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AusGamers Wolfenstein: The New Order Developer Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:25pm 01/10/13 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with MachineGames' Andreas Öjerfors to talk about crafting the original FPS for the modern age. Read on or watch for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.

AusGamers: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to AusGamers, I’ve got Andreas, who is Senior Gameplay Designer for Wolfenstein. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Wolfenstein, obviously; it has a lot of hardcore fans. A lot of the feedback so far has been “Where’s the multiplayer?”, but I know that MachineGames has a history of single-player as the fore.

Obviously, coming from Starbreeze, this is your first IP with Bethesda as a wholly-owned studio. Can you talk about, I guess, the mentality going into a project like Wolfenstein, with the expectations of the fans, with the history of the franchise. Where were you guys at mentally?

Andreas Öjerfors: Well, when we started out, we knew that it was going to be an action-adventure game, because of who we are as a studio -- with our heritage from Starbreeze, and games like The Chronicles of Riddick and The Darkness -- but it’s Wolfenstein, so the intense old-school action is super-important.

So what we tried to do is kind of meld the old-school gameplay ideas that were kind of left behind by a lot of modern games, and kind of bring those back, and take the best from modern games, and meld those two together to create this game that is both modern, but also a tribute to the history of the genre in a way. So we tried to blend those two ideas together with the adventure setting that we have, and the adventure gameplay that we do throughout the game.

AusGamers: Do you guys follow much of the talk about the game since it has been announced?

Andreas: Of course we look at what people think and what people right about us, of course, but from the very beginning, we’ve had a very clear vision of what we wanted to do. It started out when the directors went over to id Software’s office in Texas, and spent three weeks there. They started out by finding, or agreeing on, what is the core of Wolfenstein? Then they worked (the directors of MachineGames, worked) for three weeks, finding the core of the game mechanics, the story, and the different environments to get to -- because it’s a game where you go all over the world.

So that vision, that core idea that they developed through those three weeks, is the game that we’ve built and are still working on. So of course we listen to feedback and so forth, but we really know what we’re trying to build.

AusGamers: The only reason I ask, is because I was wondering, from your experience with any of the feedback: what seems to be the most liked feature so far, and what’s the most asked-for feature, that maybe is in there, but you haven’t revealed it yet? Is there any one particular thing that fans seem to be asking for a lot?

Andreas: Well, what they liked early on -- what they really liked -- is the dual-wielded shotguns. Now, more and more, what I hear people talking about, is how surprised they are about the adventure aspect, and how well we’ve managed to capture the characters that you interact with throughout the game, and the story; and where it turned really dark. I think what some fans are asking for, of course, is the multiplayer, and that’s not what we do in this game. This is a pure single-player campaign, because of the history we have as a studio -- the core values we have; that special blend of action and adventure, and the focus on a narrative-driven experience.

So it was an easy decision for us to make, we’re just going to spend everything we’ve got -- every drop of blood, or sweat, or whatever you want -- and put that into the single-player campaign, to make it as good as we can. Because our goal is to make the best Wolfenstein game ever made.

AusGamers: You and I talked about this yesterday, after I’d played the game, but there seems to be a lot of narrative just baked into the environment. Not necessarily delivered to you in any exposition from other characters or NPCs or anything like that. You guys have spent a lot of time doing that. I talked about, when you’re in the insane asylum, there’s an attic that you can go up to once it gets sacked, and there’s nothing to do up there except to just see the brutality of the situation.

How far, and how deep did you guys take that? Because obviously at some point, you’ve got to make the player move through the environment, as opposed to just stopping and looking at everything all of the time?

Andreas: It’s definitely a pacing thing. We have the more controlled areas, where we know very well where the player is going, and we can control that environment more. But then we open up for the more expansive areas, where the player has many different ways of approaching a combat encounter or gameplay situations. Giving the player a lot of tools to solve the problem in his own way. Allowing the player to be creative, but then again, it goes back and forth between that, and the more controlled areas.

When we know that the player is not focusing right now on a combat situation, we spend a lot of resources on environmental storytelling. Because we make the game we want to play, pretty much. We think there’s a great game to play, if the story is told to some degree, through the environment. So you can actually see the history of the place, and see what has happened here, and not just be told through a cut-scene, or a voiceover, or text.

AusGamers: Now obviously the core experience is a shooter, and you’ve nailed that really well. The weapons feel amazing, they sound amazing, and you’ve got this sense of realism grounded and mixed in with the hyper-realism that’s in there. I was talking about, for example, when you shoot the enemy, that it’s not like several hitpoints, they kind of flop to the ground the way they would in a war movie, or anything like that, that we’ve seen.

For you guys, how… I mean, you talked about blending old-school with modern games, but you’re also blending hyper-realism with realism, so you’ve got this multi-faceted design philosophy coming into something that is arguably the very first first-person shooter -- it’s a daunting way to actually approach the design of the game.

Andreas: Well again, it’s just who we are as a studio. That blend between action and adventure, that’s who we are. So when you talk about how the enemies react and all of that, it’s all about placing the player in the world, and making him feel like he’s there; giving weight to your actions and movement, and to the enemy’s movement; making the environment believable. That’s part of how we make our games, I think.

AusGamers: Was that also kind of needed to be able to sell the over-the-top nature of the game as well? You’ve got the human tanks that you come into after you meet Death’s Head. It seems like you need to have that grounded reality, so that you can actually sell the unbelievability of everything else. Obviously it’s still Wolfenstein, and still about the occult, and the dark sciences that the Nazis were doing. It’s still a darker vision of the future if they actually won the war. So it feels like that was a deliberate process.

Andreas: That’s an interesting perspective, but you can also look at it from the other side. There’s actually a challenge of blending or melding those two ideas, the very realistic, and the more bizarre and humorous elements of the Wolfenstein universe. That’s actually a balance that you have to tune very carefully, and something we’ve iterated on a lot throughout the development.

I think it would have been easier, actually, to just make this goofy, super-violent, bizarre, funny game; that would have been easier, and I think it would have been easier to sell as well. But again, that’s not who we are, we’re also storytellers, and we want to make worlds, and characters, and stories that people can believe in and care about.

So everything you do in the game (at least that’s what we’re trying to do) everything that you do in the game is informed, and put into a context of the story and the characters. So it’s not like story, and action, story and action, those go into each other all of the time, and it’s always a blend between the two. In the areas where we focus a bit more on the story, there’s also gameplay there, often adventure kind of gameplay.

We borrow elements from single-player point-and-click adventure games even -- finding items, combining items to solve puzzles to be able to progress -- and that also helps us to make the world feel more real. It’s not just a level that you need to go through, it’s a real place, with real problems to solve.

But again, when it comes to the action, that’s also unfolding narrative in its own right. It’s always in the context of a narrative, but when you play a through combat encounter, there’s usually a narrative in that as well. It’s not just five rooms with bad guys to shoot, you’re fighting through a story.

AusGamers: Going back to the heritage of the game and the franchise, I noticed that you can eat dog food, you collect treasures, you find hidden switches. What other tenets of Wolfenstein can players expect to find baked into The New Order?

Andreas: When it comes to stuff like that, we can’t help ourselves, because we’re fans of Wolf 3D -- the first game, over 20 years ago -- because we played it as kids, and that really informed us and affected us as designers and players. The core tenets of Wolfenstein to us is, I’d say, the intense action, the intense battles -- that’s the very core of what Wolfenstein is. But you also have the David versus Goliath theme, with BJ against the Nazi army, or in this case, BJ against a global Nazi empire. It’s you against a huge force, that’s what Wolfenstein is as well.

But you have a special aesthetic that is Wolfenstein as well, a special style and a special tone that comes from exaggerating the most bizarre elements of the Nazi Party -- the larger-than-life political leaders, strange human experiments, strange technology, a bit of mysticism. That was there, of course, in the Nazi movement, but Wolfenstein is taking those elements and twisting them even further, and out of that comes what Wolfenstein is, I think.

So that’s what we’re trying to bring, but yeah, we have a lot of tributes. We have the treasures, and the secrets, and the type of action you would expect from a Wolfenstein game.

AusGamers: Was it scary coming up with a what if scenario: if the Nazis had been successful?

Andreas: [laughs] it is… actually working through it, and really delving deep into it has been really fascinating, but also terrifying. I think those are actually the emotions that we want to bring to the player when the players -- the same emotions that we had when we worked on it, and we developed the vision of what that world would be like, we tried to give to the player as well.

On some level, a bit of fascination, but also the terrifying feel, the dread of what a world like that would have looked like. Because it wasn’t something that couldn’t have happened. If The Allies had done certain things differently, and especially if the Nazi regime had chosen to do things differently in the war, it would have turned out very differently.

AusGamers: We’ll go back to the game, because it’s a dark subject. So it’s an action game as well as a shooter. Now what I’ve experienced so far with the action side of things, is a lot of verticality; there’s the wall-climbing sequence in the intro. There’s a lot of exploration, finding hidden paths and hidden ways to take on the enemy and to keep yourself alive; a lot of navigation through the debris and destruction that this world has brought about. What other action elements can players expect?

Andreas: Action elements that players can expect? So what we’re trying to do is create a very varied experience with the game. We try to create really great old-school action like combat, but then we tried to mix it up with having a lot of different elements thrown in throughout the game. Like you said in the beginning, with the wall climb trying to get into the fortress. We switch it up a little bit with things like that every now and then in the game, but to see what all those are, you should play the game. I don’t want to spoil it.

AusGamers: All right Andreas, well we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much. The game does look great; a fantastic old-school experience, actual numerical hitpoints, which is really rare today. Wolfenstein, coming soon!

Cheers. Thank you.

Andreas: Thank you.
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