Wolfenstein: The New Order represents a tricky needle for developer MachineGames to thread — It's a bit of a balancing act, requiring them to respect the style and feeling of the more timeless series entries while imbuing it with all the expected trappings of a modern shooter.
On the surface, that blend is crystal clear: In true Wolfenstein 3D fashion, you begin the game chewing through Nazi soldiers with handheld weapons of mass destruction, some of which can be dual-wielded to brutal effect. That's where our QuakeCon 2013 demo began — a castle composed of enemy-filled hallways, armored demi-humans and secret areas to uncover. Its modernity is unmistakable, however, as the aforementioned carnage is all rendered lovingly in id Tech 5, and the combat scenarios are varied, moving between stealth assassinations and all-out gunfights with little transition in-between.
Under the surface, that mix is a little less obvious. Classic protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz can recover health after not taking damage for long enough periods of time, but only in increments of 20. It's a clever mash-up of older, punishing shooters that force you to dodge every bullet you can and newer shooters that mitigate risk by automatically patching you up. There's also the music, which drifts between themes that stretch through time: From percussion-filled battle songs to slick spy thriller tracks to distorted, ambient electronica.
Speaking to Polygon at QuakeCon 2013, MachineGames' senior gameplay designer Andreas Öjerfors explained that when picking and choosing which elements the studio wanted from both eras, the most important consideration was how they could keep the player as mobile as possible at all times.
"We don't want the player hiding behind cover, shooting at heads popping out of other cover," Öjerfors said. "We want the player to be active, fast, to be agile."
That's the core tenet of the game, but not the only one Blazkowicz can adhere to. Stealth can actually play a huge role into player's strategies — by peering around corners and approaching enemies from the rear, players can execute enemies with one swing of their knives, preventing their foes from alerting everyone in the immediate vicinity. Even stealth moves quickly in Wolfenstein: The New Order, and it helps give B.J. more options when it comes to clearing a room.
"For the combat scenarios, we want to give the player a toolbox of things to do, of options for the player, so the player can be creative and tackle encounters as they want," Öjerfors said. "Sometimes that means stealth is a possibility, if you're up for it. But we're also guided by the idea of having a very varied game experience. Sometimes stealth is going to be part of that if you want to, and sometimes it's not. It's just another tool for us to create another gameplay experience and have a good pacing for the game."
"We're not business people, we make games.""
It's just as important for MachineGames to find the perfect blend of genres, Öjerfors explained — a straight-up shooter wouldn't just do the game a disservice, it wouldn't fit in with the narrative-heavy development style of the game's creators, many of whom stemmed from Starbreeze Studios, the team behind the Riddick and The Darkness series.
"You have the old-school, intense action, and it needs that," Öjerfors said. "It's Wolfenstein. That's a given. But we also have the other pillar, which is more of a revolution for the series, and that's the adventure part. That's exploring the world of the New Order, exploring what it means to live under the rule of the New Order, for those oppressed under it and those who thrive under it.
"When we look at the older games, you know, we were big fans of [Wolfenstein 3D], because we played it as kids, and it really had an impact on who we are both as designers and gamers, I think. When we look back at that, we try to capture what we experienced 20 years ago, not so much what we experienced playing Wolfenstein today. When I played it, it was the adventure. It wasn't just mowing guys down, it was the adventure of trying to escape a real location, escaping Castle Wolfenstein. It was about eating dog food to stay alive, it was about searching for secrets and secret areas. That's more the adventure aspects from that game we remembered 20 years ago."
During QuakeCon 2013, publisher Bethesda Softworks announced that Wolfenstein: The New Order's Q4 2013 release window had been pushed back into 2014. Speaking to Polygon during the show, Bethesda VP of PR and Marketing Pete Hines explained that the delay was necessary to ensure the title was everything it could possibly be. He outlined the stakes for the title, which are considerable: The company hopes to restore the Wolfenstein brand to prominence in a genre dominated by newer franchises.
"I mean, this needs to be the best Wolfenstein game ever made," Hines said. "It needs to be the best Wolfenstein game ever made, and you can't shortcut that. It can't have the same historical impact of Wolfenstein 3D, but it could be a better game, I hope."
For MachineGames, thinking about the future potential of the Wolfenstein property only serves to distract the studio from the task at hand.
"We don't really think like that," Öjerfors said. "We love Wolfenstein, and we want to make the best Wolfenstein game there is — not just a great Wolfenstein game, but just a great game, as well. That's where our priorities lie. We don't think a whole lot about the business side of it. We think about, if we make a great game, people will like it, right? That's how we think.
"We're not business people, we make games," Öjerfors added. "Bethesda and Zenimax can worry about the business side of it, but we have to make the game."