But id main man Jon Carmack didn’t really capture mainstream attention until the release of Wolfenstein 3D in the summer of 1992. Inspired by the textured environments present in Looking Glass’ 3D RPG, Ultima Underworld, he set about creating a faster, less demanding ‘ray casting’ technique which could run on relatively low-specced PCs.
Designed by John Romero and Tom Hall, Wolfenstein 3D would prove a watershed moment for the FPS genre. In retrospect, it wasn’t simply the game’s stunning tech which caught the imagination: it was, first and foremost, a hugely enjoyable, fast-paced experience, boasting a truckload of innovative gameplay ideas. Many features we now take for granted, such as weapon selection, health and ammo pick-ups, 360 degree movement, and even the ‘save anywhere’ principle, first saw light in the Wolfenstein 3D template.
After almost two decades of experimentation, the first person shooter genre finally had a game worth shouting about.
Key to the rise of the first person shooter was id’s adoption of the ‘shareware’ model, by which gamers got to sample the first 10 levels of Wolfenstein 3D for free. And it was a trick the company repeated with the release of its next title, Doom, at the end of 1993, whose first nine levels were available for free.