For those of us old enough to remember when PC games came on floppy discs, you might remember the Shareware distribution model. This is when a company would offer the first part of a PC Game for free in hopes it would entice future purchase. It proved to be successful in some cases and never more so than with ID Software’s Wolfenstein 3D.
Based on the 1981 Muse Software video game Castle Wolfenstein, ID’s Wolfenstein 3D was one of the original first person shooters. It’s plot was simple. The gamer assumes the role of Allied spy William “B.J.” Blazkowicz during World War II. He has been trapped inside the Nazi German prison Castle Wolfenstein. As B.J. you must carry out a series of crucial missions against the Nazis. The player accomplishes this by exploring each of the game’s levels to find an elevator to the next level or kill a final boss. Along the way, you will find yourself fighting Nazi soldiers, dogs, and other enemies with knives and a variety of guns.
Defeating the Nazi Regime
As you make your way around the maze of hallways and chambers, you can find health items as well as ammo and new weapons. If you should be killed, you will start again but with only a revolver and 8 bullets. All your previously obtained weapons and ammo disappear in the mist of PC failure. So try not to die. Because three deaths end the game. Don’t let those darn Nazi’s win.
Graphics and Gameplay
While the graphics of Wolfenstein were not ground breaking, they didn’t have to be. They did the job and combined well with the sound effects of gunfire, dogs attacking, and Nazi’s expiring with a “Mein Gott!” ID’s game made for an exciting journey with danger behind every sliding door. And gamers loved it!
Once you had played the first free episode, you could purchase the next two. So after “Escape from Castle Wolfenstein” you would be able to play “Operation: Eisenfaust”, and “Die, Führer, Die!” Each followed the same path as you fought your way through more mazes and more Nazi soldiers. Eventually, in the third chapter, you would take on Adolph himself in his Robot Suit. Defeat him and fortune and glory awaits. Well, actually more levels awaited. If you wanted them.
Because they followed up the original three episodes with 3 more entitled the Nocturnal Missions. These included “A Dark Secret”, “Trail of the Madman”, and “Confrontation.” Later ID would offer the game compiled in a complete collection and a sequel was made commercially called Wolfenstein 3D: The Spear of Destiny. This new game by ID offered more first person goodness with B.J. again facing the Nazi’s in the search for the famed Spear of Destiny.
Sales and Awards
Wolfenstein 3D was one of the most successful Shareware games ever, with that impetus leading to over 150 000 units being sold with an additional 150,000 sold for Spear of Destiny. It was named the 1992 Best Arcade game award from Compute!, and won the 1992 Most Innovative Game and Best Action Game awards from VideoGames & Computer Entertainment.
Other awards included the 1992 Reader’s Choice — Action/Arcade Game award from Game Bytes, the 1993 Best Action/Arcade Game, Best Entertainment Software, and People’s Choice awards at the Shareware Industry Awards. Most impressively, it won a Codie award from the Software Publishers Association for Best Action/Arcade Game. This was the first “shareware” game to be so honored.
Following in the Wolfenstein Footprints
With the success of Wolfenstein, ID was able to follow up with more impressive games based on the same first person shooter game style. This lead to games like Doom and Quake. Each one raising the bar for graphics and gameplay while still maintaining the Wolfenstein pedigree.
By now, I’m not sure that everyone has not played Wolfenstein 3D in some form or another. It has been ported to just about every platform available. In fact, the Raspberry Pi Bar-Top Arcade Cabinet I build had Wolfenstein 3D as an included game. If for some reason you have never played it, there are many options for you to do so. B.J. Blazkowicz is waiting for your help to take out the Nazi scourge.
I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 17 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.