First person shooters and intensive storylines.

When did shooters start having intensive storylines? I remember back in the day of Wolfenstein 3D there was maybe a paragraph of exposition for each episode, and no cutscenes or stories in between. Then there was maybe a paragraph or two conclusion at the end. Same with Doom, I believe. I took a break from gaming for a few years, and when I came back it seems like all the games have to have cinematic exposition, cutscenes, and conclusions. Not that this is neccesarily bad, but I don’t think anybody really complained because Doom didn’t have enough plot twists. What was the first shooter game to use a storyline in the same was as an RPG? When did this start to become the norm? Also, speculations on why designers started doing this are welcome.

I think when games started shipping on CD’s and hard drives started getting bigger, people were able to tell bigger stories with cut scenes. Around the same time, people started programming better AI for the monsters so rather than have 100’s of dumb villians rushing the hero, they could use fewer “smarter” ones. Dark Forces is one of the early games I remember (hope I got the title right) - lots of cut scenes. Still had the hoards of mindless storm troopers but some tougher enemies as well. The masses of enemy type games died off for a while and only recently have been done fairly well again, Serious Sam is an example.

Also I think the lines between genres blurred a bit as people looked for ways to make their games unique. This is still going on. A natural blend was first person and RPG - System Shock 2 is a great example. This is still going on - take games like Battlefield 1942, etc. Taking a first person capture the flag type game which was done many times in the past (Quake 3 Arena) and adding light simulation vehicles to it.

I could be wrong, but didn’t Halflife start the trend?

If the trailer is any indication, Doom3 will have plenty of exposition.

Actually, it’s looks more like a remake, than a sequel. Of course the tech is light years ahead of Doom 2, but the trailer makes no reference to anything happening “before”.

Wolfenstein 3d and Doom were among the first first person shooters so expectations weren’t exactly high. A nice plot serves to immerse the player in the game and make it an all around better experience. One of the neat things about Duke Nuke’em was the fact that Duke had a personality. “Shake it baby!” Little touches like personality and a story makes it all much more memorable. When you hear people complain about a game today it’s because we expect so much more then we did 10 years ago.

I don’t remember what the first RPG/FPS that was on the market. Half-Life had a story line and was one of the best shooters in it’s day but I wouldn’t classify it as an RPG. System Shock came out in 1994 and I believe it was more of an RPG though I never got to play it. I did play System Shock 2 in 1999 and that game had quite a few RPG elements.


System Shock.

Or, if you want to count it as an FPS, Ultima Underworld, which of course actually predates Wolfenstein 3D.

The first first-person-shooter with a real plot I remember was an old black-and-white wireframe graphics game called The Colony for the old Macintosh computers. The graphics were remarkably primitive compared even to the original Doom or Wolfenstein 3D, and there were no cutscenes, but the journal entries and clues you found while playing the game revealed a fairly complex backstory to what was going on. The real interesting thing about that game was that it was completely nonlinear - rather than being split into seperate levels or missions, there was simply one vast map you could explore as you worked out what was doing on and how to fix it.

Interesting bit of video game history: The Colony was written by a guy named David Smith, who used the graphics engine that he wrote for the game as the tech basis for a 3-D tools company called Virtus. Tom Clancy played The Colony, thought it was really good, and contacted David, eventually becoming an investor. When Tom decided he wanted to start his own game company to make games based on his books he worked through Virtus to do it, eventually spinning off Red Storm Entertainment, the creators of Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon.

Half-Life definitely wasn’t the first one, although it is probably most responsible for solidifying the trend.

Dark Forces was the first non-adventure game I ever saw that had a real story and sense of cinematic presentation to it. Before I saw that game, I hated first-person shooters. I played the hell out of DOOM, of course, but I spent the whole time thinking how stupid, juvenile, and amateurish it was. There were all these graphic adventure games that had interesting stories, cut-scenes, engaging plots, and by the end of them you’d felt that you’d gone through a real experience, that you’d seen a work of art. All the shooters just ended with a stupid screen of decapitated rabbits or something, with some text that read as if it had been ripped off of some troubled high school kid’s Trapper Keeper. I was convinced that games were doomed to be stupid, shallow, and juvenile.

Bungie Software (the guys behind HALO) gave Macintosh gamers a large and complicated backstory and developing plot in their FPS Marathon back in the early 90s, I think the same year as Dark Forces. There were a number of legitimate plot twists that changed who you were fighting and why over the course of the game. This continued through the sequel, which came out in 1996, iirc.

They may not have been the first on the shelf with a story-based FPS, exactly, but they certainly produced one of the best and most comprehensive early efforts.

I think to answer this question, we have to define “first person shooter.”

I think a reasonable definition would be a game including the following elements:

  1. Primarily played from a first-person perspective.
  2. Play progresses in real time (e.g., not turn based)
  3. Combat is reflex-oriented – requiring aim for projectile weapons, for instance.

I don’t think the mere presence of RPG elements should disqualify a game. That would eliminate many games firmly entrenched in the FPS genre – Dark Forces II and the Jedi Knight series, Deus Ex 1 and 2, just to name a few.

That’s why I think Ultima Underworld is an arguable choice – it possibly fails #3 (combat is sort-of reflex based, kinda sorta), and why I think if that one fails, the crown has to go to System Shock.