I usually put into context how long I’ve been a gamer by saying that I was anticipating the release of Wolfenstein 3D in 1993 and was already a fan of the franchise. Huh? You didn’t realize there was a Castle Wolfenstein franchise before the release of the seminal first person shooter (FPS)? And wait, how does this all relate to the ‘modern gaming’ promised in the title? Don’t worry … I’ll get there!
Castle Wolfenstein started its life as one of those ‘two guys in a garage’ projects, except that it was only one guy, and he worked for a small software company. Silas Warner created a classic top-down stealth-action-shooter game for the Apple ][ computer, which spent a disproportionate amount of time in one of the 5.25" floppy drives in my college dorm room.
Years later, when college and the Apple ][ were distant memories, I picked up a computer gaming magazine in an airport - while traveling on business somewhere - and read about the upcoming release of a new game based on the Apple ][ classic. Back in those days, magazines provided the most timely and reliable information sources for such things. My kids chuckle at this concept.
By the time the game came out I was at a new job (one without much travel fortunately), and had a nice powerful computer, so I could actually run the game. Some things never change. Gone was the stealth and pacing, replaced by frantic action and a constant stream of brutal enemies! It was a game that immediately captured my imagination – and changed the course of the gaming industry forever.
It is interesting … while I consider myself mainly a PC gamer, I have had handheld gaming devices for a very long time. My parents got me an original GameBoy when they were first released to use on those business trips (if you think people look at you funny with a DS or PSP now, imagine being in a shirt and tie with a GameBoy playing Castlevania twenty years ago!). Then there was the HP200LX, Newton, Palms, Psions, WindowsCE, Pocket PC’s, GBA’s, DS, PSP, cell phones, and on and on and on.
But what’s interesting was that I would always have two goals when using those devices for portable gaming – to discover games unlike those I was already playing, and to recapture the glory of my favorite PC games ‘on the go’. For example, I really enjoyed the PC games ‘Baldur’s Gate’ and ‘Neverwinter Nights’, and so I tried to find games for my GBA that would scratch that itch … and I would invariably fail, with ‘Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance’ coming closest. And since I remained a solid FPS fan, I tried every new portable FPS – of course I had Doom and Quake on my Pocket PC’s (and still have Call of Duty 2 on my Dell Axim x51v!), but I also bought Doom, Serious Sam and Duke Nukem for my GBA … and they were all pretty awful.
Current generation handheld gaming devices such as the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP have done a much better job of delivering role-playing and shooter experiences on par with some of the better games in recent years, which has made me very happy and my wallet very sad. But being the gadget addict I am, I couldn’t ignore the new kid in town – the new toy with the hardware chops to compete with the PSP and the input capabilities to match the innovations coming to the Nintendo DS.
I’m talking of course about the Apple iPod Touch (or iPhone, but in my case it is the Touch). Ah … I’m finally getting to the point – this week the App store is featuring the release of Wolfenstein 3D from id software for the iPhone. I’ve been replaying this classic and wanted to give my impressions.
(I’m sure by now many of you were quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail and shouting ‘GET ON WITH IT’!)
For those who aren’t familiar with the original, it tells the story of a soldier names B. J. Blazkowicz’s attempt to escape from the prison complex of Castle Wolfenstein and bring down the Nazi regime. In what became the typical game structure until Half-Life, you work your way through the castle until you meet up with the final boss, which ended ‘Episode One’. Then you moved on to deal with the undead mutants of Operation Eisenfaust – and another end boss. And so on. The game features very nice level design and is balanced well to keep things challenging without making it overly frustrating.
‘Wolfenstein 3D Classic’, as it is called on the iTunes App Store, was developed by id software and much of the work was done by game-developer legend John Carmack. It is interesting to note that his sources for the game were not just the original game – since id released Wolf 3D as ‘open source’ several years ago folks have worked on optimizing the original code base. Carmark chose one of those, called Wolf 3D Redux, as a primary source to work from.
Wolf 3D is a great choice for a shooter for the iPhone as the original game was essentially two-dimensional: you never had to worry about looking up or down, everything was straight ahead. This version offers a simplified interface (i.e. no manual weapon switching), a map, auto-saving, and the ability to change the control scheme. The default uses touch controls, but you can alter those or switch to tilt-based movement, but I never seem to do well with those so I stuck with the defaults.
The game runs perfectly well without a crash – though it feels slow at times like the framerate is dragging movement speed down. Everything is there – from secret rooms to Easter Eggs and more – and it is every bit as fun now as it was 16 years ago, and also fun for a new generation. My kids have enjoyed fiddling with it – even though my wife still hates anything and everything about the shooter genre!
One interesting thing – there has been recent news regarding protests about killing dogs in Call of Duty: World at War, and that was exactly what bothered my son. He had no problem mowing down Nazis, but felt bad killing the dogs.
Wolfenstein 3D Classic is priced at $4.99. At that price it is easy to recommend – it is the best shooter I’ve played for the iPhone/Touch, and one of my favorite games out of the App Store.
To take a look and buy it, head on over to the iTunes App Store now!
What I Like:
– Excellent core game shines after 16 years!
– Perfect fit for the iPhone
– Auto-save feature is amazingly well done!
– Quick start-up gets you gaming fast!
What Needs Improvement:
– Frame rate lags at times
– Movement is still awkward and uncertain.