Thursday, September 15, 2022

The 1980s in FPS

I feel like a great weight has been lived from my shoulders. While I didn't start off playing games from this decade, its something I should have started with. I've spent 3 years wandering around it, and its finally done.

Now, its fairly obvious why I'm glad to be done with this, after all, so many games released this decade were broken, bad, headache inducing or tedious. Sometimes all four. One has to give some minor thanks to modern games for usually not being as broken as games I've played here have been. When it came to the worst of this, it was hard to continue playing, and yet sometimes there were rough, uncut gems I wish someone better than me would turn into something nice and shiny.

This early history is fraught with questionable firsts. Because as big as the genre is today, there's something special about being the guy who did it first. You were the one who originally thought it up before the boys at iD made it huge. You are an under appreciated genius. And so forth. So, let's get on some of these firsts.

Therefore, the most important of these questions is, what is the first FPS? Which is a loaded question, what would you define as a FPS? To quote Wikipedia, "First-person shooter (FPS) is a sub-genre of shooter video games centered on gun and other weapon-based combat in a first-person perspective, with the player experiencing the action through the eyes of the protagonist and controlling the player character in a three-dimensional space." By that description, I would say that Midwinter is the first FPS or possibly Star Cruiser if you want to use a bit of trickery*. But Wikipedia is just using a poor choice of words to describe a genre everyone more or less knows.
*Star Cruiser only has three dimensional space if you're in space, when you're not really controlling the player character, and when you are, you're not really in three dimensional space.

What a first-person shooter really is, according to the Morpheus Observation School, FPS is applied to a first-person game where the player controls a human or human-like character who uses ranged weapons of some kind. Though the player can enter vehicles. It is required that the player is able to freely move within this space, in real time, and the locations of the player and anything else are kept in memory. Games where the player can only control vehicles are not accepted. By this logic, I say that Midi Maze is the first FPS. It is the first game that you could throw at someone and he would call it a FPS...even if he also called it absolute trash. And I should note, that by removing the weapon part, we have Wayout, the first game to use ray casting.
Ah, right, I played it on DOS
Okay, but that's not the whole story, as a lot of games that we would think to remove from the genre because they're space or tank sims, can play quite like a FPS. Indeed, removing the vehicle bit takes us back to 1980, with Battlezone. I've never really been sold on Battlezone, but its got its place. There's a mainframe game by the name of Spacesim, released in the early '70s, but I'm not 100% clear on how it plays.

But what if we acknowledge that moving within the space doesn't have to be completely free, I.E., you can move everywhere, at all times, but its confined somewhat. Say, by 90-degree angles and in squares? Like Dungeon Master, for instance? Well, then, we have Maze Wars, the big important mainframe multiplayer game said to be a FPS by the end of 1973. Indeed, what I call Dungeon Master-style FPS should be called Maze Wars-style FPS. Before that? You're going to have to enlist, son.
Since I've solved that, let's go over a few less important firsts. The first game you could aim in? Schultz Treasure. We don't talk about Schultz Treasure, because it was awful.
The first game with mouse aiming? That's tricky, because it depends on what you mean. For instance, you could always play games like Wolfenstein, Doom, and other early '90s titles with a mouse sort of like a modern game, but it would be a bit crap. Then we have the Dungeon Master-style system, where the mouse doesn't move the screen, you're just using it to aim at something on-screen. I find neither first appealing, but I guess we're looking at The Colony and Space Station Oblivion respectively.

The first game to use Quake-style interactions with the environment, as in, just walking into things? I'm pretty sure at this point that's just every game I've played this decade, but I remember that approach being used in Space Station Oblivion. As one of many actions you could do. I guess that's not really the spirit of things...

The first game with NPCs. Uh, that depends? Midi Maze had bots, but that was primarily a multiplayer game. Sleeping Gods Lie had them in the environment, but Star Cruiser had them inside buildings.

The first game with an important in-game story is Star Cruiser.

Let's also take another approach, which region brought us the best of these titles. I'm trying to think of how I should divide this, since it occurs to me that only British FPS titles exist this decade, the European continent hasn't done anything. Thus, America, Britain, and Japan. And I think it has to go to Britain. Because they were the only ones who made fun games. Only one pre-1990 title that got above a 20 came out of somewhere other than Britain, and that was Star Cruiser.

I have drawn one conclusion from this decade. The direction FPS games were headed in was inevitable from the start. It is by mostly luck that the boys at iD made it big with Wolfenstein 3D. If I had managed a strict chronology and perhaps even hadn't played W3D beforehand, by the time I reached it I would have found it considerably less impressive than its reputation seems to be. Well, kind of, since very few people acknowledged its 30th anniversary.

In the end, this wasn't a question of the decade, it was a question of 1989. Nearly everything released before that year was too awkward in some way to be much fun.

Best of the Decade: Day of the Viper
Just barely eking out a win is Day of the Viper. The Dungeon Master-inspired action game. Shunning Amiga concepts like dazzling graphics and music, Day of the Viper won by being a well-rounded and clever little game, though ultimately limited in nature. Its a very interesting game if you want Dungeon Master but don't quite want the RPG part of it.

Bad Luck Award: Sleeping Gods Lie
Like many games I've played from this decade, Sleeping Gods Lie suffers from technical difficulties. The game was made simply too soon for systems that could handle what it had to offer, as the game runs out of memory frequently. On the DOS version, this isn't too much of a problem, but on the Amiga version, the game is accidentally broken. Unfortunately, the DOS version lacks proper sound and uses EGA graphics, a move which actually took it out of the top spot of the decade...but come to think of it, Day of the Viper's Amiga version didn't work for me either...

Accidental Remake of Another Game Award: Day of the Viper as a remake of Dimensional Fighter Epsilon3
DFE3, as I shall call it, was a game using keyboard controls to aim, finding weak points in various invading robots across some invaded planet. It was a complete nightmare to play, owing to the game's awful control scheme, but I thought the concept of a first-person RPG where you shot the weak points of enemies would be cool...with a mouse. Day of the Viper proves that it is a better concept.

I offer no technological achievement award for this decade, simply because I believe that Wayout would get it again. Simply put, I find that game amazing, even if it doesn't quite live up to that technology. Further, it seems like these awards are a consolation prize, I am adding neither to the historical or personal favorites.

Good Games:

This will get something eventually. I can't say anything released at this time was universally good, just intriguing if you like old games.

Historical Games:
Asteroids (1979)
Battlezone (1980)
Berzerk (1980)
Castle Wolfenstein (1981)
Defender (1981)
Robotron 2084 (1982)
Wayout (1982)
Midi Maze (1987)
Star Cruiser (1988)

Added are Midi Maze and Star Cruiser, which advanced the genre, despite technically not making much of an impact. Well, Star Cruiser is a bit more nebulous since we don't have a good view of Japanese gaming at that time much like we have our own.

Personal Favorites:
Bosconian (1981)
Night Stalker (1982)
Sinistar (1982)
Dungeon Master (1987)

Dungeon Master's not really a shooter, is it? Make no mistake, its a very nice game, just not quite fitting here.

Next up is 1990-92. Couple notes, I'll be playing certain predecessors of these titles from now on, as seen with Star Cruiser and Wibarm. I will also be replaying some titles, like the Id games, Mike Singleton's titles and Anthony Taglione's games. These two events might be related.

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