Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
First Person Shooters (Games) Graphics Software Entertainment Games

From Doom To Dunia — the History of 3D Engines 117

Posted by Soulskill
from the looking-forward-to-tech-5 dept.
notthatwillsmith writes "It's difficult to think of a single category of application that's driven the pace of desktop hardware development further and faster than first-person shooters. Maximum PC examined the evolution of FPS engines, looking back at the key technologies that brought games from the early sprite-based days of Doom to the fully 3D-rendered African Savannah as rendered by Far Cry 2's Dunia engine. It's truly amazing how far the state of the art has moved in the last 16 years."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

From Doom To Dunia — the History of 3D Engines

Comments Filter:
  • by dword (735428) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @05:27AM (#28863987)

    Why would anybody use an auto-print link for the only link in TFS ?!??1

  • Wolfenstein 3D? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sprins (717461) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @05:47AM (#28864073)

    I miss Wolfenstein 3D (the original game) in the list. AFAIK that was the 1st 3D FPS some time before DOOM. I understand that "From DOOM to Dunia" alliterates better, but to disregard Wolfenstein 3D alltogether?

  • by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:09AM (#28864165) Homepage

    They list an engine called Voxel, which isn't an engine but a technology. And they list a bunch of games which use the same engine as NovaLogic's Comanche, but it's complete bullshit. Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2 (for example) didn't use that engine at all, the just used the voxel technology.

    Then they list StoneKeep, but StoneKeep didn't even use a 3D engine.

    They call Outcast "A popular voxel engine", the engine was used only once. And showed it severe limitations. How can something used only once be popular.

    And for some reason they decided to split up some engines into multiple generations (like UnrealEngine) and keep others as a single entry (like LithTech, GameBryo)

    And for an history article they surely didn't bother to put everything in chronological order. And for a visual article they sure didn't bother to find the best screenshots to show of the engine.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:47AM (#28864369)

      For Doom, they talked about "a standard VGA videocard capable of rendering texture-mapped environments". What are they smoking? Those cards did no such things, and texture-mapping was done in software.

    • by Dan East (318230) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:33AM (#28864699) Homepage Journal

      There are a number of technical inaccuracies too.

      All that was needed to run Doom was a 386 level PC (in low-detail mode) with a standard VGA videocard capable of rendering texture-mapped environments.

      All texture mapping was done in software, which was even true of the Quake 1 and Quake 2 software renderers. So I'm not sure why they're attributing texture-mapping to the VGA hardware.

      Other features of the Quake II engine, now known as id Tech 2, included colored lighting effects, and a new game model whereby game code was written in C and loaded from a DLL (Dynamic Link Library) rather than the original QuakeC scripting language. In layman's terms, this allowed for both software and OpenGL renders rather than one or the other, so if you didn't own a Voodoo videocard, you weren't necessarily out of luck.

      Here the article is stating that by using native DLLs for game logic in Quake 2 instead of the Quake C used in Quake, Quake 2 could support both hardware and software rendering. The game logic has nothing whatsoever to do with the rendering.

      The GoldSRC engine used by HalfLife was described as a "tweaked Quake engine". Tweaked? That's an incredibly massive understatement. Elsewhere I've read that id Software provided the Quake 2 sources to Vavle as part of the licensing, but they had modified the Quake 1 engine so heavily, and improved it so much, that use of Quake 2 source was unnecessary and probably nearly impossible due to so many changes to the Quake 1 architecture.

      Otherwise it is an interesting, albeit lightweight, article.

      • by 7 digits (986730) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @11:41AM (#28868523)

        Almost every part of the article is filled with inaccuracies.

        Quake BSP pre-processing "would identify empty space inside and outside of the border. This highly effective technique reduced the amount of polygons usually by half and sometimes by much more." That is not what binary space partitioning is about.

        It is extremely obvious that the guy writing the article have zero clues about how a 3d engine work. For instance, he states that, with Renderware "a developer could, [..] change the color of a character's clothing without altering the underlying code and rendering the scene all over again". As if the scene isn't rendered each frame anyway...

        There is some seriously severe misunderstanding in there...

    • by junglee_iitk (651040) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @10:21AM (#28866931)

      Do you know what are the engines driving Need For Speed games? The main three I am interested in are 5,6 and 7 (Porsche Unleashed, High Stakes and Underground).

  • by SurfMan (969573) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:10AM (#28864175)
    It's a shame the article doesn't mention Descent. It featured epic 6 degrees of freedom. Enjoyed that game very much *sigh*
  • by yossarianuk (1402187) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:14AM (#28864197)
    One major 3D game not mentioned is - 1990 - Amiga - Corporation

    It was released years before Wolfenstein 3D, you could even send a photo of your self to the company and they would digitise it and send you it back to play in the game...

    It was incredibly hard but had great atmosphere - the main issue was the controls were impossible to use - It took the PC until about 1994 to get anywhere near the graphics of this game..
    • Robocop 3 (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:38AM (#28864315)

      Robocop 3 (1992) On the amiga:

      The missions where varied, some chase bad guy x and run them off the road, others where more 1st person shooting inside buildings.

      There was also hunter (1991), not so much a 1st person shooter:

  • Quake 1-3 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:23AM (#28864243) Homepage Journal

    People like the FTEQuake folks have integrated Quake1-3 together, which allows you to play any map from Quake 1 through 3, or to incorporate things like shaders into the Quake 1 experience. It's actually kind of neat. Take a look at the screenshots at [] - it's all I use nowadays when I play FPSes. I'll play some Gears cooperatively with my friends, but nothing yet has beaten the original quake experience for FPS fun.

    The euphoria engine looks pretty interesting. I've been doing some work with motion analysis, and so the work they've done on it really impresses me - apparently you can code animations using it without keyframes or motion capture, which is pretty neat (if it works). The tech demo video is here - []

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:42AM (#28864343)

      FTE is an awesome engine. I have nothing but respect for Spike and his crew (sorry, I can't recall any other programmers on the team). I had always been messing around with QuakeC type mods for Quake and Quakeworld, and I had some various ideas that the modding engine couldn't do alone, so after asking Spike what he thought about a little idea of mine, he added it into the engine. Took a good bit of tweaking, but with pm_walljump 1, you can bounce off of walls. It's pretty amusing, but rather difficult (intentionally) to control unless you have a solid understanding of the air physics in the game.

      I suspect that it only works in quakeworld netcode, but give it a shot. Also, pm_walljump 2 is 'pinball' mode where you automatically bounce off of walls when you hit them. :P

    • by Zebedeu (739988) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:51AM (#28866441)

      Wasn't the euphoria engine used in GTA IV?
      From the (impressive) tech demo I seemed to recognise the same kind of reaction from the actors.
      I remember being completely blown away in GTA when I inadvertently pushed a guy near some stairs and he fumbled trying to keep his balance for a while before finally falling down the stairs. I don't think it could've been more realistic if it were keyframed.

      Incredible technology.

  • by onealone (996027) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:40AM (#28864327)
    Surely this article should have started with Freescape. []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:42AM (#28864345)

    FEAR is reduced to an small mention in the "poor man's engine" section while we have every version of IDTech explained.
    I have disagree, FEAR had the best engine between HL2/Doom3 4 and Crysis.
    It's the same with the CryEngine, they should have split the entry in two, as the CryEngine 2 is still the best available.

  • not 3d shooters... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gbjbaanb (229885) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:54AM (#28864405)

    IIRC, it was never 3d first-person games that drove hardware development, but space-flight shoot-em ups. Titles like Wing Commander really drove the need for better and better graphics hardware, in fact, Wing Commander was the one that made the 386 chip a necessity and apparently made people upgrade to play it.

    • by Tony Hoyle (11698) <> on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:27AM (#28864637) Homepage

      They drove sales, at least. With each game running like crap on last years card gamers spend a fortune each year to keep to the bleeding edge.

      Problem is, other than the greater hardware requirements is there *really* that much difference between quake 3 and the latest games? Higher resolution, some explosion effects.. I played left4dead to see what was supposed to be so great and really couldn't see anything that couldn't be done in the quake engine.. except it needed more powerful hardware.

      • by Turiko (1259966) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:37AM (#28864737)
        left 4 dead is a really bad example - not much special happens in there, and especially not physics. But look at a game like crysis, and look at the cryengine 2. Can you implement such a physics system into the quake engine?
      • by Admiral_Grinder (830562) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:28AM (#28865275)
        Much difference gameplay wise? Probably not. Realize that part of the FPS experience is it being a visual experience. Most of the time when new game and/or engine comes out they brag about how many objects it can handle. It is possible that one model from L4D contains the same amount of polygons that all of Quake 1 (as in the number of polygons you encounter throughout the whole game).
    • by Turiko (1259966) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:30AM (#28864653)
      have you seen a lot of space shooters since 2000? There where some, but they definetely weren't the ones pushing. FPS games have been pushing for quite a while.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:33AM (#28865355)

      I actually used to play Wing Commander just fine on my 286. The limitation was the necessary extended memory boards, and the need for a video card that supported VGA graphics. The computer I played on has a not uncommon video card, but required an upgraded ROM chip for VGA.

    • by drsmithy (35869) <> on Thursday July 30, 2009 @12:42AM (#28877959)

      Titles like Wing Commander really drove the need for better and better graphics hardware, in fact, Wing Commander was the one that made the 386 chip a necessity and apparently made people upgrade to play it.

      Pretty much the entire Wing Commander franchise had run its course before a machine's video card was much more than incidental.

  • by Krneki (1192201) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:11AM (#28864507)
    What about Stunts?

    I played this game for years.

    I know, I'm old. :(
  • The Dark Engine (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sapphire wyvern (1153271) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:20AM (#28864595)

    Shame they didn't mention the Dark Engine, which was used for Thief, Thief II, and System Shock II, and basically drove the creation of the 3d stealth game as it now exists. Since Thief II and System Shock II are frequent visitors to "Best PC Game Ever" listings, the engine behind them seems notable. The switch to Unreal II for Thief III killed the ability to have large maps, which is one of the major shortfalls of that installment compared to the earlier games in the series. The same applies for the legendarily disappointing Deus Ex II.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:34AM (#28864709)

    It was the first FPS to be browser based, Since a lot of engines are moving in that direction it's definitely an important engine and very user friendly.

  • Midwinter for Amiga (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dan East (318230) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:49AM (#28864851) Homepage Journal

    The first real-time 3D engine I ever played or saw was Midwinter for the Amiga. It was released in 1989, 4 years before Doom, and featured flat-shaded polygon rendering in a true 3D environment. I just remember the environment being incredibly huge and immersive, and I spent many hours walking and skiing around desolate white landscapes.

    Wikipedia article (which mentions nothing whatsoever about the game's technical aspects); []

    Screenshot of the 3D environment (Atari ST version):,362797/ []

    Gamespot seems to be one of the few that actually recognize how groundbreaking this game was: []

  • by Gulthek (12570) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:53AM (#28864891) Homepage Journal

    It's a shame they didn't talk about the engine used for the Chronicles of Riddick games.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:56AM (#28864919)
    Rescue on Fractalus?
  • by mestar (121800) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:58AM (#28864941)

    I'm sick of people saying that Doom was a 2d game. It was a 3d game.

    It had limitations, but still every object had 3 coordinates.

    "Illusion of 3D" my ass. Every 3d game is "an illusion of 3d".

    • by Phibz (254992) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:41AM (#28865471)

      It had limitations, but still every object had 3 coordinates.

      "Illusion of 3D" my ass. Every 3d game is "an illusion of 3d".

      Not quite. The reason it's not a true 3d engine is because of how the map is represented. The map is composed of 2 dimensional planes each with a specific height. This might sound like 3d, but it's not. For example, no two planes can overlap in the x, y dimension--no bridges or tunnels with floors above them. So it's like flat 2d map but subdivided in to pieces (sectors in doom speak) that each have a height projected up from them.

    • by bukuman (1129741) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:43AM (#28865497)

      Ever notice how there was never one part of the map overlapping another? At any point there was always only ever the floor and the ceiling - at various levels, and able to raise/lower (lifts/doors anyone?). In that important sense it was 2D; a 2D map 'extruded' as a special case into 3D - not an arbitrary collection of 3D geometry. Oh and the sprites, they were bill-boarded 2D also.

      Not so stupid, depending one what you mean.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:00AM (#28864967)

    Where's the fun? In the 90s I enjoyed Doom, Quake series, DN3D, Unreal, and so on, but the *quality* of the gameplay diminished. Many single player FPS these days are just a series of corridors and rooms bolted on to each other with a terribly linear path as compared to even Doom, where many levels were almost puzzle-like in construction. Many people bemoan Doom's gameplay as "find-the-key", but at least that's a real *goal* and encourages exploration, unlike the linear gameplay of many modern FPS. That or ones that appear "open" yet are just a series of radar checkpoints ("go this direction, do X, now go this direction, do Y") which is just as bad.

    I still play Doom on a very regular basis; the amount of quality fanmade maps keep it fresh and even the originals are interesting and challenging enough to replay over and over. Modern games like Crysis and Far Cry, and even games like Half-Life 2 (hell, even the original Half-Life was pretty dull) just bore me to tears in comparison.

    Plus we just have a glut of FPS these days. A new one comes out every week or two -- seriously, isn't it time to slow down and make original, fresh, interesting games? Oh no, we can't do that, that'd be *risky!* Life is risk, game companies. Take some. In other words, stop concentrating on making an FPS that looks 5+% more shiny than the last one and do something interesting.

    AC because every single modern gamer that has been raised to believe that the horrible state of gaming today is not only acceptable but actually PREFERRED will mod me down.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:31AM (#28865319)

      This kind of comment has become the biggest cliche on Slashdot. Some people find FPS to be a very fun genre of video game.

    • by amn108 (1231606) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:12AM (#28865877)
      I believe the blame lies in the, umm how should I best call it, a sort of like "geologically active" field of science - I mean everybody is trying to create a perfect 3D renderer and perfect all they have, before they can settle in and start writing good stories. I truly believe this is one of the show-stoppers for developing good games. Look at it - just about every developer starts by actually REINVENTING the wheel here - make their own engine, and THEN build some game on top of it, while the engine actually gets more exposure. This is in our nature - we are divided between being storytellers and fantasts and on the other side being pragmatic scientists and mathematicians. In the old days the resources were so limited and the possibilities so inviting, many people created wonderful stories that captivated the gamers with their imaginary worlds, although executed on a much moderate plane of presentation. Today, it is like peeping through the keyhole into a world of ACTUAL possibilities - the hardware is so powerful, it just tickles all gaming studios to try and top the previous level of enslaving the machine - BEFORE they actually start thinking about storytelling. Think about it - you said it yourself - the hardware some years back, especially the hardware renderers - allowed for quite little innovation - it was all textures and polygons, and not many at that - few could break free of that prison, and even fewer tried, so almost every game looked the same. Of course I am generalizing, it is always possible to be creative using whatever resources at disposition, but let us consider the majority here - and they did not innovate much because everyone just saw those same polygons and that same DirectX. Nobody did voxels anymore for one - because we were past that "era" and the new era was all about hardware pipelines, but those were immature. When we finally be getting freedom that true and mature raytracers will give us, along with good particle simulators and what not - maybe the creative potential will be inspired forth again. Until then, the new platform of creativity today may well be Adobe Flash platform - the 90s repeat themselves all over - not enough power to simulate reality but enough power to captivate gamers with good stories with useful execution.
  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:17AM (#28865137)

    Where is descent 1 / descent 2 they where true 3d and you could fly upside down, side to side have rooms on top rooms and more.

  • by Wooky_linuxer (685371) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:38AM (#28865421)
    IIRC, Descent was one of the first real 3D games - although not an FPS. I didn't see it in the article, does anyone knows which engine it used?
    • Re:Where's Descent? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Hatta (162192) * on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:21AM (#28866011) Journal

      Descent was a First Person Shooter. The perspective was first person, and you shot things.

  • unique renderers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bobtree (105901) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:39AM (#28865441)

    The one thing I missed most from all the old software rendered games is how distinctive their visuals are. When everything shifted to hardware the look of 3d games became very uniform, only to slowly differentiate with improving art and tech as time went on. The new programmable hardware again allows more freedom in rendering approaches, and now the top end engines are effectively all specialized shader pipelines. After 5-10 years of very homogenous looking games it's a most welcome change.

  • by hotfireball (948064) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:14AM (#28865911)
    The article does not says about Cube and Cube-2 engines: an open source engine, on which Sauerbraten is based: [] Engine itself is really great and extremely simple. Check it out and go play some games.
  • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:32AM (#28866171)

    All the games people are mentioning which haven't been described in the article are reminding me of a couple of others.

    There's Flight Simulator, for one. I had the very first version back on the PCjr. Sierra Online even published a 3D helicopter simulator at some point.

    I'd say racing games are an important subset of 3D gaming which have been completely overlooked. There are a good number of driving games which have been completely overlooked. Stunts, Stunt Driver, Test Drive 3, the Need for Speed series. I'm sure there are others, but I'd say these were the more popular. There was that game Viper Racing game which featured vehicle damage, one of the first I recall doing so. If I remember correctly the developers originally had the intention offering a wide variety of cars, but because of limitations on time or budget the game ended up featuring only the Dodge Viper. Some people have actually kept the game alive, improving graphics and adding new cars. I notice the article has a photo of what seems to be WipEout but doesn't mention it at all.

    Then there were a number of games which seem to have been inspired by early notions of virtual reality. There was this one game which involved making this triangular shaped object jump from platform to platform, climbing up these towering structures. If I remember correctly it might have even predated Wolfenstein and the rest, but I can't recall much else about the game.

    I mean, if we're going to talk about the history of 3D PC gaming I would expect the list to be more extensive. This article reads like something a 22 year old wrote, working from what he's read about online and quick Wikipedia consultations. So much for thorough research and editing.

  • by physburn (1095481) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:40AM (#28866259) Homepage Journal
    Since it starts with 1990 games and only PC games at that, it misses out on some very early games, and its entirely 1st person centered, not a must read, but covers a lot of nostalgia for me. Plenty of games I never played. Just have to list my fav games. Unreal was just so amazingly beutiful compared with any i'd played before. Return to Castle Wolfstein wasn't even listed but was a great game. Then Half Life of course.


    3D Shooter [] Feed @ Feed Distiller []

If this is a service economy, why is the service so bad?