History of FPS Games

The first part of an individual dedicated to the past, boom, and importance of the first-person shooter, the genre that reigns in the contemporary video game.

The FPS is the genus par excellence of the video game. Many of the most popular titles belong to this genre. Call of Duty (2003-2017), Half-Life (1998-2007), Doom (1993-2017), Halo (2001-2017) or BioShock (2007-2013) are some examples of a long golden list of great hits that have passed the screen and become synonymous with the video game. Its history runs parallel to that of the medium, and thanks to its perspective; the industry has grown supported by the search for photorealism and immersion. Its success and popularity has not declined at any time and continues to rise thanks to the bursting of new benchmarks. This is his story.

In this series of articles, we will trace a chronological path that will cover from the background that shaped the genre to its greatest exponents. We will also pay attention to the heterodox works that tried to change the direction, and we will go back to the origin of the medium and the first works that pointed to the perspective in the first person and the shooting as the primary interaction between the player character and virtual space.

There are many other stories dedicated to the evolution of the genre. This is another one. The difference we will try to make to this work is based on the historical perspective. We will try, as far as possible, to explain the evolution of the genre based on the context of both the video game and the technology available at that time as well as the places where the games were developed and sold. We will also place particular emphasis on the inheritances and influences of each of the most noted titles and the paths they were able to open, and later others were able to take advantage.

Shots and first-person perspective

Spacewar! It is considered the first interactive computer game. The title was created by Steve Russell along with other MIT partners (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The premise of the work was straightforward, to demonstrate the technological capacity of the United States. The U.S. in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Its operation was equally simple: the player controls one spaceship in the form of a needle, and player two controls the other spacecraft in the way of a wedge. The game aims to destroy the ship of the opposite. To hinder the war effort, the projectiles did not present a straight path but curved as a consequence of the gravitational attraction of a star that also threatened to absorb and destroy the spaceships. The aspect we care about Spacewar! For our story is the decantation of the war conflict into one action, the shooting. It all comes down to fire. Ending the opposite is synonymous with winning the win and finishing the game in the first place. This decision will be copied to fullness. Other titles were able to do the same, such as Pong (1972) and tennis reduced to two lines and one point.

Basing all the gameplay experience on shooting became the norm for an entire genre, the shoot em up, popularly known as the Slayer. All of them, Space Invaders (1978), Asteroids (1979) or Galaga (1981), proposed to the player to control an artifact and eliminate the threats through shooting, a substrate that has cemented the FPS genre from its beginnings to the present day. Very soon, other highly popular titles mixed this decision with more or less real political contexts, such as Contra (1987) in its American edition.

The other defining element of the genre, the first-person perspective, was born together with Maze War (1973). This title was developed by Steve Colley and Greg Thompson at the NASA Research Center in California, NASA Ames Research Center. The title game system was fundamental. A series of players simultaneously traveled a maze created in three dimensions and projected on the screen through a first-person perspective. Each of the players could meet the opposites, represented by flying eyes, and shoot them to negatively affect them in the final result of the game once the time had ended. The movement was developed by advancing, reversing, or turning 90 degrees into single cells.

Maze War was one of the most innovative video games of its time, alongside Spasim (1974) and WayOut (1982), and probably more definitional of the medium. He introduced elements as typical today as the representation of players by avatars on the screen, a level editor, a map where we could observe the player’s position, the online game. The observer mode is where a player was limited to “seeing” the game without being able to participate but traveling the same space as the participating players and, of course, the first-person perspective within a three-dimensional environment. All these advances attracted the interest of other creators who raised on him a new genre, role-playing in the first person with examples as close to Maze War as Moria (1975) and as famous and essential to our history as Ultima (1981) and his predecessor, Akalabeth: World of Doom (1979) developed by a teenage Richard Garriott.