Have You Played… Wolfenstein 3D?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I’ve been trying to remember whether I had some sense when I first played Wolfenstein 3D that I really, truly was playing the future of videogames. It did seem landmark, but back then, age 12 or 13, every new game seemed landmark to me – each was a brand new experience, both because I was so young and because so were videogames.

There was something about Wolfenstein, though. I remember not quite believing what I was seeing, moving back and forth around one of the first corners because it seemed so physical, so immense and real compared to the flat shapes I’d hitherto seen on my Gateway Super VGA monitor.

I felt, bless my little grey cotton schoolboy socks, that I was in a real place. This was probably the first time a videogame made me feel that way.

What I didn’t feel was that I was doing something subsersive. For good or ill, I was already well-versed enough in Star Wars and cowboy movies and side-scrolling action games that the language of pretend guns was not new to me, so I felt neither over-excited or scandalised to be shooting Nazis. It was already natural. But it was immediately appealing, more so than the Civilizations and Sim Cities also sat upon my hard drive. That, I regret, because it took me some years before I fully returned to such things.

What we talked about in school, after playing Wolfenstein 3D, was not that it was amazing to shoot people, but ‘have you seen.’ Have you seen the big blue guys with the miniguns? Have you seen robo-Hitler? Have you seen that secret room?

We did that for every game, though. Wolfenstein 3D was just the one we talked about that week. No, I did not realise that I was playing the future of videogames. But I was.


  1. Gordon Shock says:

    Does the mini version in Wolfenstein counts?

  2. Ghostwise says:

    I played it as I could, but the constrained FOV usually made me nauseous after 15-ish minutes. Curiously that didn’t happen with Doom.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      I came to say the exact same thing, always made me feel bleurgh in ways later FPSes thankfully don’t.

  3. N'Al says:

    I have.

    It’s interesting how it’s quite different from what we expect FPSes to be like these days; far more focused on finding secrets and building up a high points score than the actual shooting.

    I mean, it only had 4 guns (1 of which was a knife)! Laaaaaame.

    • basilisk says:

      Yes, in many ways it’s very much a top-down arcade game, except played from a different perspective. Which is only logical, really. And some of that survived even into Doom.

      I, too, replayed the entirety of Wolf3D the other day and it’s more of an interesting relic of its time than a great game, to be honest. As always, the shareware episodes are by far the best of the bunch, but it’s remarkable to see how even back then, the designers were stretching their rather primitive tools to their limits, with some episodes strictly focusing on interesting combat situations (Romero’s) and the even-numbered episodes being… weird.

      Recommended reading: Liz R’s “Adventures in Level Design” series, link to ellaguro.blogspot.com

  4. TomxJ says:

    My 8 year old self simply could not handle Hitlers death scene. It shocked me in a way not much else ever has since.

  5. oggnogg says:

    I remember the first few dog attacks really scared me :)

  6. Retinoo says:

    I played the free episode, but being a young lad and unlikely my dad would pay for the full series, that is all I played. Years later I heard of robo-hitler etc. but by then Doom was out, and there was no going back from that!

    I do remember being amazed at the graphics, the gameplay and especially the secret doors. Finding secrets was an achievement in itself and I really felt like I had found something I shouldn’t have, in that Nazi prison base.

  7. hp7015ca says:

    I learned all my German from Wolfenstein.

  8. Det. Bullock says:

    Wolfenstein shareware was one of the only times I could get my Soundblater “compatible” to work, hearing the digital sound was a shock after being used to PC speaker for so much time. I could only get the complete version years later on my pentium II (now that I think of it, half of my gaming time on that machine was with games that refused to work on my old 486 or couldn’t get because I lived in the arse-end of nowhere without internet) and I did find the wacky charm of mecha Hitler rather appealing, I even kept a save for the level to replay it when I felt like it.

  9. harcalion says:

    Not only played, but it is one of a very short list of games for which I have bothered to complete a new level with its editor. I tried so hard with Witchaven (thinking it was the logical next step in my fledgling level creator career), but that early version of BuildEd was too much for me.


  10. hoho0482 says:

    Yes. Was why I bought a pc, somewhat relegating my amiga to the back shelf.was cool, but not in the way doom was shocking in how much of an advance it was.

  11. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    Wolf3D is highly underrated. Everyone treats it like an early tech demo for Doom but it’s just as good in its own way, and certainly more revolutionary. Even today the shooting just feels right. It has heft. The guns feel powerful. Considering id had no roadmap or model for this kind of game, it’s almost unbelievable how perfectly they nailed it.

  12. Thulsa Hex says:

    Yessss. Played this a ton as an eight-year-old. Fully moved on to Doom II as soon as we upgraded to 8MB RAM (couldn’t get either Doom to work with sound when we only had 4MB), but Wolf3D (and the Spear of Destiny) definitely had that “future” feeling.

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    particlese says:

    Not until after Doom and maybe Doom II, but yes. I remember it being all right and disliking that I couldn’t get the cheats working. Wolfenstein 3D: Rise of the Triad, on the other hand, was a game I played the heck out of, and it had tons of easy to use cheats.

  14. colw00t says:

    I have, extensively. It’s very interesting as a prototype that came later, especially in the ways that the genre would NOT follow it: the guns only differ in rate of fire (so there is never a reason to not use the best weapon available) the enemies all have hitscan weapons and it ends up being almost a stealth game with the difficulties of managing that. Plus so much secret-hunting!

    Much like doom, weapon damage is also slightly random, and that’s something very odd to modern sensibilities.

  15. kalirion says:

    This is the game that cemented me as a PC Gamer. I’d played the shareware, and I’d also played my cousins’ Sega Genesis games. My 13th birthday came up, and my parents asked me if I wanted a PC game of my choice or a Genesis with a game of my choice. I chose Wolf3d and never regretted it.

    But yeah, the game didn’t age very well.

  16. tonicer says:

    My recommendation for all the wolfenstein fans out there: link to moddb.com

  17. GallonOfAlan says:

    Have I played Wolf 3D? You’re asking ME if I’ve played Wolf 3D?

    Still fondly remember working at a games developer in 1992. It still did some C64 and Spectrum games, but the Amiga and ST were the real powerhouses. I was the PC boy, and they continually took the piss out of PC games. Then one day I fired up shareware Wolfenstein 3D in the office and they shut up forever, because they’d seen the future.

  18. GameOverMan says:

    I played it on a classmate’s 20 MHz 286 and I thought it was the future of videogames (I had an Amiga 500 at the time). When I got a PC in December 1993 the first game I played was the shareware version of Doom that had just been released. I forgot Wolfenstein 3D completely.

  19. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Oh yes, I certainly played it. I can’t remember how old I was when I did, though.

  20. figvam says:

    I played the predecessor to Wolfenstein called Catacomb 3D. It deserves its own “Have you played?” piece IMHO, but unfortunately it is too obscure for some reason.

    The great thing about it was that you could play it on a PC XT-compatible hardware (8088 CPU, if you like).

  21. Alfy says:

    “Mein liebe!”