Wolfenstein 2D (or not)

OK, there is no game called Wolfenstein 2D but this is a common nick-name for the game that started it all.

We have to go back to 1978 to find our beginnings. In 1978 there were only three personal computers around, sometimes called the “trinity”. The three were the TRS-80, the Commodore PET and the Apple ][. Of the three, the Apple ][ was arguably the best because it supported what was then called high resolution graphics natively. OK, I’m sure that will cause dispute, but I think that is true.

The concept of software houses creating products for their users (and their users were now private citizens rather than companies) was also new and almost anyone with a good idea and some time was able to get some sort of personal computer software company started.

Silas Warner

Silas Warner

With that background, three early Apple ][ adopters, Ed Zaron, Jim Black and Silas Warner got together to form a company named Muse Software based in Baltimore, MD. They created both game and non-games products as they created programs that interested them and that they thought would sell. During the life of the company, (1978 to 1985) they produced several memorable games but from the point that takes this blog forward, it was the game Castle Wolfenstein written by Silas Warner that we’ll look at.

The story goes that Silas had just finished a unique game named Robot War in 1981 when he first encountered a copy of Berzerk running in a Seven Eleven. Berzerk supported high resolution graphics and also was one of the first games that could actually talk. Silas had written a program named The Voice which was probably the first utility that could record and playback voice (or any other recorded sound for that matter). Also, his co-programmer Ed Zaron had written code that allowed them to manipulate high resolution graphics in a similar way to character level graphics. So, Silas had the pieces to build a Berzerk-like game but having just finished a robot game, he wasn’t too infused about creating another.

The story then continues that Silas saw The Guns of Navarone a few weeks later and he make the connection – instead of dumb robots chasing a human in a series of electrified mazes, he would write a game of stupid Nazis patrolling levels of a POW castle while an unnamed human tries to escape.

Rather than trying to compare these three with works, let’s look at this table:

Berzerk Guns of Navarone Castle Wolfenstein
Plot Survive screen after screen Destroy big guns Escape Castle
Format Video game Film Video game
Dumb bad guys Robots Nazi Nazi
Strategy Shoot & run Stealth & Attack Stealth or shoot
Walls Electric walls kill Cliff walls kill Castle walls daze
Disguises N/A Nazi uniforms Nazi uniforms
Explosives No Yes Yes (grenades)

So, the game is basically Berzerk but with more options and strategy. When you start the game, you get the following instructions (I’m not shouting here, the original Apple ][ didn’t support lower case letters):-

“WELCOME TO CASTLE WOLFENSTEIN, MATE! THE NAZIS BROUGHT YOU HERE TO GET INFORMATION OUT OF YOU BEFORE THEY KILL YOU. THAT’S WHAT THIS PLACE IS FOR – IF YOU LISTEN YOU CAN HEAR THE SCREAMS. THEY’VE ALREADY WORKED ME OVER AND I’LL NEVER GET OUT ALIVE, BUT MAYBE YOU CAN WITH THIS GUN. I GOT IT OFF A DEAD GUARD BEFORE THEY CAUGHT ME. IT’S STANDARD ISSUE – EACH CLIP HOLDS 10 BULLETS, AND IT’S FULLY LOADED.

“BE CAREFUL, MATE, BECAUSE EVERY ROOM IN THE CASTLE IS GUARDED. THE REGULAR GUARDS CAN’T LEAVE THEIR POSTS WITHOUT ORDERS, BUT WATCH OUT FOR THE SS STORMTROOPERS. THEY’RE THE ONES IN THE BULLETPROOF VESTS AND THEY’RE LIKE BLOODY HOUNDS. ONCE THEY’VE PICKED UP YOUR TRAIL THEY WON’T STOP CHASING YOU UNTIL YOU KILL THEM AND YOU ALMOST NEED A GRENADE TO DO THAT.

“CASTLE WOLFENSTEIN IS FULL OF SUPPLIES TOO. I KNOW ONE CHAP WHO FOUND A WHOLE GERMAN UNIFORM AND ALMOST SNEAKED OUT PAST THE GUARDS. HE MIGHT HAVE MADE IT IF HE HADN’T SHOT SOME POOR SOD AND GOT THE SS ON HIS TRAIL. IF YOU CAN’T UNLOCK A SUPPLY CHEST, TRY SHOOTING IT OPEN. NOW I WOULDN’T GO SHOOTING AT CHESTS FULL OF EXPLOSIVES…

“ONE MORE THING. THE BATTLE PLANS FOR OPERATION RHEINGOLD ARE HIDDEN SOMEWHERE IN THE CASTLE. I’M SURE YOU KNOW WHAT IT WOULD MEAN TO THE ALLIED HIGH COMMAND IF WE COULD GET OUR HANDS ON THOSE…

“THEY’RE COMING FOR ME! GOOD LUCK!

“AIIIIEEEEEEE….”

The first thing to note is that the actual player is un-named; no Blazkowics here. In fact we don’t even know which nation the player is from. The person that is doing the talking though seems to be either British or Australian because they use the word mate a lot. The player has to deal with regular Nazi guards but also SS Storm troopers that have bullet proof vests and seem to be immune to everything but grenades. The SS character takes the place of Evil Otto in Berzerk. His role is to hurry up the player and the SS guy works in the same way.

One addition over Berzerk is that Castle Wolfenstein has Nazi uniforms that allow the player to fool the Nazi guards (but not the SS). This seems to be taken from The Guns of Navarone film that used a similar trick. There is also the option to stab a guard rather than shoot them. This was a quiet kill that didn’t rouse any other guard that might be in the room.

Looking Further

One thing we don’t know about is where the name Wolfenstein came from. If we look at the picture at the start of the game we see this:

Start Screen

Start Screen

As far as I can tell, this a generic German castle. It has the typical towers with conical roofs and a Bergfried which is a keep-like tower typical to German influenced castle. We have to remember that back in 1981, if someone wanted to find a picture of a castle, they had to get a book and check it out. It is likely that one of the easiest, German-like castles to be found would look like this one:

Bran Castle

Bran Castle, Romania

This place is actually quite famous as the Dracula Castle or at least the home of Vlad the Impaler. I don’t believe that there was an actual place that Castle Wolfenstein was based on, be if there was, this could be it.

This doesn’t help us with the name though. The first part of the name, wolf is actually the German name for wolf. The wolf has a certain connection with Germany so that wouldn’t seem a bad connection. What is interesting is that when we add the -en part to it we get wolfen which just happens to be a film that was released in July 1981. It is possible that that could have been an influence. The second part of the name is easier to source. The word stein in German means stone so it would mean a castle built of stone or built on a big stone (mountain) or something like that.

While we are speculating, it is possible that another similar looking castle in Austria named Forchtenstein Castle. The word Forchtenstein does rhyme with wolfenstein so that could have been some influence when trying to come up with a realistic name for the castle. We also should remember that wolfenstein also is similar to another famous film/monster, Frankenstein.

So, we have a castle possible modeled off Dracula’s castle, based off a word of a film about a werewolf and name structured like Frankenstein. Dracula, Werewolf and Frankenstein, the trinity of the monster films of the 1930’s all rolled into the game. Well, I would like to think it is possible!

You may be asking me, why speculate? Just ask Silas where the word came from. Unfortunately, Silas is no longer with us as he died early in 2004. That isn’t to say that no one else knows the derivation but if there are others, they haven’t as yet, let it be known.

For all that speculation, Silas played Castle Wolfenstein straight. It doesn’t seem that he created fantasy or horror games – he created realistic and sci-fi games only.

A sequel of course

Castle Wolfenstein was a popular game. With all things popular, the game was converted to other 6502 platforms such as the Atari 800 and Commodore 64. It was also converted to the IBM PC later. There was also a second game named Beyond Castle Wolfenstein created in 1984. This time, the game was set in Hitler’s secret bunker in Berlin. Our hero, still un-named, has to find and deliver a bomb to Hitler himself while avoiding the guards and SS. The game used much of the same game mechanics with some improvements. The biggest change was the introduction of passes that the SS would check to validate your location in the bunker.

While there is more to this game, it isn’t set in the Wolfenstein location so I won’t cover it further here.

Other odds and ends

As noted in Castle Wolfenstein’s instructions, the game also references Operation Rheingold. There was no such plan in WWII and so it is likely that Rheingold is a reference to Das Rheingold – the first part of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Popular game attract spoofs and Castle Wolfenstein had one of it’s own. Castle Smurfenstein was a parody created by Andrew Johnson, Preston Nevins and Rob Romanchuk in 1983. The game hacked the graphics to make the Nazi look like Smurfs and changed the sounds into unintelligible Smurf voices.

Even the lowly Atari 2600 got into the Wolfenstein way. There is still an Atari 2600 programming community out there and someone got around to working on Castle Wolfenstein. The game is described and available here. It can be run through the Stella emulator.

There is a place in Germany called Wolfstein and it has not one but two castles! Read about The Tale of Two Castles. Neither would appear to be our much searched for castle though.

Another place that fits in close with a near matching name is Burg Werfenstein (sorry the link is in German) in Austria. This is a small place but it was at one time owned by Adolf Josef Lanz who had some influence over Hitler.

Playing Castle Wolfenstein

Through the “magic” of computer emulation, it is possible to play Castle Wolfenstein on an Apple ][ emulator. While there are several Apple emulators around, I use AppleWin and a copy of Castle Wolfenstein that can be found from many places on the internet (just look for a .dsk file). Follow the instructions from the emulator of where to put the .dsk file and start it up. The game is actually hard to play though with just a keyboard.

It can also be played with be played with Atari 800 and Commodore 64 emulators too.

More information

There is lots I’ve left out of the story so here are some links:

Silas Warner’s involvement with Castle Wolfenstein.

Silas Warner’s tribute site.

Silas Warner’s Resume.

Hear Silas Warner speak about his days at Muse Software with this link. Play the podcast at the bottom of the page.

The Digital Antiquarian covers Castle Wolfenstein.

Hardcore Gaming 101 covers Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein.

Coming Next

In the next part of the story, we’ll look at Wolfenstein 3D; the ID Software homage to the Castle Wolfenstein game.

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