Back in 1992, I spent most of my free time playing albums by The Pixies on an endless loop while running through the seemingly equally endless mazes of Wolfenstein 3D, a fact that may have contributed to my less than stellar grades in college that year. But Wolfenstein was something special—a game that, almost overnight, spawned a new genre of video game, the first person shooter. Play Halo or Call of Duty today and you’re playing a game that can trace a line of descent right back to Wolfenstein 3D.
Now, Wolfenstein 3D has been released for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Three things are interesting about this release: first is that the project was handled largely by the John Carmack, the programming genius who co-created the original Wolfenstein for the PC (which, in 1992, meant designing for a world where a 33 MHz 486 was considered to be a computing powerhouse).
Second is that the code used in the iPod version descends directly from Carmack’s original codebase—many ports of classic games on modern platforms are in fact rewrites, which often fail to preserve that magic something that made the original so playable. Carmack has benefited from a decision he made years ago to release the code for the original Wolfenstein to the open source community. The open source code had been modified over the years to run with modern systems, making the port to the iPod platform much easier.
Third, Carmack has come up with a decent way to control the game on the iPod, sans keyboard or mouse. This is pretty significant—although the PC version of Wolfenstein is most celebrated for its impressive graphics engine, it, and its successor, Doom, established a defacto standard for controlling first person games that is still used today on PCs. While other first-person games on the iPod have already been released, I have often found them difficult to play, with non-intuitive controls. But Wolfenstein’s control system is simple, intuitive and effective, allowing me to mow down bad guys and blast through levels just as effectively as I did back in 1992. By creating an effective control interface for the iPod’s touch screen, the rerelease of Wolfenstein may herald a new wave of gaming on the iPod (in fact, the iPod version of Wolfenstein was originally conceived as a toy internal project to test different control interfaces, according to Carmack’s programming notes). Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just happen to have a Pixies playlist on my iPod Touch waiting to go…