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The Evolution of FPS on the Mac
August 30, 2006 | Scott Stewart

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I still remember the first time that I played Marathon. I had heard about it from some of my readings online and I was intrigued. After searching for a few minutes I found the required files, downloaded them and booted up the game. I found it to be exciting. There was something about the almost too quiet interior of the ship and the strange aliens that seemingly came out of nowhere, not to mention the interaction with the computer terminals. Who were the aliens? Why were they on board the ship? What was the purpose of the computer terminals? It was a story told through a limited plot device, with a bunch of action in between. Admittedly, by today’s standards, it is surpassed by almost every game released in the past twelve years. I just wish that I had been a Mac user back in the day. Which brings me to a bit of a retrospective, a history lesson for those who’ve switched recently or for those who would just like a trip down memory lane and want to see where Mac first person shooters (FPS) have been and where they’re going. So here it is for all you noobs like me, with a tip of the hat to the veterans; Mac FPS 101.

In the Beginning there was Bungie
In 1993 Bungie Software Corporation released Pathway’s Into Darkness (PID), a first person shooter that took place inside an ancient pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula. As the player, you were a member of a special operations team that was sent to prevent an ancient god from awakening and destroying the Earth. Unfortunately you became separated from your team before they entered the pyramid, following them in a few hours later to discover monsters brought on by the waking god. Over the course of the next five days (game time), you got to explore the ancient runes of the pyramid, following along with the developing story-line told through a dead German expedition that had entered the pyramid previously.

The game itself was notable for a few different reasons, including the fact that it brought about the FPS revolution on the Mac since Wolfenstein 3D (1992) and Doom (1993) had been released for DOS but would not be ported over to the Mac for almost a year after their respective PC releases. It also had more than the vague beginnings of a story, as you could converse with the dead through the use of “Magic Crystals,” thereby driving the plot and moving the story forward. What a story it was too, chock full of aliens, zombies, ghouls and puzzles galore. You were also given a time limit, to detonate the bomb, make it out of the pyramid alive and be rescued by an extraction team.

In its day, PID was a very advanced game, sporting texture mapped interiors (a la Doom). Texture mapping is a process where images are essentially pasted onto generated shapes that show the scene, overlaying or “mapping” the basic structure. This makes it easier to render detailed structures, enabling more realistic games for a more immersive experience. PID had this in spades, along with the next two games, the ones that started the whole revolution on DOS.

Ports Galore (The Mac as a Sailing Vessel)
Wolfenstein 3D and Doom were both released on the Mac after the DOS versions were released onto PC’s. These were the two games that helped to bring about the rise of id Software, John Carmack and the FPS revolution for the DOS/Wintel world. The object of both games was very similar, although the “stories” differed. In Wolfenstein you played B.J. Blazcowicz, an American soldier who is tasked with escaping from Castle Wolfenstein, hunting down the head of a German biological weapons program and then defeating Hitler (very cool in robotic garb. Robo-Hitler!!!). While Wolfenstein gave the illusion of 3D, it was still very limited in a technological sense as to what it could do. Environments were static and the maps were laid out in grid fashion. Although some of the maps were ingeniously designed, they had no basis in the real world as they were laid out for the joy/difficulty of playing them, as opposed to more realistic conventions. Wolfenstein had a prequel (Spear of Destiny) and a more graphically enhanced redux (Return to Castle Wolfenstein, released in 2001) but was eclipsed in popularity by its younger sibling.

In Doom you played a nameless space marine, the last survivor of an emergency rescue mission to the Martian moon of Phobos, working for the United Aerospace Corporation (UAC). Sub in Weyland-Yutani all you Aliens fans. Over the course of three episodes (Similar to Wolfenstein) you go from carnage-fest to carnage-fest on Phobos, then Deimos and finally through Hell itself. The action was fast, there were surprises around every corner and it is still the mother of all FPS games.

The engine that powered Doom contained many enhancements over the Wolfenstein engine. There could now be height differences in rooms, walls were allowed to run in a non-perpendicular fashion for more diverse level designs and all the surfaces (walls, ceilings, etc.) were texture mapped to give a more realistic and more easily rendered image. These advances were parlayed into two official sequels (Doom Two, Final Doom) and numerous maps online (WADs). Doom was one of the first games to include multiplayer capabilities, helping to begin the online gaming revolution as well, setting up the multiplayer frag fests that we al know and love, as well as helping to set the stage for MMO’s and MMORPG’s.


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