When Wolfenstein arrives in stores on August 18, it will be the first major release in this long-running World War II series since Return to Castle Wolfenstein helped establish Xbox Live as a haven for multiplayer shooters back in 2003. Naturally, Wolfenstein will carry on that tradition with its own online multiplayer component. We recently spoke with lead game designer Matt Wilson of Endrant Studios (the team behind Wolfenstein's online features, who is working alongside single-player campaign developer Raven Software) to see what fans can expect when they boot up the game and head online.
GameSpot: One way that Wolfenstein's single-player campaign distinguishes itself from other World War II shooters is through the use of the veil, a collection of supernatural powers. How have you implemented the veil into multiplayer?
Matt Wilson: The veil is a big part of the new Wolfenstein single-player campaign, and we wanted to retain the overall feel and impact it has in single-player in the multiplayer side of things. Players can enter the veil dimension and use veil powers much like the ones BJ has access to, as well as all the standard weapons and items. The veil is very much an additional layer of gameplay on top of what fans of the previous games have come to expect from Wolfenstein.
GS: Are there any major differences we can expect to see in the way these powers work in single-player versus multiplayer? Obviously, the ability to slow down time is going to present some issues in a multiplayer setting.
MW: The main difference is that in single-player, you're BJ, you're the hero--you get to do everything and use every power. In multiplayer, you're not BJ--you're a member of either the Resistance or the Axis, and you play as one of three roles: soldier, medic or engineer. We wanted to keep the three roles distinct, so we gave them their own unique veil powers that are specific to their responsibilities within the team. The medic's veil power helps him heal other players, for example.
The problem with mire--the power that BJ has, which slows down time--is that it's a relative effect; each player would experience it differently. For the player using mire, it appears as if the world is slowing down. From his victim's perspective, he'd appear to move at superhuman speed; impossible to hit and everywhere at once. Even ignoring the technical constraints, this would be no fun for 50 percent of the players involved, so we've tried to come up with veil powers that fit the multiplayer game and are fair to all the players.
All the veil powers are still game winners, however, and using your abilities at the right time can turn a game around. Fundamentally, the multiplayer in Wolfenstein needs to be about skill, and knowing when to use your veil powers is part of that skill.
GS: In terms of weaponry, Wolfenstein's single-player campaign has you going from a basic MP40 up to a massive particle cannon. What sort of weaponry will be carried over into multiplayer, and what was the thought process that went into choosing these guns over others?
MW: Wolfenstein multiplayer includes all of the standard weapons found in the single-player campaign. There were two things we looked at: whether the weapon was a classic Wolfenstein weapon from earlier games in the series and if adding it would cause any issues--balance or otherwise. As it turned out, single-player hit the nail on the head when it came to the selection of weapons there, so it was a really easy decision to include most of them.
We elected not to include some of the more exotic veil weapons for two reasons: Firstly, Wolfenstein has a tradition of keeping the more over-the-top weaponry out of multiplayer in order to keep it balanced and skill-based, and we didn't really want to mess with that. The second reason is that the veil weapons are important to the single-player game and, therefore, quite powerful. And if we did them justice in multiplayer, the game would have ended up centered around them at the expense of the other guns. Rather than have them appear as shadows of their real selves, it made more sense to stick with the traditional weapons the Resistance and Axis soldiers would have actually used and leave BJ to handle the fancy tech.
GS: It's probably a safe bet that Wolfenstein will have some form of Deathmatch, but what about other gameplay modes? What are some of the ways teams will have to work together as a more tightly knit unit?
MW: Deathmatch is one of three gameplay modes in Wolfenstein. Adding it was an obvious decision because we found that even in the previous games where there was no Deathmatch mode, players often set up servers with the intention of just fighting and would actually kick unaware players who tried to complete the maps. So there was definitely a requirement to have something for people who just want to shoot it out. One of the core features of Wolfenstein has always been its multiplayer team play, so we've gone with Team Deathmatch rather than free-for-all in order to let players continue to use their class abilities and items to the fullest. Medics still heal and revive; you still want an engineer to deal out ammo; and so on.
The two other gameplay modes are Objective and Stopwatch. In Objective mode, the attacking team tries to complete one or more objectives in the map while the defending team tries to stop them. In Stopwatch, you do the same but swap over at half-time, and the attacking team which completed the map fastest is the overall winner. Existing Wolfenstein players will be intimately familiar with these because they're the defining game types that made Return to Castle Wolfenstein so groundbreaking when it first came out in 2001. Wolf set the standard for many of the games which followed later, so we're excited for players to get the chance to once again work as a close team to complete objectives, such as destroying experimental tanks or protecting vital research documents. New players will also get a chance to see what they've been missing, too.
GS: Will the maps be taken directly from the campaign, or will they be entirely new areas? What are the major differences between each of them?
MW: The multiplayer maps take place in new areas that don't exist in single-player. We use the same assets, but the map layouts, cover, and objectives are all tailored for the three multiplayer game modes. They're really extensions of the world defined by the single-player campaign. You could imagine turning a corner in a street in Isenstadt and finding yourself in the bank courtyard in one of the multiplayer maps, for example.
Each of the eight maps has a unique setting and objectives. In the map, Facility, the Resistance must break into the facility workshop via a disused rail yard at the rear and disable a prototype veil tank before the Axis can transport it to a safer location. In Rooftops, the Axis have managed to get their hands on a list of Resistance safe houses, and it's a race against time for the Resistance to get to a transmitter tower to radio a warning so their operatives can get clear in time.
GS: Lastly, let's talk about the persistent unlock system. What sort of unlocks and upgrades can we expect to see? Are there rewards gathered from the single-player campaign that carry over into your multiplayer unlocks?
MW: We had two goals for the unlocks. Firstly, they must offer a tangible advantage . The same system in single-player is geared toward letting you upgrade your equipment as you progress, and we wanted to get a flavor of that in the multiplayer part of the game. Secondly, they need to offer the player some choice as to how they play the game, but without making players overpowered if they happen to have tons of unlocks.
A lot of the time, when you have a framework of upgrades or unlocks or whatever, even if you set out to make them balanced--such that the weapon you start with is as good as any you might unlock later--you still end up with the unlocks offering an advantage over the starting weapon simply because they give you a choice. Maybe you're just better with one of the other weapons or maybe certain weapons are more suited to certain maps.
With this in mind, we made all the weapons available from the start. The unlocks for each give you options on what to upgrade and when, but you can only have one unlock per category (weapon, item, veil power, etc.) active at once. This is the main reason the unlocks in multiplayer diverge from the ones found in single-player. In the single-player campaign, the unlocks are intended to stack: You upgrade your gear and become more and more powerful (and you need to be to defeat some of the later challenges, as you might expect).
For multiplayer, we just didn't want new players to be killed in one shot by a veteran with all the weapon unlocks, but we did want players to be able to pick and choose upgrades according to how they want to play the game. Some of the choices you'll have to make are things like power versus accuracy, reload time versus recoil/muzzle kick. If you're a medic, do you want your veil power to heal people faster, or would you prefer it to also heal you a little bit as you're healing other people? Those are the kind of decisions the unlocks introduce to the player.