This is something that I have been thinking about and working on for the past year. As Charles Ryder reminisced on his return to Brideshead in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited,I similarly thought about the plot and themes of ID Software’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I played it once in maybe 2003 but when I came back to play it sometime later in 2010, I had forgotten many of the details and where levels fitted within each mission and even why I did what I did..
At the same time, I found websites that focused not so much on playing a game but the back story and sometimes the discoveries of whole parallel stories that developed as you progressed through the game. Perhaps the grand-daddy of them is Marathon’s Story which discusses the background and the many clues to the Marathon Trilogy of games. If like many people, you have not heard of the Marathon games, it is because they were MAC games and only one (Marathon II) was converted to PC format. If you are interested in playing these games, PC compatible versions have been fan created. Go to the Aleph One website and take it from there.
So What is This Then?
It may be easier to describe what I’m doing by stating what this isn’t. This isn’t a game walkthrough. There are many excellent walkthroughs out there (and I admit to using black hole son’s copy to make sure I found all the secret areas) and there is no need of another. I will also be not creating a Wolfenstein wiki as one already exists. That is not to say that there will be some overlap but when we go visiting a V2 rocket in the game, I want to explain what it is, who worked on them, how they worked and what their future plans might have been. While Return to Castle Wolfenstein (RtCW) is an obvious work of fiction, it has background in a real world event (World War II) and it is interesting to see which parts the game developers took from history, which parts they made up and which parts they stretched the truth. It’s actually the last part that most interests me as it is usually the hardest part to do.
I want to use more than just facts of the game and take this further into speculation. There is much in the RtCW story that isn’t explained (or are plot hole!) and I want to look at what might have been the original designer’s intent or at least, a happy coincidence. I will make sure to state what is “fact” and what is “speculation” as best I can.
One other thing that got me thinking about the game was the maps. By this, I don’t mean the physical maps that make up the levels but the small maps that are displayed when loading a saved position (circled in red). I’ve gone into the pk3 files and brought them out to study more. We’ll cover them and other maps as they appear in the game as these provide additional details not mentioned in the game. There are also some other facts and files in the pk3 files that show ideas not actually used in the game. I’ll bring them out as needed.
I’m going to look only at RtCW and more specifically, the PC version but, I will detour into the PS2 version to get check on the prologue mission. That’s not to say that the other games are not worthy, just that this is the plot that intrigues me the most.
The RtCW plot is complex and is in fact a mystery story. The Allied forced (and so you the player too) really didn’t know what was going on until close to the end. The Allies had some intelligence and followed where it took them. This can all be ignored if you just want to play an action game but if not, come with me as we explore further.
That’s hopefully some of the what, now onto the why.
The time now seems right to document this with the announcement of a new Wolfenstein game. Sequels tend to cause people to look back to the original and re-evaluate it. I’ve been revisiting RtCW since before the new game announcement so this is a happy coincidence. Hopefully, by the time the new game comes out, most of my ramblings will be recorded. We’ll see…
Talking of coincidence, the Brideshead Revisited story (the present part where he remembered back) was believed to be set in March 1943. It should be no surprise that the RtCW campaign also takes place in March 1943. Early 1943 was a pivotal time in WWII; a stalemate was starting to break and the Allies could now consider plans victory. In the RtCW world, a different victory plan was forming.
A coincidence? I don’t think so!
To kick this off, we’ll take a dive into history back to the original Wolfenstein — a game created in the same year that the IBM PC was first available.