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An Extraordinary History of the Modern First-Person Shooter and its Unsung Heroes

Illustration for article titled An Extraordinary History of the Modern First-Person Shooter and its Unsung Heroes

Level designer and writer Robert Yang has written up a fascinating "People's History of the FPS" as a three part series at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. In it, Yang posits that first-person gaming and first-person-shooters are not, as we tend to think of them, just an industry-dominated gorefest with a linear evolution, but rather, have always been influenced highly by the communities that play them.

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It starts with a look at how the first-person perspective became a hit in gaming, with Myst's successful 1993 launch almost immediately being overshadowed by Doom's release three months later. But it wasn't just the guns and combat that made Doom so overwhelmingly popular, Yang argues: it was the very file structure itself. The ability for players—amateurs—to easily mod Doom and games that came after influenced how the games were made, who was making them, and how fans engaged with them.

While at one point, Yang explains, players modded "because modding meant you could quit modding, and gain entry into AAA development", the current scene is much more fragmented. Game mods are designed as criticism or as art, or taking the form of maps and servers with specific configurations. The line between amateur and professional has blurred, and the process has become ever more granular and modular.

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And where is the current wave of modding zeitgeist taking us? Even Yang doesn't know, but looks forward to finding out: "I'm just trying to emphasize that we're on the brink of something different and fantastic here, a place where we're thinking of games less as fixed products / spaces that 'gamers' and players consume, but instead as a conversation with everyone all at once that expands if people want it to. ... Doesn't that sound pretty?"

Yes. Yes it does.

A People's History Of The FPS, Part 1: The WAD [Rock, Paper, Shotgun]

A People's History Of The FPS, Part 2: The Mod [Rock, Paper, Shotgun]

A People's History Of The FPS, Part 3: The Postmod [Rock, Paper, Shotgun]

(Top image: Rock Paper Shotgun)

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DISCUSSION

I have many fond memories of my early teen years, sitting in front of my Pentium 1 PC, making tons of maps and mods for Heretic and Hexen. Unfortunately, that game's popularity never hit the levels of others in the genre, so I ended up missing the boat into the industry.

These days, I am still passionate about gaming, but there are so few available tools for the games I enjoy, and the ones that do require a PhD in 3D modelling or sound design because nobody appreciates mods that don't include custom art and sound.

As a programmer primarily and someone with an eye for design but lack of artistic skill, it's hard to figure out what to do to make myself known. All of the mods that get press involve mass amounts of artistic work; I rarely see any that go "wow, this guy did some AMAZING programming work" because, well, who cares about programming? That's just boring engine stuff!

I have some great game ideas (who doesn't, I know...) but I have trouble getting past the design document stage because I'm a bit of a perfectionist and don't want to release an indie game that looks like crap, even if the gameplay is completely revolutionary. Pixel games feel like a cop-out to me (no offence to those who dabble with it,) and they instantly project memories of past games which are too widely varied in the audience.

So what does a budding game designer do? Do I program the game and maybe Kickstart-fund the art and sound? I'm wary of getting "partners," because it requires giving all the details to strangers and trusting them with it, plus trusting them to meet deadlines or not be greedy and demand equal share of the company.

I have 3 ideas on the go right now.

- One relates to the charity funding program I'm developing software for and I'm hoping to launch on as many platforms as possible. At its core, it's similar to one of those mall-building games. Primary launch would be for all Microsoft platforms and Facebook. This project is one of the heart, not the wallet. I want this program to do well for the charities, not my personal finances. What profit I do make will go straight into my next game.

- An MMO that brings back the old days of building communities, cooperation and common goals without making grouping mandatory or turning it into a full-time job to get any progress. The game itself will evolve over time based on the players' efforts in-game. Hard to go into details without writing an essay, but I think it's a game that would fill a void a lot of the social MMO players like myself find in most games these days.

- Social Networking for gamers. Not a game per-se, but Facebook for gamers on all platforms past and present. Emphasis on MMO players who would maybe be interested in reuniting with old friends they lost contact with. Again, keeping details close to the chest so nobody takes them, but there is a lot to it that make it unique and better than most services. I'd originally thought of integrating it into a Facebook app, but I'd rather have full control, and there are plenty of people that don't want to pull their MMO and real lives together on Facebook.