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Wolfenstein 3D

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Wolfenstein 3D, often known as Wolf3D, was a shareware computer game created by id Software and originally released for the PC by Apogee in 1992, back in the days when you had to tell a game whether your computer had a Sound Blaster music card. It is credited with popularising both the PC as a games platform and the genre of computer games known as 'First Person Shooter', or FPS.

It's simple game-play gave instant playability, while its use of secret areas and end-of-level percentage ratings encouraged players to return and aim for perfection. A sequel, Spear of Destiny(also known as Spear or SoD) was released the same year.

It is probably fair to say that Wolfenstein 3D was not a popular game with the German authorities1, animal welfare campaigners or those opposed to mindless violence in video games. It was, however, hugely popular among gamers, and led to the creation of the even-more-popular 'Doom' series.


The player plays a captured World War Two allied spy, Captain William 'BJ' Blazkowicz. The game begins with you as the player in a prison cell in the dungeons of Castle Wolfenstein with a knife, a gun, a few rounds of ammunition and the dead body of the guard you have just killed. The aim of the first episode is simply to escape from the castle.

Later episodes have (marginally) more complex plots. These usually revolve around assassinating an individual or acquiring some documents; in all cases, they are achieved by killing an end-of-episode boss. Episode three features the somewhat historically fictional aim of killing Hitler; episodes four to six are prequels, as is SoD.

Spear of Destiny features a new game object as the target. In a plot twist, when the player recovers the eponymous religious artefact, he is transported to Hell and must fight specters [sic] and a spider-like demon to escape, a scenario that would become familiar to gamers.


There are several types of walls, ranging from stonework and brick through to wood or metal and a disturbing mouldy purple that is often associated with mutants. Walls frequently have decorations, usually portraits of Hitler or iron crosses. Rooms may be filled with green metal barrels, pillars, wells or skeletons in cages. None of these have any game effect other than to block movement.

On a small number of levels, green vines hang down across narrow corridors. These are more of a nuisance, as they block the player's view (without, of course, hampering enemy fire).

Bad Guys

Regular Bad Guys

Dogs are the easiest villains to kill. They are unarmed and require only a single bullet or knife-thrust to kill.

The most common opponents early on in the game are brown-garbed Wehrmacht guards. They can be killed with two or three bullets, and have a variety of death-cries, ranging from a high-pitched Aii to a rather geriatric moan. Even so, the amount of damage they do increases dramatically as they get closer to the player, and if one blindsides BJ they can be lethal.

The SS guards wear blue uniforms. Although they are slow - slow enough to stab to death, if you can get close enough - they carry machine-guns, and so can do a lot of damage at long range. Fortunately, the first one killed will thoughtfully drop such a gun for BJ to liberate.

With their white uniforms, officers are fast enough to be a significant challenge. An unexpected yell of Speon! from somewhere off-screen can panic even the most experienced player, as it usually means you have just seconds before being shot at close range.

Officers appear in episode three onwards, including as Hitler's bodyguards.

Created from Dr Schabs's chemical experiments, mutants can make very nasty opponents. They have slashing knives in each hand and a gun protruding from their chest (which is a heck of a mutation), allowing them to strike quickly and for high damage both at a distance and up close. Perhaps most terrifying of all, is that they are totally silent and very fast. Unlike their mentally-challenged Aryan compatriots, they will not give away the fact they have seen the player by calling out. Many an allied spy has died without even realising he has been seen.

Mutants appear from episode two in Wolf3D, and throughout the second half of Spear of Destiny. They can take quite a lengthy burst of fire to kill.

There are several types of ghosts in the game.

The first are spectral versions of Hitler. They float around in swastika-laden robes and take many hits to kill, almost counting as boss monsters in their own right. They are found only on episode three level nine. They fire streams of fireballs, which fortunately move very slowly.

A more 'jokey' type of ghost features in one of the secret levels, which is laid out as a Pac Man maze. These ghosts cannot be killed and resemble the ghosts from Pac Man.


No level-based, shoot-'em-up would be complete without an end-of-level boss monster. Unlike the smaller bad guys, these have no graphics representing their backs or sides, so cannot be sneaked up on.

Hans Grosse is the earliest and easiest-to-kill of the bosses in the game. Upon dying he drops a key, which opens the exit from the level. Like many of the boss monsters, he appears to have been excused the usually strict Nazi rules on uniforms.

The white-coated Dr Schabbs throws hypodermic syringes filled with a noxious-looking green substance. Although they cause a lot of damage, they are quite easy to avoid. Should you die from them, your on-screen face turns a zombie-like grey colour. Killing Schabbs brings an end to episode two.

Hitler wears a mechanised combat suit with four mounted chain guns. This is not believed to be based on actual historical records. Once the suit is destroyed, Hitler will emerge unscathed with a chain gun under each arm. He is one of the fastest-moving opponents in the game, and the final villain from the original trilogy.

Resplendent in his white officer's uniform and armed with a rocket-launcher which makes his attacks easy to avoid, Otto Giftmacher is dangerous only if you run out of ammo or are very low on health.

Gretel Grosse is the only female character in the entire game and is Hans' sister. Not surprisingly, she is out for revenge (for Trans, from Spear of Destiny - she appears in a prequel to the episode in which Hans appears. It is to be hoped that you're following this, these plot details are important).

The final boss monster in Wolfenstein 3D, General Fettgesicht, is armed with both a chain gun and a rocket-launcher.



There are four weapons in the game. The player starts with the knife and pistol. It is almost impossible to kill anything other than dogs and guards - or single SS troops or officers - without acquiring the machine gun which fires much faster than the pistol.

The largest weapon in the game is the chain gun. This fires faster still, in salvos of at least two bullets (so it is occasionally necessary to switch back to the machine gun to save ammo). It is essential to have the chain gun before facing any of the bosses, not least because most of them are armed with chain guns themselves. Upon picking up a chain gun, BJ's face breaks into a huge cheesy grin. The chain gun has become emblematic of id's games, reappearing in Doom and in later games.

Other Pickups

German troops drop clips of ammo when killed. You can only carry 99 rounds; any excess disappears.

If you are very low on health (10% or less), moving over a pool of blood results in a slurping sound and a 1% increase in your health.

Finding dog food gives you a 4% health boost, and a meal a 10% boost. Medi-packs give 25% health. There are also spheres giving 100% health, some ammo and an extra life. In all cases, 100% health is your maximum.

Scattered around the castle are items of treasure. These take the form of golden goblets, crosses, crowns or chests. You are scored on what percentage of the treasure you recover on each level.

Finally, keys are found on some levels, usually under heavy guard, to allow locked doors to be opened.


Some sections of wall can be moved by pressing them. These usually reveal a previously-hidden area stocked with health, ammo and/or treasure, although occasionally they contain bad guys as well. The ammo and health revealed in these areas can often make the difference between a level being impossibly hard and merely fiendishly difficult.

These movable sections of wall cannot pass through other sections of wall, and can only be pushed directly away from the player. Other than that there is no pre-set direction in which they have to move, so some levels have mazes where the blocks must be pushed in the correct order and direction to get through. Frustratingly, secrets can be blocked by a guard walking behind them as they move, permanently preventing access to that area.

Each block pushed counts as one secret; at the end of each level, the player is told what percentage of the secrets they have found. In each episode, one level is a secret level that can only be accessed by an alternative exit to one of the standard levels, hidden in a secret area.

Finding all the secrets on a level is a major challenge that can keep players coming back time after time. Usually, their location is hinted at in some way by the game designers; a decorated piece of wall, a well-guarded but empty room or a niche, are all likely spots, as are the insides of other secret areas. On occasions, the contents of a secret area can be glimpsed between pillars. On a few occasions, it is impossible to complete a level without finding a secret, although on such occasions they are always very obvious.

One level contains a maze of secret blocks that can lead to several possible outcomes, including a boss monster or an extra life. It was originally intended to hide a secret message to players in this area as part of a competition and the message was retained in early versions of the game even though the competition was never instigated.

Game Mechanics

The game is divided into episodes, each of which contains nine levels and one secret level. Each level is the same size and made up of uniformly-sized cubic blocks. Although the player can move at any angle, walls can only be at 90 degrees to each other and must be a whole number of blocks long. The levels are divided up by doors, most of which can be opened freely, but some of which require a key to open. Each level can have up to two keys - silver and gold, which must be found before locked doors can be opened. Occasionally a key is carried by a boss, who must be defeated before the locked doors can be opened.

Limited 3D is used. Although each level looks three dimensional, it is in fact flat. There are no slopes or steps, and it is not possible to look up or down. All levels (except the end-of-episode levels) end with the player reaching a lift and flicking the switch to move to the next level. Sound effects are at a single volume, making it impossible to tell whether a door is opening immediately behind the player or on the other side of the level (which has led to some nervous moments for most players).

Each enemy is represented by sprites showing it at a small range of angles, usually front, side and rear. When they die, they leave corpses which are pictured from a single angle. This can sometimes look strange on-screen as rows of identically-posed and overlapping bodies appear to rotate as the player circles them. Furthermore, the game engine can only handle a certain number of sprites at once, so on a few levels that exceed this limit soldiers seem to disappear and reappear at random.

A bar at the bottom of the screen keeps track of BJ's health and ammo. It also features an animated image of BJ's face, which becomes increasingly bloodied as his health drops.

The player starts with three lives. Upon losing a life, you restart the level without any collected weapons, which can make later levels difficult or impossible - the in-game save and reload feature makes lives largely redundant. Extra lives are earned by getting 40,000 points or collecting power-ups. It was originally intended that a competition was held for the most points scored - however, this was never launched.

There are four difficulty levels ranging from, 'Don't hurt me' (with a picture of BJ dressed as a baby) to 'I am death incarnate' (where BJ has glowing red eyes and a psychotic expression). No gamer with any self-respect would play the game on anything less than 'death incarnate'.

One interesting feature of the game is that guards are not aware of BJ's presence until they see him or hear a gunshot. Some of them stand still, others patrol along set routes. Not all guards react to gunshots - in some cases, Nazis will step over dead bodies or watch their colleagues gunned down in front of them and still not realise there is an intruder present. This gives the player the chance to sneak up behind some guards with the knife, but is partly balanced out by the guards' mysterious ability to fire through each other.

You score points by killing opponents and collecting treasure. Bonuses are awarded for finding all the treasure or secrets on a level, or for killing all the opponents.

Standard Tactics


All enemies have a reaction time and will approach the player by the most direct route. It is therefore possible to run straight through a door or around a corner and then run backwards out of the room again. If any enemies have seen the player they will give their warning cry, alerting the player to their presence. The player can then wait for them to approach - see 'slam-and-wait' below.

This does not work well with mutants, which are silent.


When being attacked by a large group of enemies or a boss, a good tactic is to retreat around a corner and use the strafe function to pop out, unleash a volley of bullets and then strafe back behind the corner. Most enemies will not be able to react quickly enough to return fire. With bosses, it may be necessary to ensure that you have a line of retreat, as they may be able to survive long enough to close in on the player. With groups, it may be possible to wait for them to come around the corner, one at a time.


All doors in the game open by sliding sideways into the walls. Although they cannot be passed through until they are fully open, they can be fired through as soon as they start to open. It is therefore possible to retreat behind a door and wait for an enemy to open it. As soon as it starts to move, a volley of bullets can be fired through it, killing the opponent before he can return fire.

Mutants are quick enough to fire through a door before most players can react. This tactic can also backfire miserably if there are several exits from the room, as the player stands patiently facing the door while Nazi hordes creep up from another direction.


The original game consisted of three episodes, each of nine levels plus one hidden bonus level. The levels were called Escape from Wolfenstein, Operation: Eisenfaust and Die, Fuhrer, Die. The first level is unusual in that it ends with a shot of BJ himself running to freedom; the other two feature 'DeathCam' replays of the demise of the boss.

A later expansion pack included a further three episodes, known as the Nocturnal Episodes2, which formed a prequel. (Having killed off Hitler at the end of episode three, a sequel was hardly an option even in Wolfenstein's not-exactly-historical world.) These were A Dark Secret, Trail of the Madman and Confrontation.

All of the levels are set within castles - the game mechanics virtually demand that. Some of the levels feature rooms laid out as swastika, although this is not obvious from within the game itself. One of the major innovations of the game was that it was possible to edit levels or create new levels using a relatively simple user interface, available separately. This added greatly to the long-term appeal of the game.


Wolfenstein was also notable for its music. In the years when having a sound card was something unusual for a PC, to have quite listenable music as part of a game was a huge plus. The martial music used in the game also included sections of various national anthems, the Nazi Party anthem (the Horst-Wessel-Lied) and a coded Morse message3.

Spear of Destiny

A sequel to Wolfenstein 3D, Spear of Destiny, was released later in 1992. This was essentially a collection of new levels, with only minor cosmetic changes to the game engine. It consisted of a single episode of 19 levels, plus two secret levels. Two further episodes for Spear of Destiny were released, sometimes called the 'lost episodes' due to their limited availability. Their official titles were Return to Danger and The Ultimate Challenge, and they feature slightly different enemies.

There are several new items in Spear of Destiny. These include boxes of 25 rounds of ammo. Finally, there is the spear itself. Collecting this moves you to the final, hidden level.

The final level of Spear of Destiny features new monsters called specters, which cause damage on contact. They cannot be killed, but disappear momentarily when shot, leaving only their glowing eyes behind.

There is also a completely new set of boss monsters. The third and final member of the Grosse family is Hans and Gretel's brother Trans Grosse. He appears on level five, wearing a bizarre green spiky suit of armour, and drops a gold key when he dies.

Barnacle Wilhelm appears on level ten. Armed with a high-damage but slow-firing pistol and a rocket launcher, it can be quite a challenge to 'persuade' him to drop his gold key. Wilhelm is another of the boss monsters who appears to have turned up in mufti (civilian attire).

Spear of Destiny ends with a run of three boss monsters in just four levels. The √úbermutant is a larger, four-armed version of the 'standard' mutant, with a chain gun mounted in its chest. It is among the most challenging of the boss monsters to kill in terms of the number of bullets required.

Featuring on level 18, the Death Knight is easily the hardest monster to kill in the game. He wears black armour and is surrounded by officers, mutants and SS guards, meaning that your only chance of survival is a mad dash to get out of the room before you are shot down. You are likely to hear his cry of Todt ist mein leben quite a few times as you restart the level again and again before you kill him to obtain the gold key that gives access to the spear itself.

Picking up the spear transports you to the final, secret level, (although there is no on-screen indication that the level has changed). Upon leaving, you get to fight a demonic red spidery thing called the Angel of Death, which lobs green fireballs at you. Although tough, this fight is nowhere near as hard as the √úbermutant or Death Knight. The Angel of Death is the only English-speaking monster in the game. Upon killing it, it announces You may wield the spear, and the player is treated to a picture of BJ collapsing exhausted to the ground, chain gun glowing red-hot.

Other Related Games

Wolfenstein is part of an extensive family tree of games.


id took inspiration for parts of Wolf 3D from several other games, both their own earlier efforts and those by third parties. The title and basic scenario of the game - but little else - were taken from an obscure console sneak-around called Castle Wolfenstein.

The instruction manual makes it clear that the character in Wolfenstein 3D is the grandfather of the character in Apogee's previous series of games, Commander Keen.

Id Software developed the basic game engine powering Wolfenstein 3D from their earlier FPS game, The Catacomb Abyss. This was a much simpler game, in which the player was a wizard killing zombies with fireballs. It lacked limited ammo or different weapons, and secret areas were revealed by shooting walls.


One of the games more loosely based on Wolf 3D was - Wolf 3D! The Mac version was significantly different to the PC version, with better resolution, different level layouts and more weapons, including a rocket launcher and a flame-thrower. Another 'port' with significant differences was the SNES version, which had all Nazi imagery removed (and so was legal in Germany).

Almost since the day the game was released, dedicated geeks have been trying to improve upon it by re-creating it in superior game engines. The most notable example is WolfenDoom, a project to transfer all of the levels from Wolfenstein into Doom.

id licensed the basic game engine to several other companies, so there was a whole slew of other games using the Wolfenstein engine with a very similar feel, including Blake Stone, Rise of the Triad and a single Christian game, the universally-derided Noah's Ark 3D.


The Wolfenstein 3D engine was substantially updated in 1993 for another ground-breaking and controversial game, Doom.

Also written by Id Software, this featured slightly more realistic (although still not true) 3D, a greater array of weapons and ammo types, varied lighting and a sci-fi setting. It also featured death match or team-play games across a network.

The same engine was used in Doom II in 1994 (which also featured reworkings of Wolfenstein levels). id have continued to expand upon their basic engine, and have also licensed other games to use it, leading to a glut of cod-satanic horrors being released. The engine would go through several further generations in such game series as Quake, Half-Life and Doom III.

In 2001, an official sequel - or remake - called Return to Castle Wolfenstein was released. This featured true 3D, outdoor locations and a more complex plot. Several of the levels emphasised stealth rather than combat, and it was generally of a standard reflecting the near-decade of development that computer games had undergone.

Cheat Codes

Cheating is a complex process in Wolfenstein.

Firstly, you have to start the game with the '-goobers' command line parameter (or -debugmode in Spear of Destiny). This is an archaic term meaning that you have to type '-goobers' after the programme name when launching it from DOS. This makes things difficult for gamers trying to play under Windows!

Then press left shift, alt and backspace together. Finally, holding down tab and pressing a letter key gives various effects:

BChanges the colour of the border around the screen
CDisplays the number of items, doors and enemies on the level
EMove one level ahead
FDisplays your co-ordinates within the level
GToggles god mode (invincibility)
HDecreases your health (not the most useful option for most players)
IItems - extra guns and ammo
MDisplays memory usage
SSlows down enemies
TView graphics and play sounds
VSpeed the game up
WLevel select

If all that is too complex, you can simply press I, L and M together to get full health and ammo plus both keys and all the guns, or Tab, A and B for a message from id.

Although not technically cheating, it is possible to set 'strafe' and 'shoot' to the same key. This enables rapid searching for secrets and allows the player to open doors and sidestep aside without triggering any enemies beyond.

A 'jukebox' function can be accessed by holding down 'm' while the game loads - although on modern computers, you need to be pretty darn quick!

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1It remains illegal in Germany, banned because it contains Nazi imagery - which is ironic, given the premise of the game.2Because they do not all take place after dark, and because some of the original trilogy did.3TO BIG BAD WOLF DE LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD ELIMINATE HITLER IMPERATIVE COMPLETE MISSION WITHIN 24 HOURS OUT.

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