QUAKECON 2017: WOLFENSTEIN Creative Director Jens Matthies talks “The New Colossus”!
By Ken W. Hanley
Blending action-adventure dynamics with sci-fi and horror elements, there’s few gaming franchises that have held the potential of greatness as much as Wolfenstein. With developer Bethesda going above and beyond for their franchise reboot The New Order back in 2014, the wait for the next chapter in the series, The New Colossus, has been a restless one, especially after the glowing reviews of the E3 demo earlier this year. However, having played the E3 demo as well as a brand new level at QuakeCon earlier this summer, this writer can confirm that, if anything, the hype is underselling the game.
That’s right, folks: Wolfenstein II is the real deal, blending innovative gameplay dynamics with larger-than- life environments and cathartic emotional satisfaction. The game follows series protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz as he brings the U.S. resistance back to his homeland, facing off against technologically-advanced Nazis in an explosive and unique new experience. With the game scheduled to hit worldwide on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC on October 27th, Tom Holland’s Terror Time was able to sit down with Wolfenstein franchise creative director Jens Matthies to dish out some early words on the highly-anticipated game…
TOM HOLLAND’S TERROR TIME: So, how did you first get involved with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus?
JENS MATTHIES: Well, it was something that we were already thinking of when we were making Wolfenstein: The New Order. We always wanted to make a trilogy, or at least that’s always what it felt like, when we were brainstorming what we were going to do with Wolfenstein. By planning for a trilogy, we were able to have some kind of boundary for the property since we knew that a lot of the ideas that we had wouldn’t be able to fit into the first game.
Those boundaries included going to America and seeing what it would look like under Nazi occupation. We knew early on that this was what we wanted to do, so by the time we started working on The New Colossus, we had a very clear understanding of what the game was going to be and we had built a lot of the foundation of what was needed for this game to happen. This includes setting up Frau Engel as the antagonist for this game in the first game; we had to set up a lot of things in The New Order for that to happen.
THTT: The gameplay mechanics in Wolfenstein II are extremely impressive; the wheelchair demo is among the most fun gameplay experiences this writer has ever encountered. What was the most important element of gameplay to incorporate into Wolfenstein II? Is there any contribution that you are particularly proud of?
MATTHIES: That’s a good question because with our games, every level feels different than the other levels, and we love to play with the gameplay mechanics, whether it be the wheelchair movement or the environment of the level itself being strange in some way. It’s hard to pinpoint something that rises above the rest; it’s more about providing that variation than any one thing. But if I had to pinpoint something I’m particularly proud of including, I think riding the flame- throwing Panzer is pretty cool.
THTT: The characters that you meet in the demos are very well-defined, and it feels like you almost know exactly who they are by the time you meet them. What were the most challenging and rewarding aspect of bringing these characters to life?
MATTHIES: We worked really hard in creating characters that were really interesting, especially in making sure that they didn’t overlap much in terms of voice and personality. They each needed their distinctive space in the overall narrative. That is always something that bugs me in other games or when I see a movie; I’ll be watching it and going “Is that the same guy? What’s happening?” I hate when there’s that level of confusion so we really wanted there to be distinct characters each had a very strong agenda, individually.
The most challenging aspect was making sure that, on paper, every character has their place. The most rewarding aspect was seeing the right actor perform their material, because we got to see the characters come to life better than we could have hoped for. That was really an amazing feeling.
THTT: Admittedly, this writer is always poor at stealthy gameplay, so I’m always running into the room guns a-blazing. However, in the demos for Wolfenstein II, I find that both modes of gameplay are stunningly easy to toggle between. Was that particularly important for you as a developer to make sure these options were available to all breeds of gamer?
MATTHIES: Absolutely, and that was important in the first game as well. We wanted to accommodate a variety of approaches. So it’s easy to sneak into a room and take out some strategic targets, as well as go guns a-blazing when Hell breaks loose. That’s a wonderful
feeling, and we want that to be fundamental to the Wolfenstein experience. So we spent a lot of time fine-tuning that, and making sure there are many opportunities for different types of gameplay.
THTT: Was there anything you are particularly excited to explore considering now you had an enhanced game engine?
MATTHIES: I think for us, as a developer, bringing the action to America was very exciting. In an alternate history where Nazis have taken over the world, mixed with the cultural revolution that happened in the ‘60s, from the Civil Rights Movement and the massive changes across the U.S. in terms of civilization, essentially, we thought it would be very interesting to see what it would look like subverted by Nazis. On a personal storytelling level, we thought it was important to tell a story about B.J. returning to his homeland, and seeing it taken over by his mortal enemies. That, to me, is a very powerful image, and was probably the most exciting thing, for
me, when we started the project.
THTT: Right now, in terms of the way that tensions and culture is unfolding in 2017, I think Wolfenstein II will be very therapeutic experience for some who are experiencing anxiety thanks to real life Nazis. Do you think the gaming community will rally behind the opportunity to just shoot the crap out of Nazis? Do you think more casual gamers might be attracted to Wolfenstein II because of this?
MATTHIES: It’s interesting because the whole theme of the game is catharsis, so I think those who choose to do so are making an appropriate choice. [laughs]
THTT: In Wolfenstein II, the character of B.J. is a mix between a restrained, selfless war veteran and an impulsive, emotional figure. What is there anything specifically that you want to focus on in terms of B.J.’s character this time around?
MATTHIES: Yes, of course. B.J. has his own Arc, both in each game and in the trilogy itself. The stakes are raised because he's so horrifically injured at the beginning of The New Colossus. He can’t even stand up, essentially, but he still has to do what he has to do. That really sets him on a path for a harrowing journey in this game.
THTT: Stylistically speaking, was there anything that specifically influenced Wolfenstein II?
MATTHIES: I don’t think it’s possible to nail down anything specifically because we are a creative collective, and even though we have our own individual influences, we are all getting kind of old now. [laughs] So having creative work as your full-time job, incorporating our influences and inspirations almost becomes second nature. When you are young, you kind of rely more on your influences to get your mind going, but the longer you do that, those influences are impressed upon your muscle memory. That’s not to say there aren’t any influences on display in Wolfenstein II, but rather there are so many influences that they are a part of us and they all bleed together to create something unique and entirely different.
THTT: What was the most fun thing to bring to life in the course of the development of this game?
MATTHIES: I really enjoyed working on the cut scenes this time around, especially those that you have to play through. First of all, writing them, casting them, and watching them come to life is very rewarding and a lot of fun. There’s a lot that goes into those moments, like in the “Roswell” demo, we were so focused on getting the sound of the milkshake just right. You can
build a tension and make it seem like the scene can go in many different ways, but you have to focus on those milkshakes slurps, and we had to get those right. We had to instruct the actors how to perfectly make the sound of the milkshake clearing out the cup, and then we had to go in to post production and put so much care into that sound specifically. It is absolutely crucial to the scene so there was a lot of interaction with the audio team in order to create the perfect milkshake slurps.
It was also super important for us to correctly capture the environmental sounds, because we really wanted the place to sound like a real world. That was very challenging because if you don’t structure the recording sessions right, you know it’s not going to sound right. For instance, during the parade scene that is going on, all the actors have to speak up very loudly because that’s how it would sound near a loud parade. You can’t just record the actors speaking conversationally, so you have to keep track of all the conversations as well as where they are occurring. If you are able to do that, the end result will always be much better.
THTT: With the game taking place in America, was there any specific location or city that you wanted to take B.J.? Was it important to take him to major cities such as New York City or Washington D.C. or Los Angeles?
MATTHIES: I don’t really want to spoil too many of the locations, but the central plot of the game is B.J. going to different cities around the United States and recruiting small pockets of resistance cells in order to create one big army to overthrow the Nazi government and start a revolution. So you will get to explore some major U.S. landmarks, as well as some places that just represent Main Street Americana.
THTT: With VR looking to change the gaming industry on the horizon, have there been any plans to expand Wolfenstein II into the VR space?
MATTHIES: We think VR is super cool, but we feel like we are at our best when we focus on one thing at a time. So we don’t have anything concrete at this time. That’s not to say there won’t be anything in the future, but right now, it’s not exactly the first thing on our minds.
THTT: Without spoiling too much, can you give us a hint about where a third Wolfenstein game
could go? Might we see BJ fighting Nazis in space?
MATTHIES: I can’t say much, but I can promise it will go to some very cool places.
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