The 10 Most Influential Retro Games: Wolfenstein 3D
Posted on Monday, December 10 @ 10:00:00 Eastern by KevinS"The 10 Most Influential Retro Games" is a feature series that will run daily for the next two weeks, between 12/3/12 to 12/14/12 on weekdays, with each day highlighting one of our ten picks in an unranked order. Follow our tagged page for Most Influential Retro Games to view the entire list. ~Ed. Nick
id Software was a group started by a small group of programmers with the intent to make a game they themselves wanted to play. There weren't too many games designed for older gamers—one being Custer's Revenge, and that's a bit too far for most—so the company wanted to create something just for themselves. And they brought new, rarely-seen technology to do it, which really put them over the top.
In the early days of what we can call the "shooter" genre, being the "shooter" meant being a sprite on the screen; titles like the original Duke Nukem and id's own Commander Keen stood as examples of how characters with guns could dominate the landscape. There were very few games in three dimensions at all, let alone letting a player step directly into the shoes of the protagonist to wipe out the bad guys. That is, until id came along to stop an android Hitler.
Wolfenstein 3D was simple enough: From a first-person perspective, the goal was to shoot Nazi soldiers, dogs, and military experiments (like android Hitler) to escape from the German strongholds. Everything necessary is scattered around the environments: keys, weapons, ammunition, big guys with bigger weapons, even gold to make war trophies out of at auction when a player makes it out alive. It's wonderful "family-friendly" fun, ain't it? Who doesn't enjoy a good Nazi slaying?
New technology was what put it over the top, and in two different areas, the obvious one being that it's a game in three dimensions. There hadn't been many 3D games before (the first being I, Robot back in the early 1980s from Atari) and the ones that had come out didn't reach a particularly wide audience. Wolfenstein 3D changed that by offering an easy-to-learn, explorative experience from the controlled character's point of view. You weren't just bouncing a sprite around the environment; you were the sprite. You were the character in a direct way that hadn't really been seen before, and that made it exciting. (Plus: Slaying Nazis!)
The second area was an even bigger step forward. The company that published the game, Apogee, was the first publisher that seriously took advantage of the burgeoning Internet. Before the World Wide Web took shape, Apogee was offering what came to be known as the "Apogee Model," namely giving players a demo level or two to whet their appetite and decide if they wanted to purchase the full game. It was a service started over BBS (bulletin board systems) with programs nicknamed "wares" years before, when the idea of "shareware" programs (both original and pirated content) came to pass.
But Apogee had adapted it for their own business use, and Wolfenstein 3D took full advantage of the thought to sell over 100,000 copies by the end of 1993 (and still sells today). Without doing so, we might still have digital downloads and demos, but Apogee was ahead of the curve with their presentation.
The company continued the push the first few Doom titles and Duke Nukem 3D, and what was originally thought to be a niche service (with checks mailed to receive discs of the full games) has turned into a way of life across the Internet. And it all started with a little grudge against the Führer… and the legend of his head being saved for future use... as a mega-powered robot.
*sigh* God, I love this industry.