Games: Return to Castle Wolfenstein


Developer: Gray Matter
Publisher: Activision
ESRB: Mature
Street Price: $59.99
Genre: First-Person Shooter

It’s been nearly a decade since id Software unleashed the first game that really showed what 3D could do. Wolfenstein 3D put players face to face with an army of Nazi grunts and burly SS officers armed with only their wits and quick reflexes. The fast-paced action and first person perspective thrilled and scared the heck out of a generation of gamers by bringing them closer to the action than they had ever been before. Since the release of Wolfenstein 3D, id Software has driven the technological evolution of the first person shooter with the Doom and Quake series of games. Now it’s time for the company to revisit the game that started it all.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein has already generated incredible buzz from everyone who has seen the game in action. There’s no doubt about it – this is the most impressive title of the year. Using Quake III: Team Arena as a starting point, Gray Matter Studios (formerly Xatrix) and Nerve Software got a leg up on creating a stunning, spine-tingling game world out of high-polygon models, large photorealistic textures, and the fastest game engine known to man. And under the close supervision of id, Gray Matter and Nerve have retrofitted the Quake III engine with a new terrain engine, new enemy A.I. and tactics, and a more advanced animation and scripting system.

But even with all the spanking new technology going on underneath, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is more about an incredible storyline than dazzling graphics. It begins just like the original, with a dead Nazi at the players’ feet and a gun in their hand, but beyond that the similarities end. Where Wolfenstein 3D created an innovative new genre, Return to Castle Wolfenstein fulfills the genre’s promise by taking gamers face to face with seemingly real enemies and incredibly immersive environments.

In the last nine years since the original, vast improvements in game design and 3D hardware have truly breathed life into virtual creations. While developers such as id have lead the way in game design, NVIDIA has been there every step of the way, developing products such as NVIDIA’s GeForce3 Titanium series that boast enough power to accurately recreate the materials and the subtleties in the reflections and lighting that make up our reality. The result: Return to Castle Wolfenstein where every little thing is mouth-agape gorgeous.

We talked to Todd Hollenshead, CEO of id Software, to find out just what the return trip to Wolfenstein holds in store for us.

Click images to enlarge

"Both id and Gray Matter use GeForce hardware as a preferred development platform and gaming platform, and the game just looks amazing on the GeForce3."

Todd Hollenshead
CEO id Software

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a return to the legendary universe of Wolfenstein 3D. How closely does this story relate to the original?
Advancing technology obviously allows us to more fully realize the story within a first person game and create depth, detail, and realism far beyond anything that could have been done when Wolfenstein 3D was created. That said, the ideas and “attitude” that are prevalent throughout Return to Castle Wolfenstein are definitely seeded from the Wolfenstein universe that was created in the original titles. There are a number of nods back to the original Wolfenstein 3D like the incredible number of secrets, treasure, and turkey dinners that BJ can eat to gain a little health.

The story is basically that you take on the role of B.J. Blazkowicz, an elite Army Ranger recruited into a top-secret government agency called the OSA (Office of Secret Actions). The OSA has learned that Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s right hand man and head of the SS, is experimenting with genetic mutation, technology and the Occult to create an army of soldiers that could destroy the Allies. You are sent in to investigate, pursue, and ultimately stop Himmler and his army. We like to describe it as World War II meets the X-Files – a very familiar setting with some bizarre and mysterious events taking place.

The original Wolfenstein 3D was a landmark title in part because of its revolutionary graphics. How does the graphics technology available today improve Return to Castle Wolfenstein?
You can’t even compare what we can do with the technology now and what could be done 9 years ago. In Return to Castle Wolfenstein we are able to create characters and environments that look nearly real. When Gray Matter was beginning the project, Drew Markham and some other members of the Gray Matter team traveled throughout Europe taking thousands of pictures of stone, wood, doors, castles, just about anything that looked cool and old. Many of the textures in the game are modified versions of those pictures, so environments do look very real. The technology simply opens the creative doors for the artists to detail and realism, allowing them to create game environments and characters with depth and character.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is powered by the venerable Quake III engine. Is this the same basic engine or does it feature any enhancements or modifications?
About the only two pieces of the original Quake III Arena Engine that remain in Return to Castle Wolfenstein are the core rendering system and the network code (although throughout the development of Team Arena and subsequent point releases the network code has been optimized an incredible amount as well). Gray Matter has developed an advanced AI system where enemies will react to their surroundings, take cover, work together, and make different decisions based on the tactics with which you play. They have been able to add realism by incorporating a skeletal animation system which allows for many more animations per character, as well as the use of motion capture data to create animations that are incredibly smooth and lifelike (it’s actually a little spooky sometimes). The sound and music systems have been modified to handle more dynamically changing situations, and they incorporated an incredibly cool new camera system, that we developed here at id, that they use for all of the in-game cinematic sequences. They have also made incredible use of the terrain system that was developed for Quake III: Team Arena. Using the terrain system, they have been able to create some massive outdoor environments that are not only amazing to look at, but create a gameplay dynamic that is very unique for the traditional shooter.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a good demonstration of just how powerful the Quake III technology really is.

The flame thrower is one of the most gorgeous and lethal weapons to grace a PC screen. How did you create such a realistic flame effect?
Sorry, that one has been classified. We wouldn’t want to compromise BJ’s mission… =)


What kind of collaborative relationship does id Software have with Gray Matter Interactive and Nerve Software in the development of Castle Wolfenstein?
It has truly been an unbelievable effort that even extends beyond the relationships of Gray Matter, Nerve, and id, to the efforts of Activision and outside contractors like Blur (intro movie and motion capture), and SounDelux (music). The relationship between id and Gray Matter has definitely needed to be strong, and they have done a remarkable job pulling ideas and “attitude” from our Wolfenstein universe and blending it with their own research and ideas to create a game that can definitely stand on its own. Id has also dedicated countless resources to the project including programmers, design and story feedback and direction, and creative direction on everything from packaging to promotions.

Nerve has also done an incredible job in creating a fully realized and robust multiplayer component for the game. The multiplayer component features squad-based Axis vs. Allies gameplay where players can join a team as a Soldier, Medic, Engineer, or Lieutenant and work with their teammates to complete various objectives. Each player class has different abilities and plays an essential role in the overall success or failure of the team.

The characters and scenery in the game display amazing attention to detail, how do you actually create the textures and models?
The models are generally created in 3D Studio Max As mentioned above, many of the textures in the game are modified photographs taken of actual stone, wood, doors, etc. found throughout Europe. Gray Matter’s artists have done a great job taking these assets, creating new ones to match and pulling together an environment that looks and feels like war-torn Germany. They have also been able to spend a bunch of time making a number of different character faces and uniforms for each of the soldier models. Again, this just adds to the feeling that you are in a world that is alive and real, as there are probably close to 100 different looking characters that you will encounter throughout the game.

Both id and Gray Matter use GeForce hardware as a preferred development platform and gaming platform, and the game just looks amazing on the GeForce3.

Are there any tips or tricks you can recommend that will help B.J. Blazkowicz prevail?
Probably the biggest tip is to really think about each situation you encounter and the different ways that you can approach it tactically. The game has been designed so that while some situations require stealth and others guns blazing, the majority of the game can be approached with either method or a combination of the two. Generally, the less noise you make, the less guys you will have to fight all at one time. Two players may have completely different experiences just because one approached a situation with stealth while the other with guns blazing. And you never know what you might learn just by listening to the conversation around the corner.

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