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First Person Shooters (Games) Graphics Software Entertainment Games

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

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."
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From Doom To Dunia — the History of 3D Engines

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

    • by Misanthrope ( 49269 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:29AM (#28863995)

      To avoid having the reader click through the quite annoying normal article split across a million pages.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Kratisto ( 1080113 )
      It's probably an edgy statement about the longevity of dead tree media.
    • by iVasto ( 829426 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:44AM (#28864811) Homepage
      I for one applaud the editor for using the print link. It saves me from having to click through probably 5-10 pages. I wish all editors would follow suit.
      • But the print dialog box pop-up was annoying! Should posted both links (regular and print).

        • Should grammar use rightly correct. (heh heh)

          I thought it was slightly strange to have to cancel the print dialog, but that was better than having to hunt for the 'print' link (which may or may not exist on various sites).

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

    by sprins ( 717461 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:47AM (#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?

    • Re:Wolfenstein 3D? (Score:5, Informative)

      by revoldub ( 1425465 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:04AM (#28864147)

      Title of Article: Doom to Dunia: A Visual History of 3D Game Engines
      FTA: "Now, we know what you're thinking, and we're well aware that game engines existed prior to Doom's release in 1993; we're even going to cover some. But it was id Software's now legendary first-person shooter that pushed reusable 3D game engines as a viable programming model, and videogame development has never been the same since then."

      Does it need an explanation?

    • by Canazza ( 1428553 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:05AM (#28864153)

      "From Nazi's to Namibia" would work

      although, I'm not sure where Far Cry 2 is set, Namibia certainly looks the part

    • Yeah, I found that a bit odd. Wolfenstein 3D was the game that made EVERYBODY want 3D games It wasn't the first by far (even from id) but it was ridiculously fast, did 256 colours, and easy to play. I tried playing Catacombs 3D, which they released the year before, and it was just no fun. I've never tried Hovertank 3D.

      Wolfenstein's engine also got used in a lot of places and extended in sometimes-interesting ways. ROTT was a good example.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by itsdapead ( 734413 )

      Was Wolfenstein based on a reusable 3D engine - which is the theme of TFA - though?

    • Wolfenstein 3D wasn't really 3D; there was no relevant vertical axis. It was 2d gameplay with a somewhat 3d view.

      You couldn't tilt the viewpoint, aim higher, and they used sprites for stuff placed in the rooms.

      • Re:Wolfenstein 3D? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Chaos Incarnate ( 772793 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:57AM (#28864429) Homepage
        Then by that logic, neither was Doom.
        • You obviously didn't play doom to its fullest. There were many verticle points in Doom, and you COULD look up or down.

          Now, I specifically can't REMEMBER any staircases in Wolfienstien. But I'm not going to say they don't exist. But the Parent is right in saying that Doom was more 3D then Wolfienstein.

          • There are vertical points in Doom, but they're faked. You can't actually look up/down (in the original; some source ports added this feature). The game engine ignores the fake z axis when determining collision (so to hit the imps towards the end of E1M1, you're actually aiming at the wall below them, but they're magically hit anyways).

            Doom may have looked more 3D than Wolfenstein, but the gameplay was pure 2D still.

    • Re:Wolfenstein 3D? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lproven ( 6030 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:50AM (#28864381) Homepage Journal

      Not only Wolfenstein - which arguably was the origin of the engine of Doom - but other significant milestones are missing.

      Firstly, Jez San's "Starglider", marketed by Rainbird. Possibly the first 3D game for home computers. ("Battlezone" ran on dedicated vector-graphics hardware.) []

      David Braben's "Lander" and later the full game "Zarch" for Acorn's Archimedes were AFAIK the first /solid/ rendered 3D graphics on home computers: []

      Of course, Braben's Elite was the first computer game to use any 3D at all - Starglider was /all/ in 3D. []

      These seem to me to be worthy of a mention, at least an opening paragraph. So, probably, is Maze War (1973!) - just limited box-drawing, but a display of 3D and a widely-used technique. []

      It doubtless inspired 3D Monster Maze from 1981 on the ZX81, a machine which didn't even have graphics as such: []

      3D Ant Attack from 1983, which also provided the engine for Zombie Zombie. []

      • Enough said in the subject.

        I wonder what engines were used in Operation Flashpoint and Armed Assault games. They seem to be missing from the list.

      • The Freescape engine from 1987 was the first time I came across the explicit concept of a 3D game engine: []
        They even advertised it on the packaging!

      • I remember playing Stellar 7 [] before Starglider (doesn't mean that's the order they were released, of course).

        Marathon [] by Bungie Software is another one that is often forgotten -- probably because it was only available for Apple Macintosh initially (1994). Frankly, it blew Doom out of the water with better storyline, graphics, and 8 person multi-player deathmatch -- appletalk network, no tcp/ip support.

        Not sure if Marathon would qualify as a 'game engine' for this list, though the game engine for Marat
        • by Arakun ( 1444095 )
          There were three other games that used the Marathon 2 engine: Damage Incorporated, Prime Target and ZPC.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tangent3 ( 449222 )

      Ultima Underworld was released a couple of months earlier than Wolfenstein 3D, and was technically superior to Wolfenstein's engine (in some ways surpassing Doom's engine too). The frame rate isn't too impressive though...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by eulernet ( 1132389 )

      As it's mentioned in another reply, Wolfenstein is not in 3D, but in pseudo 3D []

      The real 3D games ancestors are:

      - Elite (1984, first 3D) []
      - Rescue on Fractalus (1984, first voxel) []

    • Even Wolf3D wasn't the very first - id published a game under Softdisk called [] >Catacomb 3-D with EGA graphics and Adlib sound in 1991. That was probably the first textbook example of a first-person shooter as it's currently understood. That said, yes, it's stupid and criminal that Wolfenstein's engine didn't make the cut.
    • The first 3d game was Maze War [], AFAIK, way back in 1974. Even allowing for the site name, MaximumPC has a strange interest in ignoring history before the PC.

  • by El_Muerte_TDS ( 592157 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:09AM (#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.

    • 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

      • 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'

    • 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 @07:10AM (#28864175)
    It's a shame the article doesn't mention Descent. It featured epic 6 degrees of freedom. Enjoyed that game very much *sigh*
  • 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

      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:

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        hunter was truly awesome. I mentioned corporation as it was the 1st 3D game i played (excluding Dungeon Master / Bloodwych which are not really 3D)
  • Quake 1-3 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:23AM (#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 Zebedeu ( 739988 )

      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.

  • Surely this article should have started with Freescape. []
  • not 3d shooters... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:54AM (#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.

    • 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 )
        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?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        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 )
      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 drsmithy ( 35869 )

      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 @08:11AM (#28864507)
    What about Stunts?

    I played this game for years.

    I know, I'm old. :(
    • Ahh... what a great game stunts was...
    • What about Stunts?

      Not on the list because it was 4D, rather than 3D.

    • by Reapy ( 688651 )

      Holy crap, best game ever. I think I spent more time in the track edit mode then actually driving the insane creations I put together. Great game.

    • by Hodapp ( 1175021 )

      Stunts is one of my favorite games too. I remember seeing my brother play it first on our 386, and then I finally found it something like a decade later from an abandonware site. The track editor makes for a lot of replay value. Sure, it's still grid-based and sometimes it's picky, but it is still remarkably versatile.

      For being able to run on something that slow, the engine was quite respectable - it was true 3D, wasn't it? Even if everything was very low polygon count...

      The physics in Stunts also has some

  • The Dark Engine (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sapphire wyvern ( 1153271 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:20AM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jaysyn ( 203771 )

      I'm not sure what you mean. Deus Ex always used the Unreal Engine.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The PC Deus Ex used the Unreal engine and had large maps. To port it to consoles they had to chop up several of the maps by (for example) adding walls across levels. Some said this felt contrived and ruined the level design. The PC Deus Ex was known for large, well designed levels that felt like real places rather than "levels". How many FPS feature buildings where there is only one route from one end of the building to the other - as if that would get past a fire inspection! Deus Ex may have featured unusu

  • Midwinter for Amiga (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:49AM (#28864851) 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: []

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

  • 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 )

      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.

    • 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

    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

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by amn108 ( 1231606 )
      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 actua
  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:17AM (#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.

  • 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 @10:21AM (#28866011) Journal

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

      • I guess you are technically right, but most people would classify Descent and titles like X-Wing or TIE Fighter in another game category.
  • unique renderers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bobtree ( 105901 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:39AM (#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.

  • 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.
  • 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'

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I notice the article has a photo of what seems to be WipEout but doesn't mention it at all.

      Actually its a screenshot from one of the 3DMark benchmarks that looked a lot like wipeout.

  • 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.


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