id Software’s Design Paradigm and A Brief History of First Person Shooters

September 12th, 2010

Throughout the 90’s, id software’s Wolfenstien 3D, Doom and Quake series set the design paradigms and mentality behind the first person shooter genre. The first person shooter would drive forward new technology while at the same time use this technology to iterate and reinvent the dynamics of first person shooting. From Wolfenstien 3D to Doom, to Doom II, to Quake and Quake II each jump in processing power characterised these games through the improvement in playability from a primitive, pseudo 3D shooter, to the ultimate online deathmatch, truely 3D in both graphics and control.

By the time Quake III had rolled around, id had already established and refined the core properties that would define the first person genre (fully 3D movement, strafing, online multiplayer, etc.). At the same time, by the year 2000, the wheel of technology was beginning to slow, which meant that the genre has had to search for new paradigms or effectively scrape the bottom of the technology barrel for scraps. New paradigms have come in several forms: the shift to more narrative-based FPS (Half-life series), roller-coaster styled experiences (Call of Duty 4) and the hybridisation of the first person shooter and RPGs (Borderlands). As for technological advancements, open world gameplay (Fallout 3) and increased online functionality (Team Fortress 2), such as online co-operative or team play (the latter, MAG) have added new wrinkles into the FPS fabric.

YouTube Preview Image

While none of these examples should be written off, since in culmination they’ve seen the genre expand and splinter out like never before, very few titles have actually tinkered with the groundwork of the genre like id Software. The FPS framework has been moulded, given narrative context and added features, but over the past decade Portal has been perhaps the only game to change the shooting, by, in fact removing the bullets from the gun. The portal-shooting mechanic is a genius one as it re-purposes the gun to instead become a tool.

Maybe this is where first person shooters need to go, unexplored territory, abandoning the id Software paradigm of iteration through technology. id defined the shooter, just as Carmack’s technical wizardry defined the technology behind it. Yet with technology in games increasing at a relatively marginal rate compared to 20 years ago, such a paradigm is no longer sustainable, leaving new ideas built into the fabric of the genre as the future of the first person shooter genre.