. The only on-screen HUD elements are health, ammo, and keys. With no score display, treasures would have otherwise become worthless, so they now count as bonus health, allowing you a maximum of 200. The bullet weapons now fire much faster, with the MP-40 firing roughly as fast as Doom’s chaingun, and the chaingun now firing nearly twice as fast as before. Since this is based on the SNES and Mac versions, there are backpacks lying around that will allow you to hold up to 300 bullets. Also, the upgrade rule from the SNES version applies here as well: the MP-40 and Chaingun are permanent upgrades to the pistol, so you are no longer able to switch back to them (or the knife, unless you’re completely out of ammo) once you have a better gun. The Rocket Launcher and Flamethrower are both selectable by pressing the Jaguar’s Option button. The automap is still available, accessible with one of the numeric pad buttons. Finally, this is the only console-based Wolfenstein port (until the Xbox version) to have a mid-level save, accessible by pressing the numbers 1, 2, or 3 on the Jaguar’s numeric pad.
The 3DO port was developed by LogicWare and published by Interplay Productions, and was based on the Macintosh Third Encounter version, so it includes the 30 SNES/Mac levels as well as all six PC version episodes. In addition to the high-quality Mac textures, sprites, and sound effects, the 3DO port contains all new synth-orchestrated CD music by Interplay’s Brian Luzietti (who also composed for the Descent games), which outside of the title theme from the Mac version, is entirely new and specifically composed for this version. In my opinion, it’s probably the best version of the soundtrack for thematic purposes, even though it is missing Horst Wessel Lied (and, in all honesty, makes the game sound a bit like an 80’s action flick in the process, making it all the more awesome). This version was also released in Japan, and is the only version where the status bar labels are translated.
Wolfenstein 3D was released on NEC PC-98 in Japan by Imagineer. Since the PC-98 is basically an IBM PC with some different graphic and sound hardware, the port is pretty accurate to the PC version, and runs pretty much as smooth as can be. All the blood, swastikas, and Hitler moustaches are intact. The major difference here is that the text - even the menus - has been translated into Japanese. The “Read This!” file and mission debriefings are in Japanese as well. Much of these were cut back a little, though, especially the help file which is now only ten pages instead of the 20-some of the PC original. There is some text left untranslated, such as the messages from entering cheat codes. Interestingly, this version of the game can play the digitized sounds without having a Sound Blaster card installed (though it does support one), but without Sound Blaster, all the non-digitized sounds like item pickups revert to the bleepy PC Speaker versions. Since this is a direct PC port, there is no automap, and strafing is only controlled by the Alt key.
Most bizarrely, there was an official port of Wolfenstein 3D for the Acorn Archimedes, developed by Powerslave Software, which is more or less identical to the PC version, however it also includes an editor program and a Christmas-themed scenario. It is functionally identical to the PC version, even supporting many of the level sets developed for the PC version. However, it does seem that the music plays slightly too fast, and not even in game. This version does have averysillyintroductionsequence that parodies the James Bond film intro.
The original Xbox has an accurate port of the PC version, included in the Xbox port of Return to Castle Wolfenstein. However, it is only available to players who have completed the campaign mode. The music plays at the correct speed, and the sound effects are accurate to the PC version - quite unlike the later 360/PS3 downloadable versions. In the strangest omission yet, though, the Xbox version does not have any way to run quickly. There is just no Run button, and despite analog movement, “walking” speed is the fastest possible speed in this version. Granted, enemies would be hard-pressed to catch up to you anyway, but this is still a pretty strange thing to just leave out.
The Game Boy Advance had a handful of first-person shooters designed specifically for it, like Ecks vs Sever, Dark Arena, and BackTrack, and the system certainly showed that it had the horsepower for this sort of thing, so Stalker Entertainment wrote a commercial port of Wolfenstein for the GBA, published by Bam! Entertainment. The port is actually reasonably accurate to the PC version, with all 60 original levels and the original sound effects, albeit with no in-game music. The graphics are all shrunk down to fit the screen, but the sprites and textures are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. The low resolution of the 3D renderer makes it more difficult than usual to see distant enemies. Overall, it’s not bad if you’re just itching for a portable Wolfenstein and have no other system to play it on, but there are open-source ports that would work better, especially in terms of controls (since in this version, you need to hold both L and R buttons to run), though in its favor, it is possible to circle-strafe again.
When 2009’s next-gen Wolfenstein was nearing release, Activision and Nerve Software ported Wolfenstein 3D to the XBox 360 and Playstation 3 as a downloadable title. All 60 of the PC version’s levels are present, and the game is more or less a competent emulation of the original game, though the in-game music plays at a slower tempo than the original’s, and inexplicably, all of the first-aid kit pickups have had their Red Cross emblem replaced with a large red heart. This probably has something to do with the Red Cross Foundation complaining about the use of their symbol in video games around the time of this port’s release. (A similar thing was done to their port of Doom 2, though in that game, the Red Cross emblems were replaced with generic medicine capsules.) In a strange sign of the times, the original shareware episode, “Escape from Castle Wolfenstein”, can only be played for one level if the game has not been purchased, whereas players of the shareware version had access to the full episode before needing to shell out their money for the other five.
Finally, Wolfenstein received an official port to iPhone, iPod, and iPad devices, written by John Carmack in his spare time and released on the iTunes App Store. This version of the game takes the most after the original PC version, with completely new menus and HUD elements, and the weapon graphics from the Mac version. The game comes in “Lite” and “Platinum” versions; the Lite version contains the whole shareware episode, and the Platinum version contains all six episodes. There are a few odd changes to this port - the heart-clad medkits remain from the 360/PS3 version, there is no Use button (doors and secret walls open automatically when you walk into them), and secret level exits do not work properly, and send you to the next normal level instead. Instead of normal level progression, you can warp to any level you wish from the starting menu, since there is no saved game system. Graphics are relatively high-res, but are a strange mixture of PC and Mac version resources, with the wall textures and pickups from the Mac version, but the guard sprites from the PC version. It’s pretty obvious that touchscreen controls don’t really work well for a first-person shooter, even if your only real controls are looking, moving, shooting, and switching weapons, so this version has options to drag the on-screen controls wherever you want, and also sliders to control the presence and sensitivity of tilt-to-move and tilt-to-turn features. Tilt-to-turn is actually quite a bit easier to aim with than an onscreen virtual thumbstick, since you only need to steer the iPhone like a steering wheel to turn. I’d still prefer actual controls, but tilt controls are serviceable enough to actually play the game. Since the game content is uncut from the PC version, the game has been delisted from some countries’ regional App Store databases, including those of Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, in regards to the presence of Nazi symbols.
As far as unofficial ports go, there are a number of surprises. There was an Amiga port for AGA-compatible systems, which is pretty much just an emulation of the PC original. The port only works properly with the shareware version’s data files, so only the first episode is accessible. It is quite a pain to get working, due to the early-alpha status of the code, and requires the presence of a few external libraries to even start it, let alone get it working. When it does work, it’s near identical to the PC version, just with no music, since it was not re-composed to play back on the Amiga’s Paula chipset.
LogicWare’s 3DO port got re-ported to Apple IIgs by Eric Sheppard and released as freeware, which is hugely impressive for the IIgs’s 2.8 MHz “Mega II” processor, since it runs quite smoothly and includes full digitized sounds. This version can still be found on Sheppard’s website (www.sheppyware.com). Everything is present - both the Mac and PC version levels are retained from the 3DO version. In all honesty, I do prefer this version’s choice of colors, especially in the case of the overgrown walls in Episode 2, which are now a “dead leaves” shade of brownish-orange, instead of the rest of the versions’ insistence on a shade of yellow that might remind one of vomit or Alien blood. The screen can be resized, for those who have upgraded their IIgs systems, but by default it is somewhat on the small side, so as to run smoothly on a stock IIgs. The sound effects have all been re-recorded, perhaps specifically for this version of the game - I have not heard them in any of the other ports, save for the ST port.
The PC open-source release has been ported to SDL (Simple Directmedia Layer), and conversely, to every platform that SDL supports. This means that there are 100% accurate ports of Wolfenstein 3D for the Sega Dreamcast, Sony PSP, Dingoo A320, OpenPandora, Linux, BeOS, and the Nokia S60. Since these inevitably require actual PC version data files, there are no content differences between them.
Another unofficial port, this time for the Atari ST and STe, was created by the demoscene group “The Sirius Cybernetics Corp” - it is, in turn, based on Eric Sheppard’s Apple IIgs port (making this...*counts*...a port of a port of a port of a port of a port*), featuring the same graphical downgrades, the same sound effects, and almost the same selection of levels, if not for the fact that Episode 2 starts with a “prologue” level, labeled Floor 2-0 by the status bar. Bobby Prince’s music returns, if only for the opening and menu screens, and plays back from the Atari’s POKEY sound chip, which surprisingly doesn’t sound too terrible, but perhaps mercifully does not try to play in game. The game speed is somewhat on the slow side, but this game is intended for use on upgraded machines. For those running an out-of-box ST or STe, however, there are options to reduce the screen size or run the game in low detail mode, which is a pixel-doubled mode that helps a lot with performance. This version is free to download from www.pouet.net.
*Here’s the geneology of that sentence - PC begat SNES, SNES begat Mac, Mac begat 3DO, 3DO begat IIgs, IIgs begat STe. Five descending generations from the PC original.
Not Quite Wolfenstein: Unofficial “Remakes”
Wolfenstein 3D’s engine, a vastly simplified 3D renderer using what John Carmack refers to as a “raycasting” technique, has inspired many people to recreate such an engine on platforms far less powerful than the 386 PC that the original game was built on. Raycasters like this have been developed for platforms like the Atari 800XL, ZXSpectrum 128K, even the TI-83; even if they don’t set out to be accurate remakes of Wolfenstein itself, they certainly wear their inspiration on their sleeves.
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