Inspired by a college syllabus, we ask developers what players should read, play, and watch to get a better understanding of their game.
The Wolfenstein universe sees a radically different pair of leads take over this week in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Jess and Soph Blazkowicz, twin daughters of series protagonist B.J., are on the hunt for their missing father. And they plan to kill a good deal of Nazis along the way.
With two teen girls leads taking the reins, we were curious as to how this might change the tenor of the series. From trailers and clips, the two seem energetic and rambunctious, in a change of pace from B.J.'s more melancholic demeanor. So when we sat down with Jerk Gustafsson of MachineGames at E3 2019, we were interested to know what inspired this change of tone, and what players might want to read up on to get into the right headspace for Youngblood.
Read: Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
A coming-of-age and semi-biographical novel, Ham on Rye was a surprising choice to me, but it makes sense in the context of Youngblood. Both are stories about youth, adolescence, and growing up.
"It's very serious and very different from the game," Gustafsson explains. But the painful transition from adolescence to adulthood seems to be a theme that permeates both Bukowski's novel and the new Wolfenstein. Of course, being an awkward teen isn't going to keep either of the Terror-Twins from doing what a Blazkowicz does.
"We always put a lot of effort into building our characters, and give some personality to our characters," Gustafsson says. "And of course, even though these young women are only 18 years old, and they are still in that transition between adolescence and adulthood, and this story is very much about growing up. They are still badass Nazi killers as well, like their father."
Play: Doom (2016), developed by id Software
In maybe a bit obvious of a choice, Gustafsson recommends playing the semi-recent Doom reboot, which also falls under the Bethesda publishing umbrella with MachineGames. "We do still have a lot of focus on heavy weapons and kickass gunplay," he says. "So I would say Doom is a good place to start."
Doom wasn't the only Bethesda inspiration, though. Gustafsson tells me that MachineGames also worked with Arkane to tune up the level design of Youngblood.
"Even though they also have focused mainly on single-player experiences, they do have a lot of good level design experience," Gustafsson says. "And so, the levels are a bit more open and a little bit bigger now. And we also focused a lot, of course, to have different entry points and different routes within the combat area so that you can split up when you play co-op and be tactical in terms of taking different entry points, and compliment each other during combat."
Watch: Ghoulies (1984), dir. Luca Bercovici
This one is a little more reflective of the style and sound of Wolfenstein: Youngblood. As Gustafsson puts it, he likes the adventurous aspect and '80s style of movies like Ghoulies, an extremely '80s movie about a ritual gone wrong.
It's a bit of a stretch, but that reach is what's made Wolfenstein: Youngblood so fun to work on for the team at MachineGames; getting to work with new leads, new perspectives, and new settings.
"I think it's been very fresh for us as a studio as well, to have fun, first and foremost," Gustafsson says. "To work with not only the core but also with female characters. We have been working with these male heroes and anti-heroes in Cyrillic days for 20 years now. So it's been super fun. Like I said in the beginning, of course it's been a lot of challenges as well based on our expertise, but it's been a really good learning and very fun. I'm very happy with the results."
Wolfenstein: Youngblood launches tomorrow for PC, and Friday for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. That may not be enough time to sit down and read a whole book for most, but maybe it's a good enough excuse for an '80s movie night before you get to killin' Nazis.