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When one thinks of Frau Engel – the dastardly villain who is doggedly hunting BJ Blazkowicz across the Nazi-occupied United States in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus – words like “freedom” and “liberating” aren’t usually the first ones to come to mind. She is, after all, one of the top-ranking officers in a Nazi regime that’s overtaken the world in the game’s alt-reality setting. But for Creative Director Jens Matthies, that’s precisely one of the defining characteristics of this otherwise evil antagonist.

“Her character really cuts to the core of a fascist or Nazi ideology,” Matthies says. “If you are able succeed in that environment and rise up the ranks, you attain a very liberating personal freedom at the expense of others. You’re able to dominate and basically be on this constant power trip.”

Matthies is talking specifically about BJ’s initial meeting with Frau Engel in MachineGames’ first release (Wolfenstein: The New Order, 2014). In that tense scene, Frau Engel – clearly flush with her own power – plays a deadly but decadent game, treating BJ like a trivial plaything to be batted about then discarded at whim. “That’s what that scene was about,” Matthies says. “It shows what the incentives are for the people who were fully supportive of the Nazi ideals.”

Of course, Frau Engel eventually gets her comeuppance. (Note: Minor spoilers from first game ahead.) Under Frau Engel’s watch, BJ escapes a prison camp – and Engel is severely injured in the process. And toward the end of the game, Frau Engel has to watch – powerless – as BJ kills her young lover Bubi. It’d be enough for a lesser villain to slink away, defeated and shamed. But for Frau Engel, this only hardened her resolve.

“I thought it would be a powerful moment, having her crawl toward you with that totally broken, disfigured visage, coupled with her vow of vengeance,” Matthies says. “If you’re the queen of the realm, and then that gets challenged, of course you want to reclaim your crown. That propels a lot of her personal vendetta against the Resistance, but BJ Blazkowicz in particular.”

Back with a VengeanceA few years later, and Frau Engel is back as the big bad in MachineGames’ Wolfenstein sequel. “Our plan was always to build her up in the first game, so that you would have a connection to her character, and then have her as the main villain in The New Colossus,” Matthies says.

“Frau Engel is now hunting for you,” says Executive Producer Jerk Gustafsson. “She has this super huge air fortress called the Ausmerzer at her disposal, and she is able to track you down.” Indeed, the game begins with a broken, battered BJ in the sickbay of Evas Hammer, the submarine that doubles as the Resistance base. Frau Engel attacks – and an epic wheelchair combat sequenceensues, culminating in the first face-to-face encounter between the two sworn enemies in The New Colossus. At other key points throughout the game, the Ausmerzer will appear in the skies above, and then (as Matthies says) “things get scarier.”

“Blazkowicz is an icon of the Resistance, so they can’t have him running around. They call him Terror-Billy, because he is really throwing a spanner in the works for them,” says Senior Game Designer Arcade Berg. “So Frau Engel not only has a personal vendetta against him, but she has a mission to take him out.”

Off the RailsWith or without a flying fortress, Frau Engel is menacing enough. And that’s not just due to the way she’s written. In fact, Matthies gives ample credit to actor Nina Franoszek for helping to bring Frau Engel to life.

“We had these scenes that we thought were really strong on paper when we wrote them,” Matthies says. “But a lot of it also evolved together with Nina. It’s never easy for German actors to play a Nazi. It’s emotionally complicated. I think she struggled a bit with that at first, trying to unlock some sort of emotional truth about the character. Then there was this pivotal moment when she kind of got it. When she understood what the character was all about. And her performance has just been amazing. What Nina brought to Frau Engel pushed the character to a whole new level.”

Franoszek admits she was initially reluctant to take this role, in part because she had no experience with games and didn’t know what to expect. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to do a videogame, especially not a Nazi commander,” she says. “What completely convinced me was the script. I felt like I was reading Inglourious Basterds. It was amazing.”

After an audition during which Franoszek read lines with Matthies (“Jens later told me he was terrified by my performance,” she laughs), she was given a glimpse of the game’s cinematics and visuals – and she was sold. Then the real work began.

“I could analyze Frau Engel and see her as a psychopath and a sadist,” Franoszek says. “The difficulty for me was to enter that because I don’t have that sadist in me.” So Franoszek began to work from the outside in, researching everything from Nazi camp guards to punk rocker Nina Hagen. Soon enough, she knew what kind of voice she wanted to bring to the character, but that wasn’t enough for Franoszek. “I didn’t feel connected yet,” she says. “You can have a really evil toothache and channel that anger, but these are just tricks.”

Then she rehearsed a scene from the first game. A packed train pulls into Camp Belica, and as the prisoners are herded into the camp, one person hands Frau Engel a crying infant, expecting her to help the child. Instead, Frau Engel is repulsed, and beats the prisoner for having the gall to hand the wailing infant to her. “That was the key scene,” Franoszek says. “How could I possibly do that?”

Franoszek was prepared, though. She knew how to play a Nazi commander. She knew how to play psychopath, a narcissist, a sadist. She knew that urgent need to quiet the noise around her, much like a person who tosses a ringing alarm clock against a wall. So she committed to the performance during a rehearsal – and it just clicked.

“I did it, and I felt like a god,” she says. “If you do something so evil and no one punishes you, it gives you a power rush, a high. This is what Frau Engel’s running on. I can do the most weird, shitty things to everybody, and I’m getting off because nothing happens. Nothing can get me. And that was the key.”

Love Thy EnemyOf course, Frau Engel’s feeling of omnipotence was shattered by BJ in the first game… but that only made Frau stronger. And, more important, it only made her connection with BJ even stronger.

“BJ is her enemy, but in a way he’s her new lover,” Franoszek says. “She needs a good partner because if you kill without any resistance, it’s just like killing cockroaches. It’s not too much fun because they’re weak. She also needs a very strong partner so the chase will never stop. Because if Frau Engel isn’t chasing BJ, then she might be alone with herself and her feelings – and she can’t have that.”

And yet, despite how utterly evil Frau Engel is, she’s still an oddly likeable villain. Which has us wondering: Did Franoszek try to find something appealing about the character and incorporate that into her performance?

Absolutely not, she says. Despite being emotionally bankrupt, Frau Engel has one thing on her side – the same thing that was so compelling to many of the “good people” who followed evil regimes throughout history. She believes in what she’s doing.

“Frau Engel believes she is cleaning the world of evil,” Franoszek says. “When I’m playing her I don’t see evil. It’s very justified, what I’m doing. I’m following an ideology. I really believe my way is the right way.” That deeply held belief is what makes her such a captivating villain because – from Frau Engel’s perspective, at least – everything makes sense, and it all fits into a clearly defined worldview.

Matthies agrees. “When you write, you always have to put yourself on the side of the character that you’re writing for. I think that goes for all our characters,” he says. “So if we’re writing for Frau Engel, we write it with her agenda and her interests in mind. And there’s a great side-effect of that: All of your characters are always at their best. They’re the strongest advocates for their point of view at all times.”

It also helps that Franoszek is returning to play the same character again. With each new game, her performance only gets better. “We knew what Nina would bring to The New Colossus when we were writing it,” Matthies says. “We had scenes on paper that we thought were going to be exceptionally powerful, and then Nina came in with additional ideas, and we reached a whole different territory. I’m incredibly pleased with how things turned out in the end.”

That powerful performance will shine through – whether or not you’ve played the original game. “The New Colossus is made under an assumption that not everyone played the first,” Matthies says. “So there are a number of introductory sequences – but I think Frau Engel’s introduction is unusually memorable.”

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus releases on October 27, 2017, on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. Winner of more than 100 awards at E3 2017, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus also received four nominations from the official E3 Game Critics Awards (including Best of Show) and won Best Action Game.