Archive for October, 2018

09
Oct
18

Wolfenstein 3d for DOS

Todays game is very well known, and can be considered the grand father of the FPS genre. Wolfenstein 3d was released by id software in 1992. It was extremely popular, selling both in the retail and shareware markets, and received several significant awards. The engine was licensed out and resulted in a number of other games, some I’ve already covered such as Blake Stone and Corridor 7. It inspired others to make similar engines and games of their own such as Nitemare 3d and Ken’s Labyrinth. In this way it really spawned a whole generation of FPS games.

It wasn’t without controversy, partly because of the Nazi imagery used as well as the Nazi party anthem being used at the title screen. Because of this some rules were changed in Germany which resulted in the game and some other media being banned there until quite recently. It was also quite violent compared to contemporary games, although looking at it today it is comparably tame.

Today is actually the first time I’ve really sat down and played through a significant portion of Wolfenstein 3d. I’ve had brief encounters with the game in the past, but never really sat down and spent some time with it. I played through the entire shareware episode in a little over an hour total play time.

You need a VGA graphics card and at least a fast 286 machine. I’ve found that 3000 cycles in Dosbox (roughly a 20Mhz 286/386sx) is sufficient to run the game with the maximal screen size and a smooth frame rate. I quite like the art style, the UI elements are generally very minimalist in a pleasing way whilst sprites and textures are detailed and make good use of colour. It’s impressive in both an artistic and technical sense.

The sound effects are a mix of digitised and adlib sound effects, which generally sound quite good. Although it seems that it can only play one digital effect at a time, which can result in odd sound when in a noisy situation such as lots of nearby enemies. The adlib music is quite good and adds quite a bit of atmosphere to the game. Although I was startled to learn the music used at the title screen is the Nazi party anthem.

There are three different options for control, keyboard, mouse or joystick. I used the keyboard for my play through, mainly as I did it on my macbook. The keyboard works fairly well mostly, but sometimes doesn’t have the aiming precision sometimes. Using the mouse and keyboard works much better, but it wasn’t an option for me this time.

The game play is pretty simple, basically you search a maze like level for the level exit. Along the way you have to gun down enemies, pick up ammo and health as needed, and collect various score items. There are some locked areas which require a key, which are usually found simply by exploring a level.

Because of their maze like structure and how many areas look similar it can be easy to get disoriented and totally lost. There is a simple maze solving algorithm that can help, simply stick to walls on either the left or right hand side. This works well for the majority of the levels, only slipping up where there is a loop in the maze.

Guns are an important part of every FPS game, Wolfenstein 3D has 4 basic weapons. The knife, pistol, sub-machine gun, and a rapid firing chain gun. The best weapon for most use is the sub-machine gun as it’s fast firing, but not so fast as to chew up all your ammunition. The chain gun tends to eat ammunition too fast, so is only really useful when fighting the bosses or a large group of enemies. The pistol and knife are basically starter weapons for when you’re low or out of ammunition.

So how does Wolfenstein 3d hold up today? I’d say it holds up fairly well, although there are some issues. The game play works very well, but does get repetitive after a while. The levels are generally well designed, with secrets to find and plenty of bad guys to shoot, however many areas look the same so it’s easy to get lost. I also found I had to wander empty levels after killing most bad guys but having to retrieve a key or find a locked door. On the other hand the guns are still fun to use, it still very atmospheric, and blasting through the levels is still quite fun. Later episodes shake things up by adding new enemy types and are more difficult.

You can play Wolfenstein 3d online at the internet archive, or you can get a copy on steam or GOG.

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