History of Wolfenstein (Part 1) – Gaming Historian

[piano music]
[hard rock music]
Prison escape.
Killer dogs.
The paranormal.
This is the Wolfenstein series,
one of the most important
franchises in video game history.
The release of Wolfenstein 3D
by id Software back in 1992
laid the foundation for the first-person shooter genre.
Over the years, the series has been
remade and updated several times
with the latest release coming out this past year.
Most people think the series
began with Wolfenstein 3D,
but it actually began a full decade earlier,
back in 1981 on the Apple II.
I actually remember this game quite fondly
because me and my brother would
play it all the time on our IBM PC.
So, are YOU ready…
to see the game…
that started it all?
Ladies and gentlemen…
the original Castle Wolfenstein.
Castle Wolfenstein was created by
a programmer named Silas Warner,
a large man at 6-foot-9 and over 300 pounds.
His co-workers claimed he was the prototypical geek.
While he lacked some social skills,
he was smart, creative, and
not interested in conforming.
His wife, Dr. Kari Ann Owen,
described him as “a marvelous giant.”
Back in 1978, Warner and two friends,
Ed Zaron and Jim Black,
founded Muse Software
and began developing games
and programs for the Apple II.
One of Warner’s first titles was Robotwar,
a game where you programmed a
robot using code similar to BASIC
and fought against other robots.
It was a fun and unique way
to teach people about coding.
Another project titled “The Voice”
was one of the first programs that could
record and play back sounds on the Apple II.
It also allowed you to type words
and have the computer speak it back to you.
COMPUTER: I… can… talk.
NORM: But ideas for games can
come from all sorts of places.
And the birth of Castle Wolfenstein
began during a trip to a local 7-Eleven.
Warner walked into the convenience
store and noticed a new arcade game:
[laser sounds]
ROBOT: Get.. the… intruder!
Time’s… up… humanoid!
NORM: Berzerk was a top-down
shooter with multiple maze-like rooms.
The game also had speech,
which resonated with Warner
after developing The Voice.
He loved the concept of the game
but felt the themes of sci-fi
and robots were played out.
Said Warner:
Indeed, it was.
Space shooters were some of the
most popular games at the time
with arcade games like
Space Invaders and Galaxian.
By the mid-1980’s,
Silas Warner had the concept
of a man running around a room,
but he wasn’t really sure what to do with it.
And then one night,
a classic war film…
came on TV.
[folksy music]
The movie was “Guns of Navarone,”
an Academy Award-winning film
from 1961 starring Gregory Peck.
The story revolves around a group of commandos
who must infiltrate a German fortress,
and destroy two large guns that are preventing
allied ships from rescuing British soldiers.
During the movie,
the commando squad disguises themselves
as German soldiers to complete the mission.
Warner loved it
and thought the idea of sneaking around
and shooting Nazis would make a great game.
Thus was born Castle Wolfenstein,
released in 1981 for the Apple II.
It was also ported to the Atari 800,
Commodore 64
and DOS.
The game had you playing as
an unnamed prisoner of war
who must escape the Nazi fortress.
Your dying cellmate hands
you a pistol with ten rounds
and instructs you to escape
the castle with the battle plans
that are hidden somewhere inside.
Castle Wolfenstein is considered
one of the first stealth games.
Your resources are limited,
so going around killing
everyone is not a wise options.
Instead, you must sneak around,
find disguises,
and unlock chests and doors to make your escape.
You can even hold up a guard
at gunpoint and take their items.
Features in the game have
become staples in the stealth genre.
Ken Levine, designer of the games
Thief and System Shock 2,
credits Castle Wolfenstein
as being hugely influential.
It also used digital voice,
a rarity in games at the time.
Warner was able to utilize his
technology from the Voice program
and implement it into the game.
Guards would yell at you to stop,
or scream when they got shot.
COMPUTER: Achtung!
[shots and scream sound]
The game was a resounding success
for Silas Warner and Muse Software.
They followed it up with a sequel,
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, in 1984.
This time the objective was to
sneak into Hitler’s underground bunker
and assassinate him.
Similar to the actual July 20th plot
that took place in 1944.
New gameplay elements
were added, including bribery,
silent knife kills, moving dead bodies, and more.
Sadly, the success was short-lived.
Due to poor management and marketing,
Muse Software had to file for bankruptcy
and shut down in 1987.
Warner stayed in the games
industry for a few more years,
but would never again match the
success he had with Castle Wolfenstein.
The series was presumed dead…
until the early ’90s,
when a group of young programmers,
who fondly remembered playing
the games on the Apple II,
wanted to reimagine it in a whole new way.
In 1991, id Software was
a new game developer
that consisted of four key members:
John Romero,
John Carmack,
Tom Hall
and Adrian Carmack.
John Carmack, the technical
programmer of the team,
had created a new first-person game engine
that ran incredibly well for the time.
He and the rest of the id team loved
top-down shooters such as Gauntlet,
and wanted to play similar games
but with a different perspective.
id’s first title to use the engine was Hovertank 3D.
It played well,
but the game lacked textures on the walls
and didn’t feel immersive.
One night, John Romero was having
a phone conversation with his friend,
Paul Neurath,
one of the designers of Ultima Underworld.
Neurath mentioned they were trying a
new technology called “texture mapping”–
adding textures to flat polygons.
After the conversation,
Romero mentioned it to John Carmack.
Carmack remembered seeing a demo
of the technology earlier in the year.
He paused for a moment…
and then replied,
“I can do that.”
Their first test was with Catacomb 3D,
the third game in the catacomb series.
The ugly flat walls of Hovertank were officially history.
Catacomb 3D looked much better
but still had a few limitations.
There were no doors,
and enemies always faced you.
Hovertank 3D and Catacomb 3D
were both small releases
distributed in Gamer’s Edge,
a bi-monthly PC game service.
id Software was ready to
show off their new game engine
with a full shareware release.
Shareware usually allowed you to
play the first portion of a game for free,
and if you liked it, then you could
pay for the rest of the game.
It was a clever way to market something
without having to deal with retail stores
or advertising.
id Software saw success with their
previous shareware title, Commander Keen,
and they were ready to make another.
The team was up late one night,
discussing ideas for a game.
It was then that Romero recalled his childhood,
playing Castle Wolfenstein on his Apple II.
What if, he thought,
they could remake that game in a 3D environment?
They loved it.
John Carmack and Tom Hall
also fondly remembered the game,
and it was agreed that their next game
would be a remake of Castle Wolfenstein.
John Carmack would update the engine,
adding doors,
secret rooms,
more colors,
improved sound,
a faster frame rate,
and enemies that could walk
around from multiple angles.
John Romero and Tom Hall
would work on the design,
including levels.
In the game, you play the hero
William “B.J.” Blazkowitz.
an Allied P.O.W. who must escape from a Nazi prison
known as Castle Wolfenstein.
The game would include other missions, too,
such as infiltrating a chemical warfare plant,
stopping a Nazi scientist from raising an undead army,
and assassinating Adolph Hitler
in his secret bunker.
At first, the player could pick up and hide bodies,
as well as put on disguises,
just like the original games.
But Romero and Hall found out that
it slowed down the game too much.
The fun was in the fast-paced shooting
and finding all of the secret areas in the game.
Adrian Carmack, who loved to
draw dark, gruesome subjects,
served as the game’s artist.
He didn’t hold back,
adding skeletons,
portraits of Hitler,
and lots of blood.
But how was id Software able
to use the name Wolfenstein?
I mean, surely that was trademarked already, right?
They actually had to purchase the
trademark from a woman in Baltimore,
who most likely bought it when
Muse Software went out of business.
John Romero claimed,
“It was real cheap.”
id Software had a title for their new game.
On May 5, 1992,
Wolfenstein 3D was released for MS-DOS.
The first episode, which included ten levels,
were free for anyone to download,
play and share.
An extra five episodes could be
purchased through the publisher,
The game was a smash hit.
Players had never experienced
such as fast, violent game before.
It was the breakout title for id Software
and helped establish the first-person shooter genre.
Wolfenstein 3D also legitimized
the shareware business
and helped popularize the mod community,
as fans around the world put
their own twist on the game.
Other developers were interested
in modifying the game as well.
One such company was Wisdom Tree,
which made religious-themed unlicensed games.
They wanted to use the engine to develop a game
based on the story of Noah’s Ark,
where you had to run around
and shoot food at the animals
to put them to sleep.
id Software found the concept amusing
and licensed the engine to Wisdom Tree.
Super 3D Noah’s Ark was the only unlicensed game
ever released for the Super Nintendo during its time.
Wolfenstein 3D was ported
to many different platforms,
including the SNES.
Good old Nintendo censorship kicked in
and all the blood in the game was turned gray.
Dogs were changed to giant rats
and all references to the Nazi party were removed.
With success came controversy.
Some people complained about the
excessive use of swastikas and violence.
Some took it a step further.
In Germany, imagery of unconstitutional organizations
is considered a federal offense.
Wolfenstein contained not only
swastikas and portraits of Hitler,
but the music at the title
screen was “Horst-Wessel-Lied,”
the official anthem of the Nazi party.
The game was banned from being sold or distributed.
Despite this, Romero claimed
they never set out to offend people
or stir up controversy.
They simply wanted to remake
one of their favorite games.
With Wolfenstein 3D released,
the men at id Software rigorously worked
on the extra episodes that fans purchased.
In July of 1992,
the team decided to take a
break and attend Kansasfest,
a festival in Kansas City
dedicated to all things Apple II.
Pretty much everyone at id Software
had grown up on the machine.
So this was a perfect way to relish old memories
and show off their new game.
When they arrived, they noticed a special
guest was going to give a lecture that day.
It was Silas Warner,
the marvelous giant who created Castle Wolfenstein.
The id Software team grew nervous.
How would HE react to their remake?
After his presentation,
Warner made his way to the back of the room
where Romero introduced him to the team
and Wolfenstein 3D.
“Oh, yes,” said Warner.
“I remember someone called me about this.”
After seeing the game,
Silas Warner loved it.
He congratulated them and signed autographs.
For the id Software team,
it was the greatest compliment
they could have ever imagined.
Later that year, id Software released
Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny,
a retail release that takes place
before the events of the original game.
You play B.J. Blazkowitz once again,
this time on a mission try
and recapture the Holy Lance
that pierced Jesus during his crucifixion,
which has been stolen by the Nazis.
The core gameplay was the same
but new levels and enemies were added.
After Spear of Destiny,
id Software was ready to move on to new games.
Their next project would be Doom,
a revolutionary game in its own right.
The Wolfenstein series would
be silent for almost a decade…
until 2001,
when a new developer decided to return
to the Nazi fortress.
[rock music]


  1. I've been steeping myself in the PS4 Wolfenstein franchise by Bethesda and this was EXACTLY the video I was looking for but didn't know it. Thanks again for a quality upload, my dude.

  2. Jeered man, you’re awesome, just found the channel… don’t know if you’ll ever get enough credit for these videos

  3. You have to do a video on DOOM please! Gaming historian. I love your videos a lot, my son and I watch them when we can. Keep up the good work.

  4. May I suggest a book titled Masters of Doom?
    You probably are already well aware of it, as a lot of the things you talked about are in that book.
    Anyway, it's a facinating story of id.
    Great video by the way!

  5. The original Wolfenstein, bringing in concepts like holding up guards and taking their items 20 years before metal gear solid 2 brought it back.. Amazing.

  6. …..so he did it because he thought scifi robots were cliche…..and sets in motion a series of events that led to nazi zombies

  7. Despite this being before Doom what Doom does for gaming is infinitely more important. Doom 1 and 2 still looks decent today. I don't know if Doom would or would not have been possible without Wolfeinstein 3d though.

  8. I used to sit with my friend and play Wolfenstein 3D all night until my eyes literally hurt to move to the sides!

  9. Just thought I would let you know the guards in white shout “Spion” it’s German for “Spy”. No such person called “Leon” exists lol

  10. i grew up with this series my dad installed it on our old pc back in 1985 castle wolfenstien was my first!

    and it’s still a fond memory for me Wolf3d blew my 12 year old mind when it came out

  11. I'll never forget Wolfenstein 3D. I downloaded it from a BBS called The Dead Zone because the SysOp, Vic, told me it was one of the most incredible videos game that he'd ever played. He was true to his word. I loaded it up on my first-ever homebuilt PC, a 286-16 with an ATi EGA Wonder video card and a Zoltrix Soundblaster-Compatible sound card. The game was magical. It was the greatest action game that I'd ever played up to that point. I liked it almost as much as the Starflight series (although for pure imagination, no game will ever top Starflight). I also played Doom, Doom 2 and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I'll be getting the new one but for now, I'm kinda hooked on Injustice 2. LOL

    From an Intel 286-16 with twin 40MB MFM hard drives (with an RLL controller that doubled their size) and an ATi EGA Wonder to an AMD R7-1700 with over 30TB of drive space and an ATi R9 Fury. How far have we come? It just boggles my mind sometimes.

  12. I cannot convey how jaw droppingly amazing Wolfenstein 3D was when my friends and I first saw it. We never imagined something like that would be possible on a PC. No game as ever effect me as much.

  13. Ok, again… this is why I love your channel. Where the hell did you find out that Noah's Ark 3-D was the only ever unlicensed SNES game??

  14. How game developers brainstormed in the 80s-90s = "What IF we could make a game to do this that was never done? we should get ideas on how to program this".

    How game developers brainstorm today: "Ok, lets just copy Call of Duty".

  15. I played the Apple II version….god is was really scary when you heard "HALT!"…and there was nothing better than the end screen illustration.

  16. It's pretty clear that Wolfenstien and Doom are "Illuminati" pet projects, and the Wolfenstien sequel in which you seek the spear that pierced Christ is a clear expression of the "Illuminati" desire to spiritually slay Truth Christ. The company name "id" reffering to base psychological urges is also called the "lizard brain" and is a major aspect of "Illimuninati" mind control through mass media. "Illuminati" is in quotes because they are not illuminated.

    Much love to everyone ♥️.

  17. You should do an episode on John Carmack. He was practically the father of modern 3D gaming, a genius. I think you could easily talk about him for a while.

  18. 3D Monster Maze on the ZX 81 was, as far as I am aware, the original first-person game. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGf4jdRbCuk

  19. I had actually forgotten about Berzerk until being reminded by this history. Robotron 2084 was so popular that I guess the arcade owners removed all of the Berzerk machines pretty early on in the 80s. Pretty sure I saw a Berzerk machine in Alladin’s Castle around 1981/82, but not much after that.

  20. I had catacombs 3D when I was a kid I thought it was a great game did not know it came out before Wolfenstein 3D wow.

  21. I think pretty much everyone who had a PC in the 90s played this game… did anyone actually buy it?

    like this comment if you bought the full game.

  22. My favorite Wolfenstein 3D clone is Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold, which was also published by Apogee. My family has fond memories of that game. That and The Journeyman Project. My mom had the hardest time beating that game. I also really loved Battle Chess.

  23. Cool info presented in an incredibly boring way. You prob did an ass ton of research to write your script which is great, but the vid as a whole is not that engaging.

  24. How did an overweight, not particularly pretty geek in the 80s get a wife, I can't even get one now ?.

    btw, that music rocks 😀

  25. 12:55 Wouldn't it have been nice if they had cut him a fat check to say thank you, even though they weren't legally required to? I mean, supposedly, they were doing it because it was fun, so, how about coughing up a few bucks to the originator if they were truly grateful?

  26. Castle Wolfenstein was great, but I fondly remember playing Castle Smurfenstein. Anyone remember that one? Pretty sure it was a hack of the game, but a fun one.

  27. Nintendo censored all the Third Reich stuff. Then why sell the game if you take out the historical context of the game? Stupid.

    Germany bans the game? Ironic a country who despises a regime that burned books basically does the same thing to show they somehow aren’t like the regime they claim to despise.

    Some were offended by the swastikas and Nazi stuff in a Nazi themed game? Let’s be honest and call them what they are: leftist woketards.

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