Wolfenstein 3D

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Wolfenstein 3D
Wolfenstein 3D
Mail order cover art for the DOS version
Developer(s) id Software[a]
Publisher(s) Apogee Software[b]
Director(s) Tom Hall
Designer(s) John Romero
Tom Hall
Programmer(s) John Carmack
John Romero
Artist(s) Adrian Carmack
Chad Max (3DO)
Composer(s) Robert Prince
Brian Luzietti (Mac)
Todd Dennis (3DO)
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)
  • MS-DOS
    • WW May 5, 1992
  • Atari Jaguar
  • SNES
  • MacOS
    August 3, 1994[1]
  • 3DO
    September 3, 1995[2]
  • Game Boy Advance
    April 2002[3]
  • Microsoft Windows
  • iOS
    March 25, 2009
  • XBLA
    June 3, 2009[4]
  • PlayStation Network
    June 4, 2009[5]
  • Browser
    May 9, 2012[6]
Genre(s) First-person shooter
Mode(s) Single-player

Wolfenstein 3D is a 3D first-person shooter video game developed by id Software and published by Apogee Software. Originally released on May 5, 1992, for the PC operating system 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 permitted it to be copied widely. The game was 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 include the shareware episode and two subsequent episodes. Later releases 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, who is trying to escape from Castle Wolfenstein, a Nazi German prison. After the initial escape episode, Blazkowicz carries out a series of crucial 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 character firing a submachine gun at guards

Each episode features nine levels (or "maps"), which must be finished sequentially. Levels are completed by reaching an elevator that leads to the next level. The player must fight guards, dogs, and other enemies while maintaining supplies of ammunition and health. If the player's health falls to zero, the player loses one life and all his or her guns and ammunition, except a pistol with eight rounds and a knife. A submachine gun and a rapid-firing chain gun, which all use the same type of ammunition, are also available. The player begins each episode with three lives, and can gain more lives by finding extra-life tokens or by earning 40,000 points. The original version of the game allows the player to save the game at any point, while in most console versions the player must complete each level before saving the game. The players can collect treasures scattered throughout the levels to boost their score. Walls can be searched for secret passages which lead to caches of treasure, ammunition, and/or health refills. Percentages for collecting treasures, eliminating enemies and discovering secrets discovered are displayed at the end of each level. The player can score additional bonus points by earning a 100% kill, secret, or treasure ratio, or completing the level more quickly than average.

Each episode has a different boss, who must be killed in the final mission to complete the episode. Unlike normal enemies, boss enemies are drawn from one angle instead of eight; they are always facing the player, and so cannot be taken by surprise. Bosses are initially stationary and do not become active until they see the player. When most bosses are dead, a replay (called a deathcam) of the boss' death is shown and the episode ends. In other levels there is an exit from the stronghold behind the boss; entering it causes the camera to rotate to face Blazkowicz and show him running out and jumping in elation. Each episode has one secret level that can only be accessed when player uncovers a hidden elevator. The secret level of the third episode is a recreation of a level in Pac-Man complete with ghosts, which the player sees from Pac-Man's perspective.[7]


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

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

Despite the game's 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; one level (episode 6, map 3) is built entirely of a tessellation of swastikas.


A swastika in Commander Keen 5, which according to John Romero meant that he and his team were planning to rewrite Castle Wolfenstein.[8]

According to David Kushner, 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 Software decided to rework Castle Wolfenstein heavily. Before its development, John Romero added to one level of Commander Keen 5 pipes whose shape resembled a swastika, which was a sign that the team were planning to rewrite the game Castle Wolfenstein.[8] The team were allowed to use the Wolfenstein title because Muse Software had allowed the name's trademark registration to lapse.[9] Id Software pitched the game's concept to Scott Miller, founder of Apogee Software, who promised the id team US$100,000 to deliver a shareware title. Carmack bought a NeXT machine to aid development.[10]

According to Kushner, the early concept of the game included some innovative stealth concepts, including dragging dead bodies, swapping uniforms with fallen guards and silent attacks as in the earlier Wolfenstein games, which emphasized stealth rather than action. These ideas were dropped because they slowed the game down and complicated the controls.[11] Secret walls, which were sections of wall that players could push to reveal a hidden area, were also discussed during development. Designers Tom Hall and John Romero wanted this feature included because they thought secrets were integral to a good game. Carmack initially resisted the idea, but was able to implement push walls to his satisfaction late in development.[12]

Wolfenstein 3D was originally designed to use the same 16-color EGA graphics palette as earlier 3D titles such as Hovertank 3D and Catacomb 3-D. At Scott Miller's suggestion, the team implemented the 256-color VGA graphics palette.[11] Adrian Carmack drew each sprite frame by hand using a computer.[13] Wolfenstein 3D for the PC supports PC speaker, AdLib, Disney Sound Source and Sound Blaster sound effects and Adlib and Sound Blaster for music. This was id Software's first use of digitally sampled sound effects, which were composed by Bobby Prince.[11]

Engine technology[edit]

Main article: Wolfenstein 3D engine

The game uses ray casting to render the walls in pseudo-3D. This method emits one ray for each column of pixels, checks to see whether 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, power-ups and props. Before Wolfenstein 3D, id Software had used the technology in 1991 to create Hovertank 3D and Catacomb 3-D for Softdisk. Other games using the Wolfenstein 3D game engine or derivatives of it include Blake Stone,[14] Corridor 7: Alien Invasion, Operation Body Count, Super 3D Noah's Ark,[15] and Rise of the Triad.[16]

Id Software's John Carmack said the game's engine was inspired by a technology demonstration of Looking Glass Studios' and Origin Systems' first-person role-playing video game, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1991). Carmack said that he could make a quicker renderer.[17] Whereas the Wolfenstein engine lacks many features present in the Underworld engine, such as ceiling or floor height changes, sloped floors, textured floors and ceilings, and lighting,[18] it ran well on relatively weak PC hardware. The engine uses a vertical scanline scaling algorithm, which unlike later engines and hardware rasterizers, does not calculate the texture coordinate for the pixel 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—which can be easily seen when player is close to the wall but not viewing it at a right angle—is quantized.[citation needed]


Id Software planned to release one shareware episode and allow gamers to buy the full trilogy, following the shareware model used profitably to market Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons. After learning that it took a day to make one level, Scott Miller persuaded the id team to produce another trilogy. This led to the production of The Nocturnal Missions.[19]


The game's level episode 2, map 8 (E2M8) features a large, 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 part of a planned contest in which the first person to find the sign and carry out its instructions would win a prize.[20] While no prize was ever decided, preliminary discussion suggested the prize may have been registered copies of all Apogee games for life.[21] However, because level editors and cheat programs for the game were released within days of the full version of Wolfenstein 3D, many players easily found the sign. Additionally, a cheat code that allowed the player to view all of the in-game sprites, including the "Aardwolf" sign was soon discovered and published. As a result, the planned contest was abandoned before it was officially announced or the prize decided upon.[20] The maze and the sign were left in the game as Easter eggs; a text file included with the registered version explained its backstory. The sign was removed in a 1997 commercial re-release by Activision 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 gained that score without use of cheat codes.[20]


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) (1993) to newer releases on mobile platforms such as the iPad (2010).[22] Other ports include Mac OS (August 3, 1994),[1] Atari Jaguar (1994),[22] Acorn Archimedes (1994),[22][23][24] 3DO (1995),[2] Apple IIGS (1998),[22] and the PC-98 (1998). Later releases include the Game Boy Advance (April 2002),[3] Steam,[25] Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network (2009),[4][5] and the iPhone[22] and iPod Touch (2009). These ports' sound, graphics and levels may differ from the original but the core gameplay and aesthetic are retained. The source code for the Acorn Archimedes version was released by author Eddie Edwards in 1999.[26][27]

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, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis[28] and the Falcon030. The fan community has also developed numerous add-ons and enhancements for the game.[29]


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 higher profit margin than sales of the retail counterpart, Spear of Destiny.[30] Wolfenstein 3D was well received by reviewers upon its release. Computer Gaming World praised the "sparse [but] gorgeous ... frighteningly realistic ... extremely violent" graphics and sound, warning "those sensitive to such things to stay home". The magazine concluded that Wolfenstein 3D, like Ultima Underworld was "the first game technologically capable of creating a sufficient element of disbelief-suspension to emotionally immerse the player in a threatening environment" stating "I can't remember a game ... evoking such intense psychological responses from its players".[31] The game twice received 5 out of 5 stars in Dragon in 1993.[32][33]

The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the Super NES version a 7 out of 10. They dismissed the censoring in this version as inconsequential and assessed it as a good conversion which retains the good music, huge levels, and overall fun of the PC game.[34] They gave the Jaguar version a 7.25 out of 10, commenting that the graphics and audio are superior to other versions of the game, though they criticized that the faster movement of the player character makes the game less fun to play.[35] Writing for GamePro, The King Fisher gave the Jaguar version a rave review, saying Wolfenstein 3D "set a new standard for PC gaming" and that the Jaguar version was the best to date, including the PC version. They elaborated that the graphics are detailed with minimal pixelation, the digitized voices are clear, and "The fast, intense action is slowed only by the Jaguar's cumbersome control pad."[36]

Major Mike of GamePro commended the 3DO version's complete absence of pixelation, fast scaling, "rousing" music, and high quality sound effects, but criticized that the controls are overly sensitive. He remarked that while Wolfenstein 3D had become aged next to games like Doom, it "still packs a punch as a first-person shooter."[37] Maximum, on the other hand, felt that the game was so aged compared to recent releases like Hexen: Beyond Heretic and the PlayStation version of Doom that a new port was pointless. While acknowledging that the 3DO version is better than the PC version and equal to the Jaguar version, they found the game itself "somewhat tiresome and very, very repetitive" and scored it 2 out of 5 stars.[38]

More recently, Colin Williamson of Allgame awarded Wolfenstein 3D 4½ out of 5 stars[39] and Marc Golding of HonestGamers gave it 7 out of 10.[40] Both modern reviews praised the game's moody soundtrack, evocative sound design and tense gameplay. Golding said players may struggle to remain interested in the game because its sixty levels are similar to each other.[40] 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 said that "it's definitely dated and flawed, but this is a game you play for its nostalgic value".[41]

Awards and accolades[edit]

Wolfenstein 3D won the 1993 "Best Action/Arcade Game" award at the Shareware Industry Awards,[42] and a Codie award from the Software Publishing Association for Best Action/Arcade Game. It was the first shareware game to win a Codie, and id (with six employees) the smallest company to receive the award.[43] Wolfenstein 3D was nominated for an award at the 1993 Game Developers Conference,[44] and Computer Gaming World named it the magazine's Action Game of the Year in 1993.[45] It was included on Computer Gaming World's list of the 150 Best Games of All Time" in 1996,[46] on IGN's list of the Top 100 Games of All Time in 2003[47] and 2007,[48] and on G4's list of Top 100 Video Games of All Time in 2012.[49]


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;[50] the encounter with Hitler was also recognized as an exceptional boss fight by 1UP.com in 2009,[51] and ranked as the 50th hardest boss battle in video game history by Complex in 2013.[52] In 2011, PlayStation Universe featured killing Hitler in Wolfenstein 3D in the first article of a retrospective series "Unforgettable Gaming Moments".[53] 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."[54]


Because of Wolfenstein 3D's use of Nazi symbols, including the swastika and the Nazi Party's anthem "Horst-Wessel-Lied" as theme music, the game was withdrawn from sale in Germany despite its portrayal of Nazis as the enemy. The use of Nazi symbols is a federal offense in Germany in most contexts, as outlined in German law. The Atari Jaguar version was confiscated following a verdict by the Amtsgericht Berlin Tiergarten on December 7, 1994 (Az. 351 Gs 5509/94).[55]

Because of concerns from Nintendo of America and Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien, the SNES version of the game was heavily edited. All swastikas and Nazi references were removed. Hitler, a boss character in the game, had his mustache removed and was renamed "Staatmeister".[56] Blood was replaced with sweat to make the game seem less violent;[56] on SNES copies distributed in Germany, the enemy blood was green.[57] Attack dogs were replaced by giant mutant rats.[57] The employees at id Software said in The Official DOOM Player Guide about the reaction to Wolfenstein that it was ironic that it was morally acceptable to shoot people but not dogs.[original research?] The opening music was also changed.


Wolfenstein 3D has been called the "grandfather of 3D shooters",[58] specifically first-person shooters, because it established the fast-paced action and technical prowess commonly expected in the genre and increased the genre's popularity.[39][40][47][58][59] It has also been acknowledged that it confirmed shareware distribution as a serious and profitable business strategy.[30][58] The release of id Software's hit game Doom in 1993 was an additional impetus for a wave of similar games, most of which were distributed using the same shareware strategy as Wolfenstein 3D.[60]

According to Ronald Strickland, Wolfenstein 3D introduced a fresh formula that blended together disparate elements from computer and arcade game genres to the PC game market. It 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, which tried to provide players with an immersive experience.[61][62] While prior computer shooter games were most often scrolling shooters, Wolfenstein 3D helped move the market towards first-person shooters.[63]

Although id Software had not designed Wolfenstein 3D to be editable or modified by players, users developed character and level editors to create original alterations to the game's content. These efforts influenced id Software to design later titles like Doom and Quake to be easily modifiable for the end user.[64] The game's source code was published by id Software on July 21, 1995,[65] 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 9, 2012.[66] The first level of Wolfenstein 3D is included as an easter egg and playable in Wolfenstein: The New Order however the level maintains the gameplay mechanics and player/weapon design of The New Order.[67][68][69] The whole first episode is playable as an easter egg in the game Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. In each chapter of the game, a level of Wolfenstein 3D is playable by finding secret areas in a chapter.[70][71]

Sequels and spin-offs[edit]

Wolfenstein 3D was 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.[72] The pack contains 815 maps, 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.[73]
  • 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's development went in a different direction.[74]
  • The original version of Doom II: Hell on Earth includes two secret bonus levels[where?] based on the first and final levels from Episode 1 of Wolfenstein 3D featuring the same graphics and villains.
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein was released in 2001[6] as a first-person shooter reboot to Wolfenstein 3D. The gameplay and the setting are similar to the original but the graphics and sound elements were updated because of the Quake III Arena rendering engine. Like the original, Return to Castle Wolfenstein begins as an escape mission from Castle Wolfenstein but the two games' stories diverge.
  • Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (2003) is a free multiplayer game spin-off to Return to Castle Wolfenstein.[6]
  • Wolfenstein, created for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, was released in 2009. It was developed by Raven Software[6] and uses the id Tech 4 engine.
  • Wolfenstein RPG, an action role-playing video game was previewed at QuakeCon 2008,[75] released for mobile phones in November 2008 and again for the iPhone and iPod Touch in 2009.[76]
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order is a video game based on an alternate year 1960 where the Allied forces of WWII lost the war against the Nazis. Events in the modern history of that alternate reality, such as the Nazis developing the atomic bomb and successfully creating the first stealth bomber fleet, were key elements in their victory.

See also[edit]

  • 3D Monster Maze (1981) – credited as the original first person perspective game released for a 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
  • 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 3DO version of the game was developed by Rebecca Heineman, the Apple IIGS version was developed by Ninjaforce, the Game Boy Advance version was developed by Stalker Entertainment, and the Xbox Live Atcade and PlayStation Network versions were developed by Nerve Software.
  2. ^ The game was published by Manaccom in Australia, the 3DO version was published by Interplay Entertainment, the Atari Jaguar version was published by Atari Corporation, the Game Boy Advance version was published by BAM! Entertainment, the Macistosh version was published by MacPlay, the game was also published by GT Interactive in 1993, Zodttd on iOS and by Activision on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.


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