Monday, May 16, 2016

A Brief History of First-Person Shooters


    A first-person shooter, commonly referred to as an FPS, places the player in the eyes of the playable character. As the title suggests, the action is viewed through a first-person perspective and is usually centered around gun or weapon based action. Often the only attributes of the player’s character visible are the weapon and the avatar’s hands or arms. First-person shooters are usually mature, violent titles and have grown to be the most successful and popular genre in the current generation of gaming.

     While the roots of the genre can be traced back even further, 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D is generally credited as being the origin point of the style as it is known today. Wolfenstein 3D was released on the PC and thrust players into the role of a captured spy trying to escape from a Nazi prison. In addition to what would become the trademark style and pacing of the genre, Wolfenstein 3D established the perimeters of challenge and success with metrics such as health percentage and ammo count.

    Wolfenstein 3D pioneered today’s first-person shooter but it was 1993’s Doom that put the genre on the map. Doom built off of and evolved the foundation laid by Wolfenstein and expanded the style’s appeal to the mainstream in a ground-breaking way. In Doom, players take control of a space marine fighting waves of demons and monsters invading Mars from hell through a dimensional portal. Doom upped the ante on everything Wolfenstein had established and was a true cultural phenomenon that was investigated by journalists, protested by religious groups, and played by untold millions of gamers. Doom spawned a legion of copycat titles, popularly referred to as “Doom clones”, and irrevocably influenced and changed the video game landscape forever.

    One of the main innovations and advancements in Doom was the multiplayer deathmatch mode, in which players competed against one another in human vs human shootouts. This feature exploded to new popularity with 1997’s Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64. Having friends over and staying up late to battle it out in fast paced first-person mayhem became a way of life for gamers of all ages. This was probably the zenith of local multiplayer before the evolution of online multiplayer changed everything.

     In the 2000s, competitive online multiplayer has driven the first-person shooter scene to the top of the totem pole in video game genres. Titles such as Counter-Strike, Call of Duty and Halo are among the best selling of all time, thanks in large part to their online “deathmatch” offerings. Players can team-up with friends to compete with other gamers from around the world, earning rewards and rankings to increase their attributes and status in the gaming community. Halo has given life to deeper, more immersive FPS experiences such as Borderlands and Destiny, while the Call of Duty franchise has churned out a new entry annually since 2007’s Modern Warfare, each surpassing the last in new features and sales figures.

     The first-person genre has also seen advancements in the diversity of its essence and concepts. Titles such as Half-Life, Metroid Prime, and Bioshock have taken some of the focus away from frantic “run and gun” gameplay to provide new spins on elements of physics, puzzles, and storytelling. These games, and others like them, prove that the FPS scene doesn’t have to be one dimensional mindless violence and can offer as much depth and complexity as any game type.

    Even as their critical reception wanes, the enduring commercial viability of first-person shooters ensures that there will be plenty of new titles for the foreseeable future. The direction the genre takes is largely in the hands of gamers, as sales figures will dictate what gameplay style is pursued and produced by studios. In any case, the FPS genre has already crowned itself in video game history and has plenty of wind left in its sails. 

Posted by Terry Pierson, Programming Technician