When you are talking about the history of first person shooter video games, you always have to talk about Doom. Released in 1993 by id Software (recently responsible for their 2011 release, Rage) it is one of the most influential video games of all time, and probably the most influential first person shooter ever made.
If you want to talk about technology and development that was ahead of its time, Doom is the place to start. Contrary to popular belief, it did not run on a new engine, and the engine for the game was really just an advanced modified version of the 1992 game, Wolfenstein 3D. However, significant advancements were still made, mainly in the texture mapping design throughout Doom. Various aesthetic enhancements were built into the game, such as having shadows and varying degrees of brightness at different points throughout the game. Although having darkness and shadows in a game today seems like the logical way of making a game creepy and scary, it was something that computer games of the day simply did not have, and it definitely made this game stand out to others of its time.
Despite its technological prowess, Doom did something even more important to video games- it brought them to the masses. Since it ran on an older engine, it was capable of running on most PCs of the time, so it could be played by almost anyone- especially because a third of the game was distributed as free shareware. Modifications (mods) could also be developed by anyone to play on the game, which extended both its lifespan and popularity, and spurned sever sequels.
The game has since been re-released across many platforms, and was even digitally remastered for play on the Xbox 360 under the title of Doom 3. A sequel, Doom 4, to the home-run franchise is slotted for release on the PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3, but no release date has been given.
Quake II holds a special place in many gamers hearts. If Doom didn't get 1990s gamers hooked onto first person shooters, then Quake II probably did. It remains one of the most popular shooters of all time, and sold more than one million copies between its December 1997 release, through 1998. To put that into perspective, Doom sold 1.1 million copies between 1993 and 1999, a 7-year span, while it took Quake II only a 2-year span!
Although one can argue that the original Quake was just as influential and important as the second, the real significance of II is the number of games based on its 3D engine that came after it. Many modern-day first-person shooters can trace their original roots back to the Quake II engine. All of the current Call of Duty shooters on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 run on the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare engine, which is a modified version of the same one id software way back when, in 1997. If only modern shooters allowed for the same customization in multiplayer map design that made 1990s games such as this so popular in the first place.
You know how Doom sold 1 million copies in 7 years?
Half-Life sold 8 million copies in 6 years.
Although it was not the first FPS shooter game, Half-Life is probably the most important and influential one ever made. Developed by Valve, it runs on a modified Quake II engine, but with some significant upgrades that were far ahead of its time. The most important upgrade was its use of cut-scenes. Games before Half-Life simply had nothing of the sort. Perhaps it was because developers were unsure of how to code such a feature, or maybe it was that they did not even think to try out something so cutting-edge at the time.
When you think of Half-Life, you think of modifications, which is what really set it apart from the crowd, and extended the life of the game far longer than anyone would have thought possible. One of the reasons that independent developers took advantage of everything Half-Life had to offer was because, for the first time ever, it was truly encouraged of them. Prior to this, it was not particularly difficult to develop mods if you had the skills to do so, but never before had an intuitive development kit like the one bundled with H-L, included from launch. This was important because it really showcased the creativity that gamers had, and allowed for players to expand their gaming experience in ways that they never thought possible. When H-L was launched, did anyone really ever expect that one day people would be playing Mario Bros. with it? Probably not, but when given the chance, this makes for a real gaming accomplishment, and shows what can happen when developers make a fantastic single player game, and give players the chance to make the rest of it into whatever experience they want.