The Man Who Made Wolfenstein (Topic)

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The Man Who Made Wolfenstein


Carey Ann Owen takes seriously the legacy of her husband Silas Warner, a man almost no one remembers but has left a huge mark on video game history. "He was a genius, but he didn't get the award he deserved," says Carey of her husband to Polygon.

Silas Warner is the creator of Castle Wolfenstein in 1981. It was the first game to feature voice acting, and is also considered one of the first stealth games and shooters about World War II. Three years later, he released the sequel, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein. Warner died in 2004 at the age of 54.


He was one of the early pioneers of game design. But unlike those who received fame and fortune from their work, he remained in the shadows.

During his greatest development successes, Warner ran a small studio called Muse Software. He was not a businessman, and the company went bankrupt in 1987. Its assets, including the rights to Wolfenstein, were sold to brokers.

In 1992, id Software bought Wolfenstein from brokers for $ 5,000. The company's two co-founders, John Carmack and John Romero, were fans of the original Wolfenstein games and wanted the rights to the title to create their own WWII shooter. This is how Wolfenstein 3D was born.

This game has been a major driving force in the development of the popularity of first person shooters. Carmack and Romero continued building Doom and grew rich.

Later in 2009, Bethesda Softworks bought id Software and acquired the rights to Wolfenstein. The company has released four Wolfenstein games since 2014, including last year's Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Warner's creation is one of the most popular and recognizable titles today.

After Muse closed, Warner began working on games at various studios such as MicroProse and Virgin Interactive. Those who remember working with him, including Firaxis founder Sid Meyer and famed game composer Tommy Tallarico, say that colleagues who admired his games called him a little celebrity. He was hard to miss at 2 meters tall and weighing 300 pounds. But many who knew him say that he was socially unadapted and awkward, often reacting with surprise to complements to his games.

He was not interested in fame, only computers. He worked in these studios mainly as a programmer and technical problem solver, not as a game designer. Eventually, Warner retired from the industry, using his talent for dealing with computers in a wide variety of fields.


He spoke German fluently and loved to compose music. But his life was not easy. At one point, he was on the verge of vagrancy, living in cheap motel rooms. He got married at the end of his life. And despite having a great partner, he spent his last years battling ailments.


“He had diabetes and kidney problems, plus arthritis and high blood pressure,” says Owen. “It's a bad combination. Silas had to devote himself to survival and hospital travel. But we were very determined. ”

Great intelligence

Owen tells his husband's life story:

“He was handsome, sensitive, with a sense of morality and high intelligence,” she says. "Silas's magnificent character was instilled by his mother, who almost gave her life for him."

Warner spent his childhood in Chicago. His father was a wealthy industrialist and mistreated his young son and wife. One day he threw Silas into the wall. Later, Silas's mother, Anne, was driving with her son on the highway to Chicago. She stopped and found that the brake pads were cut.


Ann and Silas fled to live in Indiana. She struggled to raise the boy on her own, but even so she found the time to graduate and started working as a teacher.

“She supported him in every possible way, and gave him independence. He spent a lot of time alone while she worked. He used this time by reading and learning about things that interested him, he was especially fond of science and history. ”

Warner attended school where his knowledge was encouraged. The teachers devoted a lot of time to Silas, who was far ahead of his classmates in his studies. Unfortunately, his social communication skills lagged behind.

At school, Warner's unusually large physical size and isolation made him a bully punching bag. At some point, Owen says, Silas got bored and "took care" of one bully by knocking him out.

On Warner's memorial page, an old family friend recalls Anne and her son:

“I remember Ann said he got an excellent mark on his exams. She was a little disappointed that Silas, being incredibly gifted, decided to spend his life programming games. To her, a quiet and humble lady raised by a Quaker, it seemed a little superficial. Anne would like her son to make an academic career. ”

Warner continued his studies at Indiana University, where he discovered an extreme alcohol intolerance. His classmate Ron Fields, on the memorial page, recalls Warner:

“Silas took up a dorm room next to mine. He was a unique and mysterious person, intellectually ahead of his peers. While most of the guys in the dorm were preoccupied with the pursuit of free love, Silas usually threw back the typical worldly pleasures, walking around the campus in his long black cloak, reading cutting-edge textbooks in chemistry and physics. ”

Warner holds a degree in physics; computer science was not taught at Indiana University. But he knew he was going to work with computers.

Computer Pioneer

While at Indiana University, he combined his studies, reporting for the school radio station and part-time as a programmer.

According to computer historian Jimmy Maher of The Digital Antiquarian, Warner developed crash analysis software on the IBM mainframe. After completing his degree, he found a job at the university and installed a new system called PLATO. It was an early educational computer system that helped students learn to program.


Warner created the PLATO user manual and started making and playing simple games. He wrote the turn based strategy game Empire. Players controlled Star Trek-style spaceships and entered commands to change direction and fire. Warner then made his own shooter called Conquest and Air Race multiplayer flight simulator.

Speaking at KansasFest in 1992, Warner recalled how he worked on PLATO:

“It was a gigantic mainframe computer connected to a thousand terminals across the country. The big advantage of these terminals was that they all had the same screen formats and the same commands. And you can write cool games on them.

In 1976, Warner was hired by a large insurance company in Baltimore called Commercial Credit, where he created educational computer games that the firm's agents used to communicate with certain clients. So, he wrote the Sales Call Simulator.

In his spare time, he created a game called "Robot Wars" and played it with new friends who also worked with computers. Players gave orders to their robots at the start of each battle and then watched them attack.

Rise and Fall of Musе

Ed Zaron also worked for Commercial Credit. Then he co-founded Muse. In a 1984 interview with Creative Computing, Zaron talked about how he and Warner became friends:

“He was just an acquaintance of mine, and I told him that I was going to buy an Apple computer after work and that I was excited. But I didn't know him well. After work, I went to the computer store, brought the computer home and took it out of the box when the doorbell rang.


It was Silas! I barely knew him, and he just came almost at night to see my computer. Silas is the kind of guy who can skim a user manual and fully understand it. He sat down in front of my computer and started writing programs. I just sat and watched.

When Zaron mentioned that he was leaving for a party, Warner continued programming.

“When I got home around 1 am, Silas was still there. He had a couple of little games running on his computer. He called one of them "Apple Tree", where you had to catch apples falling from the tree.

Warner bought his own Apple II the next day.

“His number was # 234 and it cost $ 1399, but it was worth it. I met with Ed Zaron and Jim Black who was an accountant. These two people and I got together at night and made games, ”Warner said at KansasFest.

Three friends started making games, recording on tapes and selling them at computer fairs along the East Coast.

“We drove up to the fair in a truck with a box of cassettes and sold Tank Wars and various mazes at an incredible speed. We began to realize that there really is something in this business. ”

They decided to devote themselves to game and software development, calling themselves Muse Software. Muse has created all kinds of Apple II software such as audio instruments and art programs. But it was the games that attracted the most success.

The 3D labyrinth Escape game has become a hit. It was so popular that it influenced the creators of Apple, as it was played by so many employees of the company. Ultima creator Richard Garriott, who also started his career in game programming, said that "Escape" was his main source of inspiration that "changed his life."

Encouraged by the success of Escape and Tank Wars, the Muse team expanded to a larger office, and opened their own retail store selling computers and software. This helped the company buy new equipment at wholesale prices and witness crowds of people getting games.

As the home computer market has expanded, Muse has always adapted to change. When the Apple II drive came out, the company created its own assembler, making it easier to manufacture media. Muse also began developing games and software for the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64. By 1983, the studio had more than $ 6 million in annual revenue [about $ 16 million today].

Warner once visited 7-11 [arcade network - WorldOfTopics] and played the hit Robotron 2084, written by Eugene Jarvis.


“It was such a hackneyed cliche ... robots, fantastic devices and all the attributes of that era,” the developer recalled. “I wonder how this concept can be improved,” he thought, and then watched The Guns of Navarone. [1961 WWII film - WorldOfTopics] and figured out exactly how. So he came up with Castle Wolfenstein, which came out about six months later.


This was the company's largest project. In which they invested a lot of time and effort. The developers worked with a professional recording studio.

"When we got there, I spent several hours at the microphone, saying" Ahtung! " [It is this exclamation of enemies that they make at the sight of the main character that has become a revolutionary thing and is considered the first manifestation of voice acting in games - WorldOfTopics].


Sid Meier remembers playing Castle Wolfenstein:

“It wasn’t like the military simulator we did [at MicroProse], but we understood the value of the game technologically. When we looked at Wolfenstein, we saw a game with smooth frame rates and clever pseudo 3D design and intense gameplay. It was an exploration of a new direction that led us to today's shooters. At the time, it seemed like a window to the future, like SimCity in a few years. It was something new and a lot of people enjoyed playing. ”


Speaking in 1992 after the release of Wolfenstein 3D, Warner said, “This game supported our company until its collapse. She now supports a new generation of people. ”

The late popularity of the game

John Romero, in an email, recalls how they bought the rights to the title:

“Around the middle of April 1992, we decided we couldn't think of a better name for our game than Wolfenstein. We decided to figure out how to get the rights to the title. At the time, Jay Wilbur was our manager and tracked the remaining assets of Muse Software. Jay said the purchase would cost us $ 5,000.

“We left Dallas with a new color Toshiba laptop in hand, running the just-released Wolfenstein 3D shareware. We listened to Silas tell the story of Muse and the wonderful things he programmed. After his show we showed him Wolfenstein 3D and he loved it. We stayed awake that night talking to him about the Muse, the Apple II and everything we could learn from him. It was a great day, ”says Romero.


During a performance at KansasFest, Warner thanked his young fans: “I got a call from some producers who wanted to create a new version of Castle Wolfenstein in 3D using modern technology. I've seen their product and it's very impressive on IBM. ”


Warner also spoke about the end of his studio:

“It was completely unexpected. Our sales manager who managed the studio's growth left us. We hired someone from the consumer electronics business. He was as smart and as enthusiastic as our last sales manager.

But he fell ill and died soon after. In the fast-paced environment of the early game industry, this was the end for Muse. We had no sales. Not at all. And the development of new products stopped because we had nothing to support it. ”

The company filed for bankruptcy.

Carey Anne Owen has this opinion:

“He was not financially educated. If Silas were as good a businessman as he is a computer specialist, life could be very different for us. ”

MicroProse and Virgin Interactive

After Muse, Warner returned to the life of an ordinary employee. He took a job at MicroProse, where he met Sid Meier, who became his mentor.

Warner worked on porting games to various platforms that were emerging at the time, such as the Atari ST or Commodore Amiga.

“He was not super outgoing, but rather a tech camp nerd: an introvert focused on his work and computers. But when I talked to him about something that interested him, usually about technology, he was an interesting conversationalist, "Sid Meier recalls.

In the early 1990s, Warner joined Virgin Interactive, which needed someone to work on CD-ROM technology and understand video compression.

Stephen Clark-Wilson has worked with Warner at Virgin as an executive producer for games such as The Terminator, Cool Spot and The 7th Guest. He recalls:

“How the programmer Silas did his job. He could also speak the language of designers, which was very important. At that time, the concept of the design department was a new thing! ”

What I remember most is that he worked with two monitors and two keyboards, one on top of the other, ”says Mendelssohn, who was marketing at Virgin at the time.“ He typed with one hand on one keyboard and the other with the other. I was amazed and asked how he succeeds, to which he simply said that he could not do otherwise. ”

Mendelssohn also asked Warner if he plans to make another game like Wolfenstein someday. Warner was surprised, as he did not even think that anyone cared.

Later years

In the mid-90s, Warner suffered a minor stroke and received many disappointing diagnoses. He moved to San Francisco and worked as a programmer for many companies. Then he met Carey Ann Owen.

“We met in May 1995. Both were born in 1949 and we were 46. I don't think he ever thought of getting married. He was obese and disliked his looks, but I thought he was handsome. He asked me to marry him.

Owen is short and plump. The two of them were constantly ridiculed.

“Silas supported me in my defense against abuse, albeit with a sense of humor. We had something that so many people lack: a spiritual, physical and emotional home with love. ”

Warner continued to work until he was fired in 2002. After that, when his health deteriorated and he could no longer work, they moved from San Francisco. They spent their final years in Chico in California's central valley.

“He fought so hard,” Owen recalls. “My only regret is that Silas did not have the financial acumen to make sure he was paid well for his work and his intellectual property. None of us were particularly good at this and I regret it because it would have helped him in the end. ”

She says they discussed attempts to claim compensation following the success of Wolfenstein, but were told that the lawsuit would be too expensive.

The Topic of Article: The Man Who Made Wolfenstein.
Author: Jake Pinkman