Several lead members of the MachineGames studio have answered to a lot of questions from the community in a recent AskMeAnything session on reddit, with some very interesting information about their work on the past and upcoming Wolfenstein games (in the order of the picture above):
- Tommy Tordsson Björk, narrative director
- Jerk Gustafsson, executive producer
- Axel Torvenius, art director
- John Jennings, senior producer
What is the status of Wolfenstein: Youngblood compared to other main Wolfenstein titles?
Jerk: With Youngblood we wanted to make a spin-off story that was continuation of the series, but at the same time felt like an exploration of something new. So, while we don’t see Youngblood as Wolfenstein 3, it is a bigger title and much more of a continuation of the storyline in New Order and New Colossus than the one in Old Blood.
Axel: It will actually be somewhat different, lighter and more non-linear, as well flirting with 80s adventure movies.
… and Cyberpilot VR?
Jerk: Cyberpilot is a spin-off, yes, but also related to the story of Youngblood. Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot is actually a prequel to Youngblood and the effects of some of the events in Cyberpilot appears in Youngblood.
How long will Wolfenstein: Youngblood be compared to other games of the series?
John: Regarding game-length, it’s hard to say. We’re doing a much more open-ended/branching gameplay structure on this one so, while there’s a golden path to finish the main story, if you want to play all of the side missions you’re easily looking at a length more similar to New Order/Colossus than Old Blood.
Jerk: Youngblood is different than our previous titles in many ways. Player progression is level-based and the game structure is non-linear, which means the experience is player directed in a way that we’ve never done before where players will be able to perform missions in any order they please. And while the storyline/campaign may be a bit lighter than New Order/New Colossus, the total gameplay time of Youngblood will exceed those titles.
John: In many ways, Youngblood is more different to New Colossus than New Colossus was different to New Order. This is the first time we have an open-ended structure so when you’ve played through the first few maps and you get to the hub, which is the Resistance headquarters in Paris, then you’re free to do missions and play them in whichever order you want, which is pretty exciting for us. Many of the maps are a lot more open that those in our previous Wolfensteins too. We’ve also added a level-based progression system with RPG elements, giving you a lot more opportunity to customise your experience. So, this is all new for us. Fun and scary at the same time.
What are the links between the recent Wolfenstein games and older ones in term of story?
Tommy: The storyline in New Order was actually written as a direct continuation from Raven’s Wolfenstein, so many of the story elements of that game returned in New Order, such as Caroline Becker and of course the big bad General Deathshead. We looked at the story of the first Wolfensteins as more inspirational and not something we had to strictly stick by. We incorporated many aspects from those games, but remixed them a bit and infused into our own games because we wanted to keep the spirit of the originals preserved.
Is the story of Return to Castle Wolfenstein canon for you?
John: For us, Wolfenstein Old Blood was our homage to RTCW, so it’s hard to say that both games can be canon given the overlaps in story and characters. But the fact that we made Old Blood as our love-letter to RTCW shows how we feel about that it. Awesome game.
Jerk: The Old Blood was very much an homage to Return to Castle Wolfenstein. In general, the previous games in the series have greatly influenced both narrative and game design – the story of The New Order was based on Wolfenstein 2009 as an example. As for Youngblood – we do have some special treats for our retro fans … X-???
Was it difficult to rejuvenate such an old IP for Wolfenstein: The New Order and more recent games? And to work on a character like BJ Blazkowicz?
Axel: From a visual point of view it was a great but fun challenge. Paying tribute and build upon the original IP and still make something new and add our own flavor to it. I myself grew up with original Wolfenstein so I was very excited getting the chance to work on this. Envisioning and building out the world has been a lot of hard work, trying to visualize an engaging and interesting world to explore.
Tommy: It’s of course a quite complex process to define a character that you’re going to write an interesting story for. A lot of things happen on the way and you can’t keep track of how everything actually fell into place until it’s just there. But I think one of the first things that we really liked when we tried to reimagine BJ as a character for New Order was the idea that he’s a just a guy from Texas who is really tired of fighting all the damn time and he just wants to retire and lead a peaceful life somewhere. I think that gave us a dynamic starting point for how we should treat him as a character. He’s so relatable in many ways, but at the same time he is so incredibly good at killing Nazis, so he can’t really do what he actually wants. He has to keep fighting for the rest of the world. To realize this for the player, we used interior monologues to show off BJ’s rich inner life, and you get to know his various desires and also his flaws. I think the contrast between that inner life of BJ and the action-packed, unbelievable situations he is thrown into is what makes his character so special.
What were your inspiration for the creation of the world and locations of the Wolfenstein games? Will there be some landmark places to explore like Roswell in Wolfenstein 2?
Axel: Its a tricky question, since we always try to mash in as many different locations as possible, to give the best experience. The style overall has been for several games now, a mix of a slightly stylized look but at the same time get elements of realism in there. Location-wise, from a visual point of view, the core focus is always to try to make as interesting environments as possible, while at the same time supporting the gameplay. A lot of inspiration is drawn from settings that thrives in conspiracy theories, mixed up with real locations, but then added to, twisted, and re-shaped to fit our lore.
John: While we don’t have any maps that are solely about the story experience, as we did with Roswell, we still have a lot of environmental story telling happening in Youngblood. Our resistance hub is in the Paris Catacombs and there are plenty of people you’ll meet there with stories to tell.
How long was it between the story of Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus and Wolfenstein: Youngblood? Is America free of nazis? Shall we know what happened in between?
John: It’s been 19 years between the games. By this time, all of the world is free from the Nazis other than their stronghold in Europe.
When you play the game you’ll find that the Nazis have been pushed back a long way since the revolution started in The New Colossus. The world is a very different place and the third reich are definitely on the back foot.
Tommy: Yes, you will learn some of what happened, for sure. Not everything, but some.
What were the choices you had to make in order to keep balance of tone between humor and dramatic moments?
Tommy: Maybe it sounds a bit simple, but it was never really a conscious decision from us. It’s just the way we like to tell stories and the kind of stories we like to read or watch. I personally don’t like being locked down into playing one particular note over and over. I like having dynamic stories that are funny and dramatic and horrifying at the same time – sort of like how bizarre real life is. It’s not a straight road forward until you die. It’s a winding, twisting roller-coaster that sometimes makes you feel like you’re in heaven and other times like it’s going to tear you apart. One of my favorite storytellers of all time is David Lynch – I think his movies perfectly embodies those kind of genre-defying stories. I don’t know if that explains anything, but there you go 🙂 And for your second question, I think it just felt like a natural progression to go even bolder with the story in New Colossus. That’s where we were heading all along.
Will there be any supernatural or occult aspects in the story of Youngblood?
Axel: I am afraid the supernatural components are not that many in Young Blood, but we have not scaled down on the Nazi weirdness and crazy Nazi science bits!
But who knows, myself is particularly interested in the paranormal and the occult and I found it a blast when we were developing Old Blood to dabble a bit with that theme.
How do you create weapons and combat in Wolfenstein?
Axel: On the topic of visual design, we always try to bring in elements from german WWII weaponry, and then mix it up with our own ideas and features, making them over the top but still great fun to play with.
Have you been influenced by the book and TV series “The man in the high castle”?
Tommy: I love Philip K. Dick but I haven’t read that one. And I have avoided reading it so I wouldn’t get too influenced.
How Wolfenstein: Youngblood will remain a “real” Wolfenstein game with coop and non-BJ characters? How will coop and abilities work between the twin sisters?
Jerk: Youngblood will definitely maintain the core of Wolfenstein. Killing Nazi’s in co-op is really fun and B.J.s daughters truly shows that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
John: The AI takes control of your sister if you’re not playing with a friend. As well as the open-plan/open-ended levels we do have some more linear parts where your sister will need to be nearby for you to progress.There’ll be no waiting around for her to catch up though… we have a system we’ve called “Watsoning” internally, which some of you might understand if you’ve watched enough youtube videos, to make sure you dont have to wait wait around.
Jerk: There are abilities that are separated [between the sisters], but we are also introducing something we call Pep Signals that you can use to support you sister with during combat [in coop or alone].
There will be a revive mechanic and you and your [sister] will have “shared lives” which means that if any of you bleed out and die, you will lose one of your lives. Exploring the environments you will also be able to find new lives so in that sense we’re bringing back yet another retro element to the series.
In addition – and this is really nice – your [sister] can actually lower the difficulty level to easy or casual while you can remain on medium – and if, or when, your [sister] exceeds your skills, she can select an even harder difficulty!
Tommy: [There will also be a matchmaking system to find a buddy in coop game.]
Is there a Mein Leben difficulty mode in Youngblood? Some mission replay? A matchmaking system to find a buddy in coop game? Skins for weapons and armors? Post-launch events?
Tommy: No Mein Leben. The difficulty settings are Easy, Casual, Medium, Hard, Very Hard, and Über!
There are missions that you can replay in the game, but not all of them.
Yes! [for the match-making system]
[Skins] can be earned through in-game currency.
We’re not revealing any future plans [of post-launch] at this point, but there will be a number of activities and challenge the player can do even after the game has been completed.
Was the coop mode a big challenge for you?
John: Coop has certainly been a learning curve for us; our focus has been single player in the past of course. The challenges are real, but not especially unique. Keeping everything synchronised properly etc. Also, building fun combat scenarios where the nazis have to respond to getting shot at by two Blazkowiczs is a new thing 🙂
Jerk: To be honest, this has been a new experience for us and it’s not only the co-op aspect that has provided challenges. Ever since the Riddick days, we’ve been doing linear, narrative single-player game experiences and when we began production of Youngblood we had to think in a much more non-linear fashion – how we approached not only game and combat design, but also story. Our approach has also been, from the very start, to try to mirror the co-op experience as close as possible to the solo experience as we want players to be able to rely on their AI sister to help out in combat as well as in progression. Working together with our dear friends and colleagues at Arkane Studios in Lyon has been very helpful in this process and I think the collaboration between our sister studios will show great results – the game is all about building that sisterly bond and kicking Nazi ass together.
Will players be able to play together on various platforms (PC, consoles)?
John: No crossplay for Youngblood sorry!
Shall we need to interact with a prompt to get loots in Wolfenstein: Youngblood?
Axel: In young blood loot drop are actually walk-over.
How was your collaboration with Arkane on Wolfenstein: Youngblood?
John: It was great working with them; they’re a really awesome team. We certainly learned some things from them and I’d like to think they learned some things from us too. It’s really nice being part of the Zenimax/Bethesda family; there are so many studios you can talk to and share experiences with. Our past collaborations have been mostly with id in the past though, so it’s been great to work with Arkane directly for the first time.
Machinegames is leading up and directing the project but certainly Jerk (Game Director at MG) and Dinga (Game Director at Arkane) talked a lot near the start of the project about ambitions and common goals for the game to make sure we were all aligned. In terms of day-to-day production though, we had to find a way to make things work practically, given the geographic separation between the studios. Arkane worked on some of the maps and we at MG worked on other ones. Mostly the core gameloop and systems have been developed at MG though.
What is your policy about crunch during the development of games in the studio ? And in Sweden?
John: I’m sure you know that crunch is a difficult topic. “Finding what’s fun” in games is so hard to schedule and plan for. The labour laws in Sweden are very prescriptive about what’s legal but crunch is also something that we’re actively working at eliminating from our studio, and I say that genuinely, rather than as some trite PR answer. We’ve built a policy over the last 12 month and we’re putting in a lot of effort to stick to it, even if that makes life for us in management more difficult from a business perspective sometimes.
How can you achieve such a high-quality for your games?
Axel: We at MG love games and we love making games. So, we spend a lot of time on doing so, iterating a lot. When iterating a lot, the chance of making something that is solid and and coherent is greater. We at least try our very hardest to make games we hope people will enjoy playing them, as much as we enjoy making them.
And keep them running smoothly? What was your experience with the id Tech 6 engine?
John: We set ourselves of the goal of 60Hz, even on consoles. We really think that makes the best gameplay experience so we work hard to hit it wherever we can.
It’s a real challenge of course [to continue innovating on id Tech engine]. Our engineers are some of the brightest and most dedicated guys I’ve worked alongside and we get to work closely with the guys at id on the engine and, frankly, they’re wizards.
And new consoles are exciting! They always open up new opportunities and we cant wait to get our hands on them.
What about the LGBT representation in the Wolfenstein games?
Tommy: Well, in my head, some of our characters are LGBT, but I won’t go into if there’s anything highlighted in the storyline for Youngblood. However, one of the major characters in New Order and New Colossus, Caroline Becker, is a kick-ass lesbian Nazi killer. When it comes to how we implement it, well, we just try to write characters in a way that feels natural and hopefully in a way that anyone can relate to. We try to create characters who are human in all the wonderful ways they are like in real life, but throw them into these fantastic, crazy situations. That’s what makes working on Wolfenstein so much fun too!
What is the most funny enemy for you in your Wolfenstein games?
Axel: From a visual point of view, its pretty hard to pick just one. All robotic enemies and bigger mechas has been a blast designing. For the moment I would probably pick the Zerstörer…
John: For me, I really enjoyed the Golem at the end of Old Blood. Perhaps the gameplay wasn’t everything we hoped with him, but I think it’s one of the most unique enemies we’ve worked on during our Wolfenstein games.
What are your favorite moments in the story of all Wolfenstein games (even old ones)?
Axel: Fighting the Elite guards in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the first encounter with Deathshead and supersoldaten in TNO, the Golem sequence in TOB and the Hiler scene on Venus in TNC.
How will the buddy pass of the deluxe edition work?
John: If you order the deluxe version you get a special entitlement that unlocks another option on the main menu to invite a Buddy to the game. Your buddy needs to download a “trial” version of the game (free) and be running that version. You can then invite that buddy to play with you. The “buddy” cant start the game by him/herself though.
What about the censor on the game Wolfenstein: Youngblood in Germany?
John: Regarding Germany, it’s complex and difficult to talk about. We’re actively discussing with the USK board to look at what our options are in the changing legal landscape.
Was there more cutscenes in Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus than in previous games?
Tommy: We definitely had more focus on cutscenes in New Colossus. Mostly that was because of the way that the New Colossus was built compared to New Order. We had a much bigger focus on having open ended, non-linear levels and so many of them weren’t really suited for events such as the train scene in New Order, which was a complete in-game narrative experience. Roswell was made to be that kind of level where you could be in the world and experience a Nazi-occupied small American town.
Was there some particular gameplay elements that were cut in the previous Wolfenstein games?
Tommy: We had a longer super cool driving section in New Order that has be heavily cut down due to time restraints.
Axel: Time is always the enemy when making games and there is always a lot of ideas that get scrapped along the way, in favor of keeping the best ideas & concepts. A lot of the times though, if we cant fit a specific enemy or weapon into the current game, we surely try to include it in the next title.
There is one thing actually… we wanted to have the PL hi-jack a Nazi robot city on wheels, drive it through Grand Canyon and crash it into the Hoover Dam.
Do you plan to create a nazi base on Mars, after the moon and Venus?
Jerk: A Martian Nazi base indeed sounds cool – but once you get to play Doom Eternal you will also find out that it’s going to be very difficult to make something cooler than Doom!
How have you created the nazi media for the game?
Axel: The overall approach when creating the Nazi media is to use a large portion of dark humor and a lot of hard work. We spend alot of time building out the in-game graphic designs like posters, commercial etc. We have a fantastic marketing team at Bethesda that really knows how to bring out the best from the IP. When creating the in-game media, we look a lot on the style of the era and try to mimic it as much as possible, obviously adding our own weird twist to it.
Shall we know which sister is actually the mom of Commander Keen?
John: All I can say is… check out the nicknames that the sisters give each other…
Who is composing the soundtrack of Wolfenstein: Youngblood?
John: Martin Stig Andersen returns from New Colossus and we’re also working with Tom Salta for the first time, which has been a great experience.
Any timed exclusivity with the Epic Store?
John: No, no timed exclusive on Epic!
Any plan to release more Wolfenstein collectibles?
Axel: Not that I know of, but if it would happen I would be the first to line up outside the toy shop!
And if they could develop a new Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory multiplayer game? Or Quake 5? Or even a RPG game?
Jerk: Of course, we are huge fans of Enemy Territory and such an opportunity would be super-exiting.
Quake is the reason I got into gaming. Discovering WorldCraft and Level Design, making maps for Quake, was one of the best experiences of my life – I even still do it today. Developing a Quake game (a re-imagination of Quake 1) is and will always be on my bucket list, but working with Wolfenstein and getting to work closely with my heroes over at id Software is pretty awesome too.
Axel: [RPG game?] No. We are quite heavily focused on full on action fps. Our colleagues at Bethesda is also doing it so very well!
Tommy: Personally, I would love to work on something Lovecraftian!
Their favorite non-Wolfenstein games? Currently Overwatch (Tommy), Metro: Exodus (Jerk and Axel) and Fallout 76 (Axel). And in general? Wizball on the Commodore 64 (John), Fallout, Arkane games, Mad Max, Limbo, Inside (Axel), Half-Life, System Shock 2, Silent Hill 2 (Tommy).