Was Wolfenstein 3D the First FPS?
Wolfenstein 3D (1992) popularized the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre, building on mechanics of earlier 3D maze games like Maze War (1974), Spasim (1974), and MIDI Maze (1987).
On this page we trace the history of the FPS from the first 3D games to Wolfenstein to showcase how Wolfenstein and its creators Id Software built on previous titles to popularize the FPS genre.
What Was the First FPS (First Person Shooter) Game?
Maze War (1974) and Spasim (1974) can both be considered the first FPS (First Person Shooter) games.
With the above said, it is near impossible to find “firsts” in video games. Typically there will be multiple precursors to a genre, multiple firsts for fundamental concepts in gaming mechanics, and various games that helped popularize a genre. Often a genre is held back by (or born from) technology, rather than individual or collective genius on behalf of a game developer. In this regard, we get the first two Maze games once computers can display 3D, and then we get networked multiplayer of these games as soon as computers can network, we get MIDI Maze (1987) when the technology is advanced enough to handle mass-multiplayer deathmatch, and the first popular FPS Wolfenstein at a time when slightly higher power computers are becoming more common in homes. (see Computer History 1991 – 1992)
When we look at inventions, and specifically innovations in genres in regards to video games, firsts are less about a single game and more about a progression of game mechanics highlighted by certain games. Wolfenstein 3D (1992) was the first mass-marketed FPS blockbuster to bring the FPS genre to a large audience, but the real story of the birth of the FPS genre is more interesting than just the story of Id Software. This is displayed well by the following video by Gamespot.
A history of First Person Shooters by Gamespot.
A Summary of the History of First Person Shooters
The History of First Person Shooters (FPS)
Wolfenstein 3D was the first game to resemble modern First Person Shooters from Doom (1993) to Call of Duty (2015), and every FPS in-between. But to explore the history of first person shooters we have to look back to the first 3D games, which one could argue were the first FPS games (since they both had shooting and a first person view).
- Before Wolfenstein, there are a solid 20 years of FPS style games. The FPS Maze War (1974) featured 3D maze exploration while Spasim (1974) (an abbreviation of “Space Simulation”) focused more on the shooter aspect.
- Maze War and Spasim featured a local multiplayer (potentially the first games that peer-to-peer computers could play), a trend which continues to today.
- Maze War also had a level editor, something that would help popularize Wolfenstein‘s successor Doom.
- Both games had been developed as early as 1973 but were released commercially in 1974.
- In 1977, a Maze War game mode allowed spectator viewing of matches.
Playing a 1973 version of Maze War on one of the first vector graphic based computers (Imlac PDS-1) made in 1972. According to the video, Maze War was built to run on this machine.
- From 1974 until 1987 some 3D games were released for Atari and PC, which had elements of modern FPS: Tail Gunner (1979); Star Raiders (1979); Richard Garriott’s FPS RPG Akalabeth (summer 1979); the first 3D RPG, FPS tank games Battlezone (1980); Capture the Flag (1983); etc. Despite the wide range of games shown in the video below, there is no game that truly combines all the elements of a modern FPS.
A visual history of First Person Shooters 1974 -1988 starting with Spasim.
- MIDI Maze (1987) was arguably the first game to mix 3D mazes, with 3D shooting, and the ability to turn 360 degrees. MIDI Maze might have been the first game to introduce introduced the concept of deathmatch combat.
A quick play through of MIDI maze, notice how it combines 3D maze game with a 3D shooter game.
- In the early 1990’s the First Person Shooter genre comes into its own with the same company who will propel it to greatness with id Software’s Hovertank 3D (1991).
A quick play through of Hovertank 3D.
- id Software’s next Catacomb 3D (1991) bears many similarities to Wolfenstein, including the central character and the environments. The biggest difference is that it’s a fantasy game, so in this respect, it has more in common with games like Akalabeth.
A quick play through of Catacomb 3D.
- Finally, taking what they learned from Hovertank and Catacomb id creates the first modern FPS Wolfenstein 3D. From here the genre grows with games like Doom, Quake, Half-life, Counterstrike, 007, and beyond.
A review of Wolfenstein 3D.
NOTE: In 1972 Douglas Englebart invents the mouse, in 1972 Bill English introduces the “Ball Mouse”. This technology helps open the door for 3D gaming possibilities in the 70’s in 80’s (mostly 80’s when the home mouse was more common).
Why Was Wolfenstein 3D Important?
Wolfenstein 3D isn’t particularly important for specific mechanics (as almost everything in it is a revamp of older mechanics), it instead is important for bringing a cohesive and fun version of the 3D maze-shooter genre to the mainstream. It wasn’t the first time we got to kill Nazis, but it was one of the first times the masses got to do this in 3D (it was the first WWII FPS, and first Nazi zombie game). It wasn’t the first time people got to wield overpowered weapons and limited ammo, but it popularized it (Doom’s BFG is the name-sake of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket the BFR). It wasn’t the first time melee was used in 3D, but became a mainstay after this. It wasn’t the first mod-able game, but it was famous for this. It wasn’t the first shareware game, but this helped its popularity and started a trend.
In short, because of its popularity and innovative remixing and transposing of mechanics, Wolfenstein 3D is the game that inspires all its predecessors from Doom, to Quake, to Counterstrike, to Medal of Honer, to Call of Duty. Wolfenstein wasn’t much of “a first” of anything, but it is a game that can’t be removed from the history of the popularization of video games.
You can check out this article by gameradar.com for more reasons Wolfenstein 3D was important.
FACT: Multiplayer gaming and the First Person Shooter gave rise to competitive gaming as a sport (eSports). Early competitive FPS games like Counter Strike are still popular in the eSports world today.