Call Apogee and Say Aardwolf
As has been documented elsewhere on this blog, I worked for Apogee/3D Realms for almost 17 years in the 90’s and 2000’s. I did several things there, but one of the things I did in my earliest days was handle phone support. Back then (which was late 1992/early 1993) we would FREQUENTLY get people who would call up and say “AARDWOLF!” AARDWOLF!” Over the years I’ve told the story several times of what the Aardwolf thing was with Apogee, but I don’t think I ever put it down in blog form before, so here goes….
May 5, 1992. That was a legendary date in videogaming history. The shareware version of Wolfenstein 3D was released. It changed everything, even moreso than Doom did about 18 months after that. Nothing was like Wolfenstein 3D before this. Changed my life – I ended up working for Apogee because of this game, but again, that’s not what this blog entry is about.
It was decided during the development of the game that they would give away a prize that would be well hidden inside the registered version of the game. To that, they hid the sign that said “Call Apogee and Say Aardwolf” inside a stupidly complicated maze in Episode 2 Level 8 of the full version of the game. The idea was that the first person to actually make it through there would see the sign, call us and say “Aardwolf” would win. The prize was going to be a registered version of every Apogee game “for life”.
Then shortly after the shareware game came out, the rise of the game editor happened. Back then in 1992, we didn’t have all the tools we have had for the last 20 years or so which let you break down a game into it’s component parts. It was during this time that we realized that having a contest to find a well hidden graphic was pointless when the ability to break down a game’s files and see all the images was possible. There was no point. So the game was released, but the contest was (internally) canceled. Given the contest was never publicly announced, there was no cancellation announcement – just an internal “Well, we’re not doing that now” type thing.
The Aardwolf sign remained in the game’s data files, however. Which caused us in tech support much consternation, because people would constantly call up and ask us that. Even towards the end of my time there in 2009, we’d get the odd call when someone would say “Aardwolf”. Never understood that logic. Like after 17 years they’d be the first person to find that. :)
The maze that was constructed was a bloody nightmare. Tom Hall was the one that put it together, and it’s a giant maze that takes up almost 50% of the entire map grid, and it all looked the same once you got inside it. All the rooms looked identical, and a path to get through it to find the Aardwolf sign was a bloody pain in the backside to follow, even if you had a map of it. Many moons ago, I took a copy of the strategy guide, and hand drew a map to the Aardwolf sign. I used to fax it out (yeah, we did tech support via fax), and mail it to people who would ask or inquire about it. Here’s a scan of that original work I did back in the early 90’s. Click on it for a giant version of the pic.
One other thing that we had to field a lot of complaints about was the fact that the Aardwolf maze meant that you could not get the 100% secrets bonus in the game there. It was truly impossible to push all the walls in there – I tried once. Some of them would push in front of other walls, which then meant you couldn’t then get all of them. We had a couple of shall we say “overly anal” people who were pissed off and wanted their money back because they couldn’t get 100% secrets in that level.
I always wished the Aardwolf sign was taken out of the game, as those of us in tech back then (myself, Steve Quarrella, Lee Jackson, & Kevin Green – Later Bryan Turner too) would field the brunt of that stuff. It actually was taken out of later versions of the game. I know it wasn’t in the Super Nintendo version. Later on when it was published in retail by Activision (Apogee was (and remains to this day under 3D Realms name) the publisher of that game in shareware), it was taken out. While I’ve never looked, I would have to imagine the Xbox LIVE version of the game had the image taken out.
In the earliest versions of the Wolfenstein betas, the sign used to say something different. It used to say “Call Apogee & Say Snappity”. The reason for snappity was.. Well, it’s silly. I’ll let Tom Hall elaborate..
“Might have been a reference to testing and killing enemies? Either SNAP SNAP SNAPPITY like BRAP BRAPP BRAPPPP! of the Chain Gun. Or “SNAPPITY goes the spine” when the guard flies in the air or something. I thiiiink. Orrrr it was just semi-rhyming: CALL APOGEE! SAY SNAPPITY!”
But as we know, it didn’t end up that way. Before being released, the graphic was changed from Snappity to Aardwolf.
Why Aardwolf? According to Tom Hall, “it started with me finding interesting things in the NeXT dictionary.” Back then the id guys were doing their heavy lifting on the NeXT computer, the company that Steve Jobs founded after being fired from Apple (that was eventually bought by Apple, bringing Jobs back). John Romero sent me a picture of the original aardwolf from the NeXT dictionary. The one that started this all off.
Finally, there was this guy, which is a scan of a picture we had hanging in Tech Support for a number of years. Was on Steve Quarrella’s desk for awhile as I recall. It was in my photo archives as “aardwolf.jpg”. Why we had it originally? Lost to time. :)
Please don’t call us about Aardwolf anymore. The contest was closed before starting, and there’s no prize to get. Even if the contest hadn’t been canceled, I THINK someone would have called in by now in the 24 years since the game came out.
Also, in a somewhat related issue, letters were shown after the highest score in the score table in some revisions of the game. These letters were to be part of another contest that got scrapped before it got started, where we were going to have people call in with their scores and tell us the code; we’d then be able to verify their score. However, with the cheat programs out there, this got scrapped too.
Finally, I found this on Youtube. It’s a video showing someone going through the maze and finding the sign. The real fun in the video starts at 4:39. The earlier part of the video shows him finishing the main part of the level. The guy playing here finds the sign at 9:21 – so that’s almost 5 solid minutes of pushing pushwalls (and that is with him obviously knowing where he’s going). Check it out:
I re-read this article in early March 2020, and something occurred to me after watching bits of the Youtube video above. Did Tom Hall actually finish the map he created? So I asked him on Twitter. Here is the (short) conversation.
Yes, multiple times. Eventually yeah I had the muscle memory to do it. That quickly went away afterward though! (And it was in the flood of tons of levels we did in a short time.)— • ???? ??? ???? • ✪ (@ThatTomHall) March 7, 2020
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Joe, questioning the logic of people calling after 20 years is specious. The sign only says to call and say that; it makes to mention of a contest at all, let alone that it was supposed to be only for the first person to call. Therefore, when people still call, it is not because they think that somehow they might still be the first to call and win, since they have no idea about the contest. They are calling because they think they found an easter-egg and might get an amusing pre-recorded message or a link to a graphic or download or something.
I’ve worked on the other side of that for over 20 years. I’m QUITE genuine with that. The sheer number of people who think they’re “first” is amazing, I can’t think of any other way to put it. I’ve been contacted so many times over the years with this you have no idea.
The idea was really cool, but implementation a bit lame.
Sys-font sprite instead of pre-calc-drawn sprite, plus an easy “replace” crypt algorythm to hide the string in the .EXE …and voilà.
Thanks for sharing the story, pretty interesting.
You have to remember, this was done 26 years ago in an era when game editors were (at the time) not a thing. They were JUST STARTING then. If people didn’t have the ability to deconstruct the game’s data files, it would have been fine.
Hi, this story is awesome!Sorry that you in support hate it but as a player is absolutely awesome! I have played the game back in the days.. i am replaying now. Back then i didnt realise the real complexity of the maze since we had no internet :)).So the idea of a hidden contest in the game, it is absolutely genial since players could not search on the net and call apogee with no effort to it.That brings me to a series of questions that you have not wrote in the story above: WHO was the actual first person that called? what did he say? what did support said?When did it happened, like after how much time from the release?
I have reached your story searching for info about aadrwolf since it took me 2 days and still could not rich the room (the closest i have been was to that room with 2 wall choice, and of course i had pushed the other wall,never realised there are 2 walls opening there but after reading some guides on the net)
“WHO was the actual first person that called? what did he say? what did support said?When did it happened, like after how much time from the release?”
Too many years gone by. No clue.
I am working on a team that is making a documentary. I’ve come across a video on your YouTube channel titled “Apogee Software & id Software interview – NBR 1992”, I am writing in hopes there is a possibility of acquiring the original interview footage?
Please let me know ASAP, as we are working on a very strict deadline and that footage would be immensely helpful!
The video is not mine, was originally shot by a TV station in the area, as I recall.
Did Tom ever say why he made the maze broken? I have a video on my YouTube channel showing the places where treasures were locked out due to push walls being in the wrong places:
Wayne, I asked Tom your question. This was his reply…
“We made six episodes (sixty levels so quickly), we just tested them the best we could. My main focus while testing was getting to the secret message and not getting trapped, if I recall correctly. Then it was on to the next and the next and the next…! I did want a ‘perfect path’ when originally conceiving it, but testing time meant I messed that up, I guess!”
There’s a source port of Wolfenstein 3D called AutoWolf by Ioan Chera (one of the developers behind the Eternity Engine DOOM source port – he also maintains an “AutoDoom”).
It’s an AI player bot that can actually solve a Wolfenstein 3D level for you automatically – you just launch the game and the AI bot will run around on its own shooting enemies, collecting treasure and locating all the pushwalls. I find it quite fascinating to watch – even on “I am Death Incarnate” skill it can solve nearly all the levels quickly without dying (with exception of a few tricky maps like E4M9/E4M10 where it doesn’t understand stealth tactics and gets overwhelmed).
When I set it loose on E2M8 the bot will inevitably enter the pushwall maze and try to push as many walls as it can (using its pushwall solver algorithm), which takes a good 20-30mins. Often it ends up stumbling upon one or both of the hidden Hans Grosses and will try to battle it in very close quarters (usually surviving with little health left!). Sadly it ignores the Aardwolf sign in favour of one of the Grosses, although I was able to modify the source code myself to make it find the sign instead.
Many years ago I remember printing out that very same map (via MapEdit) and drawing the route in pen, then setting out to follow the route in the game. I had to concentrate very intensely and tick off each pushwall as I went (due to the maze having a huge amount of self-similarity). It gave me a bit of satisfaction eventually stumbling upon the sign, although I knew the contest was a non-event and historical artifact (as I’d read about it in the Apogee FAQ beforehand).
Oh man! So much new research has been done on this very mammal since it’s definition in the NeXT dictionary, yet still so less-studied for it to be properly recognized globally…. ;_;
Unlike myself, who first found it in 1993, finding that sign NEVER gets old. I should know; I just found it again this morning!