Originally Published on the Official Blast Away the Game Review Facebook Page
Written by Dustin Murphy
As a kid growing up, many of us from the mid to late 80’s, will remember the FPS genre the way it was. Games were pixelated, very few of them, such as Hexen, DOOM, and even Wolfenstein are the staples of the genre. They are games that pushed the boundaries of what we know, as the classic, first person titles. All of this started thanks to the creativity of id Software, back in 1992, which created what we knew as the first 3D shooter title. The games back then were not considered big hits, instead they were considered unique, hard, and adventurous. For many that grew up in that era, they were some of the hardest, creepiest, and even scariest games to hit the market, as they were rolled out, one by one, in the following years. Instead of just recapping the history, lets take a look at why they are unique, and what makes them unique to the franchises, we know today. Lets also take a look at what makes them classics to this day.
Starting In 1992, we know that the FPS genre was born thanks, in part, to the developers and artists at id Software; which we know today; John Carmack, John Romero, American McGee, Tom Hall, Kevin Cloud, Adrian Carmack, Shawn Greene, and Sandy Peterson, to name a few. All of these names, to many of you reading this, may not have seemed familiar at the time, but now do. This is because, as of today, the titles they worked on such as DOOM, Quake, and Wolfenstein, have become the go to games, that set the bar for how we gamers expect games to be today. These games didn’t just influence the fast-paced, in your face, bone breaking, neck bending, puzzle filled games that we know and love, they influenced a generation that would grow to make the first person shooters we play today, and inspired genres of their own within the FPS type.
Lets take a look though at what made them unique by taking a look at what made these games unique, not just their art style, weapons, or even engines, but their levels of difficulty to say the least. I remember when I was about nine years old, my father had handed me a box with a few floppies in it called “Wolfenstein 3D”, at the time, this was a big install for a game. Not many games were out on floppies that would make me want to use them, or even play them as much as these games did. The reason? They were massive in install size and took a while to do it, but what unfolded on my screen was what got me hooked to gaming as a child. After having first booted into DOOM, I remember having this form of fear tear into me thanks to flashing lights, and the sound of the imps in the opposite room. All my character wielded? A single pistol. It was that very moment did I realize, I was no longer playing a third person side scroller where I had all the freedom in the world to do as I pleased, but instead, I was limited at what I was capable of.
As the years of my childhood passed, so did the curiosity we all get as gamers: “What can I do to make this game even better”? That question was answered one day when I was walking through the Best Buy in Oklahoma City. I happened to stumble upon the wonderment of a book called “ Tricks of the Doom Programming Gurus/Book and Cd”, which taught me how to thoroughly edit DOOM wad files and enter in my own stages, programming how I want it to function, but also how to change out texture files. Doing this allowed for a whole new world to open up, goofy instances to occur, and let me enjoy everything I could possibly enjoy with my own self-created experience. This didn’t change in future releases of id Software titles, and led to many years of exploration and fun. As these titles remained like they were, so did their experience, and the wonderment. It wasn’t till around 1998 when I got my first taste of restrictions based on consoles. Our household managed to obtain a Nintendo 64 and shortly after DOOM 64, Quake (N64), Quake II (N64), and Hexen (N64). The experience that made these games unique was the fact they were on a console aside from PlayStation and left me with a sense of wonderment till I attempted to mod them, only to learn at a later date consoles required mod-chips at the time. This was a dumbfounding experience, but later, left the impression of the fact those games at the time were so unique to what they stood for.
When taking a step looking back at it, the games were classic because of their difficulty, but also the gameplay mechanics they held. Unlike many games to this date where one gun is always going to be better than the other or eventually sidestepped to do so, but in these games they were unlocked based on progression and or finding secret rooms. One example would be the hidden in E1M3 within the title DOOM. It allowed players to quickly blast their way through a throng of enemies and evict them from their living state into a bloody pile of bone and flesh. This wasn’t the only thing that made these titles unique. What also did was the fact they constantly referenced each other, for example, DOOM II’s hidden stage MAP31, which took us to the first stage of Wolfenstein 3D. In it, players still play as the main protagonist of DOOM, whom I like to call ‘Marine’. Luckily for Marine, he gets to keep all his weapons in-tact and luckily blow his way through Hitlers men as well as make their walls a mess (if only it were modernized). Unfortunately for most, this was not experienced and left some players experiencing the DOOM 3 BFG Edition of the games, which removed all swastika’s and Adolf Hitler images from the game. A bummer, I know, but it was removed for circumstances unknown. However, it didn’t change the experience these games gave since they remained much the same in future releases pre-DOOM 3 BFG Edition. This being a good thing for many of those who have yet to experience the classic DOOM titles and their WAD files. If you haven’t? Go watch the YouTube video’s or a way to play the classic games that haven’t been modified as these will bring back plenty of memories.
After a few years of this having happened, many of us could come down and proclaim that we experienced the Golden Age of First Person Shooters. This mostly being because many of the games back then were unique and drove what we know as the mod community, but also developers to bring out very unique experiences. For example, Heretic. Many people wouldn’t be able to recall the anti-cheats in it where players would enter the all weapons cheat from DOOM and lose everything and or enter the God Mode cheat from DOOM and get killed with special messages from the game itself. These games were unique in their creativity, but also their art style that fueled many people within the art industry as well as gaming. Back then these games were projected to many fans as horror. Why? Because they did just that. Enemies such as the Mancubus, Spider Demon, Lost Souls, and even the Hellknights were the very definition of scary since they were just that – scary. In Quake, many of us were shocked when we first saw the hideous Shub-Niggurath. Over time players would fight these horrendously deformed creatures which had no sight due to the environment they were from. Later in Quake II players met the now famed enemies known as the Strogg. This is where Quake took its biggest turn and followed in the footsteps of DOOM 3 where players finally got a story-arch that made the game truly unique. With it though the genres had begun to change. Horror was no longer was present as it had been at one time due to how enemies did not have their fast paced speeds that were neck breaking.
What changed though? First we’d have to look at the FPS genre as a total. Many of us remember the pars that games such as Unreal, Duke Nukem, and even Heretic set because of their strafe and aim mechanics that loud for us to aim up and down like real life. With those added effects to the games, military shooters began to come forth and begin to go for realism. The problem? Many games that had once taken over the horror genre began to follow suit and aim for the realism. That being fine was a good thing, it allowed for more depth, more precision required to take out enemies, but it also meant story would eventually have to be added. The first time we did see that was with DOOM 3, which actually was not a bad game, but it didn’t have the rush forth feeling that we were familiar with. Instead we got a game that had plenty of horror to it, especially with paranoia, jumps, scares, and realistic detail for the time frame that it came out in. For many fans, this was a change DOOM needed, and stepped in the right direction. Flash lights didn’t last long, corridors were dark, enemies were unforgiving, and the game itself was just as painfully hard as the originals. At its core though, the series had heavily changed, and for some of us: too much was lost. DOOM had officially taken a step into the horror survival genre, which was not bad, but didn’t quite cut it for some. Though was it really all that bad? I’d almost have to argue that it wasn’t, that it was unique, terrifying, and painstakingly believable that something like that could happen.
Quake 4 though, unfortunately fell victim to something much different, and the change to some was unwelcome. For the first time ever we began to see a series that needed one, get one. Quake 4 put us in the role as Kane, a marine that was hellbent on helping destroy the Strogg, and instead he got turned into one. Luckily the story went on a slightly better note than we would have expected, which wasn’t bad. Using a much more polished detail of the DOOM engine, players got to see a story that they had wanted unfold before them, and allow them to get the immersion that we experienced back in the mid to late 90’s. Much like DOOM, Quake 4 hit a spot where the essence of Quake had began to fall off, and find itself plummeting much into a form of despair none of us would have suspected. Even with a great story, the game had hit a few spots that needed work, and the biggest one was – what genre is this supposed to fit in? At times the game itself, unlike the predecessors, felt more like a sci-fi action that clashed somehow into horror. With the oil having begun to collide with water, the uniqueness was slowly fading away and the creative balance finding itself lost within in the mix somewhere. Where do I feel this happened? The moment Kane became a Strogg who was not indoctrinated through the chipping process. Instead we got a protagonist who saw the horrors of the Strogg. He himself had seen men cut to shreds, parts recycled and some converted into the Strogg war machine. This was not something expected, but game that slight element of fear, grotesque disturbance, and a bit of wonderment of how they would play upon this. Unfortunately, the confusion never cleared up due to the incomplete story that the ending left behind.
But why do I relate this to DOOM 3? With DOOM 3 as I’ve stated before, they changed an entire franchise from a fast paced shooter to a series that was defined by fast paced combat and the sense of urgency to keep moving to a slowed down horror survival scenario. Players were greeted with flickering lights, blood splatters and smears on the walls, lingering voices, and rather disturbing enemies, which fit in just fine. That was until the one thing most of us complained about happened. The lack of ammo, health, and the sense of need to back away from fights in order to win. That was something I never had recalled in the classic DOOM titles. Instead I was prone to running up to enemies, unloading on them, if I had to, then backing off for ammo, but this approach was much different this time around. it was something we also experienced quite a bit in Quake 4, but not nearly as bad. As the play-through on DOOM 3 began to come to a close, the game finally got its sense of urgency, however the underlying problem of survival was still present. Players had already obtained massive amounts of ammo, bigger guns, meaner ones at that, and a lot of health and armor.
Enemies weren’t nearly as hard before, instead they would just drive players to fight as hard as they could in order to take down the armies of Hell in order to prove themselves worthy of killing the main boss at hand. That was another problem many may remember. Bosses flooded the DOOM levels as well as Hexen, Heretic, and Quake. There was always something bigger. meaner, and harder to kill than before. Sure DOOM 3 had the Hellknights, Mancubus, and Lost Souls for this, but not anything near the power of Pinkies or even Spiderdemons. The Cacodemons were surely a formidable foe, but nothing near a swarm of Revenants or Spiderdemons. As DOOM 3 came to a close, there was something lost, and something that the child in me yearned for. More enemies, bigger enemies, and even tougher situations that would keep the fighting fast paced and not evasive. This didn’t happen, not even in the re-release of DOOM 3 with the BFG edition, which featured bug fixes and some very needed changes. It also gave fans on PlayStation a chance to experience DOOM and DOOM II once more.
With much of the industry having changed, we constantly see games losing path from great stories, innovative touches, and the creativeness we used to see almost twenty years ago. Now we are used to seeing user created games, content, rule-sets, graphic enhancements, and so forth. The problem is now we are in a world where Call of Duty and Battlefield clones run a muck and there is nothing to give a variation away from such titles. With the future we can only hope such teams as id Software and Machine Games can fix the underlying touches that remain out there for the world to see. Till then, with what we saw with DOOM leaves a glimmer of hope for the horror as well as the first person shooter genre, but it also the need for non-military like shooters that require some brain, thought, and imagination. Unless you are one of those with a wild hair, I can always suggest one thing – Steam. They have plenty of the titles I mentioned before and will surely still have them laying around within their shop still. With that, we can now say, id Software has been one of the most influential companies in the gaming industry.