History of Wolfenstein: Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond

Packshot © MUSE Software

Few game franchises have as groundbreaking and oddball of a past as the Wolfenstein series. What started as the very first stealth game, filled with single screen 2D missions, was "borrowed" by another developer and transformed into a new series that is credited with innovating first-person shooters, becoming the franchise that we now know today. Oddly, every entry into the franchise since Wolfenstein 3D is completely unofficial.

While the two series of games have completely different mechanics and style, the one thing they both have in common is the goal of killing Nazis.

1981 to 1984 - Series 1: The First Stealth Games

In the 70s the computer market began expanding into homes, starting with build-your-own kits for hobbyists, into pre-packaged systems. As home computer customers grew, so did the demand for software, and more importantly, games. So in 1978 Ed Zaron opened MUSE Software and hired its very first employee, programmer Silas Warner.

Warner, a former football tackle who stood at a towering 6 ft. 9 and weighed upwards of 300 pounds, was a brilliant programmer and within 3 years put MUSE on the map by creating the very first voice synthesizing technology for the Apple II computer, called "The Voice", then programmed and designed the very first stealth game, Castle Wolfenstein.

One of the main functions of Castle Wolfenstein was as an outlet to illustrate the functionality of Warner's other creation, "The Voice" sound engine for the Apple II, making it the first computer game to play recorded dialogue when triggered by a gameplay event, but that was just one of the technical achievements of the game. The major impact Castle had on the world of gaming is introducing a brand new style of gameplay that remains incredibly popular today - Stealth.

Before Assassin's Creed and Metal Gear secretly snuck onto the scene, Castle Wolfenstein had players creeping through corridors of a castle as a World War 2 US Military Private, escaping from a secret SS Headquarters. With a limited about of ammo, the mission was for players to slip out of their cell undetected, find the Nazi's top-secret plans hidden in one of the many chests throughout the castle, and escape without getting captured. If a guard or SS Soldier spots you they yell out "Halt" and the fight is on.

While the primary goal is to escape undetected with the enemy plans in hand, Castle features a surprising amount of deep gameplay. There are two ways to defeat enemies, first is by shooting them with a gun you find on a dead body early on in the game, the other is by blowing them with grenades. Both types of weaponry are in limited quantities, but you can find additional supplies by searching the bodies of fallen enemies and by searching chests. Items include bulletproof vests, extra ammo, and keys.

Players can also snatch SS uniforms off dead enemies and sneak around the castle in disguise. This strategy works when it comes to basic enemy guards, but when faced with an SS Soldier they will see through your ruse. SS Soldier's are far more advanced than the basic guard. In addition to being more intelligent, they are tougher to beat in combat and can move from screen to screen as they pursue the player. Basic guards are easily fooled and snuck up upon, plus cannot leave their single-screen post.

Each screen serves as a stationary room in the castle, with walls, searchable chests, doors to other rooms and guards (of course). Also along your path, you can find food and alcohol. While food does not replenish your health or seem to have any effect on the game aside from setting off more voice triggers, alcohol causes the player to get drunk, temporarily causing shaky gunfire and grenade tosses.

Each time players successfully escape with the Nazi war plans they progress in rank and can replay at a harder difficulty. Each promotion increases the difficulty, but the gameplay remains the same. Ranks begin at Private and progress to Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Colonel, General, and Field Marshal.

Castle Wolfenstein

Castle Wolfenstein was a huge hit for MUSE who two years later ported it to the PC, Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit family of computers. Then in 1984, they released the long-awaited sequel, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein.

For the most part, the basic gameplay, graphics, and mechanics are similar to the original, Silas Warner's sequel to Castle Wolfenstein has players seeking the ultimate goal; infiltrating a secret Nazi bunker to assassinate Hitler.

Like many sequels, some of the shortcomings are adjusted and new features added. While Castle required players to only defeat enemies via limited quantities of bullets or grenades, Beyond replaces the grenades with a dagger. This allows combat to be combined with the stealth-based mechanics by letting the player silently kill guards and SS Soldiers without drawing attention.

Another feature added are the guards and soldiers ability to sound alarms, which will call upon enemy backup support. While players can still move around in disguise, the game includes a pass system where SS Soldiers may ask to see your identification papers. This allows them to see through your disguise and call the alarm for backup.

Beyond initially launched for the Apple II and Commodore 64, then ported to the PC and Atari 8-bit family of computers.

While Beyond Castle Wolfenstein was a hit, it wasn't enough to save MUSE from bankruptcy two years after its release. The company and all of its properties were sold to Variety Discounters, then in 1988, Variety Discounters sold off all ownership of MUSE to Jack L. Vogt who currently owns all of the rights to all of their titles, including Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein.

The series creator, Silas Warner, lost his position at MUSE when the company went under the first go round and moved onto MicroProse Software, Inc. where he worked on titles such as Airborn Ranger and Red Storm Rising. His final game, The Terminator for the SEGA CD, was released by Virgin Games, Inc. in 1993.