The First Person Shooter (FPS) is one of the core genres of gaming and has been so since it’s early 90’s roots. When I first started on this article, I thought it was going to be a sinch. The FPS is my favourite genre of gaming and I own far more of these than any other type, that was a silly assumption…
But how do you choose from the smorgasbord of excellent quality, and some cases revolutionary, first person shooters that have appeared in the last 23 years since Wolfenstein 3D appeared in 1992?
I have based my choices on the games I have played and loved, and with such an expansive history I’ve split this article into three parts. In this first part, I’m going to concentrate on gaming up to the year 2000. I’ll be looking at the games that defined the genre and took the technical strides, guiding us to the games we have today.
We have to start with Wolfenstein 3D. It’s generally credited as being the first FPS game introducing the protagonist allied spy William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, you run around killing Nazis whilst maintaining health and ammunition reserves, a formula we still have today. It was developed by a little known company called id Software, who would go on to give us many of the technical innovations that gaming now relies on. Compared to modern games Wolfenstein looks simply awful with a weird play style, modern smartphones run games far more advanced both graphically and in play style, never mind the current generation of gaming technology, but it deserves its place as the first. What is cool is if you hanker for some Wolfenstein action you can access it through the bad dream sequence in the recent Wolfenstein: The New Order.
Doom was the next development from id Software and launched the genre into the stratosphere, and I would say is one of the seminal gaming series. When you think FPS you think Doom. Building on the experience from Wolfenstein, showcasing a much larger choice of weapons which have become standard for the genre and introducing a much improved 3D engine. It allowed rooms to be of different heights! GASP! Different light levels! And full texture mapping! You’re probably thinking ‘so?’, but at the time this was revolutionary giving the player a more engaging experience. The levels in Doom are dynamic, including lifts and stair cases allowing access to different floors in the environment, instead of the single floor in Wolfenstein. Luckily for us there are multiple different sites where Doom is available to play in your browser, EXPERIENCE THE REVOLUTION!
Dark Forces was released by LucasArts in 1995, based on its own engine which was unusual at the time, many games were using the Doom engine as their base as it was cheaper than building your own. Complimented for its level design and graphics, it is available to buy on Valve’s online distribution system Steam, although heed advice given by Valve and check the forums for compatibility issues. The game added a number of key movements to the genre, you could duck for the first time, jump, look up and down and swim. There is no movement more important move than the duck, all hail the duck!
Duke Nukem did not really move the genre forward in a major way, unlike the previous three games. However it was a good game. It offered players a destructible environment, with short cuts, hidden loot and many enemies to kill. It also had a risqué sense of humour, combined with visual humour, pop culture satire and lampooning of Hollywood’s macho style heroes. It did garner a lot of criticism for it depiction of women in the game and the game’s sequels, something I believe the industry still has a problem with but that issue requires an entire article on the subject.
Quake was a further development of id Software’s technology seen in the doom game, it was the first game to use a 3D rendering system and helped to launch the massively lucrative discreet graphics card market we have today. It also introduced many of the multiplayer modes we see today in modern games, and made online gaming much easier to access. It also had unique game movements for the time, strafe jumping, bunny hopping and the now infamous rocket jump all helped the player reach inaccessible areas in the game and move faster.
The first Half Life was a monumental moment in both the FPS genre and in gaming in general. It arrived with very little anticipation, but upon arrival it received universal critical acclaim. Unlike most FPS games before it, the story was key and it simply used the medium of the FPS as a narrative tool, games up to this point had very weak story lines, developer effort concentrated on how the game played. Half Life was based around the graphics technology developed for Quake all though it was highly modified by the new boys to the block, Valve.
The game maintains the first person viewpoint throughout, including the cut scenes to help maintain the player’s immersion in the story. The game was praised for the AI system for enemies and for what was then a large number of NPCs, I also like the way the game challenged you to solve puzzles not just shoot your way out. The reputation of Half Life and Valve was further cemented in gaming culture by their support of the mod community. Some of these mods ended up on retail shelves, the most successful of which was Counter-Strike which became the most popular online game ever having 90,000 players logged in at once during the peak of its popularity.
So that was part one; a tour through the history and key games which made the FPS genre possible. In part two I’m going to take a look 2000 to present, I look forward to seeing you then!
Author – Jon, Cardiff store