Revisiting classic video games is a tricky business. Core fans of titles past will have deep set loyalties, while new gamers will bring their expectations - usually resulting in a game that doesn't please anyone. Wolfenstein: The New Order wasn't such a game.
Possibly the surprise blockbusters of the year, MachineGames' The New Order managed to blend the charm of one of the oldest series in the video game canon with a fresh roster of fun, guns and mayhem.
We spoke to MachineGames Creative Director Jens Matthies on the challenges his team faced when returning to a classic, dealing with sensitive subjects while having fun and sneaking new secrets into a series known for smuggling surprises.
The Wolfenstein series has one of the longest legacies in video games – how did you go about handling that legacy when building a modern shooter?
We are huge Wolfenstein fans here at MachineGames, so above all we wanted the game to feel like a Wolfenstein experience, even though we made some big leaps in terms of the setting, game design and story. It has to be over the top. There has to be lots of secrets and cool things to discover. It has to be an epic journey against impossible odds. The concept of the Wolfenstein universe is a perfect fit for our sensibilities as a studio.
As all World War II games are dealing with sensitive subject matter, how did you go about making a game that was still firmly grounded in humour and action?
We don’t ever work from an abstract starting point such as how “to make it more than another ‘Nazi-shooter’”. We make the game we want to play with the setting and story we find the most creatively intriguing. The Wolfenstein universe is, by definition, totally wild and larger than life. We felt this was an essential core value of the game, but at the same time we didn’t want to cartoonify the horrors of Nazi ideology.
Ultimately, we decided to paint the world on a grand canvas with room for both the intimate, domestic and truthful as well as the grandiose, over the top and bombastic. This approach worked well for movies like Inglorious Basterds, District 9 and Robocop (1987) and felt like the perfect tone for a Wolfenstein game. Humour is also a powerful narrative tool. I think it was Kubrick who said “…comedy can be more realistic than drama because it takes into account the bizarre."
Wolfenstein games always have a few secrets hidden away in them. Do you have a favourite in The New Order?
There are sooo many secrets in this game. A personal favourite of mine is in the sewer section of the Kreisau resistance headquarters in Chapter 7, where you can jump down into a large vertical drainage hole and access a small pipe that leads into a secret area.
Where did the initial ideas for The New Order’s narrative come from?
Everything was dreamt up by the creative collective here at MachineGames. The alternate history retro-scifi angle we felt was the perfect way to evolve and celebrate the Wolfenstein universe, and people responded very warmly to this approach whenever we told them about the game.
How did you go about fleshing out B.J. Blazkowicz’s character?
With B.J. we wanted to honour his original conception, the square jawed, muscle bound, 80’s action hero as seen in Wolfenstein 3D, but we also wanted to explore what a lifetime on the frontlines has done to this guy. We wanted to give the player unfiltered access to B.J.’s innermost thoughts and deepen his personality to the point where you completely get him, and invest in his journey.
Do you have a particular favourite sequence from The New Order?
The incinerator room at the end of Chapter 1 was very challenging to conceptualize, record and implement. It has a highly intricate narrative flow where you as a player drive the action from each beat to the next. Ultimately what happens in the incinerator room is a forced failure that the story needs, but the progression of how you get there is a series of successes for the player. The play time is relatively short, but it’s all custom animation and performance capture, really specific environmental and audio design, each moment has its own custom scripting solutions to deal with different player behaviour. There are tons of effects, costume changes, branching time lines, and a tremendous amount of trickery behind the curtain to keep the sequence on track.
The scene also features one of my favourite speeches in the game, namely Private Prendergast’s nervous breakdown. Most players are too pre-occupied with not dying to listen to Prendergast, but if you do, he has interesting things to say.
What sort of ideas do you and the team have for a sequel?
We don’t have any announced plans at the moment, but we’ll keep you posted.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is out now