id's Shooter Evolution


All The Rage

This week sees the release of Rage, and the enormous post-apocalyptic shooter marks id Software's first game since Doom 3 back in 2004. Why is this a big deal? Because without id, there arguably wouldn't even be a first-person shooter genre. Not only did the Texas-based studio invent the shooter as we know it today, it's been behind almost every technical advance the genre has made.

id first came to prominence with Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. Essentially a maze game with guns, its shamelessly pulpy wartime romp was eclipsed just eighteen months later when id dropped Doom on an unsuspecting world.

The first 3D game to include staircases and multiple floors, Doom also set the precedent for outrageous amounts of gore in shooting games. With a rogue's gallery of hellish creatures just waiting to be carved into sticky red mush and satantic symbols galore, the game acted like a dog whistle to those who would portray games as a fast track to teen damnation.

Doom - the original fps from Rage's id

Not that many players cared too much about that. They were too busy finding the secret areas hidden in the labyrinthine levels, and blowing each other to bits as the giddy world of multiplayer deathmatches rose in popularity. Doom was so successful, and so ubiquitous, that long before the term "FPS" was used, first-person shooters were simply known as "Doom clones".

Doctoring Doom

Doom showcased id's dedication to the homebrew tinkerers and bedroom pioneers. The game's engine, id Tech, was designed to be as open source as possible and was coded in such a way that fan-designed levels and campaigns could easily be distributed and added to the game. This approach to fans and shared technology has continued up to the present day, with all versions of id Tech ultimately finding their way into the hands of enthusiasts.

Doom was also instrumental in revolutionising game distribution, offering the first chapter as a free shareware demo, with the rest of the game unlocked after purchase. The company retained this system for its next major release, Quake, in 1996.

Popular legend has it that Quake was so eagerly anticipated that the release of its demo version caused the internet to grind to a halt. That wasn't entirely true, but Quake was certainly the first game in its genre to spread its wings beyond the arena of local network matches and start offering online gameplay. It was also, of course, the first truly 3D shooter, with polygon built levels and enemies that offered more depth that the flat sprites and optical tricks that made Doom's worlds feel three-dimensional.

Quake from id's Shooter History

Quake, Rattle and Roll

Quake swiftly became the default shooter of choice for multiplayer fans, so much so that id took the unusual decision in 1999 of making the third game in the series multiplayer only, ditching the single player campaigns that had been the centrepiece of the original games.

By this time, and despite having only released six full games since Wolfenstein, id was very much the pioneer of what was becoming the dominant gaming genre. Unsurprisingly, other developers wanted to use the id Tech engine to give their games that familiar polish. Over the years, games such as Hexen, Solider of Fortune, Star Trek: Elite Force, Star Wars: Jedi Knight and even a scrappy little WWII shooter known as Call of Duty 2 built their worlds on id's foundations.

As always, it was up to id to push the envelope, and in 2004 they kept the world hanging on for Doom 3. Teased by impossibly real screenshots of slimy beasts, and eagerly anticipating the return of the masters of the form, the game arrived to a mix of adulation and disappointment. Adulation for its phenomenal technical prowess, but disappointment that the game wasn't really pushing the genre in many other areas.

Wolfenstein 3D - id's Original Shooter

The id Crowd

After seven years in development, it seems that Rage may quell those fears that id's role as the pioneer of shooters was at an end. Yes, there's shooting but there are also vast sandblasted landscapes and visceral Mad Max style vehicle races. Deep within its DNA, Rage is clearly still a shooter from the id stable, but it's also so much more than that.

Perhaps what is most exciting is what the development community will do with the new id Tech 5 engine, once id has finished using it for Doom 4. Since id was bought out by Zenimax Media in 2009, it's been announced that only developers in their corporate group will get to play with id's latest toybox. Bad news? Not really, since that line up includes Fallout and Oblivion developer Bethesda, as well as Tango Gameworks, the latest venture from Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami.

What's most interesting about id Tech 5 is that it is no longer just a tool for making first-person shooters. Speaking with CVG in 2007, id's Steve Nix explained that it was their goal to see id Tech used in as many genres as possible. "The way the rendering works, there are no more texture limitations. Any game can take advantage of that," he said. "In a massively multiplayer game, texture constraints are a big problem. Even a fighting game where you're trying to get the ultimate detail in a smaller arena, texture limitations tend to be one of your number one limitations. Not only do we think people can make games outside the action-shooter space with our technology, we encourage it. We'd actually like to see those games made."

So would we, Steve. So would we.

SKU: Features-183534
Release Date: 06/10/2011