1992: Id Software releases Wolfenstein 3-D, and it launches a huge computer-game category.
Wolfenstein 3-D may not have been the very first ?first-person shooter,? as the genre came to be known, but it was by far the most successful. Technically the genre goes back to the ?70s, but no one really paid any attention to it. Even id released an earlier FPS called Catacombs 3D, but again, it wasn?t nearly as good as Wolfenstein.
But through massive online dissemination of the game?s shareware version, Wolfenstein 3D (the hyphen was later dropped from the name) introduced millions to an immersive world in which the action seemed to be happening from the player?s perspective.
?It was an incredible sensation, really unlike anything gamers had seen before,? said Jamie Madigan, who helps operate the GameSpy Network?s 3D Action website. ?You could move smoothly in 360 degrees. You felt like you were there.?
?Everything that?s followed in [its] footsteps has just been a modification of that basic style,? id Software CEO Todd Hollenshead said in 2001.
Players in the game assume the role of an American commando battling Nazis and their supernatural servants. It was banned in Germany because of its use of Nazi symbols, like the swastika, and music, like the ?Horst Wessel Lied.?
Wolfenstein 3D did more than define a genre. It also launched a company, id Software of Mesquite, Texas, which leveraged Wolfenstein 3D?s success into a franchise of wildly successful first-person shooters, including the seminal Doom and Quake series.
Wired.com GameLife blogger Earnest Cavalli added, ?The key to the whole Wolfenstein thing is that its success ? which was massive ? paved the way for ? thousands of games that mimicked them, transforming the PC into a gaming system best known for FPS titles. Plus, who doesn?t like killing Nazis??
Image: Massive online dissemination of Wolfenstein 3-D made it the first breakaway first-person shooter hit. (Courtesy id Software)
This article first appeared on Wired.com May 5, 2008.