Wolfenstein 3D

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Wolfenstein 3D
Wolfenstein 3D
Mail order cover art for MS-DOS version
Director(s) Tom Hall
Designer(s) John Romero
Tom Hall
Programmer(s) John Carmack
John Romero
Artist(s) Adrian Carmack
Composer(s) Bobby Prince
Series Wolfenstein
Engine Wolfenstein 3D engine
Platform(s) MS-DOS, Mac OS, Amiga 1200, AmigaOS 4, Apple IIGS, Acorn Archimedes, NEC PC-9801, SNES, Jaguar, GBA, 3DO, Windows Mobile, iOS, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release date(s)
    • INT May 5, 1992 (MS-DOS)
  • 2007 (Steam)
  • March 25, 2009 (App Store)
  • June 4, 2009 (PSN)
  • June 5, 2009 (XBLA)
  • May 9, 2012 (free browser version)
Genre(s) First-person shooter
Mode(s) Single-player
Distribution Floppy disks, CD-ROM, download

Wolfenstein 3D is a first-person shooter video game developed by id Software and published by Apogee Software. Originally released on May 5, 1992, for DOS, the game was inspired by the 1980s Muse Software video games Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein. A promotional version of Wolfenstein 3D was released as shareware, which allowed it to be copied widely. The game was originally released on the PC and later ported to a wide range of computer systems and video game consoles.

The shareware release contains one episode, consisting of ten levels. The commercial release consists of three episodes, which includes the shareware episode and its two subsequent episodes. Later releases also included a three-episode mission pack titled The Nocturnal Missions. The player assumes the role of a World War II Allied spy, William "B.J." Blazkowicz, attempting to escape from the Nazi German prison of Castle Wolfenstein. After the initial escape episode, Blazkowicz carries on a series of missions against the Nazis.

Wolfenstein 3D was a critical and commercial success. It is widely regarded as having helped popularize the genre on the PC, and having established the basic run-and-gun archetype for many subsequent first-person shooter games.


The following section describes aspects of the original DOS versions. The various ports often implemented changes.
In-game screenshot of the PC version, showing the player firing a gun at guards

Each episode features nine levels (or "maps") which have to be finished sequentially. Levels are completed by reaching an elevator which leads to the next level. The player must combat numerous guards and other enemies while maintaining ammunition and health supplies. If the player's health is reduced to zero, one of the player's lives as well as all guns and ammo (except a pistol with 8 rounds) are lost. The other two weapons are a submachine gun and a rapid-firing chain gun, all using the same ammo type. The player begins each episode with three lives, and more lives can be acquired by finding extra-life tokens or earning 40,000 points. The original version of the game allows saves at any point, while most console versions only allow saves at the completion of each level. In addition to completing levels, the players can collect various treasures scattered in the levels to boost their score; the player can also search for secret push walls which lead to caches of treasure, ammunition, and/or health refills. Percentages for treasures collected, enemies eliminated and secrets discovered are displayed at the end of every level. Earning a 100% kill, secret, or treasure ratio, or completing the level in below-par time results in additional bonus points.

Each episode has a different boss who has to be killed in the final mission to complete the episode. Unlike normal enemies, boss enemies are drawn from one angle instead of eight, so the player cannot sneak up on them or take them by surprise; when first encountered they are always facing the player. Bosses are initially stationary, and do not become active until they see the player. When most bosses are killed, a replay (called a "deathcam") of the boss's death is shown; the episode then ends. In other levels, behind the boss is an exit from the stronghold; entering it causes the camera to rotate around to face Blazkowicz and show him running out and jumping in elation (complete with a freeze frame of him in mid-air). There is also one "secret" level per episode that can only be accessed by the player uncovering a hidden elevator. The secret level of the third episode recreated one of the original Pac-Man levels, complete with ghosts, seen by the player from Pac-Man's perspective.[1]


The first three episodes of the game focus on William "B.J." Blazkowicz's efforts to destroy the Nazi regime. In the first episode, "Escape from Castle Wolfenstein", B.J. Blazkowicz, an American spy of Polish descent, has been captured while trying to find the plans for Operation Eisenfaust (Iron Fist) and imprisoned by the SS in Castle Wolfenstein. Initially armed only with a knife and a Luger P08, obtained by overpowering the guard in his cell, B.J. tries to escape the castle prison. Taking on the guards, he eventually finds himself face to face with prison guard head Hans Grosse. In the second episode, "Operation: Eisenfaust", B.J. finds out that the operation is real, and that Nazis are creating an army of undead mutants in Castle Hollehammer. B.J. enters the castle and confronts the mad scientist Dr. Schabbs, creator of the mutants. His defeat signals the end of this biological war. "Die, Führer, Die!" is, chronologically, the final episode. Fighting through Nazi soldiers, and attacking the bunker under the Reichstag, he finds himself up against Adolf Hitler, who is equipped with a robotic suit and four chainguns.

The Nocturnal Missions form a prequel storyline, focusing on German plans for chemical warfare (Giftkrieg). Like the original episodes, each episode contains ten levels, bringing the game to a total of 60. "A Dark Secret" deals with the initial pursuit of the scientist responsible for developing the weaponry; B.J.'s task is to enter the weapons research facility and hunt down another mad scientist, Dr. Otto Giftmacher (Poisonmaker). "Trail of the Madman" takes place in Castle Erlangen. B.J.'s goal is to find the maps and plans of the chemical war, guarded by Gretel Grosse, Hans' sister. The story comes to a close in "Confrontation", set in Castle Offenbach. The final battle is fought between B.J. and the leader of the chemical war initiative, General Fettgesicht (Fatface).

Despite the historical setting, and the presence of Hitler as an episode boss, the game bears no resemblance to any actual Nazi plans or structures. Many of the level designs are highly fanciful; at least three levels heavily feature swastika-shaped room layouts and maps, going as far as having one level (episode 6, map 3) built entirely of a tessellation of them (see the controversy section).


John Carmack's technical achievements with the Catacomb 3-D game engine were a strong starting point for the game concept. The game's development began in late 1991 after id decided on a vastly reworked Castle Wolfenstein. The team was able to use the Wolfenstein title as Muse Software had let the trademark name lapse.[2] Id Software pitched this concept to Scott Miller, founder of Apogee Software, who promised the id team $100,000 in funding to deliver a shareware title. Carmack also bought a NeXT machine to aid development.[3]

The early concept of the game included some innovative stealth concepts—dragging dead bodies, swapping uniforms with fallen guards, silent attacks, etc., like in the earlier Wolfenstein games, which focused more on stealth than action. These ideas were dropped however, since they drastically slowed the game down and made the controls complicated.[4] Secret walls, which were sections of the wall a player could push to reveal a hidden area, were similarly debated in development. Designers Tom Hall and John Romero pushed repeatedly for this feature on the grounds that secrets were integral to a good game. Carmack initially resisted the idea, but succeeded in implementing push walls to his satisfaction late in development.[5]

Visually, Wolfenstein 3D was originally designed to the same 16-color EGA graphics palette as prior 3D titles such as Hovertank 3D and Catacomb 3-D. At the suggestion of Scott Miller however, the team moved to the 256-color VGA graphics palette.[4] Adrian Carmack drew each sprite frame on computer by hand.[6] Wolfenstein 3D for the PC supports PC speaker, AdLib, Disney Sound Source and Sound Blaster sound effects and Adlib and Sound Blaster for music. The game marks id's first use of PCM sound effects, composed by Bobby Prince.[4]

Engine technology[edit]

To render the walls in pseudo-3D, the game uses ray casting. This method emits one ray for each column of pixels, checks if it intersects a wall, and draws textures on the screen accordingly, creating a one dimensional depth buffer against which to clip the scaled sprites that represent enemies, powerups and props. Before Wolfenstein 3D, the technology had already been used by id Software in 1991 to create Hovertank 3D and Catacomb 3-D for Softdisk. Other games using the Wolfenstein 3D game engine or derivatives of it were also produced, including Blake Stone, Corridor 7: Alien Invasion, Operation Body Count, Super 3D Noah's Ark and Rise of the Triad.[citation needed]

Id Software's John Carmack said the game's engine was inspired by a technology demo of Looking Glass Studios' and Origin Systems's first-person role-playing video game, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss from 1991. Carmack claimed he could make a faster renderer.[7] In this he was successful: while the Wolfenstein engine lacks many features present in the Underworld engine, such as ceiling or floor height changes, sloped floors and lighting, it ran well on relatively weak PC hardware. The secret behind engine's performance is vertical scanline scaling algorithm. Unlike later engines and hardware rasterizers, the texture coordinate for the pixel is not calculated at runtime. Instead, a fixed set of several hundred rendering functions is generated during game startup (or viewport size change) where all memory offsets are fixed. To keep the number of these procedures small, height is quantized, which can be easily seen when player is close to the wall, but not looking at it at a right angle.[citation needed]


Id Software planned to release one shareware episode and allow gamers to buy the full trilogy, following the shareware model profitably executed with Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons. Scott Miller, after learning the time it took to make one level (a single day), successfully argued the id team to produce another trilogy. This led to producing The Nocturnal Missions.[8]


The game's level "E2M8" (episode 2, map 8) features a giant hidden "pushwall" maze consisting of 181 nearly identical rooms. Depending on the path taken, the player can find treasure, an extra life, a surprise encounter with the Hans Grosse boss, or a sign reading "Call Apogee Say Aardwolf." This was to have been part of a contest, where the first person to find the sign and carry out its instructions would have won a prize.[9] While no prize was ever decided, preliminary discussion suggested the prize may be registered copies of all Apogee games for life.[10] However, because level editors and cheat programs for the game were released within days of the full version of Wolfenstein 3D, many players were able to find the sign with minimal effort. Additionally, a cheat code was soon discovered and published that allowed the player to view all of the in-game sprites, including the "Aardwolf" sign. As a result, the planned contest was abandoned before it was ever officially announced, or the prize even settled upon.[9] The maze and the sign were left in the game as Easter eggs; a text file included with the registered version explained the story behind the "Aardwolf" sign and asked gamers not to call in and say it (many did anyway). A 1997 commercial re-release by Activision removed the sign and replaced it with graphics depicting a pile of bones. After completing an episode, the player is given a three-letter code in addition to a total score and time. This was part of a high-score contest that was abandoned for similar reasons to the "Aardwolf" one; the code would have been used to verify that a player got that score legitimately, without use of cheat codes.[9]


Wolfenstein 3D has been commercially ported and sold on over a dozen platforms, ranging from early releases on platforms such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) to newer releases on mobile platforms such as the iPad. These ports include the SNES (1994),[11] Atari Jaguar (1994),[11] Mac OS (1994), Acorn Archimedes (1994),[11][12][13] 3DO (1995), Apple IIGS (1998),[11] and the PC-98 (1998). Later releases include the Game Boy Advance (2002), Steam,[14] Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network (2009), the iPhone[11] and iPod Touch (2009), and the iPad (2010). These ports can vary from the original in their audio, graphics and levels, but the core gameplay and aesthetic is retained. The source code to the Acorn Archimedes version was released by author Eddie Edwards in 1999.[15][16]

Outside of commercial sale, enthusiasts of the game have created ports or reworked versions for other platforms, such as Symbian, the TI-83 series, Maemo, the PlayStation Portable, Wii, Dreamcast, the Dingoo A320, Atari STE, Amiga and the Falcon030. The fan community has also developed numerous add-ons and enhancements for the game.[17]


Sales and reviews[edit]

By the end of 1993, sales of Wolfenstein 3D had reached over 100,000 units, vastly exceeding the shareware game sales record set by the developer's earlier Commander Keen series and providing id with a significantly higher profit margin than sales of the retail counterpart, Spear of Destiny.[18] Wolfenstein 3D was well received by reviewers upon its release. For example, the game twice received 5 out of 5 stars in Dragon in 1993.[19][20]

More recently, Allgame gave the game 4½ out of 5 stars[21] and HonestGamers gave the game 7 out of 10.[22] Both of these modern reviews praised the game's moody soundtrack, evocative sound design, and tense gameplay, while also remarking on the similarity of the game's numerous levels, which can lead to tedium after extended play. A 2009 review by Daemon Hatfield of IGN gave the PlayStation 3 version of the game a score of 8 out of 10, calling it "required playing for any first-person shooter fan" that "remains fun after all these years;" he also noted that "it's definitely dated and flawed, but this is a game you play for its nostalgic value."[23]

Awards and accolades[edit]

Wolfenstein 3D won the 1993 "Best Action/Arcade Game" award for the Shareware Industry Awards.[24] It was later included in Computer Gaming World's list of the 150 Best Games of All Time in 1996,[25] in IGN's list of Top 100 Games of All Time in 2003[26] and 2007,[27] and in G4's list of Top 100 Video Games of All Time in 2012,[28] among a number of other similar lists.


The game's version of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was proclaimed the 15th greatest boss in video game history by The Phoenix in 2006;[29] the encounter with Hitler was also recognized as an exceptional boss fight by 1UP.com in 2009,[30] and ranked as the 50th hardest boss battle in video game history by Complex in 2013.[31] In 2011, PlayStation Universe featured killing Hitler in Wolfenstein 3D in the first article of a retrospective series "Unforgettable Gaming Moments".[32] GamesRadar put 'Mecha-Hitler' in their 2013 list of the best villains in video game history at number 23, calling it "one of the most nonsensically funny boss encounters in gaming."[33]


Due to its use of Nazi symbols such as the swastika and the anthem of the Nazi Party, the "Horst-Wessel-Lied", as theme music, the PC version of the game was withdrawn from circulation in Germany in 1994, following a verdict by the Amtsgericht München on January 25, 1994 (Az. 2 Gs 167/94). Despite the fact that Nazis are portrayed as the enemy in the game, the use of those symbols is a federal offense in Germany unless certain circumstances apply (see Strafgesetzbuch section 86a). Similarly, the Atari Jaguar version was confiscated following a verdict by the Amtsgericht Berlin Tiergarten on December 7, 1994 (Az. 351 Gs 5509/94).[34]

Due to concerns from Nintendo of America and Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien, the SNES version was heavily edited as well. All swastikas and Nazi references were removed. Hitler, a boss character in the game, had his moustache removed and was renamed "Staatmeister." Blood was replaced with sweat to make the game seem less violent (for SNES copies distributed in Germany, the enemy blood was turned green). Attack dogs were also replaced by giant mutant rats. Employees of id Software are quoted in The Official DOOM Player Guide about the reaction to Wolfenstein, claiming it to be ironic that it was morally acceptable to shoot people, but not dogs. The opening music was changed as well.


Wolfenstein 3D has been termed the "grandfather of 3D shooters",[35] specifically first-person shooters, as it established the fast-paced action and technical prowess commonly expected in the genre, while also bolstering the popularity of the genre.[21][22][26][35][36] It has also been acknowledged as solidifying shareware distribution as a serious and profitable business strategy.[18][35] The release of id Software's hit game Doom the year after Wolfenstein 3D served as an additional impetus for a wave of imitators. Most of these games were distributed via the same shareware strategy as Wolfenstein 3D.

Wolfenstein 3D introduced a fresh formula to the PC game market that blended together disparate elements from both computer and arcade game genres. Wolfenstein 3D successfully combined the fast pace and quick reflexes of arcade action games that pit the player against multiple enemies that come in increasing waves of speed and complexity, with the first-person perspective of some early role-playing video games (such as Wizardry) that attempted to provide players with an immersive experience.[37][38] While prior computer shooter games were most often scrolling shooters, Wolfenstein 3D helped move the computer market away from scrolling shooters toward first-person shooters.[39]

Although id Software had not designed Wolfenstein 3D to be editable or modified by the players, users did develop character and level editors to create original alterations to the game's content. These efforts strongly influenced id Software to design the later titles like Doom and Quake to be more easily modifiable for the end user.[40] The source code of the game was published by id Software on July 21, 1995,[41] while the artwork data, music and software tools of the game remain under copyright. Bethesda Softworks, whose parent company bought id Software in 2009, celebrated the 20th anniversary of Wolfenstein 3D's release by making available a free-to-play, browser-based version of the game on its website on May 5, 2012.[42]

Sequels and spin-offs[edit]

Wolfenstein 3D has been followed by several games based on its protagonist and settings.

  • Spear of Destiny, a prequel to Wolfenstein 3D, was released shortly after the original game and used the same engine.
  • A mission pack Wolfenstein 3D Super Upgrades was released in 1993 using the Wolfenstein 3D engine.[43] The pack contains 815 new maps, along with a random map generator, a level editor/creator, and replacement game files for the original game. However, the pack will not work with the Steam version of the game or on DOSBox unless numerous modifications are made.[44]
  • The first-person shooter Rise of the Triad was originally planned as an expansion pack to Wolfenstein 3D which would use the original game's engine with added features. However, the idea was postponed and the game took off in a different direction.[45]
  • The original version of Doom II: Hell on Earth includes a secret bonus level based upon Wolfenstein 3D, featuring the same graphics and villains.
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein, a first-person shooter reboot to Wolfenstein 3D, was released in 2001. The gameplay and the setting are similar to the original, but the graphics and audio elements receive an update due to the Quake III Arena rendering engine. Like the original, Return to Castle Wolfenstein begins as an escape mission from Castle Wolfenstein, but from there the two games' stories diverge.
  • Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is a free multiplayer game spin-off to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, released in 2003.
  • Wolfenstein, created for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, was released in 2009. It was developed by Raven Software, developer of Quake 4, and uses the id Tech 4 engine.
  • Wolfenstein RPG, an action role-playing video game entry in the Wolfenstein franchise, previewed at QuakeCon 2008,[46] and released for mobile phones in November 2008 and again for the iPhone and iPod Touch in 2009.[47]
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order is an upcoming game based in an alternate timeline of the year 1960, where the Nazis won the war.

See also[edit]

  • 3D Monster Maze (1981) – credited as the original first person perspective game released for a home/personal computer.
  • Ken's Labyrinth (1993) – a game written during the same time, independently, to mimic the Wolfenstein 3D engine graphics before the source was released.
  • Maze War (1973) – the first FPS style game, written for the Xerox Alto.
  • Spasim (1974) – a first-person shooter computer game played on the PLATO network.
  • Super 3D Noah's Ark (1994) – a clone of Wolfenstein 3D for the SNES with altered weapons, enemies and characters.


  1. ^ The Book of Games. Book of Games. 2006-11-01. p. 24. ISBN 978-82-997378-0-7. 
  2. ^ David Kushner (2004-05-11). Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. Random House Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-8129-7215-3. 
  3. ^ Kushner, Masters of Doom, 94.
  4. ^ a b c Kushner, Masters of Doom, 97.
  5. ^ Kushner, Masters of Doom, 108–109, 111.
  6. ^ Kushner, Masters of Doom, 134.
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  31. ^ Elijah Watson, The 50 Hardest Video Game Bosses (And How To Beat Them), Complex.com, July 1, 2013.
  32. ^ Retrospective: Unforgettable Gaming Moments – #1: Killing Hitler – PlayStation Universe
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  34. ^ Indizierungen – Beschlagnahmen und Einziehung (German)Translate into English
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External links[edit]