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Wolfenstein logo.svg
Genre(s)First-person shooter, action-adventure, stealth
First releaseCastle Wolfenstein
September 1981
Latest releaseWolfenstein: Youngblood
July 25, 2019

Wolfenstein is a series of World War II video games. It was originally created by Muse Software,[1] before being revived by id Software. The first two games in the series, Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, were developed by Muse Software and focused on stealth-based gameplay from a top-down perspective. Beginning with id Software's Wolfenstein 3D, Wolfenstein games became fast-paced first-person shooters, and are widely regarded as having helped to popularize the first-person shooter genre. Further games in the series include Return to Castle Wolfenstein, developed by Gray Matter Interactive, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory by Splash Damage, and 2009's Wolfenstein by Raven Software. After ZeniMax Media acquired id Software, including the Wolfenstein franchise, Swedish developer MachineGames became the series' primary developer. Wolfenstein games developed by MachineGames include Wolfenstein: The New Order, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot.

The majority of the games follow William "B.J." Blazkowicz, a Jewish Polish-American Army Captain and his fight against the Axis powers. Earlier titles are centered around Nazis attempting to harness supernatural and occult forces. Those developed by MachineGames are set in an alternate history in which Axis powers won World War II.


1981–1992: Muse Software and Castle Wolfenstein[edit]

The first-person view of the player character, atop a destroyed bridge, shooting a Nazi with his machine gun.
The series presents an action-heavy take on the fight against Nazi Germany.

The Wolfenstein series of video games started with the 1981 stealth-adventure video game Castle Wolfenstein. It was developed by American programmer Silas Warner, along with Dale Gray and George Varndell.[2] Warner was a pioneer in the early eras of video gaming, especially the stealth genre. Castle Wolfenstein was published by his then company M.U.S.E. Inc. (Muse Software). The game was initially conceptualized by Warner after he saw the 1961 British-American war film The Guns of Navarone, which follows the efforts of an Allied commando unit as they attempt to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress.[3][4] The same day Warner saw The Guns of Navarone, he played the multi-directional shooter arcade game, Berzerk, in which the player navigates through a maze with laser-shooting robots.[5] After playing the game he thought about taking the design of Bezerk and replacing the robots with Nazis.[6] He eventually settled on the idea of a game based on the arcade shoot 'em up genre, where players dodge enemies with the intent of killing them, but instead changing the objective to escape the enemy guards and their castle, not necessarily to kill and destroy them; this made shooting guards simply a means to an end and not an end in itself.[4]

Set during World War II, Castle Wolfenstein focuses on an unnamed American prisoner of war who has been imprisoned in the German stronghold of Castle Wolfenstein. The objective is to retrieve the war plans for Operation Rheingold and escape the fortress, while avoiding or killing guards along the way. The game is often credited as one of the first video games in the stealth genre, since it focuses more on avoiding or disarming enemies, and killing them is considered a last resort.[7] Castle Wolfenstein was the first computer game to feature digitized speech[8] and influenced the development of other similar game franchises such as Metal Gear and Thief.[9] Muse Software then released Beyond Castle Wolfenstein in 1984 before the company legally disestablished on October 7, 1987.[10] Castle Wolfenstein later went on to heavily inspire the 1992 game, Wolfenstein 3D; developer Id Software were able to use the name as the trademark had already lapsed by 1986.[11] Wolfenstein 3D helped to establish the first-person shooter genre[9] and has been called the "grandfather of 3D shooters"[12]

Twelve more titles, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein 3D, Wolfenstein 3D: The Spear of Destiny, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Wolfenstein RPG, Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot have been published as games of the Wolfenstein series since the release of Castle Wolfenstein in 1981 by M.U.S.E. Inc.

1992–2001: id Software and a new direction[edit]

In November 1991, the recently established video game development company Id Software, founded by programmers John Carmack and John Romero, game designer Tom Hall, and artist Adrian Carmack, were planning their next major game after finishing their contract with their former employer Softdisk.[13] After an initial suggestion for a Sci-fi game by Hall titled "It's Green and Pissed", about fighting mutants in a research lab, Romero proposed a 3D remake of Castle Wolfenstein; the team gravitated to the idea as Hall, Romero, and John Carmack had all enjoyed playing the 1981 original.[14] The team initially believed they wouldn't be able to use the name because of copyright issues; however they found that the trademark had already lapsed by 1986.[15] Production for Wolfenstein 3D began on December 15, 1991.[16] Romero pitched the idea as a 3D version of Castle Wolfenstein and the team initially planned to include many of the same features that Castle Wolfenstein had included such as dragging and looting dead bodies, and opening crates. They also began to implement other ideas inspired by the stealth aspect of Castle Wolfenstein such as swapping uniforms with guards, and stealth attacking enemies; the team was also able to get it working so if a guard saw a dead body they tried finding the player.[17][15] However, the stealth related features were eventually removed as Romero found that they impeded the flow of the game; Romero stated in an interview that "the problem is that the game came to a dead stop when you did these things... we didn't want to slow it down so we actually removed the features and left it fast." As Romero further explained in another interview: "The game was most fun when it was a breakneck run through maps with tons of blasting down Nazis. Anything that slowed down that gameplay had to go."[18] This marked a new direction for the series, not only as the first game to feature a first-person view and 3D graphics, but also the first game to break away from the more reserved gameplay of Castle Wolfenstein that valued stealth and resource management over action; instead Wolfenstein 3D traded these features for a run and gun style game that set the template for the first-person shooter genre.[19] Despite the changes, Wolfenstein 3D still paid homage to the 1981 game through recreating the original's opening: in the 1981 game, you begin in a prison cell with a pistol, just like you do in Wolfenstein 3D.[20] Wolfenstein 3D was also the first game to feature William "B.J." Blazkowicz an American spy of Polish descent that would go on to feature as the protagonist in every major Wolfenstein game up until Wolfenstein: Youngblood.[21]

Upon its release, id Software were hoping to make around $60,000 from the game;[17] however, by the end of 1993 the game had sold over 100,000 copies, plus a further 100,000 units of its prequel Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny.[18] Wolfenstein 3D is credited as the "grandfather of 3D shooters"[22] as it set the template for first-person shooters and popularized the tropes that would define the genre, this includes: frantic and fast-paced action, responsive controls, increasing weapon and enemy power to counter each other throughout the game, secret areas, and extreme violence and gore.[18][23]


Release timeline
1981Castle Wolfenstein
1984Beyond Castle Wolfenstein
1992Wolfenstein 3D
Spear of Destiny
2001Return to Castle Wolfenstein
2003Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
2008Wolfenstein RPG
2014Wolfenstein: The New Order
2015Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
2017Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
2019Wolfenstein: Youngblood
Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot
Aggregate review scores
Game Metacritic
Wolfenstein 3D (GBA) 57[24]
(PS3) 77[25]
(X360) 66[26]
Return to Castle Wolfenstein (PC) 88[27]
(PS2) 66[28]
(Xbox) 84[29]
Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (PC) 90[30]
Wolfenstein (PC) 74[31]
(PS3) 71[32]
(X360) 72[33]
Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC) 81[34]
(PS4) 79[35]
(XONE) 79[36]
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (PC) 76[37]
(PS4) 77[38]
(XONE) 76[39]
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PC) 86[40]
(PS4) 87[41]
(XONE) 88[42]
(NS) 79[43]
Wolfenstein: Youngblood (PC) 69[44]
(PS4) 72[45]
(XONE) 64[46]
(NS) 67[47]

Castle Wolfenstein (1981)[edit]

Silas Warner, an American programmer and an employee of software company Muse Software, was a pioneer of early video game development, especially the stealth genre.[48] He had access to computers in college, and when he worked for the IBM Mainframe architectures before joining Muse Software. The computer he used for game-development, P.L.A.T.O., was one of the first with multiple functioning terminals and an example of early computer networks. Warner developed, with P.L.A.T.O., a series of classic video games like his flight simulator and arcade shooter. Inspired by the arcade shooter video game Berzerk and the 1961 war film Guns of Navarone, he developed Castle Wolfenstein, a stealth-adventure video game in which the player controls an unnamed American prisoner of war as he steals German files containing secret war plans, while avoiding, disarming or at times killing hostile guards and trying to escape the fortified Nazi stronghold 'Castle Wolfenstein', set in World War II. The game was published in 1981 by Warner's company M.U.S.E. Inc. (Muse Software).[49]

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (1984)[edit]

A sequel to Castle Wolfenstein, set in World War II during Adolf Hitler's rule as Chancellor of Germany. The objective of the game is to traverse all the levels of the secret Berlin bunker where the Führer is holding secret meetings with his senior staff. The player must retrieve a bomb that the operatives have placed inside the bunker and place it outside the door of the room where Hitler is holding his meeting, a scenario bearing a passing resemblance to the July 20 Plot.

Like its predecessor, the game is a combination of action-adventure and stealth-based side-scroller, developed and published by Muse Software, and released in 1984. After the death of the original designer of the program,[50] the widow of Silas Warner released a ported version of the game, as well as its reconstructed source code in his honour in 2004.

Wolfenstein 3D (1992)[edit]

After the Nazis apprehend an American spy, William "B.J." Blazkowicz, who was sent to sabotage the enemy's regime and foil their schemes, they imprison him under the grounds of Castle Wolfenstein. Finding a way to incapacitate a prison guard, B.J. manages to arm himself with a stolen pistol and advance through the subterranean floors of the castle, on his way to accomplish his mission by uncovering the truth behind 'Operation Eisenfaust' and destroy it.

The game is noted for popularizing the first-person shooter genre, released in 1992, developed by id Software and published by Apogee Software.

Spear of Destiny (1992)[edit]

Set before the events of Wolfenstein 3D, the player assumes the role of William "B.J." Blazkowicz, who is set to reclaim the Spear of Destiny from the Nazis after it was stolen from Versailles. The spear itself, as spoken by legends, bears powerful effects on its own, and whoever took a hold of it, turns into an unbeatable being.

Like its predecessor, the game is developed by id Software, but published by FormGen Corporation instead, and was released in 1992.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001)[edit]

Two operatives of an allied espionage agency, William "B.J." Blazkowicz and Agent One are captured by the Nazis and imprisoned in Castle Wolfenstein during their attempt to investigate rumours surrounding one of Heinrich Himmler's personal projects, the SS Paranormal Division. Agent One is killed during the interrogation, while Blazkowicz escapes custody, fighting his way out of the castle. As the challenge is still afoot, Blazkowicz discovers that the Nazis are constructing a plan called 'Operation Resurrection', which oversees resurrecting the dead as well as dealing with supernatural elements, using them for their own advantage to win World War II against the Allied power.

A reboot and a remake of the series that took off in 1992, developed by Gray Matter Interactive and published by Activision, and released in 2001 on Microsoft Windows, as well as arriving on consoles two years later.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (2003)[edit]

Originally planned to be released as an expansion pack to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the game was instead released as a standalone, free to play multiplayer title. It has no storyline or single-player campaign mode. Instead, it has an expanded edition of the previous game's multiplayer. It was developed by Splash Damage and published by Activision. A commercial follow-up, called Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was released in 2007 by the same group.

Wolfenstein RPG (2008)[edit]

In a mission to investigate the Paranormal Division of the Axis military, William "B.J." Blazkowicz is captured and held prisoner in The Tower. He escapes the clutches of the enemy forces, and sets himself to stop them and their operation that involves supernatural activities once and for all, infiltrating Castle Wolfenstein to continue his escapade deep inside. It is up to B.J. to defeat the evil and save the world.

It was developed by Fountainhead Entertainment, and published by EA Mobile in 2008, with John Carmack, one of the key people of Wolfenstein 3D, reprising his role as the sole programmer.

Wolfenstein (2009)[edit]

A loose sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein and the start of a new era for the franchise. An agent for the fictional Office of Secret Actions, William "B.J." Blazkowicz, discovers an unnatural medallion containing supernatural powers while on a mission on a German battleship. Learning the Nazis had begun digging deep into crystal mines to obtain more of the very same medallion Blazkowicz found, the OSA sends their operative to the fictional town of Isenstadt, which the Nazis had taken complete control of in order to excavate rare Nachtsonne crystals necessary to access the "Black Sun" dimension.

It was developed by Raven Software, produced by id Software and published by Activision, and released in 2009 on three major platforms.

Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014)[edit]

The New Order is set after the end of World War II, in an alternate universe where the Axis powers won World War II. In 1946, as the Nazis expand their regime all over the world, OSA agent William "B.J." Blazkowicz is sent to assassinate General Deathshead, as part of a last all-out effort by Allied airborne and commando forces. The mission is a failure and, after the unit is slaughtered by the Nazi forces, Blazkowicz barely escapes the compound, sustaining a critical head injury which renders him unconscious and subsequently puts him in a coma.

In 1960, fourteen years later, B.J. finds himself settled in an asylum, unaware of the events that took place during his coma, and about to be executed by the Nazis who have ordered the asylum liquidated. Awakened into full strength, Blazkowicz fights his way out of the building, escaping with a wounded nurse, Anya. B.J. locates the Resistance and helps them fight the Nazis, dismantling them and ultimately crippling their dominance around the world.

After Activision handed over the publishing rights to Bethesda Softworks, development on the game began in 2010 by MachineGames, and was released four years later on multiple platforms, including next generation consoles.

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (2015)[edit]

A prequel to The New Order, set in the same chronology, it deals with William "B.J." Blazkowicz and Richard Wesley, also known as Agent One, who are sent to infiltrate Castle Wolfenstein and obtain a top secret folder that contains the whereabouts of General Deathshead. The mission goes awry as they are discovered by the Nazi troopers and are captured. During brutal interrogation, Agent One is killed, but Blazkowicz manages to evade the Nazi forces and escape the castle.

With the aid of Kessler, the leader of a local resistance group, he discovers that the folder is held by Helga von Schabbs, a Nazi neurologist who has just arrived in the village of Wulfburg. Evidence begins to emerge of supernatural activities taking place under the command of von Schabbs, who is conducting an archaeological excavation in an attempt to find a hidden underground vault containing occult knowledge previously possessed by German King Otto I.

The game is a loose remake of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, with heavy resemblances noticed within the storylines of the two games, as well as the existence of various characters as homages to the ones from the older title. Developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda Softworks, the game serves as a stand-alone expansion pack to Wolfenstein: The New Order, and was released in 2015.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2017)[edit]

Set five months after the events of The New Order, "B.J." Blazkowicz awakens from the coma he succumbed to in the aftermath of surviving a near-fatal explosion, residing on a stolen Nazi U-boat commandeered by the Wiesenau Kreis. After an attack ensues on the base orchestrated by Frau Engel, many of the resistance members are captured, and the leader of the group is killed. Escaping the clutches of Nazi forces with the rest of the team, Blazkowicz takes over the leadership of the Resistance and proceeds to what would have been the next step in the plan to liberate America from the Nazis and use the country as a center base to free the rest of the world from their monstrous regime. Recruiting new members to the resistance along the way, Blazkowicz and the group intend to assassinate prominent leaders in the Nazi regime to bring the public conscious into the idea of liberty and freedom, thus urging everyone to rise against the hefty powers who are running the government. But, before they ignite the operation, the resistance must attack and take over Engel's airship, the Ausmerzer, to disable its use against their own by the Nazis, and hijack its command systems in order to start a revolution, thus reclaiming the land of freedom that was once theirs.

Like its two predecessors, The New Colossus is developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda Softworks, as well as released on multiple platforms in 2017.[51]

Wolfenstein: Youngblood (2019)[edit]

Two decades after liberating the United States from the Nazis occupation in the Second American Revolution in 1961, the newest members of the Global Resistance, twin sisters Jessica and Sophia Blazkowicz embark on a search mission to France in the capital city of Paris when B.J., their father, goes missing in action. As they task themselves to locate and reclaim B.J., they must also fight the Nazi regime in Europe that still remains withstanding.

Developed by MachineGames in collaboration with Arkane Studios and was published by Bethesda Softworks and released on July 26, 2019, the players control B.J. Blazkowicz's and Anya Oliwa's twin daughters this time around. The game can be played in single-player and multiplayer modes for the story campaign.[52] Additionally, players who purchase the Deluxe edition of the game are able to invite friends to their sessions, regardless of whether the invitee owns the game.[53]

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot (2019)[edit]

Set twenty years after the events of The New Colossus, the protagonist is depicted as a computer hacker known as Cyberpilot who works for the French Resistance against the Nazi regime. It takes place chronologically a week prior to the events of Youngblood, serving as a separate side story to the main narrative. Unlike its predecessors, however, the game is specifically designed to be a virtual reality experience.[54] Cyberpilot was released alongside Youngblood on the same day in 2019.[55]

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot and Wolfenstein: Youngblood were the first games to make use of the "social adequacy clause" introduced by Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (USK; the German software ratings board) in August 2018, which allowed the use of Nazi imagery and symbols in video games in relevant scenarios, reviewed on a case-by-case basis.[56] Despite being officially rated by USK, major German retailers, such as MediaMarkt, Saturn, and GameStop, refused to sell the uncensored version, offering only the separately sold German version, which lacks all Nazi imagery and references and features German as the only language option.[56][57]

Related games[edit]

  • Commander Keen series (1990–2001) – William Joseph "Billy Blaze" Blazkowicz II (Commander Keen) is the grandson of William "B.J." Blazkowicz.
  • Doom (1993) – Doomguy is the great-grandson of B.J. Blazkowicz.
  • Doom II: Hell on Earth (1994) – Level 31 (Wolfenstein) of Doom II is based on the first level of Wolfenstein 3D, and Level 32 (Grosse) is a Wolfenstein-based level mixed with elements of Doom.
  • Quake Champions (2018) – B.J. Blazkowicz appears as a playable Champion, alongside characters from other id Software franchises.
  • Super 3D Noah's Ark (1994) – A non-violent total conversion of Wolfenstein 3D with Christian themes.
  • Rise of the Triad: Dark War (1995) – Was originally going to be a sequel to Wolfenstein 3D called Rise of the Triad: Wolfenstein 3D II.
  • Wolfenstein 1-D (2011) – A demake of Wolfenstein 3D.

Film plans[edit]

In an announcement made at the 2012 American Film Market (AFM), producer Samuel Hadida and Panorama Media said they have tapped Roger Avary to write and direct Castle Wolfenstein.[58]


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