1/ Maze Wars
How: Created by Steve Colley in 1973 who went on to work for NASA on the Mars Rover.
What: Not the hardest game in the world by any means. Players wander around a maze, only able to move backwards, forwards, right or left, and peeking through doorways. Other players are seen as eyeballs. When a player sees another, they can shoot them. Points are gained for shooting other players, and lost for being shot. Occasionally in some versions, a duck also appears in the passage. Obviously.
Special: This was historically the trend-setter for all future 3D-based games and graphic programs.
2/ Wolfenstein 3D
How: Created by id Software in 1992 for MS-DOS, you remember that? The thing Windows forces you to use after its weekly crap-out.
What: This follows the adventure of William "B.J." Blazkowicz, an American soldier of Polish descent on his attempt to escape castle Wolfenstein. The fight is against armed guards and attack dogs with only three different guns to do the job. Over ten levels were on offer in the shareware which was downloadable for free, the commercial version pushed that up to a more hearty sixty levels.
Geek 101: To render the walls in pseudo-3D, the game used ray casting, a special case of ray tracing. This technique sent out one ray for each column of pixels, checked if it intersected a wall, and drew textures on the screen accordingly, creating a one-dimensional depth buffer against which to clip the scaled sprites that represented enemies, powerups, and props. Essentially all working to let you kill Nazis. So good then.
Special: After the game was siezed in Germany in 1994 the Americans toned down their version removing swastikas, changing the blood for sweat and the attack dogs to large rats. Shooting rats and people is ok but not dogs...
How: id Software do it again in 1993 with this smash hit on the PC. The shareware was downloaded by 10 million people within two years and this is before broadband speeds.
What: The player takes the role of a space marine, "one of Earth's toughest, hardened in combat and trained for action", who has been deported to Mars as punishment for assaulting a senior officer when ordered to attack civilians (Running Man much?). The Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC), a multi-planetary conglomerate, is performing secret experiments with teleportation between the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos. Standard. When the inevitable occurs and hell starts spilling out of the gates it's up to Mr. Marine to deal out the pain on each planet and finally in Hell. Featuring three chapters, each with nine levels (only one chapter in the shareware version) and with bosses like the Cyberdemon Lord and Spiderdemon, this game had it all. Now having migrated to flash you can play it online here.
Geek 101: The first game to have stereo sound. Unlike Wolfenstein it had height differences, non-perpendicular walls, weapon sway while moving, full texture mapping and varying light levels. This is what allowed the makers to give this game a far scarier atmosphere than its predecessor. Debatable, depending on your level of Nazi fear.
Special: Doom was voted by industry insiders to be the greatest game of all time in 2004. Here's one reason - the weapon selection: pistol, brass-knuckle dusters, chainsaw, shotgun, chaingun, rocket launcher, plasma rifle, and finally the immensely powerful BFG 9000. A first to 3D gaming was the berserk pack: a dark first aid box that puts the character into berserk mode, allowing them to deal out rocket launcher-level damage with their fists and potentially splattering former humans and imps, as well as setting the user's health to 100% if it was lower. Makes you feel like your're tough for a few seconds in your life.
The main thematic influences came from Aliens and Evil Dead II. The title of the game was picked by its maker John Carmack: "There is a scene in The Color of Money where Tom Cruse shows up at a pool hall with a custom pool cue in a case. 'What do you have in there?' asks someone. 'Doom' replied Cruse with a cocky grin. That, and the resulting carnage, was how I viewed us springing the game on the industry."
Doom remains notorious for its high levels of violence, gore, and satanic imagery, which have generated much controversy from a broad range of groups. Yahoo! Games has it listed as one of the top ten controversial games of all time.
How: Bungie software released this in 1994 only on Apple Macintosh.
What: Marathon takes place in the year 2794 aboard a large, multi-generational colony spacecraft called the UESC (United Earth Space Council) Marathon. The ship was converted from Deimos, one of Mars' two moons. The plot of the story sets the player as a superhuman cyborg and focuses around an invasion of the ship by hostile extraterrestrial slavers called the Pfhor. The game spans twenty-seven levels with a more complex storyline than any 3D-shooter to date. But you had to own a Mac to play it and barely anybody did.
Geek 101: This game was such a cult hit that the die-hard fans still create new levels to this day. Get it on the iPhone please geeks!
Special: Weapons a-plenty: a fist, pistol, assault rifle, fusion gun, rocket launcher, flamethrower and an unidentified alien weapon that can be picked up by killing a special type of Pfhor. Obstacles along the player's path include "crushers" (ceilings that fatally crush the player), pits of harmful molten material, locked doors, platforms that must be activated by remote switches and puzzles that generally involve precise timing and speed to successfully complete. One level in the game lacks oxygen, forcing the player to find a recharging station to replenish his suit's supply before asphyxiating. Others may have low-gravity and/or magnetic fields that interfere with the player's motion sensor. This stoned or pissed feeling was a first for the gaming world and we believe provided good training for a future of alcohol abuse.
5/ Duke Nukem 3D
How: Apogee Software launched this in 1996 for the PC.
What: Set in the early 21st century in a destroyed version of LA which was invaded by Aliens while Duke was off fighting in space. The few humans that remain are there to distract the aliens and, conveniently, the best distraction is hot women. Kill aliens while solving puzzles for extra, hidden levels. This kill-fest features 28 levels both on earth and, towards the end, in space. The weapon list is pretty unique even by today's standards. They range from Duke's "Mighty Foot", a basic melee attack, to a pistol, a chain gun (similar in design to the Nordenfelt gun), pipe bombs, freeze-rays, shrink-rays, and laser trip mines.
This game found its fame from not only the women but the original need for a special inventory. A portable medkit allows players to heal themselves whenever they chose unlike Doom's 'find a med kit or die' system that still exists even today. Steroids speed up player movement making transit through hostile territory easier, as well as instantly reversing the effects of the shrinker. Nightvision goggles allow players to see enemies in the dark. The "HoloDuke" device projects a hologram of Duke that can be used to distract enemies. Protective boots allow the player to cross dangerously hot or toxic terrain. Where progress requires more aquatic legwork, scuba gear (an aqua-lung) allows the player to take longer trips away from air. Perhaps most impressively, Duke's trademark jetpack allows the player to range fully in 3D, often to reach hidden weapons caches or extra health. Most amazingly you can pay strippers to dance. It has it all.
Geek 101: The game supports diagonal slopes in the floors and vertical mouse aiming (though aiming up and down distorts the graphics due to a lack of perspective correction). Doors that can move sideways is also a step forward... big whoop.
Special: Quotes made this game great:
"It's time to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And I'm all out of gum."
"Hail to the King baby."
"Your face. Your ass. What's the difference?"
"You're an inspiration for birth control."
"I'll rip your head off and shit down your neck!"
"Nukem 'till they glow, then shoot 'em in the dark!"
"And I thought 10 guns was hard to carry!"
How: Unleashed by the mighty id Software in 1996 on PC.
What: A tenuously thrown together storyline involves the human creation of an inter-dimensional slip-gate (Doom much?) that, obviously, let's evil baddies come to earth. The player controls a random soldier sent in to stop the enemy, code named 'Quake'. The game has a satisfyingly solid 28 levels featuring gothic, fantasy and magical worlds housing some kickass bosses.
Geek 101: The Quake engine is famously used by most games made since. It featured (geek hat on):
Polygonal 3D models for players and monsters (instead of the prerendered sprites).
Fully 3D world in which play takes place (rather than a 2.5D map).
It was partially programmable by QuakeC which lead fans to create so called modifications (mods).
Special: One of the first games playable over the internet rather than its predecessors that were trapped in the confines of a local network. In 2008 Quake was honored at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for advancing the art form of user modifiable games. It's still good even now, go on, dust it off.
How: Rare took the world by storm in 1997 with this release for the N64.
What: The game that literally meant millions of sales for the Nintendo 64 console. It was so good that most owners literally wasted years of their lives making sure it was completed on all difficulties. Cleverly made by Rare, the levels became more complex with greater tasks rather than simply making it harder to survive. The best Bond game ever made to date and one of the most addictive multiplayer experiences ever to exist. Recounting the storyline to anyone this far into a 3D-shooter article would be a slap in the face. If you don't know, go buy it.
Geek 101: Goldeneye was developed in two and a half years, but only the last year was spent developing the game. During the beginning, the engine was built, art assets were made, and the enemy AI was written and polished. The game was delayed numerous times, partly because, as an after-thought, the team decided to incorporate a multiplayer feature to the game to demonstrate the N64's 4-player capabilities. An after-thought!
Goldeneye is credited with popularizing the video game convention of a zoomable sniper rifle on consoles, enabling players to kill oblivious enemies from vast distances away with a single, precise headshot; context-sensitive enemy hit-locations were also pioneered by the game for console games that followed. A head-shot in the snow - nothing quite as satisfying.
Special: The hidden levels were pretty special. The Aztec Complex and Egyptian Temple, where Baron Samedi makes his appearance, were the icing on the Bond-cake. The game sold more than 8 million copies. Goldeneye received the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment "Games Award" and Rare won the award for "Best UK Developer". That was just the tip of the award-winning iceberg. What no award can ever encapsulate is the ability to ask anyone if they have played Goldeneye multi-player and always received and excited 'hell yes'.
How: Valve developed this milestone which was released by Sierra Entertainment and Electronic Arts on the PC in 1998.
What: This game was all about a good story. It opens in the perspective of theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman performing an experiment on an unknown crystal. This was an original way of easing the player into the controls of the game while presenting a fully-immsersive storyline. The levels flow together in a constant story that gives you machine guns, rocket launchers, alien homing insects and, of course, lasers of sort.
Geek 101: This used the original Quake game engine but enhanced it massively. It might look dated now but at the time it was enough like reality to draw gamers away from their lives for sunless weeks at a time.
Special: The fight against aliens for survival was a given from the moment the portal opened but having to go up against the military comes as a harsh surprise. It gives the impression that you are the last man left on earth fighting everything living you come into contact with. It also means a big fat selection of weapons.
9/ Call of Duty
How: Developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision on PC in 2003.
What: The game breaks down into three chapters made up of different campaigns. The first is the American, the second the British and finally The Soviets. Controlling different Allies meant different weapons from the Nazi Luger and Stielhandgranate to the BAR heavy-machine-gun and Springfield sniper rifle, with 34 Nazi whooping weapons in total.
Geek 101: This game is based on the Quake III: Team Arena engine but adapted for infantry warfare with more realism. Massive amounts of long distance shooting means sniper happy head-shots are a regular event.
Special: The accuracy of wartime battles echoed the realism in Band of Brothers which added story and history to an already excellent shooter. This was born from Medal of Honour but has far surpassed it with Call of Duty 4 hailed as one of the greatest first-person shooters of all time.
How: Developed by 2K Boston/2K Australia. It was released for the PC and Xbox 360 in 2007.
What: Set in an alternate history of 1960, the game places the player in the role of a plane crash survivor named Jack, who must explore the underwater dystopian city of Rapture, and survive attacks by the mutated beings and mechanical drones that populate it. Not only do you get customizable weapons like flame throwers, ice blasters, explosive machines and cross-bows, but you also get plasmids. These give you special powers like the ability to electrocute, incinerate or freeze foes, unleash an insect swarm, or enrage them. All this is coupled with a continued battle against puzzles and onslaughts from the powers-that-be who vie for your help throughout and it's up to you to chose who gets it. It's nice to be needed.
Geek 101: Built on the Unreal Engine 2.5/3.0 it features some of the best water effects ever created in a game. They actually hired a water programmer and separate water artist, just for this game. It also uses Havok Physics, an engine that allows for an enhancement of in-game physics, and the integration of ragdoll physics which allows for more lifelike movement by elements of the environment. Good for blowing crap up then.
Special: The underwater city is a beautifully, art-deco influenced impression of what the future would look like to a designer in the sixties. Despite the surroundings, a continued post-political struggle for power rages and you're stuck in the middle which means a deep, enthralling storyline. A sequel is on the way and expected for Christmas of 2009. The real excitement is around the movie, directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Ring) and written by John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street). Universal currently plans to release the film in the summer of 2010.