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The man who made Wolfenstein (polygon.com)
189 points by doppp 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments



I played this game more than any other in the 1980s. The title screen had the name "Silas Warner" and over the years, I've periodically searched the web for information about this man. There's not much out there; the comments from the Id guys always come up as do his death in 2004.

This article is hands-down the most information you'll ever read about him.

If you're old enough to know the difference between Wolfenstein 3-D and Castle Wolfenstein, and enjoyed the first one, you'll appreciate this article.


> I played this game more than any other in the 1980s.

Me, too. My brother and I played whenever we couldn't be outside, or needed a break from Legos.

One of the best aspects of the game is that it featured cooperative play: it could be configured such that one player would move the character, and the other would aim and fire the pistol. It was a clever enhancement to single-player, and made the game twice as fun. We almost never played alone.

An interesting bug we discovered was that you could shoot, toss grenades, and even search and stick up guards through walls at outside corners. We mostly played on our Atari 800; I've always wondered if the Apple II version behaved the same way.

If anyone is interested, just 'sudo apt install atari800' and get the ROM from atarimania. (Don't be too critical of the controls if you're playing with xbox-style controllers- they're a terrible substitute for Atari joysticks.) Also, be sure to check out the PDF of the original game instructions, which include handy German translations of all the in-game dialog. ;)


Very much the same experience. A small plug for archive.org’s copy of the MS-DOS version which we played: https://archive.org/details/msdos_Castle_Wolfenstein_1984


The article just briefly mentions it, but the game I remember most from my AppleII days was RobotWar https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RobotWar

We were a couple of guys (and one AppleII) staying up all night designing robots, I still remember the names of some of my robots.

Like M.U.L.E. it was a good multiplayer game way ahead of its time.


Castle Wolfenstein in 1981, which was the first game to include digitized speech and an early example both of stealth gaming and of the World War II shooter.

It was also an early example of procedural generated levels. During startup, it would create and write the castle map layout to the floppy disk. If you wanted to replay the level, you could pull the disk out and add a write protect tab so it couldn’t be overwritten.


It's a minor nitpick, but it's more accurate to say the game would create the room configurations on startup (inner walls, doors, enemy players, chests, stair locations, etc.); the castle map for each level was fixed (Beyond Castle Wolfenstein worked the same way). I still have the maps my brother and I drew to aid in our escapes!


I still have that half-distorted digital German voice screaming at me to halt, and then screaming because I shot them, imprinted in my brain.


If you sell your IP, ask for an ongoing royalty, even if you only get a very small one. Sometimes this is called (forgive the phrase) "schmuck insurance". The idea is, if you sell something and it blows up you won't regret it because your small piece becomes meaningful.

I have worked in games a long time and in retrospect I really appreciate how big a difference business savvy can have on your career. Experienced people can't necessarily make you talented, but they may be able to improve your deal choices.


I think I just suffered a bout of the Mendela Effect.

The Commodore 64 release of Ghostbusters in 1984 had digital speech that said, "I've been Slimed." Also, if you pressed <space> while the intro song was playing (with the bouncing ball lyrics) you'd hear "Ghostbusters!"

I thought that was the first use of digitized voice, and is certainly the earliest one that immediately comes to mind.

What I didn't remember is that Castle Wolfenstein came out in 1981! I forgot the 2D version entirely.

Funny way our brain warps history...


I’m so glad I read this. I have fond memories playing Wolfenstein 3D on my dad’s computer and then downloading the shareware to my own computer later.

Silas Warner sounds like he was an awesome dude.


This article is not at all about Wolfenstein 3D. It's about the predecessor, Castle Wolfenstein, which has almost nothing to do it Wolfenstein 3D.


I, too, first played Wolf3D, and was thrown for a loop when I booted up the originals from a shareware sampler CD years later.

Duke Nukem is another one that has a less-well-known 2D version before the leap to 3D.


I loved Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem 2. They would be perfect mobile games and I really wish someone would release them


I played the 2D version (and beat it)! There was another 2D version that was more gritty and difficult.


I think he read the article. The first sentence was about Wolfenstein 3D, which was his personal experience with that series. The second sentence was about Silas Warner.


I think I demonstrated that I read the article.


you did? Castle Wolfenstein was never a shareware product. Wolfenstein 3D was


I have the original Wolfenstein disk for the Apple ][, complete with typed label.

Out of curiosity, I did email people at id software asking about Castle Wolfenstein and what the copyright status was, in maybe... 1997?, and got a emailed shrug, effectively. Not the biggest issue on their radar at that point.


My dad completed the game (escaped from the castle) back in '85. I actually have an Apple IIe with CW, it's still fun to play. The sound is excellent!


Wow, what a story! Silas was an early game pioneer and even many dont remember his games they were inspiration for the very known games to follow. It’s said that he was dumped to the side, he could have been productive if he’d been given the chance. Capitalism is quite brutal with its workforce, especially the ones who reach a phase in their life when they need some help. Sad..


While there is that, I think also people in the industry didn't know what they had on their hands. While it was new, so was just about everything else about the games. Minds were being blown pretty continually as the gaming industry and computers themselves improved.

There was no way of knowing Silas had basically invented the experience we expect for the entire industry from that point forward.

Mostly, I think it wasn't obvious until the 90's - a full decade later.


This article seems to me somewhat a rebuttal to the recent Scientific American article posted here a couple days ago supporting the popular notion that physical fitness and exercise go hand-in-hand with "brain health". https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-your-brain-ne... Some people have brilliant souls. Our bodies are just vessels that our souls drive around for a while. They wear out eventually no matter what. Stephen Hawking. Kim Peek. Silas Warner.


It's more than a "popular notion", it's a scientific theory with quite a bit of evidence behind it.

1. You're equating "brain health" with "brilliance", which aren't the same thing. 2. There's no reason to think that the above folks wouldn't have had even better brains if they had been able to move more. 3. Pretty much all modern biology contests the notion that our bodies are "just" vessels for our minds. Our gut alone has a significant impact on all sorts of mental states.

Don't confuse an outlier with a norm, or make claims without first trying to disprove a counterfactual.


Modern science cannot explain consciousness. I didn’t say the body was a vessel for the mind. I said it was a vessel for the soul.

Time spent “moving” is time not spent solving the mental problems that those great minds are known for.

Football players, fashion models, actors are always so smart because they exercise so much. /s


Again, brain health isn’t the same as brilliance.


I know a few people who smoke and haven't got lung cancer. Does that disprove the mountain of scientific evidence for the causal link between the two?

Or does it prove that outliers exist?

> Our bodies are just vessels that our souls drive around for a while. They wear out eventually no matter what.

He was 54 when he died. That's no age by anyone's standards.

Look after your health.


Being intelligent does not mean your brain is healthy. See Terry Davis for a tragic counterexample.


And conversely, being healthy doesn't mean you're intelligent, or that you will make better "executive decisions" than someone who doesn't get up at 5am and do crossfit for 3 hours before they arrive at work.


I read it kind of differently from you. It sounds like a real shame Silas Warner couldn't have enjoyed better health and consequently more time on this earth. If he was still so capable with those burdens, imagine how it would be without them. In addition to all the great work he must have been dealing with a lot of physical stress and pain.

I myself used to be obese, but not at Silas Warner levels. I found a way out of it and have a low-side-of-normal BMI now. But among many factors, the sedentary tech work culture fed this problem for me. There was a lot of stress driving it too. I know others in tech who have that issue or are in a similar situation. I am sad for them. I wish I could help them out of it.


his vessel went about 20 years early and it sounds like he stopped being mentally productive by his 40s, when many of us peak around then as tons of experience combines with only mildly declined cognitive ability at that point. but if you let yourself go physically you are just tired all the time by then.




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