Wolfenstein: Then and Now

Wolfenstein: Then and Now


When you live with technology day in and day out, it can be tough to really appreciate the speed of change and innovation. In the present tense, we mostly experience the advancement of technology in an incremental, evolutionary fashion. This year’s tablets or PCs seem broadly similar to last year’s. Sure, they’re faster. Sure, they boast some new features or higher resolution or longer battery life, but they remain generally familiar.


Every so often, however, a moment comes along that lets us step out of the present and look at technology’s advancement over a longer range of time.  And when those moments come along, it’s amazing to behold how far we’ve come.


One such moment is upon us right now, with the recent release of Bethesda Softworks’ latest video game, Wolfenstein: The New Order.


In 1992, twenty-two years ago, id Software’s release of the first Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein 3D, revolutionized computer gaming. By combining fast-paced, arcade-style gameplay with the first-person perspective used in some early role-playing games, Wolfenstein 3D created the first-person shooter genre that today includes such iconic titles as Doom, Quake and Halo. 


With Wolfenstein: The New Order, the franchise jumps ahead to an alternate 1960 in which the Nazis have won World War II, but the game jumps ahead technologically, too. Light years, in fact, over its 22-year-old predecessor. Just check out these side-by-side graphics to see how far gaming has come since 1992:






For a few more comparisons, head over to Serious Games Research.


Games such as Wolfenstein aren’t the only things that have come a long way in the last twenty-two years. The computers that run them have advanced by leaps and bounds, as well.


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In 1992, PCs were just starting to take on the basic forms and functions we still recognize today. In fact, 1992 marks not only the release of Wolfenstein 3D, but Microsoft Windows 3.1. Still, most PCs of the day continued to run MS-DOS.


Within the PC, processors were already shifting heavily toward Intel’s x86, and most computers on sale were running 286, 386 or 486 processors. The iconic Pentium was, believe it or not, still a year away.


CD-ROMs were still off in the future at this point, as well. The primary storage device? The 3.5” floppy disk.


The World Wide Web existed, but barely, and almost exclusively within university science departments and physics labs. There was a rudimentary internet made up of online BBSes (bulletin board systems) and early online services like CompuServe and Prodigy, but subscribers could only be measured in the hundreds of thousands.


Looking at the specs of a high-end PC from 1992 is an exercise in either nostalgia, or head-shaking disbelief, depending on your point of view:


Intel 80486 @33Mhz


5.25” and 3.5” floppy drives

Memory (RAM)

1MB (upgradeable to 16MB)

Hard Drive Capacity


Operating System

MS-DOS 5.0


Compare that 42MB hard drive to today’s capacities climbing into the terabytes, and just imagine where we’ll be in another 22 years! 








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