Of course when those games were at their peak back in the day the goal was to do something a bit different and the appeal of actually moving "in to" the screen seemed to be a good goal to have.
Spasim (Short for Space Simulation and not some horrible Glaswegian insult) was written by developer Jim Bowery and released as far back as 1974. Not only was it a 3D game similar to Elite but due to some innovative coding that incorporates networking it is the world's very first multplayer 3D game which allowed up to....wait for it THIRTY-TWO players.
A feat that for the time (and even now) was pretty phenomenal.
The game which was written by NASA employee Steve Colley consists of the now familiar vector graphics which were made famous around 10 years later in the 80's with games like Elite and the especially the "sit in" Star Wars arcade machine. Here you traverse a claustrophobic wire-frame environment and essentially the game is much like what we have come to know and love today,
Things continued in the dawn of the 1980's with Battlezone (1980) a very smart Tank simulation game where you crawl around an eerie wireframe vector environment blasting the shit out of things. The game came with two joysticks which were used for movement and firing. If both sticks were pushed forward then you went forward and vice versa. If the right stick was pulled back but the left stick was pushed forward you would go right and the opposite for left. Great fun!
Star Wars was a first person shoot 'em up game in which you assume the role of Luke Skywalker and who's main gameplay was an X-Wing/TIE Fighter dogfight which led up to an attack on the Death Star. The game once again used mainly green blue, red & white wireframe vector graphics to simulate the environment, the guns and some of the ship.
The game had a strange level placement structure whereby you had a dogfight in space in which you didn't have to kill every enemy rather just survive long enough to progress. Your ship would then do a dive towards the Death Star and then into the trench to do the final battle. After seeing the Death Star Destroyed you would then restart the game over in space with the dog fight again only this time after swooping into the Death Star's trench you would be taken to a fight on the surface and THEN onto the trench which had some harder obstacles like horizontal barriers which you had to avoid.
Story wise it made zero sense and would probably have been structurally better to have the dogfight, surface battle and trench battle just follow each other but for an arcade game with not much to do it was clever in that there was something new to see in the next level.
Star Wars: Arcade came in two forms, a standup cabinet similar to most other arcade units and the now famous sit-down cockpit version both of which featured a Yoke control steering wheel for manoeuvring. The game also featured some fuzzy samples of the actor's voices from the film as well as bleepy renditions of John William's score, both of which were legendary staples of just about any 80's arcade cacophony when you walked into one. A more beautiful sound you couldn't possibly hope to hear.
The game was insanely popular of course and an expansion pack was made by Atari in 1985 so that arcade owners could update their Star Wars arcade game into the Empire Strikes Back. This didn't take off quite as well as expected as the expansion pack cost a few thousand pounds and the original Star Wars game was still crazy popular and earning money.
A real slice of arcade history!
Filled polygons & flicked bitmaps
The game saw the player take control of a "synthoid" in a strange and sinister land . This synthoid could "absorb" other synthoids and trees in order to generate blocks to build platforms on and could also transmit him/herself to other synthoid bodies.
Each level was a new generated 3D Polygon landscape and every one was watched over by an evil figure with a bird like head high towering high above everything called The Sentinel. The Sentinel would slowly rotate on it's tower and if you happened to get caught in it's gaze your energy would be drained.
The game's mechanics are coded so that you can only absorb objects which you are above and can see the floor that they are standing on. The goal of each level in the game was to build a block tower so tall that you could stand above The Sentinel and absorb him.
The Sentinel was masses of fun and the 3D landscapes were phenomenally bleak looking as was the ominous looking sentinel. Nothing was more hair pulling and heart attack inducing fun than trying to build that tower and then getting caught in the gaze of the Sentinel which resulted in desperately scrambling around and trying to transmit to a safer place. A bit of a stray from the FPS format but a superb and highly original 3D game.
The game's plot was some bollocks about unstable drilling rigs on planets and your job was to sort it out. Regardless it was quite an amazing game for the time and was highly praised by magazines. Definitely not an action game but another step in the world of 3D for sure.
It was pretty impressive for the systems, almost a forerunner to some later titles mentioned in this article in terms of mood. I remember playing it on my Amstrad 6128 just to wander about as the novelty of a perspective-ised screen which you could actually explore was a pretty cool one.
and later the Amiga. The game was a role playing adventure which saw a mystical team wandering around a drab dungeon maze consisting of grid like corridors. You choose a group of four characters each with their owns skillset and then charge off to wander around the eerie hallways of the dungeon while casting magic, swinging sword and generally killing things that get in your way while also solving a few puzzles.
Dungeon Master was incredibly atmospheric plus great fun and it was pretty much the DooM and Skyrim of it's time. The game inspired a wealth of similar titles, the most famous being Eye of the Beholder in 1991 which was (in appearance anyway) almost identical to Dungeon Master and was succeeded by two sequels in the 1990's.
The "3D" in the game was actually just static 2D bitmapped images of hallways which were "flick screened" in order to create the illusion of movement. It was a simple but surprisingly effective method.
The game arrived in the golden age of the action film and was quite popular at the time. The 3D was achieved with what looked like a mix of flick screening and polygons in order to make the (at the time) reasonably smooth scrolling corridors. It was of course a third person game but the element of creepy mazes and "things round the corner" was most certainly there.
The Nintendo NES game Probotector (Contra) had a section similar to Xybots where the action changed from a platform shooter to a pseudo 3D game with the use of flick screen mechanics.
Corporation used 3D filled polygons to make it's world and it was a true first person perspective game too which was incredibly atmospheric as you battle droids, guards and monsters. The game was well received and praised for it's innovation plus it was great fun to play as well.
The game was a hit and received positive reviews across the board. It was praised for it's freedom of movement which back in 1991 was an extremely novel concept. Nice touches like birds flocking around the player and lots of other little nifty features really made the game terrific fun to play, not only for it's stealthy A-Team style missions but blowing up a cow for the sheer hell of it was a bag of hoots!
Robocop 3 on the Amiga dropped in 1992 and was mind blowing at the time. The game allowed you to traverse a fully 3 dimensional filled polygon world split up in to driving and shooter games (even some of the cut scenes were 3D). The driving sections were self explanatory but the shooter sections were where it was at as you walk through spooky corridors shooting shadowy gunmen The game even allowed you to squeeze off a few rounds in to the enemy's corpses so it was highly satisfying for the more shady gamer out there such as my good self. You could even shoot the odd hostage if you were feeling particularly evil which let's face it, happened quite a bit. A huge leap forward and a highly original game
The 90's Explosion
Like it's inspiration, Wolfenstein 3D was set in World War II where you play a prisoner who has to escape from the eponymous castle and it's many levels. The game was a massive leap forward with it's glossy 3D scrolling and texture mapped environment. ID were quite sensible in knowing that blasting the shit out of Nazi's could never really get old and it doesn't. Add to this the atmosphere of the era and it was an absolute winner.
The two standouts of these were Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold (1993) and Corridor 7: Alien Invasion (1994).
Both games took the then uncharted sci-fi route and allowed the player to play what was basically a cheap knock off of Aliens. The games were highly unoriginal (even back then) but still ripping good fun, particularly Corridor 7 which had a really nice creepy atmosphere to it and both are good examples of DOS based titles of that era.
The game garnered notoriety for it's (at the time) extreme gore and violence which took hefty inspiration from both James Cameron's Aliens and the Evil Dead series. DooM was also famous for one of it's best features and that was a heavy use of satanic imagery. If Hell looked like anything it would probably look like some of the later levels in DooM and this pissed off the religious puffs, conservative moaners and general boring people of the world no end. Disgusting body horror environments coupled with pentagrams, horned murals, blood rivers, disembowelled twitching bodies and loads of other lovely things all set to a tremendous heavy metal inspired soundtrack in glorious MIDI format!
If DooM had a perfect description it would probably be Slayer: The Game.
DooM continued to entertain for at least a decade after it's release before it became truly known as retroware. In that tome it spawned man MANY clones which became rather affectionately (and obviously) known as DooM clones. Games such as Hexen & Heretic proved moderately successful and were of course great fun but never truly captured the essence of ID's masterpiece.
This writer had always hoped they would one day combine the elements of both X-Wing and Dark Forces to make an exploration game in the Star Wars universe in which you could run around planets and space stations blasting holes in things on foot then hop in a shuttle and bugger off into space to go.....well wherever you wanted. Alas at that time it was not to be but 17 year old me still calls dibs on the idea..
The game took tacky humour to a new level where you could enter strip clubs and other adult sections of society. Massively good fun and a great game to boot.
The game was a first person perspective shooter which saw the player take control of Bond and the gameplay featured some new elements which set it aside form the typical DooM style of blasting with much more focus on stealth and missions.
Goldeneye became the best selling Nintendo 64 game of all time which was quite a feat for a licenced title as usually games which featured original characters such as Mario got the prize. The game is frequently associated with the very cream of video gaming in the late 90's
A remake of Goldeneye was released for the Nintendo Wii in 2010 and later for the Xbox & PS3 the next year.
In 2003 Software house Running With Scissors release the First person sequel to their isometric 2D game. Postal 2 took what few remaining scraps of good taste the genre had, threw it clean down the toilet them reached in with it's greasy bare hands, pulled it out and then rubbed it in a hooker's face.
The game which features an unknown man by the name of "Postal Dude" (this universe's version of Doomguy) was monumentally offensive and glorified some of the most horrible ways to murder people and animals. In addition to blowing folk away with guns you could get a shovel and batter them to death or just lob their head off with said gardening tool plus you could then kick the head down the road as much as you wanted them run back and kick the shit out the headless corpse a bit more. The option to urinate on people living or dead (Yes really!) was brilliant and added a sense of seediness that was deliciously appealing to the sick of mind. Other treats included pouring petrol on people then setting them alight, kicking a dog to death or putting a cat on the end of your gun to use as a silencer.
The surprise about Postal 2 is that the gameplay (on paper at least) is pretty boring. Your missions are crap every day stuff like going to the shop to get milk and picking up your paycheque so the madness comes around almost completely of your own doing, although it is highly encouraged. A number of expansions were released for the game giving some new missions and a third person sequel Postal III was released in 2011.
A horrible, rude, booze smelling skid stain of a game which panders to the lowest common denominator or the human psyche and is the best fun you'll have in a long time.
The genre received a huge boost with the arrival of Halo and of course the insanely popular Call Of Duty series. Both are considered yardsticks for the modern age of gaming and there are quite literally thousands of sites, videos and shit-tonnes more stuff about them online.
Aliens: Colonial Marines hit in 2013 to lukewarm reviews. The game was considered Canon due to it's many approvals and involvement from people in the films but it turned out to be little more than an "ok" FPS with not much to set it apart from the swarms of others besides the franchise name. Regardless it's worth a shot of fans..
The game was a third person puzzle/action game which focused on an incredibly tense sci-fi atmosphere. The game was creepiness overload and of course we all love a jobby in our pants now and again so it became extremely popular and spawned an entire series which consisted of a trilogy of main games and three expansions.
It was a cool game which had some nice features like your energy bar actually being built in to the spine of your character's suit and other nice touches that made the skin crawling play all the more bearable.
In 2011 Bethesda studios made the 5th instalment in their Elder Scrolls series. Skyrim is a 3D RPG/adventure/action game set in a fantasy sandbox Game Of Thrones type world where you have the option to play either first or third person.
The game was crazy popular for it's stunningly rendered and huge open world. In DooM you could admire the mountains in the background but in Skyrim you could actually walk there in real time and even climb them if you wished. The graphics were breathtaking and the orchestral & choral score is considered to be one of the finest in gaming history. It came under some criticism for having a few glitches which created invisible walls, the most annoying of which tended to pop up on top of a mountain you were trying to cross or a cliff you were trying to climb. Nevertheless the game was a triumph of pure atmosphere and will go down in history as one of the finest fantasy games ever made.
Skyrim employed close combat weapons melee attacks but also game the player magic abilities to shoot fireballs and lighting so it could indeed be considered a FPS (in part at least).
This is now a reality with the Virtiex Omni, a device where you strap yourself into which lets you physically walk and run around a virtual environment while remaining static. The tech works almost like an omnidirectional treadmill....except not. One of these devices would easily fit in a living room and the possibilities for games is near endless not to mention the health benefits of actually getting off your ass and running around......a problem that has plagued gamers since the early 80's.
We as humans appear to have a penchant for exploring dark, scary corridors and kicking things to death in the name of fun. The FPS (and 3D games in general) has nicely seen to that and continues to do so in a variety of innovative ways. To sum up......thanks for all the violence!