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Project Totengraeber (1999-2000)


The Big One.

Project Totengraeber, at the time of its release, represented the culmination of everything I’d hoped Wolfenstein editing could be. It’s a completely self-contained Wolfenstein mission with 48 levels, a modified engine, remastered graphics, new sound effects, and a cinematic story based on the original episode two, “Operation: Eisenfaust.”

The Allies have learned of Doctor Schabbs’ plan to resurrect an army of undead soldiers, a plan codenamed Project Totengraeber (Gravedigger). As B.J. Blazkowicz, you are sent behind enemy lines to infiltrate a network of Nazi strongholds, each connected by subterranean tunnels. You must work your way to Schabbs’ secret lab and stop him from unleashing his mutant army upon the world.

This was my first foray into working with the Wolfenstein source code, and I managed to accomplish more than I had planned. Some of the new engine features include seamless level progression (one continuous 48-level episode), four available keys, new health bonuses and larger ammo pickups, ambient sounds, chainguns that jam and must be replaced, new end art and help screens, and lots more stuff.

Totengraeber was a landmark achievement in the Wolfenstein community at the time of its initial release, combining several elements of modification that had either not yet been seen, or were not yet in wide use.

Behind the Scenes.

When I first began making Wolfenstein levels in 1994, I was disappointed by one particular aspect: Things like the locations of each episode’s secret elevator, the ceiling colors, and the music selections were hard-coded and could not be changed. With the release of Wolfenstein’s source code in 1995, I had thought all of my problems were instantly solved. I was wrong.

While I could compile the code, the end result was always a screwed-up display, rendering the game unplayable. CompuServe’s forums were filled with complaints from people experiencing the same issues. Little did we know at the time that our compilers were to blame — most of us were using Turbo C, which was unable to properly compile certain chunks of the code. Once I was introduced to Borland C++ 3.1 (the compiler used by id Software) in 1999, like magic, everything started to work. I was in Wolfenstein heaven, all over again.

Immediately, I resurrected all of the ideas I’d ever had about customizing the source code and began work on a new project. Having recently discovered Gary Ragland’s Schabbs 2000 and Assassinate Hitler add-ons, I had a feel for the kind of stuff that could be done. I wasn’t interested in adding rocket launchers or giant squid — I wanted to simply extend Wolfenstein’s functionality in a way that was still true to the original game. My favorite original episode had always been “Operation: Eisenfaust,” so I decided to base my new project on that story, flesh it out a bit, and go from there.

While Totengraeber was met with wild approval upon its release, a core contingent of Wolfenstein enthusiasts opined that its level design did not measure up to the standards I’d previously set with Conflict In The Fatherland. During my harried, all-night coding sessions, it was true that I had neglected the project’s level design to a degree. It simply wasn’t my primary focus, as I was spending all of my time tweaking and fine-tuning the source code, and dreaming up new ideas to throw in (weapon jamming, for example, was added entirely on a whim). Eventually, I was having so much fun coding the thing, that I didn’t want to work on the level designs!

While the end result is no slouch, in my opinion, it does indeed fall short of the mark. Make no mistake; Project Totengraeber will provide you with hours of Wolfenstein enjoyment, but purists seeking the ultimate in level design — especially those who played CITF — may be somewhat disappointed.

Due to pressure from fans, and events in my life which forced me to slow development of the project (graduation, marriage, etc.), I released the first half of Totengraeber as “Phase 1” on October 30, 1999. It would take me another year to finish the remaining levels, and finally launch “Phase 2/Final” on December 23, 2000. Merry Christmas.

The Developer’s Kit.

After the release of Phase 2/Final, in response to interest, I released the Totengraeber Developer’s Kit. It contains the complete source code for Project Totengraeber, the TrueType font I used for the status bar, Mapedit MAP and OBJ definition files, and a music selection chart (which will help you assign music when used with the custom AUDIOT file supplied by Chris Chokan).

Download the Totengraeber Developer’s Kit

Apparently, since the release of the Developer’s Kit, several other gamers have created their own add-ons using the Totengraeber source code as a base. There’s even supposed to be a sequel floating out there somewhere.

Untold Secrets.

  • Almost every wall texture in Project Totengraeber was remastered from the high-res Macintosh versions, giving the game a slightly more realistic, but softer, appearance. A selection of totally new walls are also present; some of them, like the hospital tile, were based on wall textures from the mostly-forgotten 1993 Microprose RPG, The Legacy: Realm of Terror.
  • Version 1.0 of Totengraeber used a custom key combination to enable debug codes. This was changed in a point release the following day, due to complaints from laptop users, whose truncated keyboards simply didn’t contain the necessary keys!
  • I commented very little (if any) of my changes to the source code, which presented quite a problem later when fans asked me how I accomplished a certain feature. I was at a total loss to explain it to them. Now, going on a decade later, I’ve completely forgotten how most of this stuff works. If you want to understand my source code, your only hope is to download it, study it, and reverse-engineer it. I’m sure it’s all rather embarrassing, anyway.
  • Originally the plan was for both the chaingun and the MP-40 machine gun to potentially jam, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the game take away only the machine gun and not the chaingun. The entire concept for weapon breakage, incidentally, was inspired by System Shock 2, the awesome PC game that was released in 1999 and that I found myself addicted to. I used to turn off all the lights in my apartment, light a single candle, turn up my PC speakers and play Shock 2 in the middle of the night. (It’s now one of my favorite PC games of all time.)