Schloss der Wölfe

I made a game about hunting Werewolf Hitler and punching Nazi zombies in the face. It’s called Schloss der Wölfe (“Castle of the Wolves”) and it’s out now for Windows and Linux:

Schloss der Wölfe (or “Wolf” for short, because I’m not going to keep typing ö) was conceived as a short personal game jam, in the vein of the 7DFPS jam but on my own schedule. I started work on it on September 15, and intended it to be done by September 25. It’s now almost Halloween and I’ve just launched it, so… what happened?

For starters, it was probably a poor idea to do a game jam during a real crunchy month at my job. I made very slow progress the first weekend and had no time or energy to work on it midweek, so by the second weekend, it was clear that I wouldn’t hit my deadline. But I still wanted to finish it, so I let it slide into October. It’s a good game for Halloween-month, after all. Then it slipped the mid-October timeframe, as I got sidetracked with various tech detours and let the scope of the project grow beyond the original plan. But I was determined to finish it by Halloween, and here it is!

Wolf is the third in a series of minimalist first-person games I’ve made over the past two years, after NEON STRUCT: Desperation Column and Li’l Taffer. These three games are similar in design to my commercial games of the 2010s (Eldritch, NEON STRUCT, and Slayer Shock)—it’s what I love to make and what my engine was largely built to do—and one of my goals for each was to test new features and improvements to my engine by forcing myself to ship something small instead of noodling on tech with no real target.

I had begun some initial work on Eldritch 2 earlier this year—and I hope to get back to it now that Wolf is done—but that project got held up for months as my life got busy with buying a home, summer parenting duty, and the aforementioned crunch, among many other things. So Wolf was also a good opportunity to clear my mind and shake off the rust after a few months away from regular work in my codebase. As such, I let myself explore avenues that I’d normally avoid during a game jam, such as:

  • Reorganizing my deferred renderer G-buffer to replace the reflectance channel with an implicit reflectance (determined by metallicity) and freeing up a channel for ambient occlusion maps.
  • Adding new features to the texture generator that I developed earlier this year for Eldritch 2, including support for creating AO maps.
  • Completely rewriting my procedural geometry generator functions, to simplify the process of adding new shapes.
  • Replacing the simple echo filter I’d been using since 2018 with an actual reverb filter (which involved a crash course in digital reverb design—fascinating topic that I never knew much about before).
  • Implementing console commands, finally.

So, yes, a lot of tech detours; but it accomplished that goal of shipping something new and not just leaning on what my engine could already do to make a game as fast as possible. I consider that a success!

Enough about tech, let’s talk about the game. This is the original pitch, as I wrote in my email thread of potential game jam ideas:

Something I’ve never done before is a zombie game, and I have a feeling zombies in my signature toy aesthetic could be funny AND tense. Some light survival mechanics in a mid-sized generated city (or castle?) and a simple L4D style goal… that’s compelling. Maybe make it a Wolfenstein-core Nazi zombie thing for added punch. Could also use the comics style of Fray [an abandoned game project of mine, not the Joss Whedon comic], and really lean into a classic Captain America vibe. Call it “Schloss der Wölfe” (Castle of the Wolves) or something. Codename could be “Wolf”.

Of course, I’m not the first person to discover that the only thing better than killing Nazis or killing zombies is killing Nazi zombies; but as I said, I’d never made a zombie game before, so it stuck. The original idea was more stealth- and survival-oriented, but as I began to explore the concept and came up with Werewolf Hitler (initially as a joke that mi-i-ight be a stretch goal at best, but eventually became the central premise of the game), the tone got sillier and the genre shifted toward action.

I nailed down the high-level shape of the map and the pacing beats pretty early, but the bulk of the level design didn’t happen until this past weekend. In between, I focused on the mechanics: splitting my hands state and weapons system apart to support dual-wielding (the left hand can only punch, but it is technically a weapon in the code), optimizing AIs for zombie hordes, adding a simple zombie toxin status effect, and a whole lot of bespoke scripting for the (ahem) big boss fight. Also, it’s truly surprising to me that I’d never previously shipped a game with explosive barrels. I’m happy to finally check that one off my gamedev bucket list.

I’ll probably share more as I unwind over the next few days and reflect on this project. It’s my favorite thing I’ve made in a while, but it’s been six weeks of intense work, and I’m tired.