So last night I got the Return to Castle Wolfenstein hookup. I also bought Serious Sam: The First Encounter, which I figured was appropriate, given the fact that Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is coming out next month.

Wolfenstein‘s an odd one. Gray Matter studios, who formerly called themselves Xatrix (everyone “quit” Xatrix to “form” Gray Matter) did the single player, Nevre Studios did the multiplayer. Id did the original game, so it’s “An id Game, developed by Gray Matter (with multiplayer by Nerve)”, somewhat akin to “Steven Speilberg Presents a Robert Zemeckis film”. The movie Back to the Future was directed by Zemeckis, but is usually credited to Speilberg by most since he’s the most recognizable name on the poster. Wolfenstein is a Gray Matter title but it’s considered an “id Game”. It makes sense all around – the game sells better because the average joe can’t tell the difference between “developed by” and “just has their name on it” (witness the number of people who think the same people who made Atari games in the 1970’s are making the new PS2 games by Infogrames with the Atari logo on them). In addition, id gets sales revenues from the fact that their logo is on it and it was their game to begin with (though I wonder who owned the rights to the old Castle Wolfenstein Apple II game the game Wolfenstein 3-D was a remake of).

The only people who don’t seem to come out on top in this deal are Nerve – they’ve been pushed to the back, so to speak. This is ironic since it was essentially their multiplayer game that made the game popular initially. I’ve heard from some people who just figured the single player portion of the game was a side dressing of sorts for the multiplayer game, which was the case with Quake III: Arena. This is not uncommon – I’ve known people who bought Goldeneye and a Nintendo 64 just to do deathmatch – caring nothing about the single player portion.

In 1998 Valve released Half-Life, instantly hailed as the best PC game ever made. However the multiplayer, while it didn’t suck it more or less was tacked on. It wasn’t until Counter-Strike came out a year later people started to play online a lot – and buy the game a lot. Valve did the smart thing and hired the CS team and made them Valve employees. Now they’re working on full blown Counter-Strike games. Ironically their original idea was to do the same thing with Team Fortress 2. Team Fortress was a pretty popular Quake (1) modifcation. The team wanted to make Team Fortress 2 for Quake II when they started to get the idea of making it a commercial expansion pack, or maybe even a standalone game. Then Valve got a hold of them and signed them to make Team Fortress 2 a Half-Life add-on pack. To tide the fans over they had them do Team Fortress Classic, a version of the original for Half-Life and made it a free download. However, TF2 has yet to be released and has gone from a Half-Life expansion to a full-blown standalone game using its own new engine. Meanwhile fans are getting their fill with TFC and CS.

The long and the short of this the fact that it now apparently takes multiple developers to properly do a game with single and multiplater components properly. When id did DOOM, they invented the deathmatch game (more or less) so there was nothing to worry about. However as time goes on the amount of quality gamers expect has multiplied. The development of the game Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 took twice as long as needed, due to the multiplayer component. As a result the game sold tremendously better. id Software grew tired of having to make single and multiplayer components for Quake and Quake II and then have gamers mostly just play the multiplayer, so they made Quake III multiplayer only, shaving development time in half. Whereas Valve is having internal teams do their multiplayer development, when id looked to farm out production of a Wolfenstein sequel they turned to the newly formed Gray Matter to do the job. The initial plan was for a single player game, perhaps with a multiplayer component later (an approach that Ion Storm Austin took with Deus Ex, which worked to a large extent), but then they decided to also contract Nerve to do the single player component. Now Wolfenstein is looking to shape up to be an example of how things can be done right – both the single and multiplayer aspects are outstanding.

Still, it’s almost sad that id will get the credit for this game. True, they did write the engine and the original game it was based on, and they did help a bit in the development, but it’s really Gray Matter and Nerve who made the game. Still, id gets the credit for whenever DOOM and Quake get ported to another platform, even though it’s someone else who does the work to port it. Plus, Gray Matter and Nerve could do much worse than “from the people who bought you Wolfenstein…”.

However, I bet Robert Zemeckis gets tired of being called “The Forrest Gump guy”.