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Encyclopedia > First person shooter

A first-person shooter (FPS) is a computer or video game where the player's on-screen view of the game world simulates that of the character, and there is some element of shooting involved. According to this simple definition, a game like Battlezone, or many flight simulators would be included. However, in the early 1990s, the term came to define a very specific genre of game with a first-person view, almost always centered around the act of aiming and shooting with multiple styles of weapons and limited ammunition.

The modern FPS genre emerged during the early 1990s, at the point when home computers became sufficiently powerful to draw basic 3D graphics in realtime. The breakthrough games were id Software's Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. The latter, in particular, defined the genre so emphatically that FPS games were commonly referred to as "Doom clones" for a significant period after its release.

First-person shooters have been subject to substantial controversy due to their levels of violence and the realism inherent in the first-person perspective.



The first-person shooter can be considered a sub-genre of shooter games, though almost all other two dimensional shooter games, especially shoot'em ups, are more concerned with the gameplay mechanic of dodging than of precise aiming. The term FPS has generally come to refer to games where the player has full control over a (usually humanoid) character and can interact directly with the environment.

Many third-person shooters (where the player sees the game world from a viewpoint above and behind the main character) are commonly treated as first-person shooters, due to similarities in gameplay. In some cases (for example, Unreal Tournament 2004) it is possible to toggle the game between both viewpoints.


The realism in FPS games can vary from arcade shooters, which are fast paced and have unrealistic elements (such as the player being able to shrug off bullets or falling large distances) to levels approaching reality, where players are routinely killed by a single shot. In practice, most games fall somewhere between the two.

Distinct sub-genres exist, which use a similar viewpoint and mechanics, but emphasise different aspects of gameplay. These are now generally regarded as being distinct from FPSs by computer games magazines, and include:

  • The stealth-based game or "first-person sneaker" centers on avoiding detection by opponents (for example, Thief)
  • the tactical shooter emphasises team-based tactics (Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and other games based on novels by Tom Clancy)
  • the survival horror game aims to maximise tension, created by a combination of creepy, claustrophobic atmosphere and large numbers of opponents such as zombies.

FPS games strive to increase the realism of graphics and game environments, while still making the gameplay fun. As a result, in many games the player has exaggerated physical capabilities and resiliency that allow to make manoeuvres such as "grenade jumping", which is an action that allows the player to gain an extension to normal jumps by blast effects. The extended jump is possible with other game weapons and can so have different names, in the Quake series a "rocket jump" is possible. Other manoeuvres common in FPS games are straferunning and circlestrafing.

For many, the appeal of the FPS lies in immersive frantic blasting with a touch of verisimilitude, humour, puzzle-solving and claustrophobia. For others, the single player mode in story-oriented games can have compelling narratives which allow for added element of drama in the games.

Platforms and hardware development

The primary platform for modern FPSs has traditionally been the PC, though there have been notable games on other platforms, and the number of releases on consoles are increasing steadily.

FPS are among the most demanding programs for computing resources, persuading many users to upgrade computers that are still suitable for more mundane tasks, such as online browsing and office work. According to IDC analyst Roger Kay, high-end games serve as a catalyst for the mainstream personal computer market. [1] (http://news.com.com/2100-1043_3-5295390.html) FPS games can stretch the capabilities of CPUs and the graphics cards. The rise of the genre has been a significant driver in the market for consumer graphics cards, particularly with regard to support for hardware rendering of 3D graphics.

Online play and mods

Most FPSs feature competitive and/or co-operative online multiplayer modes. Players of these games often form into teams, or "clans" and participate in organised tournaments and championships. Some of these contests have sufficient prize funds to allow players to turn partially or even fully professional.

Among modern video game styles, FPSs were the first genre to gain a widespread online gaming community. This was due to a deliberate policy of innovation by games developers (notably by id Software), aided by the combination of two technical factors. The relatively small number of moving objects in the game world (particularly in early games) reduces the amount of information to be transmitted across the network, and the relatively large distances between player avatars (compared to, say, fighting games) mitigates the effect of the inevitable network lag. Despite these effects, these games remain highly sensitive to network speed, and complaints about lag are still common.

Many FPS games are designed with a core game engine, separate from the graphics, game rules, and levels. This enables developers to reuse or license the core software for other games. This "plug-in" design, combined with the general-purpose nature of the PC (compared to consoles) allows amateur programmers to add new elements to games, such as new rules, characters or weapons without having access to the underlying technology. This process is known as "modding", from modification.

Indeed, it is a common characteristic of FPSs that players and enthusiasts are able to create their own levels (see level design) or even change overall graphical appearance and even gameplay of the game for distribution to other fans. Normally, this distribution must be done for free in order to abide by the developers license. This has contributed to the longevity both of the genre and of individual games. Some games even serve as a basis for total conversions, where all of the game content is replaced, leaving only the basic game engine intact. Many games now include the software the designers used to make levels, such as UnrealEd for Unreal series or even in-game editors, such as in Far Cry.

The communities of amateur programmers around FPS games can often become recruiting grounds for development companies; Valve Software have taken this as far as recruiting the core development teams of mods and releasing their product commercially.


(See first person shooter graphics engines for a history of FPS graphics.)

The first-person shooter, as the phrase is currently understood, emerged in the early 1990s. However, the modern genre is a logical extension of earlier games, particularly those involving 3D graphics. While these early games are not First-Person Shooters in the modern sense, many of them come very close in gameplay terms, and many others contained ideas which later influenced the modern genre.


It is not clear exactly when the first FPS was created. There are two claimants, Spasim and Maze War. The uncertainty about which was first stems from the lack of any accurate dates for the development of Maze War - even its developer cannot remember exactly (http://www.digibarn.com/history/04-VCF7-MazeWar/stories/colley.html). In contrast, the development of Spasim is much better documented, and the dates more certain.

The initial development of Maze War probably occurred in the summer of 1973. A single player made their way through a simple maze of corridors rendered using fixed perspective. Multiplayer capabilities, with players attempting to shoot each other, were probably added later in 1973 (two machines linked via a serial connection) and in the summer of 1974 (fully networked).

Spasim was originally developed in the spring of 1974. Players moved through a wire-frame 3D universe, with gameplay resembling the 2D game Empire. Graphically, Spasim lacked even hidden line removal, but did feature online multiplayer over the world-wide university-based PLATO network.

1979-1990: Arcades and home computers

The next significant games arrived in the video arcade boom of the late 1970s. The 1979 game Tail Gunner was the first commercial game to provide a first-person perspective. Players could not move through the simulated world, but fought off opponents from a fixed point in space.

Battlezone gameplay

1980's Battlezone, a tank combat simulator, allowed players to move around the game world in their battle with computer-controlled enemies, and thus became the earliest widely-available first-person shooter. It was a resounding commercial success.

In the early 1980s, the home computer market boomed. While these machines were relatively low-powered, games such as Phantom Slayer (http://nitros9.stg.net/phantomslayer.html) (1982) restricted the player to 90-degree turns, allowing "3D" corridors to be drawn with simple fixed-perspective techniques. Computer-controlled opponents were drawn using bitmaps.

Rescue on Fractalus on the Atari 5200

Numerous other "tricks" were used by programmers to simulate 3D graphics. Examples include two early games from Lucasarts, Rescue on Fractalus (1984) which used fractal techniques to generate an alien landscape for the player to fly over, and The Eidolon (http://www.ataritimes.com/8-bit/reviews/eidolon.html) (1985) which scaled simple bitmaps to create the illusion of 3D.

Later in the decade, the arrival of a new generation of home computers such as the Atari ST and the Amiga increased the computing power and graphical capabilities available, leading to a new wave of innovation.

Screenshot of MIDI Maze (Atari ST)

The first true 3D flat-polygon (hidden surface) game was the single-player role-playing game The Colony, in 1987. It lacked most modern graphical features such as textures and colors. Other FPS games of the flat-polygon era include Faceball 2000, and MIDI Maze, notable for its networked multiplayer feature (communicating via the computer's MIDI interface, of all things).

1991-1993: Defining the genre

By 1990 the technology to render very simple flat-colored 3D worlds was widespread, and was being used extensively in simulator games such as Abrams M1, LHX: Attack Chopper, and others.

In April 1991, the then-unknown id Software released Hovertank 3D. Various assumptions about the game world simplified the processing sufficiently to allow real-time rendering of a 3D maze. The game environment was a simple flat grid-based map, with enemies rendered as sprites. Later the same year, a modified version of the same game engine, adding texture-mapped walls, was used in Catacomb 3D, which also introduced the concept of showing the player's hand on-screen, strengthening the illusion that the player is literally viewing the world through the character's eyes.

Wolfenstein 3D title screen

In 1992, id improved the technology by adding support for VGA graphics and sound cards in Wolfenstein 3D. With these improvements over its predecessors, Wolf 3D was a hit, and marked the emergence of the modern FPS genre.

Wolfenstein 3D was soon surpassed by id's next game, the genre-defining Doom (1993). While still using sprites to render in-game opponents, Doom added texture-mapping to the floor and ceiling, and removed some of the restrictions of earlier games. Walls could vary in height, with floor and ceiling changing levels to create cavernous spaces and raised platforms. In some areas, Doom removed the ceiling altogether to create the outdoor environments that were generally lacking in previous genre games. However, there were still significant limitations on the environment; all surfaces were strictly horizontal or vertical, and a map could not "stack" floors one above another.

While the graphical enhancements were notable, Doom's greatest innovation was the introduction of network multiplayer capabilities. While similar multiplayer modes had existed in previous mainframe- or arcade-based games, Doom was the first mass-market game to gain a significant following dedicated to multiplayer (usually, but not exclusively, LAN-based) contests, and guaranteed persistence of the FPS in gaming formats; the real thrill of these already-atmospheric games comes from blasting human opponents, be they friends or strangers on the Internet. Doom was also one of the earliest FPS games to gain an active community of fans producing add-on maps.

1994-2000: After Doom

Doom dominated the genre for years after its release. Every new game in the genre was held up against id's masterpiece, and usually suffered by comparison. However, some games publishers (wisely) chose not to attack Doom head-on, but instead to concentrate on its weaknesses, or expand gameplay in alternative directions, expanding the new genre.

Marathon (1994), together with its sequels Marathon 2: Durandal (1995) and Marathon: Infinity (1996), included a strong plot, revealed through a series of computer terminals, a radical change from the simplistic "blast anything that moves" style of most earlier FPSs. Unfortunately, these games did not reach a wide audience, being restricted to the Apple Macintosh platform

System Shock (1994) and System Shock 2 (1999) combined an FPS-style viewpoint and controls role-playing game and horror gameplay elements. Both games received huge praise from critics and huge cult followings, but limited mainstream success.

The 1995 game Descent used a fully 3D polygonal graphics engine to render opponents (previous games had used sprites). It also escaped the "pure vertical walls" graphical restrictions of earlier games in the genre, and allowed the player six degrees of freedom of movement (up/down, left/right, forward/backward, pitch, roll and yaw).

In 1996 id Software released their eagerly-anticipated Quake which significantly enhanced the network gaming concept introduced by Doom. Like Descent, it used a 3D polygonal graphics engine to render enemies, but, again, Quake's greatest influence was felt in network-based multiplayer gaming. Quake was the first FPS game to really break out of the LAN and gain a widespread fanbase dedicated to multiplayer Internet gaming.

Quake also innovated by actively encouraging user-made modifications. These "mods" contributed to its longevity and popularity with players; in some cases (such as Team Fortress) they even developed a semi-independent existence.

In 1997, GoldenEye 007 was released for the Nintendo 64 and was considered the first great FPS for a console. It was praised for its graphics, gameplay, and realistic environments.

In 1998, the game Half-Life was released, featuring a single-player game with a notable narrative focus directing the action and the goals of the player. The tremendous success of the game encouraged the creation of many more games with a similar focus on story based action. Half-Life also produced many successful mods, such as the hit Counter-Strike.

Also in 1998 Thief, the Dark Project was released. It was considered by many critics to be one of the first FPSs to successfully implement stealth elements. Some deemed it a "first-person sneaker".

Another game of 1998, Starsiege: Tribes, while not a major commercial success, was also influential. Supporting large numbers of players, vehicles, wide-open landscapes and innovative movement mechanics provided by the jetpack players spawn with, Tribes can be considered the ancestor of many modern shooters including Battlefield 1942 and the massively multiplayer FPS genre (including World War II Online and PlanetSide).

1999 was another important year for FPS, as two competing franchises were pitched head-to-head: Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament. Both games were widely acclaimed, but as of 2004, the Unreal series has enjoyed greater success — following the release of Unreal Tournament 2003, Unreal 2: The Awakening (although this title had less in common with the arena-based elements of the Tournament series, instead focussing more on single player elements as its predecessor, Unreal did), and most recently Unreal Tournament 2004. However, Quake IV is scheduled for release some time during 2005.

The 2000s

Counter-Strike has helped establish a new sub-genre, the team-based multiplayer FPS games.

In 2000, Deus Ex was released, a single-player FPS that blended elements from RPG and adventure games. It featured many side-quests and multiple ways of completing each mission. This game also had a character building system simular to a RPG where you gained experience points for completing various objectives which were spent on upgrades for your character. Additionally, it also incorporated stealth elements that first appeared in Thief: The Dark Project.

In 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved was released. This game was originally a real-time strategy game, but after years of development, became a FPS. This FPS for Xbox had truly revolutionary artificial intelligence and combat. Also, this was one of the first console games to feature a 16-player LAN multiplayer mode. There have been several developers who brought the LAN mode for Halo to the web, being able to compete online, and not just with friends.

In 2002, Metroid Prime was released. It was a FPS for the Nintendo GameCube with a huge expansive world that focused more on exploration than combat. It was called a first-person adventure game by critics because of its focus on exploration. It featured state-of-the-art graphics and a targeting system similar to the one used in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

In 2004, many so-called next generation FPS were released:

  • Far Cry: One of the first of this new generation, it featured vast and highly detailed environment, both indoors and out. Also, it had exceptionally sophisticated AI and physics systems rounding out the feature set.
  • Doom 3: It made use of sophisticated real-time lighting and shadows to create as much an atmosphere of fear and danger as possible for the player.
  • Halo 2: An improvement from the original Halo with improved graphics, game features such as hijacking vehicles, and increased multiplayer support. Controversy exists over the ranking of this game compared to PC titles, but no one can deny Halo 2 is the most popular console FPS in existence.
  • Half-Life 2: Aside from extensive use of shaders, advanced AI with squad tactics, Havok physics used in never before seen ways, and large maps (though not as large as Far Cry or Tribes), one of the enhancements are character facial models: with voice recognition software, the mouth of the models in the game will move according to what the character is saying and can express emotions when combined with script.

There have been many attempts to combine FPS genre with role-playing (RPG) or real-time strategy (RTS) games. The Half-Life mod Natural Selection blended a multiplayer FPS with some RTS elements. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory blended some RPG elements with an experience and skill-based point system that can work across matches.


Some groups have blamed first-person shooters — the usual poster boy for video game violence — for certain spree killings. For example, there was much controversy in the United States that the Columbine High School massacre was a result of the attackers having played a great deal of the FPS Doom. In fact, one of the attackers created levels for Doom, which can still be found on the Internet to this day as the Harris levels. The most popular map he designed is called UAC Labs. Years later, there was much speculation in the UK media that the Beltway sniper attacks were inspired by first-person shooters and games such as Grand Theft Auto that have first-person shooter elements.

Some claim that the system of rewards and punishment in violent video games like Doom systematically teaches participants to be violent. But opponents to this view counter that such games actually prevent violent behavior by providing a safe outlet for aggression. Over two hundred published scientific studies have tackled this subject in an attempt to find which of these views is correct.

There is no clinical proof that violent video games such as FPSs contribute to violent behavior, and the majority of studies on the subject conclude that a causal link does not exist. For example, after a study commissioned by the U.S. government reached this conclusion in 1999, Surgeon General David Satcher said "we clearly associate media violence to aggressive behavior. But the impact was very small compared to other things. Some may not be happy with that, but that's where the science is." The most comprehensive meta-study of the available research, by psychologist Johnathan Freedman, found that the majority consensus from the available research was that a causal link between violent video games and violent behavior does not exist.

It is important to distinguish between correlational and causal links. If some people are naturally predisposed to violence, independent of playing video games, then they may choose to purchase and play such games in greater numbers than those who abhor violence. Therefore, those who play video games may actually be more violent than those who do not, but it would be unjustified to conclude that the video game increased violent tendencies. The most obvious example of this would be gender differences — the population of violent video game players includes a higher percentage of males than the general population, and so would be expected to exhibit more aggressive tendencies.

Most FPS games have a voluntary ESRB rating of T (for Teen) or M (for Mature audiences), but sale of these games to children in the USA was not moderated or enforced until late in 2003, when it was announced that a number of major retail outlets such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, which account for a large share of video game sales, would begin restricting sales of "M"-rated games to people above the age of 17. There is no national law in the United States prohibiting sale of such games to children, but bills have recently been proposed that would prohibit the sale of games to customers under the ESRB rating's age. Video game industry professionals oppose such a law, citing that the ESRB is a voluntary rating and similar rated materials are not regulated, such as the MPAA film rating system's minumum age for movie patrons.

List of notable titles and development houses

Selected list of FPS developers

This is a short list of developers of first-person shooters who have achieved both critical and popular success, selling many units, developing lucrative intellectual properties into series of titles and/or creating strong followings that transcend the core FPS gaming audience and touched the mainstream media:

  • Bungie Studios: Bungie is a developer who has trodden outside of the FPS genre on a number of occasions. Their first success in the genre comes from the critically acclaimed Marathon (1994), which was a game for the Mac, which is notable for features such as story, being able to look up and down, and other things. Their breakthrough to the mainstream FPS world came with the Xbox flagship title Halo.
  • Epic Games (formerly Epic MegaGames): Another developer from the pre-FPS days of computer gaming has not been active in the FPS market as long as some others, but with the release of the widely acclaimed Unreal (1998) (which spawned a large series of games, many of them with well supported, thriving mod communities) and with the popularity of the Unreal engine amongst developers, the company has become a major player in the scene.
  • id Software: Developers of the extremely successful Doom (1993) and Quake (1996) series, they are one of the old school of game developers that has its beginnings in pre-FPS gaming, and is considered by most gamers as the original definer and populizer of the genre. Their technology has also been used in creating many other highly successful games. The developer's involvement with mod communities is limited in comparison to others, but its games have none the less spawned some of the most well known mod types: capture the flag and Team Fortress among them.
  • LucasArts: LucasArts was a phenomenally successful PC game developer in the 1990s and continues that success today, though perhaps not with the same vigour. It has developed unique franchises and exploited both the Indiana Jones and the Star Wars IPs. Two of the most successful entries to their Star Wars collection of titles are Dark Forces and Jedi Knight, which are recognized by critics as amongst the best Star Wars and FPS games produced to date.
  • Rare: Rare is a recognizable name to console fans for many different titles, but their foray into first-person shooter territory is especially notable because it produced the first successful console FPS: Goldeneye 007 (1997). It was also one of the most popular titles on the Nintendo 64.
  • Raven Software: Raven Software is generally most credited for being a pseudo sister company for id Software, since they have been collaborating together from as early as Doom. Since then, Raven have been using all of id's game engines, which has led to the notable creation of Heretic, Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force, and the controversial Soldier of Fortune games. In 2002 LucasArts employed them to produce a sequel to Jedi Knight, which ultimately resulted in the creation of the critically acclaimed Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast and spinoff sequel Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Currently, they are working in tandem with id on Quake IV.
  • Red Storm Entertainment: The developer of the long running Rainbow Six (1998) series of Tom Clancy affiliated tactical realism first-person shooters have found great success with this franchise.
  • 3D Realms: 3D Realms is also notable as an old developer, having its beginnings in Apogee Software, a veteran of shareware PC gaming. It has released only two FPS titles: Shadow Warrior (1997) and Duke Nukem 3D (1996), they were very popular, however — especially Duke Nukem 3D, which was a smash hit. Development on a sequel to Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem Forever, continues.
  • Valve Software: Valve's inclusion in this list rests on the immense success of their first game, Half-Life (1998). Its mod, Counter-Strike had an effect on popular culture comparative to that of Doom, in that it created yet again mass awareness for the genre in the mainstream. Additionally, it was highly supportive of the modding community: so far it had brought numerous mods into its official line, which included but was not limited to Team Fortress Classic, Counter-Strike, and Day of Defeat. Valve has released the sequel of their game, Half-Life 2, which has a publically available SDK including mapping, animation, and sound tools; as well as source for the game logic in Half-Life 2.

Selected important games in FPS development

Selected, ground-breaking games

The following is an attempt at listing the more "revolutionary", "ground-breaking", and "influential" games series from this genre:

Additional games

See also

External link



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