Hacked out in next to no time by a small band of programming geniuses, Wolfenstein 3D was incredibly influential, inspiring countless first-person shooters to come. Here are a few things you might not know about the game that solidified Nazi killing as one of gaming’s most popular pastimes…
1) The Wolfenstein series created a genre, but it wasn’t the first-person shooter. Wolfenstein 3D is often cited as the first game in the first-person shooter genre, which isn’t really true. It popularized the genre, but there had been other FPS style experiences before — in fact the guys at Id Software had made one of their own a year before Wolfenstein called Hovertank 3D.
Ah, but Wolfenstein 3D wasn’t the first Wolfenstein game! The first game to carry that name was a 1981 game for the Apple II called Castle Wolfenstein. Unlike Wolfenstein 3D, Castle Wolfenstein was a slow-paced strategic game in which you had to carefully sneak past and outsmart Nazi guards — in other words, it was a stealth game. The first stealth game ever in fact, so the Wolfenstein series did create a genre, just not the one you thought.
2) The makers of Wolfenstein 3D had nothing to do with the 80s games. Speaking of those 80s Wolfenstein games, the makers of Wolfenstein 3D had absolutely nothing to do with them. In fact, Id kinda, sorta stole the Wolfenstein name from the makers of the original games.
A small company called Muse Software (which went belly-up in 1987) made the original stealthy Wolfenstein games. Most of the guys at Id were fans of those games, and so they decided to do a “homage” to Castle Wolfenstein. During development they considered all sorts of fairly ridiculous names for the game like The Fourth Reich, Adolph’s Bane, Luger’s Run and Castle Hasselhoff until someone discovered that the Wolfenstein copyright has lapsed when Muse croaked, so what the hell, they just went with Wolfenstein. The story used to be that Id got the blessing of Castle Wolfenstein creator Silas Warner before naming their game, but according to more recent accounts by John Carmack, Id only approached Warner and got his thumbs up well after the game was finished and released.
3) Wolfenstein 3D was going to be a sci-fi game called It’s Green and Pissed. Before they settled on the WW2 theme, Id considered doing a tribute to Aliens called It’s Green and Pissed (those guys had a thing for, uh, hilarious titles). The idea would be revived after Wolfenstein’s success and become Doom.
It’s Pink and Pissed.
4) Wolfenstein 3D was originally a stealth game. Eventually Wolfenstein 3D would become a homage to Castle Wolfenstein in name and basic subject matter only, but originally the idea was to recreate Castle Wolfenstein’s stealthy gameplay from a first-person perspective. You could sneak up on guards, hide bodies, disguise yourself in Nazi uniforms and so on.
All of this was eventually cut when it dawned on the developers that simply running around and shooting stuff was more fun, although you can still see elements of stealth in the final version of Wolfenstein 3D. Unlike Doom, where enemies just rush mindlessly at you, Wolfenstein’s enemies actually walk set paths and you can, in many cases, sneak right by them — if you want a challenge, much of Wolfenstein 3D can still be played as if it were a very rudimentary stealth game.
It certainly seems like Wolfenstein’s title screen is a relic of the early stealth direction.