Monday, May 14, 2012

Wolfenstein 3D

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the makers of the classic first person shooter video game Wolfenstein 3D re-released a web browser version of the game last week. I played quite a bit of this game back in "the day". This brought back some memories.

From Wikipedia: "[Wolfenstein 3D] is widely regarded by critics and game journalists as having helped popularize the [first person shooter] genre on the PC, and having established the basic run-and-gun archetype for subsequent FPS games." But perhaps more importantly - and the main reason I even played the game at all back in "the day" - the first 10 levels of the game were released as "shareware", which meant that we could download and play it for free. Over and over and over again. And that we did.

Shareware is kind of a dated term, isn't it? It used to be how every independent software company would release a game. They'd give you a portion of the game in full, much more so than what we would consider to be a "demo" these days. And throughout the game, they would bug you constantly. The shareware model was, "You can play this a few times for free, but if you play it a lot, you should probably pay for it. Shareware is not freeware, you know. Buy the full game! It's the right thing to do." Halloween Harry was another shareware game I remember playing and not paying for back in the day. Maybe that's why shareware isn't really a thing anymore. Nobody ever really paid.

So, anyway...in Wolfenstein 3D, you run around and shoot Nazis. Fun!

(pic from Wikipedia)

How many times did my brother and I play through the same 10 levels? Oh, I don't know...but it was a lot. No, we never did buy the full version. But we did buy the official game hint book (I think it was $10?) so that we could get the 100% kill, 100% secret, and 100% treasure bonuses in every level.



Yes, I still have the hint book. But I should point out that I found the secret level in Episode One on my own, before we had the hint book.

At some point, we also found a downloadable level editor online that allowed us to design and play our own Wolfenstein levels. Now that was awesome. 200 Nazis in one room? Sure! Although I soon discovered that there was a limit to how many people the game could draw on screen at one time. Getting shot at by invisible Nazis can be kind of terrifying.

The simplicity of Wolfenstein was perhaps the best thing about it. See a bad guy? Shoot him! The most complicated things were the locked doors, and finding the keys to unlock them. But by today's standards, that's still a pretty simple task. Today's first person shooters are way too complicated for me to be able to enjoy them, which is the main reason why I don't play them anymore. Too many controls, too many places to go, too many places to do...and, most importantly, I suck at them now. As soon as you started having to look up and down to shoot things rather than strictly side to side as in Wolfenstein, my ability to accurately shoot the other guy went down the crapper. It's like if you're a kid playing Little League baseball (which I never did). Up to a certain age, all you see is fastballs, and you may be able to hit a fastball really well, prompting you to think, "Hey, I'm like, a totally awesome baseball player! Look out, major leagues!" But what happens when the kids are old enough to start throwing curveballs? I'm sure many kids' major league dreams ended as soon as they started having to face curveballs and sliders.

Besides, I'm sure today's first person shooters (e.g. Call of Duty) are far too complicated for someone to be able to crack the code and release a level editor, for example. Some of these games might have level creators built into the game, but creating a level on your own on par with an actual level of the game, has to be 100 times harder now than it was back then. (Note: I've never played any of the "Call of Duty" games. I think the last first person shooter I played at length was one of the Unreal Tournament games, and that was like 9 years ago or something. My experience playing Unreal online didn't go too well. I was really really bad.)

Games have changed a lot since then. Video games like this used to have "scores". Eventually, game designers realized that people don't care about their score so much as they care about, you know, finishing the game. So, they just stopped keeping score. And eventually, they started giving you unlimited lives, too. We were all giving ourselves unlimited lives to begin with, thanks to the magic of "saved games". Wolfenstein allowed you to save your game, and restart it later, at any point. So why not just save us the trouble and give us unlimited lives? The trend towards scoreless games with unlimited lives isn't limited to first person shooters, either. For example, the classic Super Mario Brothers games keep score and gave you a finite number of lives.

(Side comment: Games stopped keeping score a long time ago. I probably could have written this blog post 10 years ago, actually. First person shooters were already getting kind of complicated by then. I'm so old.)

At some point, I did find the full version of Wolfenstein online (legal or not - I don't remember), allowing me to play episodes two through six (finally) and actually use the rest of the hint book (finally). The browser version has episodes one through three (not four through six), and at the end of episode three, you get to kill Hitler. Fun! Bet you don't get to do that in Call of Duty. (Actually, for all I know, you might. I have no idea. Never played.)