We’ve been looking forward to a new 3D game that could excite the whole family but for now we’ve found a great action 3D game for the more adult side of gaming.
The first-person shooter (FPS) genre has come a long way over the last two decades. There’s an entire generation of gamers out there who think it all started with Doom, but the game that kick-started the contemporary run-and-gun movement came several years earlier in the shape of id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D.
In late 1991, designers John Carmack, Tom Hall and John Romero began working on a project that would shape an entire genre for years to come. The trio had previously collaborated on a game called Catacomb 3-D, and its pseudo 3D engine was used as the basis for their next venture.
Wolfenstein 3D was a staggeringly ambitious project. While the three lead developers were no strangers to the third dimension, their previous projects, such as Hovertank 3D and the aforementioned Catacomb 3-D were rendered in 16-color EGA. Their new game was a mould-breaker, making the jump to the 256-color VGA palette and incorporating digital sound.
The end result turned out to be the blueprint that all great FPS titles would be based on for generations. It was run-and-gun gameplay at its finest, set against a blistering soundtrack. Taking control of an American agent behind enemy lines named William ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz, players gunned down Nazi soldiers, sought out secret passages, plundered treasure, and fought some memorable bosses.
Wolfenstein 3D was an episodic affair, with nine levels in each. The object was to navigate each stage’s maze-like corridors in search of the elevator to the next area. Along the way, the player encountered Nazi soldiers of various rank, guard dogs and other foes.
Despite the historic setting, there were fantasy elements to the game. Hitler’s diabolical plans involved rearing an army of mutant soldiers, packing serious firepower. The Fuhrer himself made an appearance as the final boss of the original trilogy, albeit decked in a robotic suit packing four mini-guns. There was nothing more satisfying that gunning down the most evil man in history and watching him crumble into a pile of blood and guts.
id’s masterpiece didn’t just popularise the FPS genre, it also pioneered the shareware business model as a viable means of distributing software. Publisher Apogee gave away the first episode free to whet customers’ appetites and convince them to purchase the full trilogy. The strategy was later used for other FPS classics such as Doom, Rise of the Triad and Duke Nukem 3D.
Wolfenstein 3D should also be credited for starting the level editing craze that gained serious traction when the likes of Doom arrived on the market. Level editors began to circulate shortly after the game’s launch, and id released its source code in 1995. Users have created countless DIY stages over the years, a practice that has continued to this day.
Although Wolfenstein 3D’s seamless blend of arcade action and adventure-esque maze negotiation was a big hit with fans and critics alike, the game was met with some opposition. It was immediately banned in Germany for its depiction of Nazi symbolism and Adolf Hitler, and was censored heavily when it made its way to the SNES.
Nintendo of America demanded that all Nazi references were removed from the game, blood replaced with sweat, and the guard dog replaced with giant mutant rats due to animal cruelty concerns. id later pointed out the irony in condoning the killing of computerised humans and rats, while looking out for the welfare of digital dogs.
The SNES edition wasn’t the only port of the game. Wolfenstein 3D was converted for various platforms, including the Atari Jaguar, 3DO and Amiga. The core game was also expanded on with the release of a prequel trilogy dubbed ‘The Nocturnal Missions’, a novel way of getting more mileage from a title before the days of DLC.
Although subsequent FPS releases from id made Wolfenstein 3D look primitive, its legacy remained strong, and it continued to find its way to new platforms. In recent years, it has arrived on Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, and iOS devices.
To mark the game’s 20th anniversary this month, it was reissued as a free-to-play browser title on the Bethesda website. It may look rough around the edges two decades on, but this piece of video gaming history is a must-play for any self-respecting FPS fan.
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