We’ll jump straight in with the plot of Wolfenstein 3D. The game was originally split into three episodes and levels were developed with that structure in mind. When it was made know to Apogee that a new level could be created in about a day, they persuaded id that there could be more money made in creating additional levels (an episode contains 10 levels). From a story point of view, it was difficult to add additional levels on the end (you’ll see why later) so they decided that the additional 30 levels would be a prequel mission. The episodes are as follows:-
Episode 1: Escape From Wolfenstein
The title pretty much explains this mission. Our hero, we’ll talk about whom that is later, has been captured while trying to uncover the plans for Operation Eisenfaust. He is taken to a place called Wolfenstein (we assume Castle Wolfenstein) and at the start of the game, overpowers a guard, takes his gun and knife and heads upwards to escape. This is clearly a reprisal of the original Castle Wolfenstein game. At the end of the episode, the player must face a character named Hans Grösse who is a member of that wants to kill you. You’ll meet the others later.
Having escaped with the Operation Eisenfaust plans, we find that the plans describe a plot to raise the dead and use these mutants as Nazi soldiers. We return to Germany, this time to Castle Hollehammer where the maniacal Dr. Schabbs is busy at work. It seems that the not-so-good doctor uses a special re-animation serum, rather than necromantic means, to raise the dead and he is not afraid to use it on you in the episode’s boss battle.
Episode 3: Die, Fuhrer, Die!
Again, the episode title should explain who we are going to meet at the end of this episode. After defeating Dr. Schabbs, it is decided to grab the bull by the horns and go after Hitler himself! He seemed to have been aware of your search and has fled his command bunker and set up in the Reichstag. This was supposed to be the big finish so Hitler is wearing a mecha suit which we have to destroy before we can actually fight him properly.
Episode 4: A Dark Secret
Well what do we do after killing Hitler? Right, not much, so episodes 4 thru 6 (called the Nocturnal mission) are a prequel rather than a sequel. In this episode, we find out that a certain Scientist named Otto Giftmacher has developed a bucket load of chemical weapons in the mysterious Castle Erlangen. We are there to stop him.
Episode 5: Trail of the Madman
We are still in Castle Erlangen but now we are going down into the dungeons looking for the map room that is guarded but Hans’ sister, Gretel Grösse. Apparently, while the chemical weapons maker is dead, his stocks of chemicals are ready to be shipped. The map room will tell us where they are going. Gretel isn’t so keen on letting us know.
Episode 6: Confrontation
The maps lead us to Castle Heidenheim which is perched between two large mountains. The chemical weapons cache is guarded by General Fettgesicht (Fatface) and his many minions. The only way to complete the mission is to take on and kill the general.
The graphic below shows the bad guys you will meet. The top row is the grunt level minions in order of increasing strength. The second row shows the bosses from the original episodes while the bottom level shows the Nocturnal Mission bosses. In case you are wondering, that is a Pacman ghost in the bottom row. As a gag, they put a Pacman level with the actual first level map as the secret level in the third (Hitler episode). Why? Because they could!
My name is Blazkowicz, B.J. Blazkowicz
The original Castle Wolfenstein didn’t name the character we were playing as we were to assume that it was actually us that was held in the castle. id decided that while the first person aspect made it feel more like it is us in this battle, they decided to name the soldier. The Official Hint Manual for Wolfenstein 3D books stated that Adrian Carmack created the back story which I will quote here:
William Joseph Blazkowicz was born August 15, 1911, to Polish immigrants. Blazkowicz was a top spy for the Allied Forces, receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor and other accolades for heroism. “B.J”, (as he was called by his friends) married after World War II, at age 40, to Julia Marie Peterson. Their son, Arthur Kenneth Blazkowicz, became a television talk show personality in Milwaukee. Foe show biz purposes, Arthur changed his last name to Blaze. Arthur later married Susan Elizabeth McMichaels. They had one son (which they named after Arthur’s father), William Joseph Blazkowicz II, or as he signs his grade school homework, B. Blaze….
The reference to his son and grandson is a link from Blazkowicz to Commander Keen (Billy Blaze). id did further connect Commander Keen to the Doom Space Marine further tying their main characters together.
One question that has come up about Blazkowicz with his Polish ancestry and name is whether he is Jewish. While the newest incarnation of the Wolfenstein franchise wants to keep it open, there is no evidence above to indicate a Jewish connection. The following link discusses this. While on that page, check the related “The Concentration Camp Video Game” page too.
Nazisploitation in Wolfenstein 3D
Since we now know the plot of the game, we can look at Nazisploitation aspects of the game. The first episode, which is the homage episode, plays it straight as the original game did play it straight.
When we get to the second episode, things move sideways quickly. We have to believe that the Nazis have advanced medicine enough that they have a drug that can raise the dead to a zombie-like state to be used as undead soldiers. This shows a reworking of the Revenge of the Zombies mentioned earlier.
The third episode is again played straight until we get to the Hitler showdown. Here we have to believe that a tank-like body suit has been tailored for his personal use. OK, it’s more believable than the second episode but we have to believe quite an advance in human/tank technology. (There is also the Pacman secret level but that was just a bit of fun)
The Nocturnal Mission is more realistic as chemical weapons are all too real and both sides had some that they kept just in case the other side used them first. The mission is based on an actual when we move onto RtCW.
Generally speaking, id used much of the alternate history that was developing. Films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark had been around for ten years and enough people were willing to believe at least the possibility that these things might be true. It could even be said that Hitler was now a cartoon villain with access to super human powers. The whole question of Germany was also in peoples minds with the falling of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of the two Germany’s.
This is not really the place to discuss the details of what was programmatically achieved in Wolfenstein 3D but we can discuss some of the features. John Carmack’s big breakthrough was to take a process called ray tracing and boil down the main features to create a minimal process called ray casting. The big difference between the two is that ray casting takes vertical strips and uses a ray tracing technique to check is a wall is found in that direction. The process can work on 1 pixel wide strips because no ceiling or floor texturing was being rendered. The enemies and objects were pasted on top of the image with one of eight pre-rotated sprites of the object.
One other aspect was that Wolfenstein was written to use the new VGA graphics adapter. This new card had a mode (named 13h) which supported 256 colors from a palette of a quarter million colors and a resolution of 320×200. As supporting this graphics card with the then available machines was pushing the speed that the game would play, a function to reduce the play area size was added for less powerful machines.
Modern machines have graphic processor cards that will handle much of the functionality that had to be handled then by the main processor in game code.
We often think that id was the only people working on this sort of game but a forgotten game named Ken’s Labyrinth written by Ken Silverman was also released in 1993. While this game is virtually forgotten, Silverman continued to build on it until it became the Build Engine that was used to such effect in the Dukem Nukem 3D game.
So why was Ken’s Labyrinth forgotten while Wolfenstein 3D is still celebrated? I think the main reason was that Ken’s game didn’t have an overriding theme in the way that Wolfenstein 3D did. It just seems as if features were added in as they were thought of rather than created with any sort of plot arc. Perhaps if John Carmack had created the full game instead of just the engine, he might have created a similar mish-mash game. You can access and play the various versions of Ken’s Labyrinth as this link. You will likely need something like DOS Box to play it.
Machines that support Wolfenstein 3D
There are a whole host of machines that have a port of Wolfenstein 3D. While a few ports were commissioned, the main reason it can run on so many platforms is a quite revolutionary idea that John Carmack insisted upon. The entire source to the game engine was moved to open source in 1995 and this has allowed devotees to port and expand the game. Also, the map files were fairly easy to decode and many people have had a go at creating their own levels. There is even a program that can create random levels from scratch.
The Official Wolfenstein 3D Hint Guide is available as a PDF.
Michael Abrash’s Graphics Programming Black Book, (Michael Abrash worked at id Software) probably provides the most comprehensive view of how Wolfenstein 3D was programmed (without checking the source) but it is heavily dependent on 8086 programming tips and non-graphic processor programming.
For a more gentle approach to this sort of programming, Gardens of Imagination provides an overview of how programs evolved from simple wireframe graphics to ray casting.
Next we’ll look at id Software’s next game, Spear of Destiny as this will further expand the subject matter that will be used in RtCW.