Playing It Old School – ‘Wolfenstein’ and the birth of the shooter – 5/18/2014

Most of the iconic and popular games are first person shooter (FPS) that put gamers in the role of a hero who has to go against an army with nothing more than a few rounds in the magazine. A gamers time is mostly spent on the virtual battlefields of Counter Strike, Call of Duty, Halo and Battlefield.

This joy of the virtual war was made possible thanks to Wolfenstein 3D breaking the norm to establish a new genre for a mature audience. With Wolfenstein: The New Order on the horizon, Playing It Old School will like to go back and pay its respects to the Father of the Shooter genre.

Known to most gamers as a shooter, the Wolfenstein series actually started back in 1981 as a stealth action game developed by Muse Software. Castle Wolfenstein had players attempt to infiltrate a Nazi fortress to steal secret plans than escape undetected. The game was a hit and was followed by Beyond Castle Wolfenstein.

Unfortunately Muse Software closed in 1987 with most of its assets sold-off.

Then in 1991 John Romero, John Carmack, Tom Hall, along with Adrian Carmack established Id Software LLC and one year later they would set the foundations for modern gaming. These pioneers acquired the Wolfenstein intellectual property and used it as the foundation to create the first-person shooter genre.

Wolfenstein 3D has players infiltrate the castle by fighting Nazi soldiers and their monstrous creations (including a Robot Hitler). The games success was followed by Spear of Destiny, which has the gamer attempt to recover the Holy Lance before the Nazi’s could use its power.

The game became the building blocks for the FPS genre and it’s success was followed by Doom and Quake. They would become a major influence on the development of other groundbreaking games like Half Life, Medal of Honor, Soldier of Fortune and 007 GoldenEye.

The game also introduced gamers to one of the most iconic characters, William “BJ”  Blazkowicz. He was the foundation for characters in an FPS while being one of the earliest gaming heroes that was targeted towards a more mature audience. On a side note; he is the grandfather of Billy Blaze from Commander Keen and a descendent of the “Doom guy” from the Doom-series.

The game itself was a pioneer in transforming video games from an expensive childs toy to a mature medium. Wolfenstein 3D was the first step needed for the gaming industry to grow and to experiment with more mature content.

After a decade long absence; the series was introduced to a new generation in 2001 with Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Gamers once again took on the role of Blazkowicz as he attempts to dismantle Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse secret weapons project and prevent Heinrich Himmler from using ancient magic to resurrect an evil warlord. This reimagining developed a new timeline within the context of a classic setting. The game also included a groundbreaking multiplayer feature that borrowed elements of Counter Strike with objective based missions set in a WWII setting,

Return to Castle Wolfenstein was the byproduct of taking one of the most iconic games and rebuilding it into something new. The end result was one of the best FPS games of the time while being awarded multiple “Game of the Year” awards. Its success was followed by a console port that expanded the story along with Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, a free to play multiplayer game.

The story continued with the seque,l Wolfenstien in 2009, which had players once again taking on the role of Blazkowicz on a mission to stop the Nazi from harnessing black magic. This time Deathshead have concentrated his forces in the town of Isenstadt in a quest to acquire Nachtsonne crystals needed to access the Black Sun Dimension.

Unfortunately Wolfenstein failed to generate the same kind of buzz as its predecessors. The game was met with average reviews while sales were so poor that the game became a financial flop.

Now the series will enter into a new era of gaming with Wolfenstein: The New Order, a new twist on the classic that will take players to an alternative 1960 were the Nazi’s won the war. How this game will stack compared to its predecessors is hard to tell but the Wolfenstien  series has always been a pioneer in defining the shooter genre.

However being first at something is always followed by a wave of controversy, and Wolfenstein was no exception. Wolfenstein 3-D caused a firestorm of controversy due to its graphic violence and Nazi reference. The original game was banned in Germany because of the display of Nazi symbols and the use of Horst-Wessel-Lied as its theme music (see Strafgesetzbuch section 86a). The game had to undergo editing and censorship just to be sold on consoles and in different countries.

Years later; Return to Castle Wolfenstein became the victim of false moral panic after Jonathan Kay (not a gamer) of the New York Times accused it of promoting anti-Semitism. As a result of the article, the game was vaguely referred to in Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism by the United States Department of State.

Despite the controversy and censorship, the Wolfenstein series has always stood strong as the needed push for gaming culture to embrace a mature concept. The success of Wolfenstein: The New Order will determine if the series could still be a major influence on the shooter genre.

Playing It Old School is a column that looks back on classic games while reflecting on the influence it had on video game and pop culture.

Written for The Gamers Progress
05/18/2014
Original Article: Playing It Old School – ‘Wolfenstein’ and the birth of the shooter

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About Stan Rezaee
I'm a writer from San Jose who has contributed to several online and print publications.

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