Question: Previous installments of the game had some really memorable emotional beats in the narrative. Were there times where you felt that having a co-op buddy could undercut that kind of thing? How did you tackle that?
Hägglund: The short answer is yes. [laughs] It’s hard to put together the long one. The thing is, when we started with this narrative, from the get-go–it’s still the same sort of harsh subject matter. It’s about death and fascism. But we knew the tone was going to be a lot lighter.
Some of the influences on the narrative are things like the Goonies, those kinds of adventure films for kids, believe it or not. Or the Famous Five adventures, the English novels. If you look at one of those books and the beats in Youngblood, you could switch them out. Something happens. It’s a mystery. The adults won’t help out because they don’t believe you or they don’t care. You have to fix this shit yourselves. Let’s go on an adventure.
We knew we were going to make it a bit less dark and gritty, and I guess a little less emotional in the process, but it was an active choice.
Öjerfors: These side projects we have are places where we allow ourselves to do things a bit differently. If you look at our previous side project, The Old Blood, you jump back to the 1940s and fight zombies. The tone and the setting are quite different from New Order. It’s a chance for us to experiment and have some fun.
Question: I understand that Wolfenstein is traditionally more of a single-player game, and commercially why you would have wanted to be able to play the game with one person and an AI companion. But did you ever, from a design perspective, consider having the game be co-op only? How would that have changed your approach to the design?
Öjerfors: That’s probably a thought that happened many times when a programmer was trying to solve the whole AI project. But no, we knew we wanted it to be playable if you just wanted to be on your own. We knew that from the start. It was very important to us, actually. If it hadn’t been important we wouldn’t have done it. Getting an AI companion working at all, and then getting to work in a believable fashion, making it add to the gameplay–again, it was a huge challenge, and we spent a lot of time and sweat on it. If it hadn’t been important to us we wouldn’t have done it.
Question: Yesterday we had an interesting discussion on stage talking about violence in games. There was an underlying message that if you’re not careful, whether you want to be or not, you can end up making propaganda for war, sending the message that it’s okay to shoot the bad guy. Wolfenstein is obviously all about shooting Nazis. What do you think about that, and the discussion we had?
Afzoud: I was also at that panel, and it’s a good question. When it comes to games about fighting Nazism, it’s inherently something that’s violent. It’s a struggle of liberation. Europe is being occupied. The world is being occupied. You’re liberating your fellow human beings from a fascist menace.
When it comes to violence in video games, for me it’s not completely black and white. There are situations where violence is acceptable, for example self-defense. That’s what we’re doing in New Order. It’s self-defense against Nazis and Nazism. It starts out with the massacre in the asylum. When you gain control of the player it’s entirely an act of self-defense. There’s no room for debate with a Nazi holding a gun to your head.
GamesBeat: The thing I’d think about too–there’s an easier path sometimes if you have “acceptable” enemies. Nazis are probably the most acceptable enemies there are.
Afzoud: Generally, most people consider them to be a menace. They’ve been defeated before, and that’s what we’re doing in our alternate universe of Wolfenstein.
Question: I think that’s probably also why there were so many World War II games back in the day. Once people got tired of World War II, then we started seeing a lot of zombie games. They’re also easy to shoot.
Question: The last Wolfenstein, the single-player game, it didn’t sell as much as perhaps people expected it would. Did you worry that the departures in this game might alienate players who enjoyed the very first rebooted Wolfenstein?
Öjerfors: When we decided to make a co-op game, when we started working on it, we realized that we would have to break with a number of things that we’ve done in a few years of Wolfenstein games to make that fun. This is a side game, and I hope people really enjoy it, but if not, the other games are still there. I don’t think we’ve ruined anything by trying something new.
Afzoud: Co-op from a Wolfenstein perspective is something we’d always wanted to do, always wanted to try. We haven’t felt pressured or forced in any way toward that. It’s something that comes naturally to Machine Games — to develop the Wolfenstein universe, develop the gameplay of Wolfenstein, and have the player experience the world, the setting, and the combat through the eyes of someone else.
GamesBeat: Did you have any worry that the big project might somehow be delayed because you put more energy into this one?
Öjerfors: When we did Youngblood, we were just focused on Youngblood. Everyone was working on Youngblood. When we did Wolfenstein II, everyone was working on Wolfenstein II.
Hägglund: And we always knew that in this process, we were going to be doing one of these side projects. These projects are where we try new things and experiments.
GamesBeat: Why not just do the big projects? Do you feel like you need a creative break in some ways?
Afzoud: There are multiple reasons we do it this way. The game devs here all know how taxing it can be to do a full big triple-A production. That’s not the only reason, but like you mentioned–not a creative break, maybe, but a different direction.
Hägglund: A palate cleanser.
Afzoud: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. That’s absolutely something that we as developers want and need, and something that our fans and players request as well. If we keep making the same thing over and over again, we don’t give the fans anything new. The fans want more Wolfenstein, but what about a Wolfenstein game where you’re not alone?
Öjerfors: Part of it is that we wanted this game ourselves, too. We want to do things we think are fun. We make Wolfenstein. We pitched Wolfenstein to Bethesda because we love it and we grew up with it. It means a lot to us. That’s why we’re making this. We wanted to make a co-op game, so when we had a chance to do this side game, we tried to do that. We make games we want to play.
Question: Period universe elements, like the arcade in Wolfenstein II, it’s obviously fun for you to put that in. How much of that is part of the flow of the game design? Do you ever think about things that you could eventually put in a ‘90s Wolfenstein?
Öjerfors: It’s a constant mix between story and gameplay. One example would be the wheelchair sequence in the beginning of Wolfenstein II. Our game director had always wanted to try that sort of gameplay and make it work really well. That became part of the story. Why is B.J. in a wheelchair? There’s always a give and take between the gameplay people and the story people.
One thing I can say is that every big project starts with an email we send to everyone: “Where should we go this time? What locations should B.J. go to in this game?” We get a big list of cool locations in the game. We select a number of those. We already have an idea of the story, but we write the story around those locations. There are many different parts of the game that affect each other in that way.
Hägglund: When it comes to the time-jumping in Youngblood, it’s a sort of side effect. We wanted to make a game about the twins, and we knew when the twins were born. They had to grow up a bit for the game to work.
Öjerfors: And we like the ‘80s.
Hägglund: [laughs] Yeah, also we just like the ‘80s.
Disclosure: The organizers of Devcom paid my way to Cologne. Our coverage remains objective.