Signs his homework B. Blaze.
So who is this B.J. Rowan character, anyway? Well, for starters, those are my real initials. No joke.
I got the shareware version of Wolfenstein 3-D from a kid down the street in early 1993, and history promptly wrote itself. I had simply never had so much fun with a computer game. Because our PC was set up in the basement, I spent many a night in my own cold, dank dungeon, exploring the dangerous and thrilling corridors of one Nazi stronghold after another. I explored every nook and cranny, scrubbed every damn wall and unlocked every secret level. I worked German expletives into my everyday language. In short, I was an übergeek.
By today’s standards, I’m an old-school Wolfer — there for the glory days of studying hint books, calling Apogee and saying Aardwolf, developing custom levels with some of the earliest tools available. I come from an era before modifying the source was even possible, when the height of mapping perfection was to meet or surpass the quality, feel and atmosphere of id Software’s original maps. So it should come as no surprise that “classical realism” has always been my school of thought in Wolf3D level design. Rather than try something daring or never-before done, I seek to recreate the classic greatness of the masters.
While most of us old-schoolers have long since moved on (have any of you heard from Stanley Stasiak or Warren Buss lately?), I’ve stuck around — mostly observing from afar, but occasionally contributing — as I’ve simply never found another game that offered such a vast array of fun in such an easily customizable package. For me, long after ISA sound cards and EMS managers have passed into obscurity, Wolfenstein lives on. While my vintage DOS rig keeps running, I doubt I’ll ever be far from a working copy of Mapedit.
And yeah, I really did take the nickname of B.J. Blaze there for a while.
The reluctant hero and his muse.
Of course, I was gratified (and excited) to learn that there were people out there who not only played my Wolfenstein levels, but who actually loved them. When I first got into level design, everything I created was for my own enjoyment — sharing my work online was a new idea in 1994, and it was just icing on the cake to hear feedback from people who had actually played levels I had designed. But that’s not why I did it.
Over time, I found that the one thing that keeps me coming back for more is that desire to experience Wolfenstein again, the way we all experienced it the first time. I would seek to achieve this experience through my own custom level designs, in which I constantly strove to recreate the same haunting atmosphere, pulse-pounding realism and suspense that id infused into each of their original 60. My designs came to me naturally at times I couldn’t control or predict. Now you have the answer to the great question of why it takes me so damn long to create a set of levels. If I’m not in the zone, nothing gets done. Better a quality product released late than a rushed mess released on time.
This is also why I’ve made repeated appearances and disappearances from the Wolfenstein developer’s community at large. Sometimes, Wolfenstein is on my mind for a while. Most of the time, it isn’t. In the last seven years that I’ve been married and a part of the working world, I’ve developed a great number of new passions as well as new responsibilities. As little time as I thought I had when I was in high school, in point of fact, I had all the time in the world. That’s a luxury I no longer enjoy.
To anyone whom I’ve slighted, screwed or shafted over the years, I offer my sincere apologies. Sometimes life kicks you in the ass and makes you realize that what you’ve been spending so much time on is just a game, a game that needs to take a backseat to more pressing matters. Hopefully we all harbor no hard feelings. My desire not to be contacted on the subject of Wolfenstein is just a means by which I hope to avoid putting anyone else into such an unfortunate position again.
A brief project history.
- 1994 - The Renovation - 60 levels
- 1995 - Conflict in the Fatherland - 60 levels with sounds and graphics
- 2000 - Project Totengraeber - 48 level total conversion with custom engine
- 2007 - Desperate Measures - in development
Into the future.
I have a family and a career that keeps me very well occupied, but will there always be room for Wolfenstein now and again? Time will tell, but so far, I’m inclined to say “yes.” I respectfully won’t code-for-hire or sign up for joint projects, but am still more than happy to design levels for my own entertainment — and yours, too.