Wolfenstein: The New Order dev explains the game's newfound personality

By John Keefer, Aug 13, 2013 12:00pm PDT

The Wolfenstein franchise has always been a fast-paced shooter with little thought to anything more than killing Nazis. But developer MachineGames is attempting a different style with Wolfenstein: The New Order one that offers a lot more depth and character development. Creative director Jens Matthies said the change in formula plays to the developer's strengths.

"We very much like that sense of being in a world when you play games, as opposed to just doing the same repetitive task over and over," Matthies told Shacknews. "In the real world, obviously, you have opportunities to interact with all kinds of things, and we like that sense that we are escaping from a place and we see a car and we can take that car. That level of freedom is a great feeling and we like the variation that that type of gameplay gives."

But he said that creating a story within that world was also an essential element. "There's a certain type of game that doesn't really require storytelling, like a Minecraft or a Tetris. They are amazing games, but they don't have story as a component. But if you are doing a game where you are in a place interacting with characters, you're going to need some sort of story in there, and we feel it our duty to deliver a story that's really strong, that can help propel you through the experience. The gameplay doesn't step on the story and the story doesn't step on the gameplay. It's a solid fusion of all that. We like those types of experiences."

Matthies said this type of game, especially for a franchise that has some expectations from the fanbase, is always demanding to create. "It's not just one challenge, it's a thousand," he said. "This is a large, sprawling experience that goes to a lot of different interesting places. Making sure the whole is as tight as it can be--that is a monumental task. It requires a lot of tweaking of details and paying a high amount of attention to things in making everything work."

It's that attention to detail, and the desire to make the game more than just a run-and-gun shooter, that forced the game to be delayed to the "first half" of next year. "There is so much variation in the gameplay--you're climbing a wall, doing a ledge walk, you're doing a turret thing, you're getting out of an incinerator room--it's all these things that are outside of just shooting," Matthies said. "The whole game has so many of those types of activities that sitting down and figuring out how much time it takes to polish all that, we think the game will be much better by releasing next year."

One of the oddest things we found in the E3 demo was the attempt to bring some personality to B.J. Blazkowicz, a hero who previously had breezed through his games happily killing Nazis with all the depth of a garden slug. But Matthies assures us that there is a reason behind the transformation of hero and villains.

"We love the juxtaposition of what was in the original Wolfenstein 3D where B.J. was basically just a head at the bottom of the screen," he said. "He was this action hero of the day, very much inspired by the action heroes of the late '80s and early '90s. He's this prototypical American army grunt. The juxtaposition of that with a character that you can engage with and you can feel for and want to become, we thought that was really interesting. What is it like to be a person like that--someone who has been on the frontlines forever and has this relationship to the Nazis because he has been fighting them for so long. We wanted to explore that, as opposed to turning him into Nathan Drake or something that's more of a normal guy."

Matthies said that creating believable and engaging characters is really important to him, and that thought has not only gone into the hero, but to every character with any amount of screen time.

"Creating characters is pretty much why I get up in the morning. It's an ensemble cast that you get to interact with during the adventure. I love honing in on what a character is and how they relate to each other. I like it when there is not too much overlap between characters. You never want to be in a situation where the player gets confused because they look the same or act the same."

Even the villains have gained more of a complex personality, including the game's Josef Mengele wannabe. "General Deathshead is a legacy character, and you never really had your chance to face off with him in the previous games," Matthies said. "What got me really excited about that character was that I was going to make him really love life, like he's happy and he's propelled by this happiness in everything that he does. It's really a weird contrast because you don't feel very happy when you meet him, but that's what propels his persona."

And the Nazi officer Frau Engel and her boytoy? "At the end of the day, the bad guys are larger-than-life twisted Nazis, but Frau Engel is in a different category. She's more of a professional than Deathshead is. A lot of her persona is her interaction with Bubi and their connection to each other, but she goes on a very different journey than Deathshead does."

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