The game that invented the first-person shooter genre on the PC, id Software's Wolfenstein 3D, came out 17-years ago. Since then fans have enjoyed a number of sequels (Return to Castle Wolfenstein, 2001; Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, 2003) and a single prequel, Spear of Destiny. Now it's back, this time as a fully-fledged "next-gen" multiplatform FPS, simply called Wolfenstein. To mark the occasion, we sat down with director of business development Steve Nix and community manager Peter Sokal to not only discuss B.J. Blazkowicz's return, but to get the latest on Rage, Doom 4 and the exciting id Tech 5 engine.
VideoGamer.com: The PC has traditionally been the platform id's games have been built on. I'm curious to know how you approach a multiplatform game like this in terms of the PC version. High-end PCs are obviously capable of more than the current consoles can offer. Do you cater for that still, despite the fact that it's a small percentage of the market these days and many developers are crying about the current state of the PC market?
SN: (Laughs). Yeah and we're one of 'em sometimes! The thing is, id, we're very loyal to the PC. We obviously sold a lot of games on the PC. A lot of guys at the studio, their first choice is a mouse and keyboard when it comes to playing their games. We throw QuakeCon, which is the largest LAN event in the US. We have thousands of people sitting in front of PCs playing against each other for days. We love the PC and we're going to continue to support the PC, but in today's market you can't ignore the consoles. Piracy is such a huge problem, especially for action games. A lot of people don't care about the multiplayer that much, they'll just pirate the single-player game, play it and be done with it, which is a huge problem. So it's important that you have multiplatform launches. But at the same time you don't want to water down any of the versions. The single-player, all three versions, the PS3, Xbox and PC, are being developed by Raven, and all the multiplayer versions are being developed by Endrant here in the UK. There are more bells and whistles and individual features you can turn up on the PC if you have a really high-end rig, so ultimately you'll get a better experience on a high-end PC than you would be able to on the consoles.
VideoGamer.com: Is that important to maintain with multiplatform games? Is it to do with giving something back to that hardcore PC fan base that you made your name with?
SN: id's tended to be on the bleeding edge of technology over the years. If someone has the hardware you want them to be able to use it. I think it's important for PC gamers that they're getting a great experience on the PC.
VideoGamer.com: You mentioned that id's always been on the bleeding edge of technology. The engine that's being used for Wolfenstein is...
SN: It's a highly modified id Tech 4.
VideoGamer.com: I'm curious about the engine and what it brings to the FPS genre. How does the engine make the game stand out?
SN: Raven has been working with id technology so long they're super qualified to work on id technology. They added a number of things like soft shadows, tremendous post-processing effects, that's why we have all the great particle effects in the world, that you really see when you see the game in action. Also they added Havoc physics, which is important for the number of objects they wanted to simulate in the world. The main thing you get with id technology is there's a certain feel to id games that is not easily replicated in other technologies. You think about id games over the years, just how pure they feel and how connected you feel as a player to what you see on the screen... also games like Call of Duty, Half Life, the older Medal of Honor games that were all id powered, they just have a really special feel to them. We don't think it's easy for the other games to easily replicate that.
VideoGamer.com: It's less about things you can pinpoint then. It's more a combination of things that contribute to an overall feel then. That must be a very difficult thing to make scientific.
SN: It's the way the id line code is structured and written. All that underneath the hood is stuff that John (Carmack, co-founder of id Software) wrote. It's just the way it's structured, how clean it is. We're always about, underneath the hood needs to be the Ferrari of engine code, basically. It needs to be lightweight, it needs to be really good at what it does. Ultimately all that code underneath is what translates to that feel. And even though you can make two games exactly the same they can feel absolutely differently. Experienced gamers will know immediately as soon as they pick up the controller or pick up a mouse and keyboard, that one game has exceptional code underneath the hood and the other game doesn't. And that's one thing that's always separated id games out and gives Wolfenstein a huge advantage.
VideoGamer.com: As PC gaming pioneers, what was your reaction to the sad news of 3D Realms' demise?
SN: For me it was personally sad. I know a lot of people at the studio were really surprised and saddened for sure. We had originally moved to Dallas because Apogee, who morphed into 3D Realms, was our original publisher. So id might not even be in Dallas and a lot of us wouldn't even be working in the games industry if it wasn't for Apogee and 3D Realms. So I know for me personally I thought it was a joke when I heard the other day. So definitely, extremely saddened and surprising that those guys aren't there and we may never see the game we were all looking forward to.
VideoGamer.com: Perhaps some room at id for some of those guys?
SN: Well, there are some pretty talented people over there, we're still hiring so, we'll see. It all happened right before we left so I suppose we'll see! But yeah, there are some really talented guys in there so it very well could happen that some of them end up at id.
VideoGamer.com: Is there any update on how Rage and Doom 4 are shaping up and when we might be likely to see something from them?
SN: They're id titles. They're in development. It means we develop the technology while we develop the game. So I don't even know when Rage or Doom 4 are coming out. You've seen the screenshots and the video. The game looks fantastic. We expect it to be one of the best-looking games that ships, but we're really not saying much about that right now.
VideoGamer.com: What about the id Tech 5 engine?
SN: John has, throughout the years, proven that he can come up with breakthroughs again and again, and we think with id Tech 5 he really has done it again. Getting rid of texture limitations is a huge thing. It's been a massive problem in game development for years. So with that you can put unique textures on every single object in the world and not have to worry about... I mean the normal process is you develop a game and then everyone is over budget on their memory allocation so spend the last half of the game development ripping all the stuff that makes the game look great out so you can ship. With id Tech 5 that's not a concern. So you can just make the game look as beautiful as you want to up until the point where you say, all right we're done, it looks great let's go ahead and ship it. It hugely frees up game development.
VideoGamer.com: Fans have a lot to look forward to from Rage and Doom 4 then?
SN: Oh absolutely.
VideoGamer.com: id's engines are almost as much of a star as the games, which puts you in a somewhat unique position.
SN: Yeah. John's a genius and I think it's showed up over and over again in the technology.
VideoGamer.com: Despite the fact that Wolfenstein is a multiplatform game, it's probably still considered a PC-focused franchise. How do you think it's viewed by your average console-owning shooter fan, maybe a Halo or Gears of War fan? Is there a challenge there convincing them of what Wolfenstein is all about?
SN: Peter you're more that demographic than I am. How would you answer that question?
PS: That's one of the challenges of developing a game like this. You have the old school fans that are so passionate about the franchise. But the genre since 1992 when 3D came out has evolved so much. It's acquired so many new fans. They may never have played Wolf 3D or Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Games these days like Call of Duty are so popular, Halo, there are just a ton of new games out there that have brought new people to the genre. In terms of development it's a careful balance of keeping what makes Wolfenstein what it is - fast-paced combat, the supernatural Nazi dark occult theme - as well as bringing in those new people who have never been to this universe before. What can they expect to see, what they have to look forward to, what new things can we show them that are really cool that they've never experienced before?
VideoGamer.com: What do people expect to see from shooters now, since Wolfenstein last came out?
PS: To me it ultimately boils down to being fun. A FPS has to be a fun game. Nowadays it's so competitive, you've got to try a lot of new ideas and come up with really, really cool things that gamers haven't experienced yet in the genre. Since it's been around for a long time there are a lot of ideas that have been utilised. So you've got to keep thinking outside the box and come up with new ways to impress people as they play the game. That's one of the great things about Wolfenstein. It's WWII, but there's so much supernatural stuff going on that it allows us a lot of creative freedom when coming up with new ideas on how we can show gamers something they've never seen before.
VideoGamer.com: Co-op seems to be an in-vogue thing for shooters. Did you ever think about adding it to Wolfenstein?
SN: It was seriously discussed but ultimately we were like, you know, B.J. is really the lone badass. He is the one guy you call when the chips are down. When the Nazi's are doing some crazy shit, you're like, all right, who's the one guy who can go in there and deal with the situation? It's B.J. What, are you going to have two B.J. Blazkowiczs? The biggest badass in the world - you're going to have two of those guys in the game? It just didn't make a lot of sense. So ultimately we decided no, for the single-player it's just going to be one guy and that's B.J. As far as multiplayer, we haven't talked about it too much, but if you liked multiplayer in Return to Castle Wolfenstein it'll feel very familiar, but we've added the Veil powers this time around.
Wolfenstein is due out for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on August 7, 2009.