The Complete History Of First Person Shooters

If there’s a single genre that defines the video game, it might be the first-person shooter. Think about it. When a TV show wants to have a gamer character, what kind of thing is he usually playing? Nine times out of ten they’ll be looking down iron sights and fragging foes over the Internet. There’s just something pure about the concept. No on-screen avatar to jerk around like a puppet. Your monitor is your eyes. Your mouse, your rifle. The connection is direct and immediate.

First-person shooters have enjoyed a rocky history in the forty-five years they’ve been around (yes, you read that right). They’ve had waves of tremendous popularity and serious decline, but they always come back as new generations of game designers bring fresh ideas and technical excellence to the concept. In this article, we trace the genre back to the beginning and try to talk about every single FPS ever released on a major platform, along with links to videos of gameplay footage. We’re going to stick with games where the player character is primarily on foot, so most purely vehicular FPS games like Descent aren’t going to be included. If we forgot anything, let us know in the comments.

See Through Your Eyes

Computer graphics was unexplored country in the 1970s. Once systems moved from punchcards to pixels on a screen, programmers started figuring out ways to make those pixels do interesting things.

Historians agree that the first real attempt at a first-person shooter came in 1973 with Maze War for the Imlac PDS-1 computers installed at the NASA Ames Research Center. Steve Colley was the first credited developer, and in the game multiple users could walk through a 3-D maze one “tile” at a time, shooting other players (represented as eyeballs) on sight. It was clunky, but nothing like it had ever been tried.

1974 saw Spasim, short for “Space Simulator,” on networked PLATO computers. This put you in control of a spaceship, not a human, but it rendered a 3D world in…

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