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By Corwin Brence, 4/2/12

What would you think is the best "generic" type of enemy in a video game? If you thought of Nazis, then you've probably played a Wolfenstein game. While most gamers remember Wolfenstein as a series of first-person shooters, the series originally started on Apple II and Commodore 64 systems, as a pair of almost Metal Gear-esque games written by Silas Warner, which ultimately inspired id Software's John Carmack and John Romero to make the legendary FPS and its successors.

Wolfenstein 3D (IBM PC)

Castle Wolfenstein - IBM PC, Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari 800 (1981)

Atari Cover

Castle Wolfenstein (IBM PC)

You've been captured by the SS and thrown into the dungeons of Castle Wolfenstein. Your mission is twofold: escape from the castle, and steal the war plans for Operation Rheingold. To do so, you have access to a pistol, grenades, bulletproof vests and enemy uniforms.

Written by Silas Warner in 1981, Castle Wolfenstein can be considered a very early form of stealth game. Major elements include: picking open chests to receive extra items like food and armor, avoiding patrols by staying behind them, and holding guards at gunpoint and frisking them for keys and ammo. You can only carry ten bullets and three grenades at once, both of which are extremely valuable and not to be squandered. Guards will sometimes take multiple shots to kill, especially if your aim is hindered from drinking Schnapps. Chests are littered about, as are doors. Chests must be lock picked to open and can take anywhere from 10 to 255 seconds to pick, where a esecond,' in this game's terms, is one footstep from an onscreen guard. Shooting them, which might not be advisable, can speed it along, given that some chests contain explosives, which will go off, when shot.

Castle Wolfenstein's Berzerk-esque levels are generated from scratch when the game is booted up. Unlike Rogue-like level generation, the generated castle is persistent between games and even saved to disk, unless you choose to generate a new one or shoot a chest of explosives, which kills you and generates a new castle. The level designs are simplistic maze-like constructs that generally have entrances on the edges of the screen, or stairs going up and down. If you manage to complete a castle, whether by escaping or finding the war plans and then escaping, Allied High Command may give you a promotion, which determines the difficulty of any future generated castles.

Keyboard and joystick controls are actually somewhat progressive in their execution, if a bit awkward in practice. When playing with joysticks (two of them are required), one joystick controls movement (point in a direction to face that way, and press the button to step forward), while the other controls aiming and firing (point your gun in a direction and press the button to fire). This dual-joystick setup actually predates Midway's arcade game Robotron by a few years, perhaps making Castle Wolfenstein the first "twin-stick shooter," even though the actual game mechanics are quite a bit slower-paced and less chaotic than Robotron and its successors. Wolfenstein also supports two paddle controllers (spin the dial to control facing/aiming direction, and press the buttons to step forward or fire the gun), or a keyboard, where the twin-stick setup is emulated by using the "QWEADZXC" keys to move and the S key to stop moving, with the "IOPK;,./"keys to aim and "L" to fire.

The major problem with movement in this game is that, when pressing a movement key, you will start walking in that direction and not stop unless you press the "S" key or run into a wall, which will daze you for a few moments, clouding the screen and playing an irritating high-pitched noise for about 3 seconds, while time continues to pass for any guards still in the room. Over time, you'll get better at stopping at the correct time to avoid a collision, but accidentally hitting a wall when guards are after you can mean the difference between life and a horrible, humiliating death.

A very cool aspect of Castle Wolfenstein is that it features digitized speech, in German. It's a bit difficult to make it all out, given the technology of the time, especially in the case of the Apple II version, but it's very cool nonetheless. The instruction manual even includes a translation guide to help you understand what is being said. Guards will alert each other shouting, "Achtung," and taunt you saying, "Schweinhundt," if you run away from a room while a guard is chasing you, and surrender with, "Kamerad," if you've managed to hold one at gunpoint.

Castle Wolfenstein was first released by Muse Software on the Apple II+ in 1981. Around two years later, ports for the Atari 800 and Commodore 64 were released, and one year after that was the port for IBM compatible PCs. The Apple II version is generally the most functional, though there is no button to holster your weapon, so you must be careful, when in uniform, not to point your gun at guards, or else you will hold them at gunpoint automatically and blow your cover; the graphics are the weakest on this version, since the Apple II isn't known for its graphical prowess. The Atari 800 version adds the holster function, but moves the fire button to the out-of-the-way function keys on the right side of the keyboard, and is the only version where the guards lack speech. The Commodore 64 version looks the best (relatively speaking, since they all use the same pixel art, just different color schemes), but is plagued with long load times between rooms and when starting the game. The PC version only supports CGA graphics (of the red-yellow-green variety), but is still capable of playing speech out of the on-board speaker, providing that the CPU speed is at the correct frequency (lest the voice pitch be too high), which is quite impressive considering that the game was designed for the very oldest IBM-compatible PCs. Another advantage of the PC version is that it does not flash the screen or squeal at you when you bump into walls, but you are still stunned momentarily (albeit for slightly less time).

Castle Wolfenstein is a game that has pioneered far more gameplay elements than most people would think. Game mechanics from this game have been reused in games like Metal Gear (patrolling guards and threatening guards from behind with your gun), Thief: The Dark Project (lockpicking chests), stealing uniforms (Hitman), searching dead enemies for items (most PC RPGs), and random level generation. And, of course, this is the game that inspired John Carmack, John Romero, Tom Hall, and the rest of id Software to create the legendary Wolfenstein 3D...but not quite yet, because there is one other game in Muse Software's series.

Castle Wolfenstein (Apple II)

Castle Wolfenstein (Atari 800)

Castle Wolfenstein (Atari 800)

Castle Wolfenstein (IBM PC)

Castle Wolfenstein (IBM PC)

Unofficial: Wolfenstein 2600 - Atari 2600 (2004)

In perhaps one of the coolest bits of resourcefulness ever seen from the Atari community, there is a "port" of Castle Wolfenstein for the Atari 2600 - however, rather than write it from scratch, this port is actually a seriously elaborate hack of the 2600 port of Exidy's arcade game, Venture.

Wolfenstein 2600 similarly plays like the original Castle Wolfenstein, but given the Atari's less complex control method, your controls are now limited to merely moving and firing. When the game starts, you are on the overhead map of the castle, where you must avoid the patrolling SS and enter one of the four rooms on the map. There, you must fight all resistance, obtain the one item in the room, and leave. Once you have the items from all four rooms, you move on to the next level.

By default, your shot does not travel very far (since you don't start with a gun, but rather a knife), but collecting a gun will greatly boost your range and your survivability. If you take too long to finish a room, an indestructible SS will appear and kill you, unless you can escape. It sounds a lot like Venture on paper, but developers, neotokeo2001 and Robert M., made every effort to make it feel like Wolfenstein. It's actually not bad, and makes efficient use of the Atari 2600's highly limited computing power. It can be obtained from AtariAge.

Wolfenstein (Atari 2600)

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein - IBM PC, Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari 800 (1984)

Atari Cover

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (IBM PC)

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (IBM PC)

Muse Software's sequel to Castle Wolfenstein sends you back into Germany, this time with the ultimate goal of assassinating Adolf Hitler. You start the game at the top floor of his bunker, and must make your way down to the third basement level, all the while searching supply closets for a briefcase full of explosives that a resistance fighter has hidden for you, then planting it outside of the Fuhrer's conference room. You begin the game in disguise as a German officer, so from the start (and hopefully as long as possible), you must keep up appearances by showing your papers to any guards who demand to see them (or bribing them if you don't have the right pass).

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein is actually quite a bit more complicated and deep than its predecessor, given that this one has had another year in the oven. Instead of chests and lock pick timers, you must now raid supply closets, which are generally not locked, but sometimes are equipped with combination locks that you will need to manually crack using the number keys (quite possibly the world's first lock picking mini-game). You use the number keys, 0 to 9, to guess at the safe combination; if you dial the first digit correctly, you hear a clicking noise. If you then dial the next digit, you'll hear another click, but if you don't dial the second or third digits correctly, the lock resets and you'll have to dial the first digit over again. Supply closets can contain bullets, first-aid kits, alcohol, art, money, passes to show to guards, or other useless items like coat checks.

There is actually a health system in this game, where before it was a random whether a shot would kill you or not. If you are wounded, you will move more slowly than usual, in a sort of limping rhythm. Finding and using first aid kits can fix this; otherwise, you're basically a sitting duck if the guards come after you.

A very large part of succeeding at BCW is keeping your cover for as long as possible. You generally have free roam of the bunker, but guards may call you over and demand to see your pass. There are five passes that you can be carrying at a given time, and when a guard asks to see one, you must press a number, 1 through 5, to show it. The guards will not specify which pass you need; if you show the wrong one, they'll take it from you and again demand to see your pass. If you don't think that you have the correct pass, you can press the "M" key instead to bribe them to let you through. You can also bribe certain guards, sitting at desks, to get information from them, often in vague terms like, "USE SAUERKRAUT TO JAM LOCKS."

If you accidentally alert a guard (by failing to show the correct pass a number of times in a row, firing your gun, or walking away from a guard who has told you to, "Come here!"), the alarm is sounded and officers will chase you through the bunker until you can deactivate it. You can attempt to eclean up' a mess that you've caused by dragging bodies around (pointing your gun at a dead guard and pressing "space" will drag them to your current position, at which point you can press "space" again to search them) and stashing them in corners where guards don't usually patrol. It is also possible to kill guards silently, if you have found a dagger, by pointing your dagger at the guard and running into him from behind. This is difficult on some guards, because if they are facing you when you collide with them, you are arrested and have to restart the bunker.

When you find the bomb in its supply closet, its timer is automatically armed, and you have 1000 (in-game) seconds to get it to its destination, or else it will go off, you will die, and the bunker is destroyed and a new one is generated. If you find the bomb, you do not immediately pick it up, so it may be useful to keep a map while playing and mark the location where the bomb can be found, so that you can leave it there until such time as you can come back and get it. It is also possible to reset the timer on the bomb while carrying it, but this must not be done in view of guards, or they will immediately sound the alarm.

If you successfully bomb the conference room and kill Hitler, you are given a promotion to another rank, and any further generated bunkers will be more difficult, though there is the option to select a lower one without resetting back to the basic "Resistance Fighter" rank. As with the previous game, if you are caught or killed, the same bunker is reused until you either complete it or generate a new one.

Like Castle Wolfenstein before it, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein was released on Atari 8-bit computers, Apple II+, Commodore 64, and IBM PC. The PC version looks the best, with characters actually being drawn in all three available CGA colors (in this case, the cyan, pink, and white palette), and there is support for composite monitors for improved color. Nazi uniforms now actually look like the real thing, with the belt and shoulder strap, instead of them wearing helmets and sweatshirts with swastikas on them. The Apple II version shares these new graphics, though naturally isn't as clear in displaying them. The Atari and Commodore versions just use the old graphics from Castle Wolfenstein. The Atari version does not contain the speech samples (which, by the way, are now clearer than before, thanks to improvements to Silas Warner's "The Voice" system).

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (C64)

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (C64)

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (C64)

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (Apple II)

Unofficial: Beyond Beyond Castle Wolfenstein - Apple II (1984)

Back in the day, some Apple II enthusiasts paid tribute to their favorite games by making "movies" out of them. Beyond Beyond Castle Wolfenstein is an animated reel that closely mimics someone playing Beyond Castle Wolfenstein...up to a point. The "player" spends all of his money bribing the guards, until he runs out and tries to bribe one with a credit card, at which point he is arrested and thrown into prison. The Nazis make the mistake of granting him his one phone call, which he uses to call, "RESCUE RAIDERS: Video Game Mercenaries." They respond by sending in other famous video game characters, like Ultima's Avatar, the Space Invaders, a Pac-Man ghost, and finally, the USS Enterprise, which destroys Castle Wolfenstein with its phasers and then warps out. It's just general silliness and doesn't last more than a few minutes (even though it takes up both sides of a two-sided floppy disk), but it's certainly amusing the first time around.

Beyond Beyond Castle Wolfenstein

<<< Prior Page    

    Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Castle Wolfenstein
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein
Page 2:
Wolfenstein 3D
Page 3:
Spear of Destiny
Spinoffs / Unofficial Remakes
Cancelled Games / Wolfenstein VR
Page 4:
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
Page 5:
Wolfenstein RPG
Wolfenstein (2009)
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