Around nine years ago, I, like the countless other young gaming fiends of the early days, was trawling around the local bulletin boards looking for the latest shareware games to provide me with some relief from the drudgery of high school - Grade 10, to be exact. One crispy morning, as the air was just starting to turn chilly in Brisbane as winter approached, I stumbled across a file that was pretty huge for a shareware game in those days - something in the order of more than 600k. A veritable giant. Noticing that it was from the same crew that had brought me Commander Keen (a game that I was mightily impressed with), I quickly queued up a download and headed off for an hour whilst I waited for it to burn down the line.
Coming back to my PC after the download, I installed it, wondering what to expect. I'd barely read any of the description, so I was thinking it was going to be some sort of new side-scrolling platform game along the lines of the previous few games. Loading it for the first time and getting into the game (after quickly checking out the default key configuration and trying to figure out how 'strafe' fit into the context), I was surprised to see a pistol in the centre of my screen, and a door in front of me. My first thoughts was that it was a Bard's Tale-type game, where you pressed a key to move one unit forward, or something similar to that.
Needless to say, I was suprised when I pressed forward and the room gracefully slid forward around me. Quickly establishing myself with the basic movement types, I stepped over the corpse of the guard that was at my feet, thinking "cool dead body", opened the door in front of me, and walked into the world of the first person shooter.
I spent the next few hours wandering around in a slightly catatonic state through this new world that was opening up before my amazed eyes. I'd just bought my first sound card, a SoundBlaster 2.0, and was astonished at the awesome sound effects, especially the shouts of the guards as they spotted you, and then of course their subsequent screams as they were shot down in a hail of righteous fire.
This was the game I'd been waiting for all my life.
I played the shareware version non-stop for hours on end, repeatedly, going through every level until I could recreate it flawlessly on paper (which I did frequently whilst daydreaming in school). I remember the first time I picked up the chaingun, and the face of BJ Blazkowicz, sitting down in the middle of the status bar, grinned like a demon. During one gaming session, I was struck by the idea of how fantasitcally awesome it would be if I was able to play with someone else, working through the levels at the same time with them at my side. Little did I know that around two years later, I'd be doing that very thing with id's next - Doom.
Eventually, the game editing tools came out. Fascinated by this new aspect - being able to work on your own levels and graphics - I then proceeded to spend hours building my own levels, then more hours running through them. I never actually released any; I was building them for myself just to play with. Then, adding new graphics to the game - typically I would increase the amount of gore by doing things like adding bright pink intestines that would burst out of the dogs when they were shot - provided more life.
Thus, id's famous line of first person games was born. Games that would not only shape the way that electronic entertainment would progress over the coming years, but games that quite literally changed the lives of thousands upon thousands of people. Escaping from Castle Wolfenstein was a pivotal moment in the lives of many, as this new medium that came to blitz gamers swept through like a thunderstorm.
Interestingly, the production of Wolfenstein almost led to the purchasing of id Software by a third party. After Wolf3d was to the point where it literally was years ahead of anything else in the PC gaming field, Romero took it to a group of investors, who upon seeing the game, immediately offered to buy id Software for the sum of US$2.5 million. Back then, a princely sum for the small, struggling games company that id was. Romero asked for a signing bonus of $100,000, which apparently was a little to uppity for the blood of the investors. id then continued on its merry was as its own company, raking in way more than that, and presumably leaving said investors kicking each other for their somewhat bad call.
Nine years down the track, and id have released title after title that continues in the same vein of the original first person shooter. Each one promises more, and each one delivers more than it promises. The next time you sit down to play any first person shooter, spare a thought for the game that started it all - Wolf3d.