The great grand daddy of all shooters.
The guys behind id Software were busy creating games years before they had formally banded together. Working at Softdisk, a company from Luisiana who put out a monthly disk of arcade games, Romera, Wilbur, Tom Hall and both Adrian and John Carmack were programming on the ancient Apple II in 1990. But it was only when Scott Miller (head of Apogee) got together with Romero that they got to throwing ideas around, the result of which would be Commander Keen (programmed, incidentally, not in a garage but out of a really expensive lake house).
Keen sold very well for a shareware game, and Romero, Adrian and John decided to use the revenue to make their own company. It was originally called IFD (Ideas From the Deep) Software, but this was eventually changed to ID (In Demand). Not pleased still, someone suggested the Freudian connection with ‘id’, and the connotation was there to stay. Months later and designer Tom Hall was onboard, the company moved to Wisconsin and subsequent Keen sequels kept the enterprise going strong.
Wolf 3D followed a Carmack project called Catacombs 3D, a fantasy shooter you can still play (it bears a stark resemblance to Wolfenstein). The follow-up would be even better, with an idea of a captured US soldier trying to escape a Nazi fortress coming off as a preferred setting. The idea actually came from a different game called Castle Wolfenstein – through a lot of bumps and investigation work they got the rights from the original creator, Silas Warner, and went producing the shooter proper.
When the game was finally released in 1992, a storm erupted. The tremendous 3D environments were so ahead of any arcade game at the time that many were amazed it was released as shareware to begin with. The game logged 150.000 registrations as shareware within the first few months, and hit the one million mark by the time Doom II was in development.
The environments within the Lego Nazi fortress looked crude and the engine was unable to draw floor and ceiling surfaces, yet the texture mapped walls conveyed the first semblance of truly walking (or at least gliding) around in 3D space. Allowing you to view the action from any horizontal angle, you went through level after level gunning down Nazis, finding keys, collecting better weapons and essentially doing all of the other good stuff that defined the quintessential 90s shooter.
Wolfenstein 3D featured gameplay in singleplayer only (deathmatch and co-op play would only be around after Doom). Then there was that pesky code limitation that meant walls could only be built at a 90 degree angle, and all of the walls had to be of the same length. This, combined with the parallel floors and ceilings, gave the levels of Wolf 3D a particular cubist feel.
Yet as a whole the grand daddy of all shooters was ahead of its time, and the popularity of the product gave way to even more advanced shooters later on – Doom, Quake and Doom 3, to name a few. From the guys who’ve invented the genre we couldn’t expect any less.
System Requirements: IBM 286 CPU, 528k RAM, 8 MB HDD, MS-DOS
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