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Wolfenstein 3D

Wolfenstein 3D (commonly abbreviated to Wolf 3D) is the video game which started the first person shooter genre on the PC. It was created by id Software and published by Apogee on May 5, 1992. The game was inspired by the 1980s Muse Software video games Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein for the Apple II.


In Wolfenstein 3D, the player is a soldier attempting to escape from the eponymous Nazi stronghold; there are many armed guards, as well as attack dogs. The building has a number of hidden passages containing various treasures, food supplies, and medical kits, as well as three different guns and ammunition.

Wolfenstein 3D was originally released as shareware, which allowed it to be copied widely. The shareware release contained 1 episode ("Escape from Wolfenstein"), consisting of 10 missions (levels). The commercial release consisted of 3 episodes including the shareware episode (the new ones being "Operation: Eisenfaust" and "Die, Fuhrer, Die"), and a mission pack called "The Nocturnal Missions" (consisting of "A Dark Secret", "Trail Of The Madman" and "Confrontation") was also available. Like the shareware episode, each commercial episode contained 10 levels, bringing the game to a total of 60 missions.

Each episode had a different boss who had to be killed in the final mission in order to complete the episode. In order to complete an episode, only 9 of the 10 missions needed to be completed; hidden in one of the first eight missions was an entrance to the tenth, secret level. The secret level of the third episode was notable in that it recreated one of the original Pacman levels, complete with ghosts, seen by the player from Pacman's perspective.

A sequel, Spear of Destiny, was also released.

The game was originally released on the PC and then ported to Macintosh computers, Apple IIGS, Super NES, Atari Jaguar and Game Boy Advance. The source code of the game was published by id Software in 1996 under the terms of the GPL, and some enhanced ports have been developed.

Porting Issues

Due to its use of Nazi symbols, the PC version of the game was confiscated in Germany in 1994, following a verdict by the Amtsgericht München on January 25, 1994 (Az. 2Gs167/94); the use of these symbols is a federal offense in Germany unless certain circumstances apply (see articles 86 StGB and 86a StGB). Similarly, the Atari version was confiscated following a verdict by the Amtsgericht Berlin Tiergarten on December 7, 1994 (Az. 351Gs5509/94). (Also see [1]).

Due to concerns from Nintendo, the Super NES version was modified to not include any Nazi symbols or references; furthermore, the attack dogs in the game were replaced by giant rats, and blood was replaced with sweat to make the game seem less violent.

Technical Implementation

To render the walls in pseudo-3D, the game used ray casting, a special case of ray tracing. This technique sent out one ray for each column of pixels, checked if it intersected a wall, and drew textures on the screen accordingly, creating a depth buffer against which to clip the scaled sprites that represented enemies, powerups, and props.

Other games using the Wolfenstein 3D engine were also produced, including, for example, Blake Stone and Corridor 7.


Wolfenstein 3D is generally credited as being responsible for the first-person shooter craze that continues to this day. Released at the height of the 'Interactive CD-ROM' era, there were surprisingly few clones until DOOM came around, the most notable being Rise of the Triad and latterly Duke Nukem 3D. Many of the lesser titles (such as Blake Stone above, Catacomb 3-D and Shadowcaster, an RPG) were published by Wolfenstein's publisher, Apogee, and were distributed via the same shareware strategy. Though some of these games were superior to Wolfenstein in some ways, none came close to garnering the same attention or market share as Wolfenstein.

The game success ensured that id Software quickly became a high profile developer. Its development efforts were closely watched by fans of the game, and when it released its next series, DOOM, it was guaranteed a receptive audience. Rather than rely on the technology that made Wolfenstein a hit, however, Doom re-invigorated and reinvented the FPS genre with technology that surpassed that of Wolfenstein. Doom's technology outdid that of Wolfenstein by providing multiple levels of detail and characters that were more lifelike than previously seen. Id again later reinvented the FPS genre with its release of Quake with true 3D.

A new first-person shooter, Return To Castle Wolfenstein, a loose sequel (though with the advance of technology the graphics and gameplay are vastly different), was released in 2001. It used the Quake III Arena graphics engine.

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