The Life Of The FPS Genre, and Where Is It Heading?

Today we take a trip down memory lane and visit the ghosts of old. We explore where it all started and why this genre in gaming became so successful, and finally where we are heading with First-Person-Shooters in the future.

The birth

As any avid gamer would know; it all started back in 1992 when Wolfenstein 3-D was released in May. Although visually it is not much to behold these days; the game played the most important role in redefining and creating the genre — First-Person-Shooter. This was accomplished by introducing a method of moving a character around in an X and Y axis, unseen before. Unknowigly, Id software actually started another popular trend with this release, and that is the setting of first-person-shooters in a World War II environment. Wolfenstein 3-D was based from two predcessors known as ‘Castle Wolfenstein’, released in 1981 for the Apple II, and its sequel ‘Beyond Castle Wolfenstein’ released in 1984 for both the Commodore 64 and Apple II. These titles all shared a similar theme, which was an escaped soldier goes around killing Nazi’s, but what they did not share was the way Wolfenstein 3-D presented this to the player. Another noteworthy point was the ending where you have to defeat the final boss, which of course is Hitler. It is not surprising that to this day, this game is banned in Germany.

“As an escaped prisoner in a Nazi war prison, you will move smoothly through a 3D world full of amazing detail and animation Unlike other 3D games, you’ll run through a sensational and realistic 3-D environment, with intelligent moving guards and opponents.”

Wolfenstein can be downloaded as shareware from 3D Realms here.

Learning to walk

After the huge success of Wolfenstein, Id Software had created a phenomenal new way of gaming and decided to bring this a step further. Yes – gamers all over were blessed with the release of Doom from Id Software. Released in 1993, Doom was graphically more advanced and more spectacular in every way. Still keeping in theme with a dark atmosphere as Wolfenstein 3-D did, but replacing Nazis with aliens in space – it was welcomed with open arms. The timing of this release could not of been any better, it was 1993 and the Internet was beginning to trickle into many households, and Local Area Networks were being set up everywhere. Id Software realised this and introduced multi-player support for Doom, and some say that this alone attributed to the huge success of the title.

Some other important points to mention with Doom; it brought about some very basic modding known as ‘WADs’ which are still around today. Doom Wad Station
As with Wolfenstein, it caused quite a controversy with its violence and satanic imagery. Finally, it spawned the popular term “Doom Clone” which was referred to any first-person-shooters that were released directly after the success of Doom. Many of these “Doom Clones” shared success and pushed Id Softwares game engine to the limits, as is seen in the Raven Softwares release of Heretic. Many of these games, including Doom, are available also as shareware.

As Id Software was working on their next big hit, many other companies jumped in to take advantage of this market gap. Through this we were given the ever popular Duke Nukem 3D created by 3D Realms which used a heavily modified game engine and was close to what was about to be unleashed next.

My first taste of alcohol

Although all the above mentioned titles were first-person-shooters, there was one main ingredient that was missing, and that is truly 3D graphics. The first title to introduce this successfully and brought about motion sickness through video games was, Descent, but this was not a first-person-shooter. The next title to combine these two ingredients and forever cement the genre of first-person-shooters as we find them today, was Quake. Id Software were the leaders in the domain of first-person-shooters, and you would of guessed it, they were also the masterminds being Quake. The setting and story feels very familiar to Doom, with a marine in space shooting aliens to survive, but what has changed is the evolutionary graphics. This was the first title to bring truly 3D graphics to the first-person-shooter genre, and addition to this it was the first to introduce multi-player over the Internet in 1996. Quake multi-player is still played today by some hardcore players and will always be considered the domain of the truly expert first-person-shooter gamers. In Quakes infancy though, many players had huge advantages due to different hardware setups, and possibly this was the first game that forced players to upgrade for that extra advantage.

Quake live which is similar to Quake III arena is available as a web based game, completely free. Find out more here.

My first fight

Id Software had blanketed the market with their releases… until now. In 1998 its first true competitor came in and released the title, Unreal. All previous games would use the technology that was original founded by Id Software, but Epic Games was the first to bring out a new gaming engine that was worthy of a show down with the powerhouse. This gaming engine was far superior to anything else in its time and can be likened to todays Crysis game. It marveled gamers with not only detailed interior environments, but also vast outdoor environments. These graphics came at a cost and required some beefy hardware to run, (sounds familiar to Crysis again). The minimum requirements stated that a Pentium 166 MHz with 16 MB RAM was needed, which was only the minimum and quite a powerful PC in its time. As we most other first-person-shooters that were successful at the time, Unreal was also a story set in the future with a prisoner crash landing on a planet. As you explore the planet you find you are not alone with four other races; you stumble across human remains and piece together the story.

Unreal also included a map editor for modders to create custom maps for Unreal. The Unreal engine is still alive today, but of course completely redeveloped and used for many popular games such as Gears of War. For more information on Unreal Technology, click here.

Becoming mature

There was one final ingredient that was still missing with all the first-person-shooters so far. Yes, they contained stories, but none were very compelling until, Half Life. Also released in 1998, it used a heavily modified Quake II engine – so heavily modified in fact that only 30% of the original engine was untouched. What was different about Half Life to its predecessors was that it used scripted sequences to envelope the player in a truly compelling story. The game has no cut scenes or levels (chapters are used instead); you play the entire game through the eyes of Gordan Freeman, who does not speak or ever reveals his appearance (apart from the game cover). The story basically happens in a secret research facility in New Mexico; an accident happens and tears a rift in dimensions allowing for weird alien monsters to cross over. Half Life spawned a collection of expansions and is also known as the best game engine for modders. It was used to create some of the best, with such titles as Counter Strike, and Natural Selection.

Keep a look out for the Half Life 2 mod, Black Mesa, which is a complete remake of the original Half Life in source graphics. Original voice actors are back and all textures, lighting, models, etc. are being finely re-created.

Appreciating the taste of aged Scotch

There have been countless first-person-shooter games that have come around, and many are noteworthy, but one title that has caused a massive stir was Halo. A little unknown game developer known as Bungie had worked on the science fiction title, which was originally conceived to be a real-time strategy game. After numerous alterations to the game, it went from real-time strategy, to third-person and then finally the powers that be luckily turned this amazing idea into a first-person-shooter, as it always should have been. The games success was unimaginable, and showed the world that gaming was an industry on-par with film and music, if not greater. It won countless game of the year awards, and also Time magazines game of the year. It was released exclusively for Xbox in 2001 initially, which showed that first-person-shooters were not just the domain of PC’s. Halo was truly combat evolved; it brought to the table all the ingredients we have seen from the great first-person-shooters previously, but also that unexplainable factor which made it soo addictive to play again and again.

The light at the end of the tunnel

Where do we go from here? How will first-person-shooters continue to evolve? We are seeing the genre become much more complex and integrating aspects from other genres, for example role-playing-games. Titles such as Bioshock and Borderlands have that added aspect of leveling and kitting out various abilities to your character. Call of Duty, and Bad Company provide endless configurations to players, from fitting out weapons, armors, to completely customising the look of your character. The future would still appear bright and we will not see an end to this genre anytime soon. I realise that we have missed countless great titles; some that have contributed greatly over the years to the first-person-shooters of today. So I invite you to share your experiences from some of your favorite classic first-person-shooters, and give us your opinions on the direction the genre is heading.

About the Author

Nightshadow is an avid PC gamer, but occasionally strays off to the Xbox360 for some console action. Frequent writer for Gameolio - he has a strange obsession for uniquely flavored soft drinks such as Cherry Coke, Passion Fruit, and Buzz Monkey. Currently Playing: - Mafia II - Age of Conan - Red Dead Redemption