I had originally planned to only work through the PC version levels of RtCW as it was the original and didn’t really advance the plot but with the existence of a decent PS2 emulator for the PC, I was at least curious to try the Ras el-Hadid (or Mission 0) levels. While the mission is fairly simple and doesn’t cover anything new, it does have a certain charm and does create a beginning to the whole story. We have to ask why the PC story didn’t have this mission and the easy answer was that there wasn’t time (or money to create it). While that could be true for many games, the real reason in this particular game was that tradition states that the game begins when already captured and the first order of business is escape from Castle Wolfenstein. With a more expanded story line though, there were probably nagging doubts of how our hero got there in the first place and two years later when the console versions were created, this “hole” was fixed.
The Console Versions
With the success of id Software games, several companies had gained expertise in porting id’s games to the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PS2; Nerve Software ported to the X-Box while Raster Productions did the PS2 port. Of the two, the X-Box version seems the most advanced which is probably due to the better spec of the hardware and the advantage to both it and PCs using Intel processors. Both versions also made better use of the result of treasure finds. The PC version of RtCW included the treasure because it was fun to search for and because it was a required trope of Wolfenstein franchise. The problem was that when you found it, it didn’t give the player any advantage. The console versions gave the options to strengthen the player at the end of the level as a reward for finding treasure.
Currently the only way to play the X-Box version is to find a copy of RtCW for the Xbox (named Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War) and play it in an original Xbox or probably an Xbox 360 in emulation mode. There is no other way to play Xbox games.
Playing the PS2 Version
Ironically, the PS2, which has vastly different hardware from a typical PC, has several emulators available for it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get a hold of a copy of RtCW for the PS2 (named Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Operation Resurrection) but there are other options. Playing PS2 games on a PC require three things: an emulator program; a copy of the PS2 ROM and a copy of the PS2 game. It seems that the most stable and popular emulator is a free program named PCSX2, so that was the one that I used. Copy write law prohibits the distribution of the PS2 operating system ROM but there are again two options. The legal one is to download the ROM from an existing PS2 machine and again software is out there on the internet to help with that process. The less than legal approach is to search the internet for a copy of the ROM and it isn’t too difficult to find one. If you really have to go that way, be careful that you don’t get a virus or worse! Finally you need a copy of the game itself. Using the CDROM, you can create an ISO copy file and run that in PCSX2 but there are probably copies of the PS2 version of RtCW out there if you have to go looking.
From there, you add the files in the way the instructions say and start it up. Once up and running, it is probably a good idea to configure your keyboard to match the PS2 controller though using a PS2-like controller for the PC may be a better option. There are also some sites and YouTube videos of specific sound and video options that can be adjusted if you are finding the play choppy.
The Ras el-Hadid Introduction Film
Like all missions, Mission 0 starts with a film. Stop the video at 2:04 as this video link has all RtCW films.
Also, here’s the text:
Scene: Libya March 12, 1943
Night time in an army tent in the desert. A Major (probably American) stands over a desk deep in thought. A second military man stands to the side studying a map on the wall. A third military man comes to the tent entrance.
Blazkowicz: You wanted to see me Major?
Major: Captain Blazkowicz, come in.
Captain Blazkowicz enters and walks up to the desk.
Major: You’ve been re-assigned. The OSA has a top secret mission and they think you’re the right man.
The Major passes Blazkowicz a file which he reads at least some of.
Blazkowicz: Allied Intelligence?
Major: Yes. I’d like you to meet Agent One.
The military man studying the map turns to the others.
Major: He’ll brief you on your mission and new orders.
Agent One: Welcome aboard captain. We don’t have much time for introductions right now; we have transport waiting to take us into northern Egypt.
Blazkowicz: Northern Egypt? Rommel’s not in Egypt.
Agent One: We’re not after Rommel. The head of Hitler’s SS, Heinrich Himmler, has sent a team into the area and we’re off to find out why. I’ll explain on the way. Grab your gear and report to the motor pool immediately.
The camera pans to the map Agent One was studying. Animated red markers plot a journey from Tripoli, Libya to an unlabeled location in the North West part of Egypt.
Scene: Ras el-Hadid, Egypt March 14, 1943
Day time in a covered alleyway. An armed German soldier patrols on the other side of an iron gate while Blazkowicz and Agent One, hidden, watch.
Agent One: Himmler’s new SS paranormal division was first spotted here about a week ago. Helga von Bulow will be arriving today to oversee the operation. Now our job is to grab Helga and find out what’s got Himmler’s attention out here.
Blazkowicz: So what’s your plan?
The camera moves to a map of the area placed on a shipping container between them.
Agent One: The Nazi’s are concentrated around the command post in the center of town, here … and the ruins on the outskirts, here. Helga has to be in one of those locations. We’ll cover more ground if we split up.
Blazkowicz: Agreed. I’ll take the command post and leave the archeology to you.
Agent One: Remember, our primary objective is to locate and capture von Bulow. Alerting the guards to our presence may jeopardize this mission. Right, let’s move out.
Agent One moves off to the right while Blazkowicz has to pass through the gate where the German guard just passed by.
So What Do We Learn?
Since this is our first film, there is a lot here. First off, we get a general location (Libya) and an exact date (12th March 1943). If we remember from the introduction film, 1943 was the same year that the sigil was rediscovered. One thing to note is that the ground around where the sigil was discovered was very dry and if we make the presumption that it is somewhere near Castle Wolfenstein, I would assume that it happened is Summer rather than March or earlier. This could be spun that the sigil finding scene is going to happen later in the year but the reality is that when Mission 0 begins, the sigil has been discovered. This indicates that there was an intention to set the game into summer rather than spring. Why move it? First we have to discount the most obvious which that the African Campaign was essentially over by summer 1943. While that would be a really good reason to move the date, the Mission 0 levels were added later and were essentially stuck with a mid-March timescale. A more likely reason was that some of the escape levels, such as the atmospheric Cable Car level simply look better with snow covered peaks rather than what might be nondescript rock and grass.
OK, so accepting that March 1943 is the start date, let’s now look at the real state of the war at this point.
Quick Summary of WWII up to 1943
Nazi aggression originally spread in two directions: toward the areas west of Germany and toward areas east of Germany. The westward direction overran France and Western Europe and was held at bay by the English Channel and German failure with the Battle of Britain over British skies. The eastern direction didn’t have such geographical barriers and the German armies were able to push into Russia though strategically failed to take either Stalingrad or Moscow.
While these campaigns were active, the colonial powers in North Africa started raiding each other’s positions and this soon led to sustained battle and what became known as the third front. Specifically, Italy controlled Libya and Tunisia and Britain controlled Egypt. There was much backward and forward across the desert and I will attempt to show some of the highlights below but if you want a more visual guide, take a look at this nifty animation by the BBC here.
After some successful raids on both sides, the British (with Commonwealth
countries) pushed back the Italians. To avoid this total defeat, Hitler authorized
General Rommel to lead German soldiers (named the Afrika Korps) into the battle. This seemed to help the Axis powers and they were able to push the British back into Egypt and nearly back as far as Alexandria. The British had a change of leadership with Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery (Monty)
taking command of the Eighth Army. This seemed to swing the tide of the war and after a decisive win in the second Battle of El Alamein, they were able to push the Axis powers out of Egypt, through Libya and into Tunisia between October 1942 to March 1943. We’ll stop at that point in the battle as the game starts up in March 1943.
So returning to the setting of Libya, March 12th, 1943, the major battle lines are west of Libya and the predominant army in occupation is British. So, when the film starts out with the Major and Blazkowicz, both American, it doesn’t make much sense. At this time, the American army had landed in Algeria and had slowly headed east through the French colonies. By March – and certainly April – Rommel was being squeezed from both sides but there was no real reason of any American troops to be “hanging out” in Libya. The only way that possibly saves it is to make Blazkowicz an Army Ranger which allows him to have a freer role in where he might be. Anyway, let’s move on.
Back to the Film
So next, who is the OSA? Well we don’t find out in this mission but the made up organization is named the Office of Secret Actions. It’s all vague at this point but we do know it has something to do with Allied Intelligence. Why was Blazkowicz chosen? That we never know. So again moving on to the next important point, we are introduced to Agent One. The name Agent One is is forced on us because the PC version introduced the second agent with Blazkowicz as Agent One. Little is known about him – we know he is British and he smokes and he seems to be the one in charge of this mission but otherwise he is all business.
We finally know where we are going which is northern Egypt. Blazkowicz states the obvious, that Rommel, and hence the Axis army are not in Egypt any more. What’s interesting is that on March 9th, Hitler fired Rommel from the post of commander-in-chief of the Afrika Korps so Rommel at this point might not have been anywhere in Africa on March 12th. It would be unlikely that the Allies would have known that at this point though.
Agent One then states what their mission is, which is to snoop on a team of Germans sent in by Heinrich Himmler. Given that the Axis army had been pushed back very rapidly between October ’42 and March ’43, these people would have to be very brave, very desperate or very stupid to have snuck behind enemy lines at this point. The assumption would be that other than supply lines, there would be very little troops in northern Egypt at this point. One other thing worth mentioning is that much of the war took place close to the Mediterranean sea as supply lines were coming through sea ports. The place they are heading to might be too far inland to attract troops from either side.
We next get to see a nice animated map of northeastern Africa and we learn that we specifically are in or around Tripoli and the “X” is our current location. I’ve tried to work out where we are going by trying to combine the game map (left) with Google map (right) and produce a composite of them both (middle). The “X” appears to be somewhere in the desert.
The name Ras el-Hadid is also made up though there is a place named Dhar Ras el Hadid on the coast of Algeria. Don’t know if this is a coincidence and I haven’t found a translation of the words. But, even if this place doesn’t exist, we can speculate what the place might look like. The only reason why there are towns and villages in the Egyptian desert is because there are oases and settlement can be sustained around the water supply. An example of an oasis town near our “X” would be Siwa. They support their own rather nifty website here. The town even supports ancient ruins and had contact with Nile Egyptians and many others over the years. Further into this mission, it’s going to get a whole lot more confusing where we are but for now, a place like Siwa looks good.
In the second part of the film, they have reached Ras el-Hadid. It is dated as March 14th so, if we assume that the first scene took place on the night of March 12th, the journey around 36 hours over land.
Agent One now gives Blazkowicz the details of what this mission is all about. We learn that Himmler has a Paranormal Division and it is new. Himmler, famed for his leadership of the SS seems an odd choice to run such a thing but if we remember Himmler’s obsession with Heinrich the Fowler earlier, maybe that choice isn’t so bad. We also get the name of a character named Helga von Bulow who seems to be in charge at some level. Some German’s have been here for a week or more but Helga has only just arrived.
Clearly, Agent One is in command and he produces a map showing that there are two concentrations of Nazis: one in a command post and a second in archaeological ruins on the edge of town. I’ve taken a snapshot of the map below but it still isn’t very good. We can just about make out two red “X” marks that represent the Command Post and the ruins. Since we have ruins, it again looks like Siwa or something close. The plan is to split up with Blazkowicz (us) taking the command post and Agent One checking out the ruin. And with that, we finally begin to play.
There is so much reading out there about the African Campaign of WWII that I hardly need links for it. One site that I did find particularly helpful was WorldWar-2.net which has a number of useful timelines.
Yes, we can’t avoid it any more – next post will be the first level of Mission Zero! It’s really a training level but still, there are plenty of intriguing things to check out if you know where to look.