Return to Castle Wolfenstein Q&A

We sit down with Id Software co-owner Kevin to talk about some of the finer details of this game.

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Id Software's Wolfenstein, released in 1992, has been credited as being the game that set into stone the basic principles that nearly every single first-person shooter to this date follows. Looking back at it now, though, it's tough to draw comparisons between its VGA colors and 320x200 resolution with the high-res, high-polygon count, 32-bit color games that dominate the genre today. And truth be told, Activision's upcoming tribute to Wolfenstein, the Quake III-powered Return to Castle Wolfenstein, shares little more with its predecessor than the World War II setting and, of course, the return of BJ Blazkowicz. Still, the game will undoubtedly prove to be nostalgic for anyone who played the original Wolfenstein, and it should satisfy hard-core FPS fans who've been yearning to move on from Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament, and Counter-Strike. In typical company fashion, Id Software has been incredibly stingy with details regarding Return to Castle Wolfenstein. We were lucky enough to sit down with Kevin Cloud, artist and co-owner of Id, to talk about this game in greater detail.

GameSpot: Kevin, what's Id Software's involvement in the development of Return to Castle Wolfenstein?

Kevin Cloud: Simply stated, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is an Id game developed by Gray Matter Interactive. When we decided to make a new game in the Wolfenstein universe, finding the perfect team was the top priority. We had worked with Gray Matter (formerly Xatrix) on a few other projects and have always been impressed with their creativity and overall product. They are a great team to work with and are doing an incredible job with the game. They have captured the essence of the universe and at the same time brought a ton of fresh new ideas, styles, and creativity to the project. Id has also provided countless resources to the development process, including testing and design input/feedback, as well as direction in keeping the game true to the universe. Id has dedicated programming resources (three of Id's programmers have worked on Wolfenstein at one time or another) to the project and helped in licensing code from other developers.

GS: Will BJ Blaskowitz have any help in dealing with the Nazi scourge this time around?

KC: BJ has never needed any help kicking Nazi ass, and he doesn't need it now. The story really revolves around BJ as a lone Office of Secret Actions (OSA) agent sent in to uncover the demented experiments and occult activities being explored by Nazi general Heinrich Himmler (head of the SS). Through the course of the game, BJ will interact with and be given assistance by various characters including resistance fighters and top OSA brass, but the thrashing of Nazis, zombies, and mutants is totally up to BJ.

GS: In terms of the game's plot, where does Return to Castle Wolfenstein fall with respect to the previous three Wolfenstein games?

KC: Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a totally new story and game experience...although it's still based in the over-the-top "Indiana Jones/X-Files" type universe that makes Wolfenstein so compelling. In creating the back story for the game, Gray Matter did a ton of research on actual secret projects and experimentation being done by the Nazis and specifically Himmler. In fact, there have been many documentaries produced detailing Himmler's fascination with the occult and undead. The Return to Castle Wolfenstein back story and game story weave some of these bizarre but true characters and circumstances into an extensive and frightening story for BJ to discover.

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GS: There will be more than four weapons this time around, right?

KC: There are definitely more than four weapons. BJ begins with a knife, but he very quickly pulls a Luger from the body of the guard he overpowers in his cell. As BJ escapes, he arms himself with a small German arsenal by raiding storerooms and taking weapons from the Nazis he kills (including a Luger, an MP40, a Mauser Rifle, and a flamethrower). Not only will BJ battle with the Nazi's own weaponry, but he is also rearmed from time to time with the best US arms available, including a Thompson machine gun and a 1911 government model Colt. This is just naming a few of the weapons, and many of the weapons have additional functionality added, with scopes and other features. Also, as BJ uncovers more and more about the experiments of the Nazis, he also discovers some of their experimental weapons, including the tesla gun and venom gun.

GS: Can you describe some of the enemies we've screen in the screenshots to date?

KC: At E3, most people were able to see Nazi infantry and officers, as well as the zombies and zombie knights. Everything about the enemies is amazing, from the texture detail to the AI and animations. The Nazi soldiers move naturally, work in groups, take cover to reload, kick grenades back at you, and even dive on [grenades] to save other soldiers if there isn't enough time to retreat. The zombies and zombie knights have a number of melee attacks, while other zombies can breathe fire or attack with flying skull spirits.

The elite guard is one of my favorite enemies. These special-forces-type bad boys can parachute into a situation as reinforcements, and they carry high-powered silenced machine guns.

The female assassins are just plain hot. Any woman wrapped head-to-toe in skin-tight leather is bound to give you trouble. They are dominating, acrobatic, and stealthy, and they carry a deadly silenced weapon.

GS: What about the levels? How many different environments will the game have?

KC: The game is truly epic in size and scope. There are somewhere around 25 levels, although that doesn't give the kind of information it did five years ago, when the number of levels really mattered. Return to Castle Wolfenstein has such diversity in the size and complexity of the levels, as some are more stealth-oriented, some are vast terrain maps where the player must negotiate guard towers, hangers, bunkers and gun turrets, and others take BJ to forests, villages, bombed cities, and defiled crypts. This is just naming a very small handful of the locations in the game.

GS: So what's your favorite aspect of Return to Castle Wolfenstein?

KC: It's tough to pick one particular element as a favorite. All the game elements are coming together and working together so well that without any single one of them, the game would be lacking. There are so many small details like eavesdropping on conversations, enemies taking cover to reload, and enemy reinforcements coming in via trucks or parachutes that really make you feel like you are part of the game. Probably my favorite part of the game is the sense that the world is alive. The designers were able to put together a script that sets every piece of the world in motion when you enter the level. Enemies will patrol, stand guard, and fight zombies, and your actions and reactions to the world and events as they play out affect the way the remaining events occur. The speed at which you play, the tactics that you use, and the order in which you kill enemies all have a direct effect on the world. It's incredibly fun when you get a real sense of "true to life" randomness while playing a game, and that is really coming through in Wolfenstein.

GS: Half-Life is still credited with having some of the best scripting and enemy AI in a PC action game. Will the enemies in Return to Castle Wolfenstein also have a team mentality?

KC: The AI in Wolfenstein goes far beyond just enemies working with a team mentality. Enemies have varying states of alertness. When not alerted to your presence (via an alarm, sound, or sight), enemies are in a normal or relaxed state. Any number of visual or audio clues can alert them to your presence, at which point they have a heightened sense of awareness and might actively seek you out. Once enemy characters are sure that they have seen you, they will enter a combat mode where they will fight, set off the alarms, or alert others. Enemies will also take up strategic positions against you, kick back live grenades if they know they have enough time, take cover to reload their weapon, kick over tables for cover, and even decide how aggressive to be based on the weapon that you are carrying.

GS: Aside from the original Wolfenstein games, where are your designers drawing most of their inspiration from? Half-Life? Metal Gear Solid?

KC: There are a number of World War II sources, including movies, books, and documentaries. The story for the game really matured out of the research that was done into Himmler and the bizarre thoughts and ideas that drove him and many others in the Reich. The elements regarding Himmler's fascination with the occult, genetics, and the dead are absolutely true. We've basically taken it to the next level in saying that he actually did succeed in raising the dead and his genetic mutations did work, but the basis for all that is in absolute truth. We actually joke that maybe all this stuff did happen, but there was an actual BJ Blaskowitz there to stop it, and the details are still classified.

GS: On a slightly different note, Kevin, what do you think of Electronic Arts' Medal of Honor: Allied Assault? It too takes place in Europe during World War II and uses the Quake III Arena engine.

KC: That is actually about where the similarities end. Working in the Wolfenstein universe enables us to do so many unique and creative things with the story, characters, and settings, which push the game beyond any other World War II game into more of a "X-Files/Indiana Jones meets World War II." Return to Castle Wolfenstein has so much diversity to offer--with the basis in Himmler's obsession with the occult, genetic experimentation, experimental weapons, and raising the dead--players are going to find this a totally different experience than Medal of Honor or any other World War II game. We'll also have a very robust multiplayer component based on the game mechanics and elements found in single player. Since EA didn't show anything playable from Medal of Honor at E3, I can't comment on how the game will play. Based on their demos, it looks like they have some cool ideas, and we hope EA allows 2015 the time to complete the game without rushing it out the door.

GS: This one is for the die-hard fans, but will the game's final interface have a picture of BJ's face that visually depicts his current state like the original Wolfenstein 3D interface?

KC: We've decided to keep the interface very streamlined and unobtrusive, so probably not. However, as you progress through the game, BJ's appearance will change when you see him in the in-game cinematics. By the end of the game, he'll definitely look like he has been up against the worst the Reich has to offer.

GS: We know Id likes to respond with a "when it's done" when asked for a release date, but are you pretty confident in its scheduled launch date of fall 2001?

KC: If we haven't announced a release date (which we haven't), then any "scheduled launch date" is pure speculation. With that said, game production is going very well. All the big decisions have been made, and we have all the major game systems (AI, scripting, animation, and so on) running very well. We're now working on tuning the AI and scripting for specific circumstances in each level, updating the sound and music system, finishing up some level work and animations, and tons of polishing. We'll take the time we need to make the best game possible.

GS: Fair enough. Thanks for your time, Kevin.

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