'Wolftenstein: Youngblood' Developer on Female Protagonists: "It's About Growing Up"

Wolfenstein Youngblood - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks
"When we decided to do co-op, then some drastic changes happened — we don't use William Blazkowicz as the protagonist any more," explained Jerk Gustafsson of MachineGames. "It's a big change for us on the story side."

One of the main attractions at the Bethesda Softworks booth at E3 was the newest spinoff in the Wolfenstein series: Youngblood, a first-person shooter driven by a daring pair of twin sisters as the protagonists. 

After customizing the sister characters, the hourlong demo began with a substantial cut scene featuring a dystopian landscape intercut with familial interactions allowing the player to get a feel for the sisters' vibe, which is cut-throat, yet not without a sense of humor. In the year 1980, the sisters are tasked with finding their father, missing in action, while they fight the Nazi regime. Throughout the gameplay, detailed production design, character development and costume design complemented the action.

As the demo wound down, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with MachineGames developer Jerk Gustafsson about how Youngblood emerged in its current form, what the female protagonists bring to the game, and how it changes the user experience. 

How did you develop the concept of Youngblood?

The concept in general is something we started with Wolfenstein back in 2010, going off this alternative history where Nazis won the war and now we've continued to build on that. When we decided to do co-op, then some drastic changes happened — we don't use William Blazkowicz as the protagonist any more. We have always done story-driven experiences with antiheroes as the heroes. This is the first time we have female protagonists, so it's a big change for us on the story side.

What sort of different feel were you looking for by incorporating female protagonists?

We wanted to tell a story that is lighter in tone. With Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, we focused a lot on telling the story on Blazkowicz and his childhood with an abusive father; it was very dark in tone. The big contrast here is that this story is more from love. Colossus ends when Blazkowicz ignites this revolution in America, and eventually the Nazis are pushed out; he goes on to raise twin daughters. This story is much more about these two young women setting out on an adventure to try and find their father, and it's always about growing up: that period in-between adolescence and adulthood. 

The first cut scene is phenomenal. What was your approach?

That cut scene is also a bit lighter in content — because we had a shorter development time and the game is at a lower price — but in terms of gameplay it's a lot bigger than we first set out to do. The campaign is a bit lighter, and we still continue with the same approach to our storytelling and try to find tonal shifts that make it exciting and interesting. There's a lot of exposition at the beginning of the game as we introduce two new characters, but throughout the entire game we focus on that sisterly bond — during gameplay there is sisterly banter.

How did you get into video games?

This was in 1996, when I wanted to buy a parrot. I placed a bet on a hockey game back home in Sweden and won some money, so I wanted to buy a parrot because I thought it would be cool to have a parrot that could speak. But my friend convinced me to buy a computer instead, for the money. So I did that, and then I bought Quake [the game]. That's the whole reason I'm in this business. I then got the internet and learned that there was a mod community out there, so I started making maps for Quake. I got my first job when we started Starbreeze [Studios] in 1998. It's cool that I'm working [alongside] id Software, the creators of Quake, so I've gotten to meet the guys who were my idols back then. 

Wow, no one has mentioned Quake to me for about 15 years. I used to play it as well. 

Yeah, I still love it so much. I still play it. 

Where do you see gaming going in the future, now that we are starting to see interactive movies and streaming platforms getting into gaming?

The opportunities with streaming services excite me a lot as a developer because it will give us power to do amazing games. I think that's the key to the future with game development.