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Wolfenstein 3D goes free for 20th birthday

Wolfenstein 3D goes free for 20th birthday

It might look basic now, but back in 1992 Wolfenstein 3D was the height of gaming technology.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of seminal first-person shooter Wolfenstein 3D, Bethesda - current owners of original studio id Software - have released the game free of charge as an in-browser title.

Launched for MS-DOS as a shareware title by publisher Apogee back in 1992, Wolfenstein 3D - a re-imagining of top-down Castle Wolfenstein - saw hero William 'B.J.' Blazkowicz attempt to escape from the clutches of the Nazi and assassinate a quad chaingun-wielding mechanised Hitler. Basically, it was a game that valued action over historical accuracy.

Based on the Catacomb 3-D engine developed by company founder John Carmack for an earlier game, the Wolfenstein 3D that was released into the market was a vastly different game to the original design proposal. Taking inspiration from the stealth-'em-up Castle Wolfenstein, Carmack envisioned a game where the player would have to sneak through the environment silently killing guards, hiding bodies and swapping uniforms - a Nazi-filled Hitman, in effect.

Although the complexity of the game was lost in favour of a straight run-and-gun first-person shooter - something which would influence id Software's output for years to come, from hit classic Doom to the recently released Rage - the team was able to include some impressive technology for the era. Ray casting was used to generate a pseudo-3D environment with texture mapping everywhere save for the walls and ceilings, while hand-drawn sprites were created in eight different angles to give the impression of a solid object.

The engine, which was created in response to a tech demo from role-playing giants Looking Glass Studios and Origin Systems showing an impressive but slow game engine, was a remarkable achievement: featuring 256-colour graphics, the game ran well on even the most modest system - providing the display size was scaled down in the in-game options - at a time when 3D acceleration hardware was but a distant dream.

Although id Software would go back to the drawing board for Doom and create an all-new engine with full texture mapping, height level changes and a textured skybox, the Wolfenstein 3D engine would find use in games including Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold, Operation Body Count, and even Rise of the Triad - albeit in much-improved advanced form all-but unrecognisable as having stemmed from the same technology base as Wolfenstein 3D.

The game's basic graphics and simple gameplay may seem primitive now, but the title was a stellar success for the company and helped cement shareware - a distribution method where the first episode of a game would be delivered free as a form of extended demo, with further content requiring paid registration - as a legitimate means of marketing a best-selling title.

It would also influence the output of numerous studios, not least of which is id Software. Prior to Wolfenstein 3D, the company had concentrated on side-scrolling platform titles like Dangerous Dave and Commander Keen. Following the success of Wolfenstein 3D, however, the company would concentrate on first-person shooters including Doom, Quake - which included a true 3D engine with polygon-based objects for the first time in an id game - and all their multifarious sequels and spin-offs.

Although Bethesda has missed the official 20th birthday of the title, which was launched in the US on the 5th of May 1992, the company is keen to celebrate its influence on the industry: players are now able to enjoy the title in their browser as a free-to-play game.

The browser-based implementation includes all the features of the original Wolfenstein 3D, with the levels and episodes of the registered version available for unlimited gaming. The game may still look basic compared to some in-browser games, but it's a good indication of how far technology has progressed in the last two decades.

The game is available on the Bethesda website now, if this little wander down memory lane has filled you with nostalgia - or if you just want to see what passed for a high-tech 3D engine back in the 90s.

20 Comments

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Jester_612 10th May 2012, 19:44 Quote
Tried playing, but felt the onset of motion sickness :(

Turns out it was a good job I had a SNES at the time.
XXAOSICXX 10th May 2012, 20:59 Quote
"it was a game that valued action of historical accuracy"

over?
Ljs 10th May 2012, 21:53 Quote
I bloody loved this game - I would hate to think how many hours of my childhood I pumped into it...
ThirtyQuidKid 10th May 2012, 21:59 Quote
Got to say the classics rock.....
ssj12 10th May 2012, 22:46 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by XXAOSICXX
"it was a game that valued action of historical accuracy"

over?

actual history probably lol
Shirty 10th May 2012, 23:22 Quote
Just played through the first chapter. So many memories, so much win.
2bdetermine 11th May 2012, 01:08 Quote
B1GBUD 11th May 2012, 09:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by 2bdetermine
ROFL, Epic failed! http://www.legitreviews.com/news/13089/

Oh.My.God, what utter tripe?!?
Shirty 11th May 2012, 09:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by 2bdetermine
ROFL, Epic failed! http://www.legitreviews.com/news/13089/

What an utter ****. :(
Spreadie 11th May 2012, 09:59 Quote
Oh, the memories...

The free browser game will save me a trip into the loft, to hunt out the floppy discs. :)
logonui 11th May 2012, 11:04 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by 2bdetermine
ROFL, Epic failed! http://www.legitreviews.com/news/13089/

Epic fail right there! How can people be so clueless!
digitaldunc 11th May 2012, 12:47 Quote
Mmm... old ID *warm fuzzies*
Quote:
Originally Posted by 2bdetermine
ROFL, Epic failed! http://www.legitreviews.com/news/13089/

True, but what's that got to do with Wolfenstein?
Shirty 11th May 2012, 12:50 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitaldunc
True, but what's that got to do with Wolfenstein?

I wondered that after I responded :)
Fizzban 11th May 2012, 21:05 Quote
It's been freeware for years hasn't it?
Pieface 11th May 2012, 21:07 Quote
It's free for iPhone and iPad as well through itunes.
modfx 12th May 2012, 22:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by shirty
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitaldunc
True, but what's that got to do with Wolfenstein?

I wondered that after I responded :)

Me too. Either way, I find it very bizarre that he would say that. Amy Childs or similar, fair enough; your an ignorant, vacuous waste of space. So, whatever you say, I am highly unlikely to have an even lesser opinion of you. But the CEO of Epic? Sure they have been consolifying<---- is that a word? For a while now but really?!
erratum1 13th May 2012, 05:07 Quote
I wonder if in the future Crysis will be a free crappy browser game or arkham city.
Bogomip 13th May 2012, 10:48 Quote
Wow, release of a game nobody will buy for free to promote their company, generous! ;)

Also, enrage at the Bethesta website...

http://www.sweeto.co.uk/random/BethestaEnglish.PNG

North American or International English :<
Gareth Halfacree 13th May 2012, 21:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bogomip
Wow, release of a game nobody will buy for free to promote their company, generous! ;)
I bought it when it came out... Then again as part of the id Anthology collection... Then again on XBLA, for nostalgia's sake...

Looking back on it, I may have a problem.
CrapBag 13th May 2012, 21:31 Quote
I bet the people who paid 78p for it recently are kicking themselves (tounge in cheek)

I don't quite get why people get so excited about playing a very dated game, free or not, I guess it's like classic cars, I don't like them either.
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