The Wolfenfiles: Researching Enemy Territory’s Maps, Weapons, and Vehicles

May 31, 2012

A big part of creating our games is the research that goes into them to ensure everything is consistent, plausible, and authentic. Much of this falls to our Lead Writer Ed ‘BongoBoy’ Stern, who first joined the company during development of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory to handle writing and research duties. In light of Wolf ET’s 9th anniversary, we thought it’d be fun to share some Wolfentrivia with you, including the events (many of them real!) that inspired the missions in the game, the weapon research, and a few other, previously unknown development nuggets. Take it away, Ed!


When I came aboard the good ship Splash Damage in 2002-no-that-cannot-be-that-would-make-it-ten-years-ago-oh-god-am-I-really-that-old-yes-yes-you-are-in-fact-you-look-older, work on Wolf:ET was well underway. Most of the map ideas had already been had, and people who actually knew what they were doing were turning them into playable virtual reality. As the newly resident damp-palmed weapons bore and history nerd, it was my job to come up with photo reference, additional details and vaporous notions for other maps that the level designers would smile kindly at before pointing out all the various ways my idea was impractical and no good. I think I’m pretty sure that not one of my ideas resulted in a playable map. I should stress at the outset, other, smarter people made the actual maps, I was just adjacent while they made them, so my recollections of the process are neither expert nor precise.

The Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory team in 2002

It seems very odd to think of just ten years ago as a fantastical olde-timey world, but the narrowband pre-Wikipedia age was…well, different. Nowadays almost all the photo reference you’re likely to need for most games is all up here, on the intertubes, in a glorious high-resolution browser window like this one. Back then, the web was resolutely low-res, and mainly lived in Geocities. We were better off getting reference books.

I remember feeling enormously smug for having tracked down the UK distributor of Schiffer military reference books, stalking their shelves, buying a select spread and huffing and puffing back across Chiswick bridge with them stacked precariously on my bicycle. As a way of getting high resolution images before our eyeballs in the office, it now seems hilariously long-winded. Perhaps the stuff that ended up being most useful was the wealth of visual detail on Atlantic Wall defensive positions, bunkers, casemates etc. It turns out that the geometry that protects you from line of sight and splash damage fire works equally well in reality, or on the virtual battlefield.


The plan was that every map in W:ET would be based either on an iconic WWII movie, or an actual historical event:

Maps like Fuel Dump were continually evolved during development based on play-testing feedback

Fuel Dump, as alert gamers detected, was built on a single player level from Return To Castle Wolfenstein and featured a Churchill AVRE tank serving as the Thing-You-Needed-To-Get-Into-Position-To-Blow-Something-Up-That-You-Couldn’t-Just-Blow-Up-With-A-Demo-Charge. Hmm. We should probably come up with a shorter name for that. One day I’ll get a bridge-layer tank into a game, but that day has yet to dawn.

And speaking of tanks, no, the Jagdpanther in Gold Rush (and hiding in a parking bay in Siwa Oasis) didn’t actually see service in North Africa but dammit, it was so fantastically low-poly and TANKY. And we’d seen one of the few surviving Jagds at the Imperial War Museum. It’s still clad in its crocodile-epidermis-esque Zimmerit anti-magnetic mine coating, punctured by an ominously perfect group of penetrating 17 pounder holes at the right rear.


We arranged a visit to the Imperial War Museum where their curator of small arms very kindly let us handle some of their amazing collection of historical fire arms. It really is a lot easier to bounce around a map doing headshots than to physically handle an FG42, an MG42, a K98 with Gewehrgranatgerät grenade launcher attachment, a Garand M1, an M1 Carbine or a M3 SMG without dropping them and eliciting a pained expression from the curator. “They survive a world war, and then get totalled by oily-handed game developers,” he kindly didn’t say out loud. I don’t know if trying to hold the MG42 contributed to the decision to only make it properly usable while prone, but its sheer heft certainly made an impression.


In fact, the IWM let us walk around several bits of hardware that ended up in the game: Gold Rush‘s aforementioned Jagdpanther, Siwa OasisPak 40 anti-tank gun, a colossal 80cm railway gun shell (although it’s from Gustav rather than Dora), a Würzburg mobile radar, and a Goliath remote-control demolition vehicle.


We actually fancied that Goliath tracked mine as an objective vehicle in a map, but it wasn’t much bigger than the Engineer’s dynamite, so we lightly researched radio-controlled German WWII tanks, re-used the Jadgpanther model and added a huge demolition charge that would slide off the front glacis when up against the final objective. That meant the Goliath would no longer be an actual Goliath, so I think we called the map Goliath to make up for it. It didn’t work, though.

I was convinced we could build a map (dubbed Fallen Giant) around the colossal Messerschmitt Me 323 powered glider, but the gameplay was problematic. I think we were already working on a map based on Colditz when we found out about the amazing Colditz glider. Alas, the map wasn’t enough fun to play, and any objective that’s so surprising and counter-intuitive that it needs extensive explanation probably isn’t a great objective.

An early topdown showing the cut St. Nazaire map

I had high hopes for a map based on Operation Chariot, the raid on the St. Nazaire dry docks, but everything I thought was exciting about it was a technological nightmare. I’m sure we tried to do something with the Brest, Lorient or La Pallice U-Boat Bunkers, and for a while it seemed as if we could use the Maunsell Sea Forts or Flaktürme. I also flailingly pitched a map based on the glider attack on Fort Eben-Emael which, I regret, I provisionally named “You’ve Got Emael”. That was a topical joke, back in those heady days when the landscape was composed mainly of mountains of AOL CD-ROMs.


Now the days of narrowband internet seem as distant as the era of under-cranked silent movies and researching games this way seems utterly Bizarre and Weird. We’re delighted that so many people have had fun playing Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory over the last nine years. You chaps made the game what it was, and gave Splash Damage our start in the industry. We’re delighted so many of you think it’s a v-5-6, to which we must say v-4-3.