Game Design Analysis – Wolfenstein

GDA –Wolfenstein

I am a huge fan of John Carmack. Don’t know the fellow? Google him right now, moreover do an essay of 10.000 words with the title “Why I think inverse root square is awesome?”.

Just kidding 🙂

All you need to know to read this entry is that John Carmack is one of the pioneers of the industry. Because of him the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre took the PC platform by storm with the release of Wolfenstein 3D, some even argue that he was the one who jump started the game industry, but these are philosophies and let’s face it jabber talk, what truly remains in history is the brilliance of the current technical director at id Software. Wolfenstein 3D is one of the first game I’ve seen and never got to play due to my frail age, I couldn’t understand what was going on the screen, but the movement and expressiveness of both Wolfenstein and other games at that time got me into what I love doing the most, analyzing and designing games.

The franchise had a lot of developers, the original owner remains id Software, but they develop in co-operation with other studios such as Grey Matter (Return to Castle Wolfestein) in 2001. Today Raven Software took the mighty task of bringing fans a new “We need you agent Blazkowicz!” and yes there is a hint of sarcasm. Managed to get a hold it for the PC, but it has many console elements, which obviously means that it’s a port, not a platform specific developed game. I am not sure what elements should I portray as been good or bad, let’s face it PCs will never be consoles as much as consoles will never be PCs as far as game design. You may be wondering how did I manage to see that it’s a port and not a PC version, well :

  • The number one concept that gives all PC versions away as been ports, the bloody messy highly easy to use for newcomers: health points regeneration system or in lame terms “shoot me and I won’t die if I make it to the next corner”.  I know why developers use this design on consoles, the save/load system, hard to master controller, etc. Now why do some PC developers use it? *crickets in the background*.  Don’t laugh that is my reaction whenever I hear the question. Firstly the PC controls mouse and keyboard is easy to use and master in comparison to console controllers, secondly the save/load system doesn’t involve checkpoints, we have Auto-saves, Quick-saves and the classical save and load menu. My guess is that either the cost of production had made it impossible for more than one development set of requirements or they wanted to make it easier for the player. It’s argumentative, therefore I will leave it at that and say it’s a bad design chosen for Wolfenstein considering it’s ancestry and as you will see along the way the horrifically stupid enemy AI.
  • The Menu – the way you navigate through it resembles the Left-Right schematic on the Xbox360 controller. It’s not that big of a deal, yet I strongly refuse to believe that it was that hard to create a list type menu. Getting to buy something from the Black Market can become a hassle because the way you “click” on it bases itself on a “press the A/Square button”, double click works, but it takes a while to actually make contact and enter sub-menus.

So it’s a port? Is it that bad? Frankly speaking those two elements aren’t even as half as bad as what follows. I’m not the type that judges a game by how it looks, but you can’t seem to wonder why the graphics are “bad”. Oh I don’t know, maybe because it’s based on a 5 year old engine, namely id Tech 4. Outdoors or indoors you will be blinded by bloom, textures are of low to medium quality, the meshes look unfinished, if you don’t believe just take a look at the screens[1]. There is something I like in this game: the appropriate use of the physics engine[2] (Havok) : boxes can be destroyed, things blow up in a beautiful way, limbs are dismembered, all of these aspects make the game more enjoyable than it already is not, when you will reach the cavern level you will know what I mean.

Let’s get on to another aspect of this analysis, namely gameplay and storyline elements. Like in the Velvet Assassin GDA I could summon thousands of paragraphs to come in my aid, but I won’t, I’ll just outline the main aspects that really popped out as bad.

Scripting is a good idea generally, however using it excessively can create what I like to call “Nostradamus effect”, I can foresee what’s about to happen: going in a room throw a grenade, making my way down a silent corridor something will most likely pop out, the game is saving a checkpoint a horde of soldiers are waiting for me, so on and so forth. Losing atmosphere is one of the most common ways to get the fun out and the banalities in.

Another thing that bothered me is the way the story develops; you get your missions from various agencies: Kreisau Circle or Golden Dawn. Some of them are go there, see what’s going on, get back and report, linearity couldn’t have found a better home in my honest opinion. From time to time when a mission starts you are assigned a contact, occasionally he gets stuck , however don’t fret the enemy AI is average, they don’t use any kind of strategy, moreover sometimes they just run into you, waiting for a nice applied head shot. Interesting is that the game increases in difficulty when you reach the farms, by that I mean their bullets find your body more often, not that the AI has grown a virtual brain.  Enemies range from soldiers to evil doctors with super-powers to some pretty ugly monsters, however it really doesn’t matter they are still as thick as a sheet of paper.

Another aspect of this game is the presence of the Black Market. Here, using the money earned from completing missions or by collecting bags of gold, you can buy upgrades for your weapons and powers. Did you say powers? Yes I did. This game gives the player powers, manipulate time, see through dark, be invincible, etc. I really sat down and pondered why designers would present such a concept for implementation; it’s not specific for the franchise. It really makes the game easier than it actually is because you can refill your energy by using the fountains or barrels, which are dispersed in an immense quantity throughout the entire levels.

Storyline like I said it’s linear, moreover it’s surrounded by clichés, I didn’t even have to complete the first mission to know that, the intro reeks of it.

Furthermore along the mission you will be astonished by a humorous side. Namely the “YOU look like an American”[3] and “The Doctor Dance”[4]. Honestly if I were in charge I would really ponder on whom I am going to hire to write scene scripts.

Wolfenstein is a mediocre game without any innovative aspects, it’s really ok to try it if you just want a blind shooter, aim the gun, kill like a maniac, get the reward and save the world. From my point of view the production and release of this games was a last chance to get some money out of the id Tech 4 engine, since in 2010 it will shift to a different license policy, namely GNU General Public License. Furthermore the Zenimax deal means that Activision will no longer do business with id Software, so frankly speaking this was the last boat to catch.


Flying wierd looking paper

Flying wierd looking paper



Uncanny Valley anyone?

Uncanny Valley anyone?


Poor guy.

Poor guy.


YOU look like an American...really now?

Really now?


STOP! Hammer time!

STOP! Hammer time!


2 responses to “Game Design Analysis – Wolfenstein

  1. Hey, just wanted to point out — recharging health has a few very important functions beyond making things easier for the player.
    1) It allows level designers to remove a significant variable from how they design their levels — they know the player will always be at maximum health. This means that they don’t have to build levels taking into account ‘what will happen if the player reaches this area with 5 health?’.
    2) Beyond that, it also changes the flow of the game *during* combat. As long as they make the enemies very powerful, level designers are able to guarantee that a player can be moments away from death, while also having full health. This allows them to specifically craft moments of extremely high tension with ease.

    Recharging health has taken over the industry because it allows health to become a fluctuating combat variable, like who you’re aiming at, where you’re moving, which enemy to shoot first; instead of a resource that has to be carefully maintained, like ammo for the big machine gun. Personally, I find that older fps games feel dull and not very dynamic in comparison (though obviously balance and A.I. are important to this as well).

  2. Making the game easier with the health regeneration system frustrates other players that might want more of a challenge coming from a shooter. It creates immersion for a short time, however in the long run you realize that you won’t die if you run for cover, resulting in a cold shower wake up.

    In my honest opinion, knowing that you are running out of ammo or the enemy is one bullet away from killing you creates more tension, than ducking behind a stone so your health can recover.

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