Entry updated 21 March 2022. Tagged: Game, Theme.
Term used to describe a form of Videogame distinguished by a three-dimensional character's eye view of the world and fast paced, often violent, gameplay which requires players to react rapidly and acquire physical skills. "First Person" refers to the camera position – as opposed to the third person view of the main character used in most graphical Adventures and Computer Role Playing Games – and "Shooter" to the player's most common action. Later examples of the type have added a variety of other elements to the gameplay, including puzzle solution, exploration and an increasing focus on (usually linear) narrative (see Interactive Narrative), but physical combat is still the core of the form's appeal. The speed and immediacy of the First Person Shooter make it perhaps the type of Videogame most analogous to film, though it is clearly more closely related to The Terminator (1984) than to La Jetée (1963).
First person perspective games based on combat evolved early in the history of Videogames. The first example may have been Maze War (1973 Mainframe; vt Maze) designed by Steve Colley, Greg Thompson, Howard Palmer, a game created at a Californian NASA centre which allowed several players to enter a three-dimensional maze drawn using simple lines and shoot at each other. Isolated examples of similar gameplay appeared over the next two decades in such works as the tank-combat-based Battlezone (1980 Atari, Arcade, Others) designed by Ed Rotberg, Voyager I (1981 Avalon Hill, AppleII; 1982 Atari8, PET, TRS80) designed by William Volk – in which the player must destroy a ship full of Berserker robots – the UK-developed games 3D Monster Maze (1981 ZX81) designed by Malcolm Evans and Driller (1987 Major Developments, C64, DOS, Spectrum; 1988 Amiga, Amstrad, AtariST, vt Space Station Oblivion in the US), and Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992 Blue Sky Productions, DOS; 1997 PS1) designed by Paul Neurath, a Computer Role Playing Game with a fantasy setting which focuses on real-time combat in three-dimensional perspective. The First Person Shooter form, however, is generally regarded as having begun with the American game Wolfenstein 3D (1992 id Software, DOS; 1993 SNES; 1994 Jaguar, Mac; 1995 3DO; 1998 AppleII; 2002 GBA; 2007 Win; 2012 Web) designed by John Carmack, John Romero, in which the player must fight their way through various covert missions in a not especially serious version of World War Two, including slaughtering an army of mutant Zombies and assassinating Adolf Hitler (who is wearing a suit of mechanical armour). This game has a fluidity and immediacy lacking in its predecessors, partly as a result of technical improvements which allowed it to use more realistic, rapidly updating visuals; the resulting sense of intensity has come to define the form.
Wolfenstein 3D was followed by Doom (1993), which made the form famous, and then by a wave of similar games including Quake (1996), Unreal (1998) and the broadly parodic and mildly pornographic Duke Nukem 3D (1996 3D Realms, DOS; 1997 N64, PS1, Saturn) designed by George Broussard, Todd Replogle. The UK-developed Aliens Versus Predator (1999) took something of a different approach, concentrating on evoking a sense of vulnerability more than on carefree mayhem. Marathon Trilogy (1994) and System Shock (1994) added linear stories (see Interactive Narrative), an element almost entirely absent from Doom, though this innovation did not attract much attention at the time. Meanwhile, two concepts popularized by Doom and its successors had a major effect on Videogames in general: competitive (and later cooperative) games between several players in temporary Online Worlds, and the creation and free distribution of new content by the game's players as well as by its developers. Almost all early First Person Shooters were sf; a rare exception is the Sword and Sorcery Heretic (1994 Raven Software, DOS, Mac; 1995 rev vt Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders DOS; 2007 Win) designed by Brian Raffel.
In the late 1990s developers devoted considerable effort to expanding the boundaries of First Person Shooter design. Half-Life (1998) added a credible and well-integrated linear story, created by the sf writer Marc Laidlaw. The Steampunk and Sorcery game Thief: The Dark Project (1998 Looking Glass, Win; 1999 rev vt Thief Gold, Win) designed by Greg LoPiccolo, Doug Church, Ken Levine introduced gameplay that depended more on stealth and subtle trickery than heroic combat. Deus Ex (2000), perhaps the most interesting of all these games, combined the traditional First Person Shooter with elements borrowed from Computer Role Playing Games, while Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six (1998 Red Storm Entertainment, Win; 1999 Mac, N64, PS1; 2000 DC, GBC) designed by Brian Upton emphasized tactical cooperation with other (computer controlled) squad members in a broadly realistic setting based on an eponymous Technothriller written by Tom Clancy. Another line of development began with Starsiege: Tribes (1998), a spinoff from the Metaltech universe, which concentrated entirely on competitive play between large teams in Online Worlds. Meanwhile the form, previously largely restricted to personal computers, was brought to home consoles by such games as Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) and the UK-developed Perfect Dark (2000). More recent First Person Shooters have made frequent use of many of these elements; notably, increasingly sophisticated narratives have become almost universal in the form. Arguably, however, the tradition has become somewhat static; new games increasingly resemble the old, possibly because commercial considerations discourage risk taking, or perhaps because the mix of action, violence and reflection in the typical work is approaching some kind of optimum.
First Person Shooters remain highly popular, though perhaps more so among dedicated Videogame players than in the mass market. Science fiction is still a common setting, but Technothrillers and games based on historical and contemporary warfare may now have become the form's default modes; an example of the former is the well known Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009 Infinity Ward, PS3, Win, XB360) designed by Jason West. One recent trend is the increasing prevalence of the Third Person Shooter, a related type of game in which the player character is seen from an external view. The First Person Shooter is still a popular form, however, as demonstrated by the high sales of such recent sf games as Bioshock (2007), the remarkable Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007) – developed in Ukraine near the eponymous nuclear reactor – and Halo: Reach (2010), a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved. [NT]
- David Kushner. Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture (New York: Random House, 2003) [nonfiction: a popular history of the creation of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom (1993) and Quake (1996): hb/Kapo Ng]
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