How I Made... Wolfenstein: The New Order

Jens Matthies, creative director at MachineGames, explains how he and his team rebooted the FPS classic
I made this - Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein 3D was the game that caused many of us to get into developing games in the first place, so when my company MachineGames was acquired by Bethesda in 2010 we asked if we could have a crack at it. We’ve been making Wolfenstein: The New Order ever since. 

I started in the games industry in 1998 at a studio called Starbreeze. We made a number of games while I was there, most notably The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay and The Darkness, but in 2009 a few of us left to form MachineGames, where I’m creative director. 

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I made this - Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order is an action-adventure shooter that takes place in an alternate version of the 1960s, where the Nazis have won World War II and taken over the world. They have access to this great scientific knowledge, although it’s a bit of a mystery where it came from.

We’ve taken inspiration directly from things like Mecha-Hitler to honour the outlandish nature of the series. Nothing’s based on real Nazi technology but it's certainly rooted in it. I think if the Nazis knew how to make robot dogs they would have!

You play as the classic Wolfenstein protagonist BJ Blazkowicz, but while he used to fight for an army, now it’s basically just him against a global force. When id Software made Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 it was very clear that they were inspired by the action heroes of the day. We wanted to play off of that archetype and find a depth in that character.

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I made this - Wolfenstein: The New Order

There’s a lot of Nazi ideology that’s so bizarre it feels like fiction, which definitely inspired what kind of story we wanted to tell and the world we created. [Quentin] Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds is a really helpful example, because it shows that you can tell a story on a very sensitive topic and still infuse it with humour.

There are scenes in there that are as tense as any movie you'll ever see, and others times it's funny and playful. We certainly didn't want to shy away from the over-the-top craziness that makes Wolfenstein what it is, but the last thing we want to do is make light of the immense suffering that was caused.

A first-person shooter is incredibly fast-paced in terms of the gameplay, so the story has to be very efficiently delivered. Thankfully we have a lot of experience in doing that, so we know where we can stretch it and where it has to be condensed. It goes from incredibly intense gunplay to sections where it's about interacting with characters and exploring.

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I made this - Wolfenstein: The New Order

We’re very passionate about not only creating a compelling story but also merging that with the gameplay in an unobtrusive fashion. Quite often either the gameplay is amazing and the story's lacklustre or vice versa. I think Naughty Dog are incredibly good at merging the two and we’re very focused on making sure that both dimensions sing in harmony and the whole game is as strong as it can be.

As a team we’ve never made a sequel to a game before, so just doing that would be a lot of fun, but we’re in sync with the Wolfenstein world now, with so many ideas on how we can develop the story and gameplay in the future. To make another one would be magnificent.

READ MORE: Wolfenstein: The New Order review

As told to Tom Wiggins