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Wolfenstein 3D turned 31 years old this week, and it's still a fun and controversial game

Wolfenstein 3d

You know you feel old when you remember playing a game for the first time as if it were yesterday, and then you get reminded that it was actually released 31 years ago this week. On May 5, 1992, developer id Software released Wolfenstein 3D for Windows DOS PCs, and the gaming world was truly never the same again.

Many have said that this game was not the first true first-person shooter. Indeed, there were many games before Wolfenstein 3D that were played from a first-person perspective. However, the gameplay design and graphics that the core four team members (Adrian Carmack, John Carmack, Tom Hall, and John Romero) from id Software created with this game set the tone for all FPS games going forward. In his book Masters of Doom, writer David Kushner mentions that Kevin Cloud was brought in later as an assistant artist. Also, Bobby Prince came up with the audio effects for the game.

As Romero mentioned in a Twitter post this week, the initial shareware version of the game was developed in just four months. That's pretty remarkable for a game that pretty much changed the entire gaming industry. I remember first encountering it at my community college's computer lab and being utterly blown away at how "realistic" it looked. I felt at the time I was really in these corridors and killing Nazis.

31 years later, Wolfenstein 3D may not look as photo-realistic as, for example, the recent trailer for the game Unrecord. However, it still is a ton of fun to play. Part of that is the fast action generated by John Carmack's game engine and the level designs from John Romero and Tom Hall. However, the artwork by Adrian Carmack, Kevin Cloud and others is truly a standout. Even with the sprite artwork, the look of the Nazi soldiers and their bosses, and the textures, on the corridors still hold up after all this time.

It's also part of the reason why this game remains a controversial one. The Nazi imagery and violent content are part of the reason why Wolfenstein 3D was banned in Germany for many years. In 2018, the government's rating board finally started lifting some restrictions on Nazi images in games. In 2019, Germany finally lifted its ban on selling Wolfenstein 3D. However, even with its sprite artwork, it's still rated "M" by the US ESRB ratings board.

In the years since the release of the game, there have been a number of Wolfenstein follow-up games that have had various degrees of success, both critically and in sales. The most recent games in the franchise have been made by MachineGames. including Wolfenstein: The New Order, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and Wolfenstein Youngblood. It's been a few years since Youngblood's release in 2019, so perhaps it's time for a new game in the franchise to be revealed in the near future. Perhaps the series should go back to the original World War II setting, instead of the alternate timeline that was the setting for the MachineGames Wolfenstein titles.

In the meantime, you can get the original Wolfenstein 3D on Microsoft's PC Game Pass or by itself for $4.99. It's a little bit hard to believe that when Microsoft bought Bethesda Softworks, it also bought the rights to Wolfenstein 3D. Yes, the company that came up with Windows, Word, and Clippy now controls the rights to one of the most influential games of all time.

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