Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jThOhgiIC8I
Wolfenstein 3D On A Stock Atari ST - Unaccelerated!
Wolfenstein 3D - the classic id Software FPS and predecessor to Doom - running natively on the humble Atari ST? Say it ain’t so!
But it is so, thanks to a combined effort back in 2005 by demo group TSCC (The Sirius Cybernetics Corp), including developer Reimund Dratwa and chiptune artist Dma-Sc, with artwork by legendary Apple IIgs demo group Ninjaforce.
It’s fully playable - although a bit buggy - and well worth checking out. So lets check it out!
1991 was the year I became an Atari ST owner - I was 7 years old, and my parents bought it for me for Christmas. The STE Discovery Extra pack, no less, and I have an original box framed on my wall as part of my little YouTube set here.
The year after I got that STE, in 1992, id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D was released, the predecessor to the legendary Doom, of course. I distinctly remember playing it on my dad’s work Amstrad PC that he used to bring home at the weekends, and those late night gaming sessions instilled in me a love for first person shooters that continued throughout the 90s and beyond.
But what childhood me perhaps didn’t dare dream is that a grown up PC game like Wolfenstein 3D would end up on my little Atari.
Fortunately, many years later, an insanely talented German ST demoscener by the name of Reimund Dratwa did dare to dream that dream, and teamed up with a group going by the name of TSSC - or The Sirius Cybernetics Corp - to finally make it a reality.
Unfortunately, for reasons I’ll go into later, their port never made it past the alpha stage. But it’s still a glorious thing to behold - and behold it we certainly shall. Right now.
So first things first, I just want to confirm that this is a stock Atari STE - my original childhood one no less, although it does have 4MB of RAM these days. This game will actually run with 2MB, and in the STE upgrading the RAM is just a case of dropping in a few 30 pin SIMMs, so they’ve pretty much all been upgraded by this point. It’s also running the original Motorola 68000 CPU clocked at 8MHz.
This port also runs on a standard ST, and I’ll have a look at that a bit later on, but for now we’ll stick with the STE.
So I have it installed on my UltraSatan here which is a modern SD based hard drive emulator, and firing it up is just a case of launching the files from TOS like anything else.
I have to say I was impressed with the music. Unfortunately it doesn’t play during the game itself like the PC version - I think that would be a pretty big ask from the humble ST - but the YM conversions by chiptune artist Mathieu Stempell AKA DMA-Sc definitely capture the spirit of the originals.
So as you can see here, we have all of the chapters available. By the developer’s own admission they’re not all working - I found that chapters 1 and 5 crashed out immediately, and in fact I didn’t manage to complete any of them without some kind of error, but it’s certainly not something I’d hold against alpha software like this.
The graphics in the menus and the game itself were all redrawn for a 16 colour palette by the legendary Apple IIgs demo group Ninjaforce, who also supplied the sound effects from their own Wolfenstein 3D IIgs port.
As you can probably hear, the sample playback for the sound effects isn’t great - the sounds seem to be clipping - but hopefully this is just a bug that could be relatively easy to address.
Although still in its early stages, the Atari ST version of Wolf3D does have a few nifty features similar to the PC version, including the ability to resize the screen and switch between low and high detail modes on the fly to try to find the best balance between quality and performance.
The game’s engine uses a nifty palette switching technique between the gameplay and the HUD, so it can technically show up to 32 colours on screen, even on a standard ST.
Speaking of a standard ST, I just had to try this out, and to be honest the only real notable difference is the sound. Without the STE’s more capable DMA chip, it’s even more broken than the STE in places, although I’m impressed they got it working at all, and as I said previously, it’s all a work in progress.
Personally I find the low detail mode just about playable on this STE, and knocking the screen size down a notch improves things even further, I guess growing up in the early PC era means that things like low frame rates don’t really bother me too much. The developers claim speeds of up to 15FPS with the right combination of settings and I have no reason to doubt that.
I don’t have a 16MHz MegaSTE to hand, but I did try it out in the Hatari emulator and it certainly does run better, even in high detail mode.
So what became of this port? Well, Reimund was called away to military service and just ended up moving on to other things.
It’s a real shame that the source code and assets weren’t open sourced so development could continue, but with so many different people involved I imagine it would’ve been a bit of a minefield. I’m just glad that it exists at all, to be honest.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about Reimund and DMA-Sc’s work on this project, there are some excellent interviews with them over on atarilegend.com, and I’ll of course link to those down below in the description.
So I hope you enjoyed checking out this interesting moment in gaming history with me and pondering what could’ve been, and until next time, thank you very much for joining me and I’ll hopefully see you again soon.
Original Video Links
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Atari Legend Reimund Dratwa Interview: https://www.atarilegend.com/interviews/41
Atari Legend Mathieu Stempell (Dma-Sc) Interview: https://atarilegend.com/interviews/42
Download Atari ST Wolfenstein 3D Alpha: http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-st-wolfenstein-3d_28676.html
Images of Reimund and Dma-Sc used with thanks to: https://atarilegend.com/
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