We caught up with Machinegames’ Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus creative director Jens Matthies while he’s in Australia to chat about the new game.
How did you get into the gaming industry in the first place?
Jens Matthies: “I was always a computer nerd when I was a kid. I started playing games when I was 6 or 7 years old, and as soon as I did it sort of always fascinated me that you could dream up something from your imagination and build it. I just thought that was the most amazing thing, so I always wanted to be a game developer. When I got a little older and I had my own computer, and I started making graphics – which at that point in time was creating an image pixel by pixel – I sort of drifted into something called the demo scene, which was a thing in the early 90s. After Quake launched I started making mods for that; skins, levels, textures for levels, that kind of stuff. That sort of became my portfolio that I could use to get into the industry.”
If you weren’t working at Machinegames what do you think you would be doing?
JM: “That is a very good question. I wouldn’t know how to live if I wasn’t in games. It really is my purpose in life. If I wasn’t working on games at Machinegames, I’m sure I would be doing it somewhere else, or I would be dead – those are the only two options.”
I also read in a reddit AMA that you enjoy designing floor plans as a hobby – have you ever thought of applying that to level design?
JM: “I started as a level designer and texture artist for our first games that we were working on. When I realised that a lot of the creative needs of games were dictated by higher level things such as what kind of story it was and what kind of world it was, because of that I kind of organically shifted over into art direction and storytelling over time, until I sort of became responsible for all of the artistic sides of the games.”
As one of the writers on the story for Wolfenstein II, can you tell us what some of your biggest influences were?
JM: “Yeah, the story was me and my writing partner Tommy [Tommy Tordsson Björk] – we wrote the story for The New Colossus and also The New Order. It’s hard to say about any influences because I don’t think there was anything really specific. We both get along very well creatively, so we will start to brainstorm and he will have an idea, and I will build upon that idea, and he builds up that, etc., and it’s a very nice sort of creative vortex to be in. But to say that we don’t have any specific influences – of course, we do, it’s just that they’re hard to pinpoint, because they’re from all over the place; sometimes it can be more of a vibe of something as opposed to a specific thing.”
“…it’s a very nice sort of creative vortex to be in.”
Was The New Colossus always going to be a homecoming for BJ?
JM: “Absolutely. When we started thinking about building The New Order in 2010, we had this idea that the Nazis won the war. It was set in the 1960s, so we moved the timeline forward a little bit, and we just felt that it was such an interesting place creatively, especially because of all the cultural revolution that happened in the 60s, especially in the US. To see how that would all look if it had been subverted by Nazi propaganda and ideologies made us very keen on doing that, but we also realised that it wouldn’t be possible if you just spent one level of The New Order in the US. Early on we decided if we were going to make a sequel that’s where we were going.”
Did you put much thought into what happened to other members of the Allied Forces – Australia, perhaps?
JM: “That;s one of those questions that differ depending on where I give the interview. For sure, we think about the whole world, but you have to scope the game correctly. If we tell all those stories at the same time, it won’t be as strong. America is of extra significance because it’s BJ Blazkowicz’s homeland, and he’s been fighting this war on the frontlines elsewhere for all his life, basicall, and now he wakes up in this strange new world, and to see his homeland taken over by his mortal enemies is very powerful dramatically I think.”
Is it Machinegames that’s come up with those cool little clips – German, Or Else! for example – or is that from somewhere else?
JM: “It’s kind of a healthy cross-pollination between different developments within Bethesda. When we started working on the game we did a lot of these propaganda things, like how would the Nazis do propaganda in America, because it’s a country very much founded on the idea of freedom – and how would a totalitarian state deal with that and with winning the favour of the people. We talked to the marketing department and they got really enthusiastic about it, and they came up with these sort of slapstick, 60s TV vignettes and that kind of stuff. And we loved them – they were so cool, and we started putting that kind of stuff back into the game after they made them, incorporating them into the game. It ended up being this cyclical, cross-pollination of ideas, so I think it was really cool, and I think it’s kind of unique to Bethesda as a publisher; the lines of communications are always open for creative collaboration on a level that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.”
“…the lines of communications are always open for creative collaboration on a level that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.”
Finally, what can you tell us about the completion of the Wolfenstein ‘trilogy’?
JM: “We always wanted to make a trilogy, and I think the reason for that is that you need some sort of outer boundary for conceptualising in your head, because these projects are so incredibly long. If you don’t put an outer limit on it it can feel overwhelming. We knew if we had the opportunity to do the second game we wanted to go to America, and we obviously have a meta arc for the three games. We have a pretty clear understanding of where we would go if we wanted to make a third game, but ultimately that would be a financial decision if this one does well enough to warrant a sequel.”