This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (February 2012)
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In video games, first person is any graphical perspective rendered from the viewpoint of the player's character, or a viewpoint from the cockpit or front seat of a vehicle driven by the character. Many genres incorporate first-person perspectives, among them adventure games, driving, sailing, and flight simulators. Most notable is the first-person shooter, in which the graphical perspective is an integral component of the gameplay.
Games with a first-person perspective are usually avatar-based, wherein the game displays what the player's avatar would see with the avatar's own eyes. Thus, players typically cannot see the avatar's body, though they may be able to see the avatar's weapons or hands. This viewpoint is also frequently used to represent the perspective of a driver within a vehicle, as in flight and racing simulators; and it is common to make use of positional audio, where the volume of ambient sounds varies depending on their position with respect to the player's avatar.
Games with a first-person perspective do not require sophisticated animations for the player's avatar, nor do they need to implement a manual or automated camera-control scheme as in third-person perspective. A first-person perspective allows for easier aiming, since there is no representation of the avatar to block the player's view. However, the absence of an avatar can make it difficult to master the timing and distances required to jump between platforms, and may cause motion sickness in some players.
Players have come to expect first-person games to accurately scale objects to appropriate sizes. However, key objects such as dropped items or levers may be exaggerated in order to improve their visibility.
It is not clear exactly when the earliest such first-person shooter video game was created. There are two claimants, Spasim and Maze War. The uncertainty about which was first stems from the lack of any accurate dates for the development of Maze War--even its developer cannot remember exactly. In contrast, the development of Spasim is much better documented and the dates more certain.
The initial development of Maze War probably occurred in the summer of 1973. A single player makes traverses a maze of corridors rendered using fixed perspective. Multiplayer capabilities, with players attempting to shoot each other, were probably added later in 1973 (two machines linked via a serial connection) and in the summer of 1974 (fully networked).
Spasim was originally developed in the spring of 1974 with a documented debut at the University of Illinois the same year. The game is a rudimentary space flight simulator with a first-person 3D wireframe view. It allowed online multiplayer over the worldwide university-based PLATO network.
Futurewar (1978) by high-school student Erik K. Witz and Nick Boland, also based on PLATO, is sometimes claimed to be the first true FPS. The game includes a vector image of a gun and other armaments that point at the monsters. Set in A.D. 2020, Futurewar anticipated Doom, although as to Castle Wolfensteins transition to a futuristic theme, the common PLATO genesis is coincidental. A further PLATO FPS was the tank game Panther, introduced in 1975, generally acknowledged as a precursor to Battlezone.
1979 saw the release of two first-person space combat games: the Exidy arcade game Star Fire and Doug Neubauer's seminal Star Raiders for the Atari 8-bit family. The popularity of Star Raiders resulted in similarly styled games from other developers and for other systems, including Starmaster for the Atari 2600, Space Spartans for Intellivision, and Shadow Hawk One for the Apple II. It went on to influence two major first-person games of the 1990s: Wing Commander and X-Wing.
Other shooters with a first-person view from the early 1980s include Taito's Space Seeker in 1981,Horizon V for the Apple II the same year, Sega's stereoscopic arcade game SubRoc-3D in 1982, Novagen's Encounter in 1983, and EA's Skyfox for the Apple II in 1984.
Flight simulators were a first-person staple in the 1980s, including the series from subLOGIC, which later became Microsoft Flight Simulator. MicroProse found a niche with first-person aerial combat games: Hellcat Ace (1982),Spitfire Ace (1982), and F-15 Strike Eagle (1985).
Amidst a flurry of faux-3D first-person maze games where the player is locked into one of four orientations, like Spectre, 3D Monster Maze, Phantom Slayer, and Dungeons of Daggorath, came the 1982 release of Paul Edelstein's Wayout from Sirius Software. Not a shooter, it has smooth, arbitrary movement using what was later labeled a raycasting engine, giving it a visual fluidity seen in future games MIDI Maze and Wolfenstein 3D. It was followed in 1983 by the split-screen Capture the Flag, allowing two players at once, and foreshadowing a common gameplay mode for 3D games of the 1990s.
The arrival of the Atari ST and Amiga in 1985, and the Apple IIGS a year later, increased the computing power and graphical capabilities available in consumer-level machines, leading to a new wave of innovation. 1987 saw the release of MIDI Maze, an important transitional game for the genre. Unlike its contemporaries, MIDI Maze used raycasting to speedily draw square corridors. It also offered a networked multiplayer deathmatch (communicating via the computer's MIDI ports). Sub-Logic's Jet was a major release for the new platforms, as were Starglider and the tank simulator Arcticfox.
In 1988, Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode featured first-person shooter levels and included a sniper rifle for assassinating an enemy agent at long range using an unsteady sniper scope. The same year saw the release of Arsys Software's Star Cruiser.
In the late 1980s, interest in 3D first-person driving simulations resulted in games like Test Drive (1987) and Vette! (1989). 1989's Hard Drivin' arcade game from Atari Games was particularly influential, with fast polygon graphics, a mathematical model of how the vehicle parts work together, force feedback, and instant replay after crashes. In the following years, two Hard Drivin'-esque MS-DOS games appeared, each including a track editor: Stunt Driver from Spectrum Holobyte (1990) and Stunts from Broderbund (1991).
In 1990, SNK released beat 'em ups with a first-person perspective: the hack & slash game Crossed Swords, and the fighting & shooting game Super Spy. In late 1991, the fledgling id Software released Catacomb 3D, which introduced the concept of showing the player's hand on-screen, strengthening the illusion that the player is viewing the world through the character's eyes.
Taito's Gun Buster was released in arcades in 1992. It features on-foot gameplay and a control scheme where the player moves using an eight-direction joystick and aims using a mounted positional light gun. It allows two-player cooperative gameplay for the mission mode and features a deathmatch mode where two players compete against each other or up to four players compete in two teams.
In 1992, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss was among the first to feature texture mapped environments, polygonal objects, and basic lighting. The engine was later enhanced for usage in the games Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds and System Shock. Later in 1992, id improved the technology used in Catacomb 3D by adding support for VGA graphics in Wolfenstein 3D. It would be widely imitated in the years to follow, and marked the beginning of many conventions in the genre, including collecting different weapons that can be switched between using the keyboard's number keys, and ammo conservation. 1996 saw the release of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall for MS-DOS by Bethesda Softworks, featuring similar graphics and polygonal structures to other games at the time and furthering the first-person element included in 1994's The Elder Scrolls: Arena, to which it was a sequel.
The 1995 game Descent used a fully 3D polygonal graphics engine to render opponents, departing from the sprites used by most previous games in the FPS genre. It also escaped the "pure vertical walls" graphical restrictions of earlier games in the genre, and allowed the player six degrees of freedom of movement (up/down, left/right, forward/backward, pitch, roll, and yaw).
It may be that the networked version didn't happen until '74 because I [developer Steve Colley] can't remember exactly when the network was put on the Imlacs.