In 2009, several Starbreeze Studios employees left the company and reformed into MachineGames. Russ Pits, working for Polygon at the time, wrote up the early MachineGames history in a fantastic article. The new team of old veterans agreed to work on a new Wolfenstein game with Bethesda Softworks. The initial meetings must have gone very well because only a year later the Swedish developers were bought by Zenimax Media and incorporated into Bethesda. So, work began on the rejuvenation of the dystopian alternate WWII narrative shooter franchise, Wolfenstein.
We’re featuring Bethesda’s MachineGames, the creators of the fantastic modern Wolfenstein titles, in our inaugural Xbox Game Studio Spotlight. Check out the developer’s ranking, history, projects, and how many achievements you’ve earned!This is the developer’s control panel. It allows you to keep track of all of the developer’s games as well as how many achievements you’ve acquired in total. How many developers do you think you’ll be able to finish?
In four years, Machine Games made Wolfenstein: The New Order for the start of 2014. It succeeded in bringing 90s mechanics into the modern shooter, contextualised by a solid narrative experience. The gunplay was hard-hitting, the steampunk vibes were somehow incorporated into a brutalist aesthetic that just clicked, and the level design always kept players on their toes. It was a magnificent effort and one of the best shooters of that generation. A year later they released a prequel, 2015’s Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.
The expansion for the title was called Wolfenstein: Youngblood, which was released in 2019. It was seemingly led by Arkane Studios and introduced co-op mechanics. It didn’t quite hit the highs of the rest of the series and felt a little different from the weighty combat of its predecessors. Likewise, the VR-only title Cyberpilot was released alongside Youngblood to mixed reviews, though it seems MachineGames had full control over development.
Naturally, work began on a sequel after this initial batch of the fresh-legged Wolfenstein franchise. By heading to the US and twisting the classic American imagery, the writers said that they had the freedom to create a brutal story. The result was 2017’s Wolfenstein: New Colossus which was lauded critically. The combat was, again, fantastic and that story really landed with audiences.
MachineGames also spent time working with Quake. In 2016, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the franchise, MachineGames released the Dimension of the Past level pack with ten new stages and a multiplayer map. Later on, in 2021, Quake was remastered for modern consoles. The levels that MachineGames released previously were integrated with a new set called Dimension of the Machine.
Developed in conjunction with Arkane Studios (of Dishonoured fame), it’s safe to say that Youngblood didn’t quite live up to the high expectations placed on it after its incredible prequel in the mainline series, The New Colossus. It sits at a 68 Metacritic score, but the user score is an unfavourable 2.5, compared to The New Colossus’ 88 rating with a 6.5 user score. Youngblood introduced a co-op mode that was intimately tied to the use of two main characters, who had an interesting tie back to the aforementioned mainline games. However, it seems that some of the experiment with new RPG systems and co-op didn’t quite work, through the level designs were praised.
Vice president of PR, Todd Howard, spoke to Metro to confirm the existence of Wolfenstein III and to clarify Bethesda’s outlook on single-player games in the process. We know Wolfenstein III is probably still in production thanks to lead game designer Teemu Kivikangas’ Linkedin profile: however, since Microsoft’s Bethesda acquisition, nothing has been spoken about officially. Instead, Bethesda announced a MachineGames-developed Indiana Jones game in early 2021. It will have an original story and is being made alongside Lucasfilm Games. Nothing has been heard from the team since.
MachineGames in 2021. MachineGames has been pretty silent since the Indiana Jones announcement and the ‘unannounced project’ report (see above). In The Telegraph, Bethesda director Todd Howard did mention that he had been trying to grab an Indiana Jones licence for a decade. In fairness, Bethesda did say that “it’ll be some time before we have more to reveal” in the original announcement.
How does MachineGames rank? Working MachineGames’s output and studio quality into a grade is a fairly simple business. To us, an A grade represents a team with a portfolio to die for and one always rocking the potential to make something truly great. We believe that the two mainline Wolfenstein games have been nothing less than great. The other spin-offs, in our opinion, didn’t always meet that high bar, but there is no doubting that when MachineGames puts its talent into a mainline product it can make something truly exceptional. Our doubt about the A grade here stems from the next project, Indiana Jones. We believe that the team could make a faithful and exceptional videogame based on the legendary archaeologist.