Worth The Pixels? -- Episode 1


Worth The Pixels?

Episode 1

Welcome to my fancy new blog segment. In Worth the Pixels? I take a look at older games, both popular and obscure, and talk about why they are or aren’t worth playing in this day and age.

For our first episode, I’m going to talk about two biggies, Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. As anybody who is reading this will be aware, these are the games that defined the First Person Shooter. They weren’t exactly the first games to feature 3D graphics and shooting things, but there is no denying that they took hold of the concept and pointed it in a direction.

Wolfenstein 3D

(Note: I played the PSN release of this game, which I understand to be identical to the original PC release. If there are any relevant differences, please let me know.)

            If you want evidence that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” this is it. Despite all of the radical changes that have occurred in shooters, Wolfenstein 3D feels more like a variation on a theme rather than a relic of game design. It’s extremely basic to be sure. 3 Guns, each of which is clearly superior to the

 It’s also  worth noting that there is a minor stealth element. 
 It’s also worth noting that there is a minor stealth element. 

last. No reload. No grenades. None of this looking up and down nonsense. But that’s actually the game’s biggest strength (well, I wish it had more guns).

Wolfenstein 3D only does two things: shooting Nazi’s and maze exploration. It’s really interesting the way the two things trade off. You always have to be in kill things mode, but combat is fast and decisive. There is a glint of survival horror games here, because very little time is spent actually killing things. More often you will be trying to find your way out of the maze, but always watching your back for enemies (Stereo sound is crucial to this Endeavour). In the end I developed habits of strafing into corners, doing full 180-degree turns when entering all rooms, and peaking through every doorway. It can be a panic-inducing experience to run low on health and ammo when you are totally lost, though the amount of pickups increases substantially as the game progresses.

It’s also worth noting that there is a minor stealth element. Nazi’s that have their backs turned or are very far away will not see you until you fire your gun, which is a nice touch and can make you feel pretty badass.

Having said all of this it might seem strange to talk about the games attempt at immersion. There is an honest attempt here to make the game world (which appears to be a series of castles, but may just be multiple sections of the one) feel like a really lived in space. There is just enough detail in the graphics to get across things like “This is a bedroom” or “These guys were having dinner.” I didn’t think about it very often, but from time to time they threw in something like that to keep the Nazis feeling like real people in a real castle. Even at the very beginning of the game you are standing in YOUR unlocked cell and the guard you stole the gun from is on the floor in front of you, clearly suffering from a bad case of getting murdered. Don’t go into the game expecting a deep storyline or anything, but these moments show some real talent on Id’s part.

The actual atmosphere of the game is kind of bizarre. On the one hand it seems pretty dark, given that you are running around gunning down Nazi’s amid pictures of Hitler and many Swastikas. But those Nazi’s soon give way to Zombie Nazi’s with machine guns in their chests, and there are so many swastikas (including in the floor plans) that I personally thought it was hilariously absurd. And anybody who can make Swastikas funny deserves some praise.

I would be failing my duties if I did not mention the “secret” aspect of the game. Pressing the use keys on some wall segments will move them back, revealing rooms that contain various pickups (and occasionally a secret level, or in one case the level exit). AS silly as this is, it fits the “old castle” theme of the game, and it’s a good idea to try and find secrets at least until you have a chain gun. Some people might enjoy finding all of the secrets, but I think it was a much more appealing idea when exploring a world in real time first person was still a new idea.

The only thing that irks me about this game is that it is pretty much necessary to have a “quicksave” mentality. If you die, you go back to the beginning of the level with only your pistol and 8 bullets (and your pistol is kind of useless). I’m very glad that Doom bucked this idea, because every time I died I booted up my last save rather than going through 2 levels without a machine gun.

Final Verdict: If you have played any First Person Shooter then you aren’t going to have your mind blown by Wolfenstein 3D. But it’s probably better for blowing off steam than a modern shooter, because it relies so heavily on twitch game play. Modern shooters require you to focus on a whole ton of things at once, which isn’t always what you are looking for. Wolfenstein provides all the fun of killing Nazi’s without the stress we have grown used to in the genre. It’s also worth looking at to see how far we have come.


Doom builds on Wolfenstein 3D in every conceivable way. Better tech, more weapons, insane level design, crazy enemies, an absurd setting…Doom clearly had the sole goal of going over the top in the grandest way possible.

And at the time that was a fantastic set of changes. The 3 dimensional nature of the engine drastically changed the way the game worked, and made the mazes far more complicated and interesting. It was an entirely new experience for gamers, opening up a whole 3D world to explore.

In this day and age, however, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. The problem is that the more complicated mazes are also generally more confusing, and not necessarily more fun to traverse. Some people will really like them, but the maze shooter is at this point a non-existent genre for good reason. Doom 3, which was intended as a “remake” of Doom, acknowledged this and did away with the whole idea.

            The shooting action is mostly the same, though the stealth element is seemingly gone. On the other hand the game features a bunch of weapons, all of which are fun to use even if they are mostly the old standbys (which they weren’t at the time). The addition of more varied enemies also makes the shooting more fun. Doom does shooting well; it’s a fact of life.

            But Doom added something else to the mix that I am afraid hasn’t aged as well: multiplayer. It’s a neat little diversion for 10 minutes, but the simplicity that makes blasting demons and Nazis so fun makes deathmatch feel like a bit of a chore these days. It’s hard to enjoy a competition of reaction time when you have grown used to drawing on all your skills to manage aiming, ammo in both gun and cache, grenades, jumping, crouching, cover and a whole host of other things that are just part of the modern online shooter.

Final Verdict: Doom is still a fine game, but I only find myself playing Doom on my netbook when I haven’t got much else to do, whereas Wolfenstein 3D feels like an option against all of my other games. If you like complicated mazes then Doom is absolutely the game for you, but overall I think it suffers from its complexity. Every gamer has an obligation to play it and it isn’t a painful experience, but don’t feel bad if you are done with it after a few levels.
Thanks for reading, any commentary on the concept would be appreciated.