How Half-Life Killed The First-Person Shooter

There is a peculiar irony to the impression people have of gaming. When “videogames” are lazily portrayed in the wider world, they inevitably show a soldier being shot through a gun scope. Hell, even within the highest enclave walls, people are wont to dismiss the poor taste of others by snarking, “They’d probably like it if it had a gun floating at the bottom of the screen.” The first-person shooter is the most emblematic genre of gaming, and yet it’s now the most under-served, under-developed, and rarest of mainstream releases. There are barely any new non-indie FPS games. And it’s all Half-Life’s fault.

In the early-to-mid 90s, the FPS became a dominant genre on PC. The phenomenal success of Doom and Quake saw waves of similar titles filling shop shelves, the games seen as the most accessible, the most immediately fun, and in turn, the most despised for being so prolific. The relative simplicity of building corridors from pre-established engines meant it was easier for bad as well as good games to get developed, and critical mass always leads to mass criticism. And then in 1998, along came Half-Life.

Half-Life wasn’t the first game to set an FPS in recognisable environments. Duke Nukem 3D likely holds that crown. But when those early screenshots appeared in PC Gamer, and we saw offices, laboratories, places of work, rather than spaceships and brown tunnels, it was revelatory. But we still didn’t know about the set-pieces. The events that would occur around us, magically happening just as we walked into the room. Rather than simply spawning a big monster when we passed through a door, Half-Life started telling us stories when we showed up.

Rather peculiarly, in the six years that passed between then and Half-Life 2, very few other developers had the ambition to try this. While there were many incredible FPS games contemporary to Half-Life – AvP, Thief, Call Of Duty, Jedi Knight, Medal Of Honor, Quake 3… – they all stuck to traditional methods of storytelling, if they had stories at all. Cutscenes, text on screen, barked words in your head, rather than letting the place you were in be the story you were told.

Come Half-Life 2, Valve returned, at last, showing everyone what it was they hadn’t been doing. While HL2 does have cutscenes of a sort, they remain interactive, offering you limited movement as the conversations are playing out. But more often, it is a game that unfolds in sensational set-pieces occurring around you. And it is this that has killed the FPS today.

While Half-Life’s innovations were tiresomely unexplored by so many in its wake, Half-Life 2’s world-conquering attention made it unavoidable. Where HL1 was about the little details, subtlety, HL2 was about enormous events, explosive action happening spectacularly about you. It set a new standard for FPS gaming. A standard that, it turns out, costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make.

The lines, from HL2’s spectacle to the non-interactive set-pieces that dominate the very few shooters that now get made, are fairly straight ones. Call Of Duty’s annual attempt to have a slightly bigger building fall over when you walk into a scene is a direct extrapolation of everything Half-Life 2 began, as publishers, if not also players, demanded extravaganza.

And doing that is awfully expensive. If your game is comprised of the narrowest corridors, then you have to make an awful lot of them to see it last the necessary six hours of the modern shooter (compared to the 15 of the 90s era). With no fields to criss-cross, no large zones to explore, there’s no room for letting the player re-enter the same area again. This inefficiency is stunningly expensive to do. Add to this the cost of developing bespoke scripted sequences at every point, rather than allowing emergent content to be generated by the player’s interaction with your systems, and you’ve got to employ an army of artists, coders and designers, for a very long time. Where the survival genre saw the advantage of creating a large space and letting the player find interesting ways to die, the FPS has become something that requires you to stay alive, facing the right direction, on an inexorable moving walkway.

In 2005, Call Of Duty 2 cost $14.5 million. By 2009, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 cost Activision an extraordinary $200 million. $50m to make the game, and seemingly $150m to market and distribute. The consequence of spectacle is a financial one, and it’s priced almost everyone else out of the market.

Look at the current competition. Far Cry, Titanfall, Borderlands, and Battlefield. With the outlier of Wolfenstein, that’s the roster of 2014/15’s FPS releases. Exceptionally expensive games made by massive teams, with monolithic marketing campaigns. All within the budgets of the companies, and all making a profitable return. Good business no doubt, and in some cases, good games too. Massive budgets and development teams are of course capable of creating great shooters. But when that becomes the expectation of the player, it does rather raise the entry fee beyond the majority of developers.

And that has seen a phenomenal fall in FPS releases. According to Wikipedia’s listing, 1994-95 saw 64 FPS games come out. In 2014-15, so far, it’s been ten. It’ll maybe reach 15 by the end of the year.

And this all began with Valve and Half-Life.

It would be madness to affix any suggestion that Valve had this in mind. They set out to make the best game they could, and in doing so, made the best FPS game ever. If anything, it’s a rather woeful misunderstanding of what made its single-player game so extraordinary that has resulted in the near-termination of the genre. What Half-Life understood was that as impressive as the world around the player might be, their autonomy in that world remained the most important aspect. Yes, it’s a corridor, and indeed, those events will play out so long as the player continues to press W. But in Half-Life, the player chose to press it. If something big happened on the left, the game gave you big hints to look over there, but let you look over there.

As it turns out, Valve were doing something incredibly difficult, but making it look easy. Something it seems so many big publishers missed when beginning this spiral down the money well.

What we see now are shooters that have spent so much money making that building fall over that they simply cannot stand the idea that the player might not look at it, and as such control is endlessly wrested away to force viewing. In fact, the player can’t even be trusted with that W key any more, required to follow other characters, dragged against their will in the prescribed direction, distant attractions prohibited by “leaving the mission area” demands.

This combination of expense, and a lack of understanding of why those decades-old games worked so incredibly well, has seen the FPS dwindle away, despite the peculiar belief that it represents all of gaming.

As Half-Life’s ethos sees the bitter results of development-ad-absurdum, the shooter has lost its spirit, its vitality, and most of all, its scrappy, imagination-led development. The FPS is almost dead, and Half-Life is the killer.

So THANKS, Half-Life.


  1. ribby says:

    I find it kind of hard to believe that scripted events are /that/ expensive… Don’t tons of games have those?

    • mrwonko says:

      Don’t forget Hofstadter’s Law:

      It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

      But still, it really depends on how spectacular you make it. Take the scene in Unreal where you first encounter a Skaarj: The lights go out, a door opens, an enemy attacks. Scripted, yes, but fairly simple. Contrast that with a skyscraper collapsing in call of duty and you should notice a difference.

      • ribby says:

        Aye, but it really doesn’t need to be so over the top as that- I thought HL was all about the small scripted events?

        • Premium User Badge

          Arnvidr says:

          That’s the whole point, no? Today’s shooters missing what made HL great, latching on to the spectacle.

          • Baines says:

            Today’s shooters aren’t copying Half Life 2. In the insanely expensive FPS market, Half Life 2 is a non-factor, and has been for quite a while.

            Today’s shooters see Call of Duty and the $1 billion that it makes annually. That does more to convince them of the value of bombast and spectacle than Half Life 2 ever did.

          • Darth Gangrel says:

            And that’s the whole point why I think it’s wrong to accuse Half-Life of having killed the FPS genre. If people misunderstood what made Half-Life 1/2 good then then *they* are to blame, not the product they tried to duplicate. Really, this is like accusing a successful product for being so damn successful. This isn’t the first, worst or last time someone will be struck by the “me too!”-delusions of grandeur and try to make something as popular as Half-Life or WoW or CoD or Minecraft by misinterpreting its qualities. So yes, go ahead and blame the “geniuses” because other people were too stupid to see what made it brilliant. It’s the other people’s fault, not Valve’s, that we’re in today’s situation.

            It’s also funny to see this article being made after the rise of the old-school FPS games, with Serious Sam 3, Shadow Warrior and Wolfenstein. I don’t feel like there’s any shortage of great FPS games that aren’t CoD-ified, but then I’m way behind with my backlogged games.

    • Brackhar says:

      Yeah, scripted events with talking characters are incredibly expensive. Things to consider when doing this that you don’t need to worry about in an open gameplay level:

      1) A multi-line script with dialog exchanges that needs to flow well and work in context
      2) Voice recordings of said lines, producing assets that rarely if ever can be used again outside of that context within the same game.
      3) Unique animations that are timed well with the lines being spoken and the action in the scene
      3A) In more complex cases, this involves extended motion capture sessions which are very expensive by the hour
      4) A facial rig for the character that’s detailed enough to express emotion and lip-sync the phenomes of the lines
      4A) These animations frequently must be hand-keyed by animators in sync with the performance or be captured via expensive facial capture mocap
      5) All of the above needs to be re-done to some level when the game is localized to a new language
      6) Complex level scripting to give the player something interesting to watch
      6A) The more complex scenes may require entirely unique tech. For Portal 2 there was an technical animator who worked on the opening sequence of the game for over a year just by itself.
      6B) These scenes can also cost huge amounts in terms of assets when a tech solution can’t be used, which in turn can cause knock-on effects when you are trying to optimize the game for ship (especially on consoles). Remember that sequence in Old Apeture in Portal 2 where you enter the testing area for the first time and the flood lights come on? Since Portal 2’s engine didn’t support dynamic world lighting, that entire room was made twice, once with the textures having the lights turned on and another with the lights turned off – the player is teleported between them via smoke and mirrors.
      7) The complexities of these scenes typically produce far more bugs. Worse, unlike fixing a bug with a monster AI that might improve issues in a bunch of different levels, these bugs are likely one-off issues that only affect that particular scene, and because the player is limited in their focus for the time the scene is going on they’re frequently much more obvious as well.

      There are a bunch more considerations, but those are just examples.

      • alms says:

        Brackhar, very interesting, but IMO the problem is still that $150 mln were spent on advertisement and stuff VS $50 mln on making the game. Things are only expensive relatively, if non-Valves are throwing bags full of money on advertising to MAKE YOU THINK GAME IS GOOD rather than MAKING THE GAME GOOD, that is the problem.

        It’s not that those companies don’t have the monnies, it’s that they’re spending it on risk minimizing to feel less anxious rather investing in the product. Ofc that level of funding it’s outside the reach of many companies, but that’s another matter.

        • SanguineAngel says:

          I concur with that! and some

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Quite, it’s all about the business. Marketing sells games, they don’t care if the game is crap, as long as they get their return. I bet investors don’t care that Evolve is a short lived piece of shit game as long as they get their return. Developers are being forced by publishers to make games following their business model and appease investors. For FPS games that means “Look at CoD, now copy it”.

          Anything new is a risk that may not sell at all and needs to be incredibly good to build up a reputation. Modern military shooter with pretty graphics and big explosions, their marketing departments can sell that because it looks like CoD. Old school FPS games have the problem of being more complex, lowest common denominator FPS like CoD (Point and shoot at things then get distracted by flashy set pieces) has a much wider demographic and this helps the money men make up their minds too.

  2. Rich says:

    Thanks Half-life. Thalf-life.

    • Sardonic says:

      But when is Half Life 3 Coming out?

      We just don’t know.

      • trashmyego says:

        I’d put my money on whenever VR headsets become ubiquitous enough to be a practical medium. Which could be within a year or two. I just have the feeling they’re waiting to use it and define the next ‘big step’ when it comes to computer gaming.

        • Dux Ducis Hodiernus says:

          cue lightbulb moment for me. That’s probably exactly is and what also valve figured they needed to do to be able to live up to the super high expectations HL3 will most likely have.

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            FPS also needs a fundamental redesign to work well on VR, it would be a good time to pull out HL3, especially considering they have their own VR headsets to try and sell.

    • bglamb says:

      I understood that reference!

  3. Premium User Badge

    MrPin says:

    Taking away camera control to make sure you don’t miss that building falling over is bad enough, but the opposire ist even worse: For years now I’ve felt bad about running/driving/flying at full speed through beautiful, elaborate levels – sure that I was missing hundreds of exquisite details that some artist had spent hours placing just right. “Hurry up, the ship is going to sink in 30 seconds, no time for admiring the way the fire reflects on the waves around you! Don’t stand around staring! There… you failed the mission, you slug.” What a waste.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      I liked the Gears of War/Mass Effect 3/Bulletstorm way of making sure the player sees the set-pieces. Show an icon, and the player can – IF THEY WANT – surrender camera control to see it.

      • dethtoll says:

        Bioshock Infinite and The Evil Within (not an FPS, I know, but still) both did that. It was nice.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        Just finished Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (a third person shooter I know but similar idea). This has a similar mechanic, it lets you know something is happening, if you hold down the key at that point the camera pans and zooms to show you it, nice system in my opinion.

    • Corb says:

      Well, that isn’t the player’s fault that the designers designed a time limit or applied psychological pressure to the player to get moving.

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      What I liked about the beach levels of Half Life² was the sense that you could speed past it, and almost would. But something drew you in, you wanted to see those broken, lost houses with their small stories. And choosing to do that made such a different. Having the choice to skip part of a story makes reading it worth more.

  4. tangoliber says:

    Personally, I always felt that Duke Nukem 3D “killed the single player FPS” (fancy description for “lead to the modern single player FPS”.)
    Doom and Heretic was about a core gameplay loop, presented to you in different configurations. You had you enter the Pac-Man arcade zone of mind, moving/dodging/shooting/staying alive. Encounters tested your spatial IQ.
    The appeal of Duke Nukem 3D wasn’t some ultra-satisfying core gameplay loop. It was about where you could go and what you could do. It gave you experiences you could tell a friend about. It inspired you to tell your friends what crazy stuff the game let you do.
    As a kid, Duke Nukem 3D impressed me. Not so much anymore..I prefer Doom now.

    • Archonsod says:

      Indeed, I’d probably put the blame at the door of Quake or Unreal Tournament. If anything it was the multiplayer arena shooters that killed the single player FPS.

      • John Walker says:

        Isn’t that a bit of a stretch when Half-Life, Jedi Knight and Call Of Duty all came after them?

        • Alfius says:

          Jedi Knight was ’97 IIRC,
          UTC, ’99
          CoD: ’02
          Half Life: ’99

          Correct me if I’m wrong.

          Jedi Knight was the FPS that got me in to the genre. I was a 10 year old, apparently without sufficient motor skills to progress particularly far, but it caught my imagination sure enough. (I did eventually complete it many years later)

          All of the games mentioned above were hugely influential on my gaming ‘career’. But they don’t necessarily all belong to the same era. Comparing CoD to JK, for instance, is like comparing an Xbox to a Super Nintendo, they were miles apart in terms of complexity and graphical fidelity. But what do you expect, they were published five years apart in an era which saw some of the most rapid advances in game development to date. Consider, by way of contrast, the advances made between, say, Crysis (’07) and Farcry 3 (’12). Or for that matter, think back to the original FEAR (’05) – that looked almost as pretty as top-end FPS games do today, albeit in very dark, gloomy environments.

        • blastaz says:

          No I’d agree, multiplayer ubiquity killed the single player star.
          Half life’s contribution would be counter strike and making a modern team based shooter the preferred format.

          After all we have several huge, expensive, commercially successful, massively popular fps coming out every year, in what way is the genre dead? – that most of the most popular ones have pretty stale single player campaigns. Why? Because they are primarily designed as multiplayer games and the single player side doesn’t really get any attention.

          The two counter points against completely stale single player would be farcry, which surely must tick all your emergent gameplay buttons, and hardline, which, while I haven’t played, sounds like they tried to shake things up a bit.

          I would point to quake3 and unreal tournament as marking the shift towards not caring about single player, as to the spectacle on rails i would lay this at the door of medal of honour allied assault, with those massive cinematic levels, rather than the small environmental story telling of half life.

          As for the title I disagree that fps are dying off, there still super popular, more so than ever before since they made the jump to consoles. Really the title should be “why I’m so over half life”…

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            Far Cry to me would be another example of how the genre has been dumbed down though. Instead of cleverly designed maps that the player has to figure out they just build one massive map, fill it with enemies and dump players in there. I find open world games fairly boring at this point though so maybe I’m not the right person to ask on the subject, I don’t find it “clever, emergent gaming” at all. Just running into the same enemies randomly over and over again while I criss cross from blip to blip over a map where the pretty scenery is the best feature.

    • ansionnach says:

      Duke3d certainly seemed to kill itself. It seemed that every time something new and amazing arrived 3D Realms wanted to somehow top it, upgrading the engine for Duke Forever. Now maybe this isn’t exactly what happened but it must be partly true. I wonder if it’s what’s happening with HL3? The first two games have almost become part of folklore so following them up without disappointing everyone’s high expectations would be impossible?

      Can’t comment too much on Half-Life as I’ve never completed the first one and never even played the second one. Maybe I didn’t give it enough of a chance but I found the early levels dull and limiting. I didn’t look where I was supposed to, got restless and played Counterstrike instead.

      In reality, I think it’s unfair to say that a game killed gaming by being too good. Others that come to mind are the two Ultima VII games, Ultima Underworld and Planescape Torment. In those cases I don’t think the dream died because it was prohibitively more expensive – it was more due to a lack of ambition. Since then I’ve sat and watched from the dark recesses of Space. Been disappointed by the unfulfilled ambition of Deus Ex. Been entertained by many RPGs but disappointed by their shallow staticness. Baldur’s Gate was of a different bloodline but I have to say it was disappointingly lifeless with its many JRPG-style arse-scratchers who’d nothing interesting to say for themselves other than that same old line about how their arse hurts from all the scratching.

      Game genres can be at their most fun when they don’t even know what they are and they’re trying everything. Death is often by saturation and fatigue. Hopefully they’ll be back at some stage… but expense is a huge concern. It makes sense to cut corners financially to deliver what’s important. Adventures and RPGs should not bother with voice-overs at all if the alternative is sparse dialogue. Not sure what it means for big-budget games that want to ape Hollywood blockbusters… perhaps very few of them can be made. Just like now?

      • welverin says:

        I suspect to truly create a AAA Ultima 7 or Ultima Underworld now would be prohibitively expensive. Think of all the details in those games, and I mean the things you could do and behaviors and actions of the NPCs, and all of that was just background dressing that wasn’t a core aspect of the game. It was just to build a better and more believable world.

        • ansionnach says:

          That’s why anyone making such a game should accept from the start that even if they had the money, a game with as detailed a world as Ultima VII may not break even with voice acting, top-notch graphics and musical score. One guy doing the music in MIDI or MOD format and 2d isometric graphics of 1998 standard should suffice. The most important bit is to get the right writers and designers.

          • HidingCat says:

            Exactly. The Shadowrun Returns games have no voice acting (which is relatively expensive), don’t have fancy graphics, and definitely no extravagant cutscenes. What they do have are compelling stories and well-designed worlds.

      • Baines says:

        George Broussard killed Duke Nukem. People have talked about how during Forever’s development, Broussard kept adding and changing features every time he saw what some new FPS had done.

        • ansionnach says:

          So we’re in agreement, then, seeing as the result was the game was never going to be released unless it was better than everything else and was as revolutionary as the original game.

    • TheTingler says:

      I blame that f***ing Wolfenstein 3D. What a tosser.

  5. Xocrates says:

    Honestly, this is very much not something I would blame Half-Life for.

    There has been a clear arms-race on game development since at least the 90’s. Half Life and its sequel might have shifted what was expected from FPS, but I do not agree it’s the reason for the escalating costs, especially since even today relatively few games eschew cutscenes in favour of something more along the lines of half-life.

    This feels kind of like saying Tomb Raider killed the platformer. Or Starcraft killed the RTS. As opposed to saying they were important turning points within the genre.

    • Kollega says:

      This is just my opinion, but in my eyes, Starcraft did kill the RTS in a fashion. I can’t stand the Starcraft model of “long production, fragile units, insane micro”, and when it is done badly… let’s just say Red Alert 3 would go over much better with me if a single Conscript didn’t take four seconds to recruit (as compared to RA2’s utterly chaotic, gloriously mindless, one-conscript-a-second human wave attacks).

      But hey, people still play the original SupCom, and Act of Aggression looks promising so far… so there are still some RTS games worth playing for me.

    • John Walker says:

      I’d argue this doesn’t really work, since there is no shortage of RTS or third-person action-adventure games today. Perhaps you may not like the direction some of them have taken as a result of earlier ones, but it’s hard to make a case for saying either genre has seen a drop in quantity. Heck, the RTS is bigger than ever.

      • Xocrates says:

        RTS bigger than ever? AAA RTS? I hardly ever hear of RTS nowadays, and even the ones that come out are rarely massive hits.

        Am I missing something? (Which I may very well be)

      • SuddenSight says:

        I don’t really agree with the RTS comment. Once again using Wikipedia’s lists as a metric, they recorded a whopping 2 RTS games for 2014-2015. Compare this with the peak in the heady days of 2004, when there were 27 new RTSs. Off the top of my head I can only think of around 3 or so RTS games are coming out soon (Armada, Human Resources, and Offworld Trading Company). That’s a similar ratio to the FPS 94-versus-today comparison.

        Certainly, RTSs seem to be making a comeback, but the statistics don’t show it yet. It just feels like there is more interest in experimentation with the RTS formula, while the FPS formula has remained rather stagnant for the last number of years.

        • ribby says:

          Don’t forget Total War Warhammer

        • Napalm Sushi says:

          Sorry to break this, but Human Resources was canned before its Kickstarter drive even finished.

      • Flatley says:

        The MOBA is bigger than ever. The RTS is not.

      • KDR_11k says:

        Do you perhaps mean point-and-clicks instead of RTSes? Because I can’t come up with any substantial number of recent RTSes no matter how many indie attempts I include. But if you have a good list perhaps show it to us so we can see what we’ve been missing out on?

      • SwiftRanger says:

        “Heck, the RTS is bigger than ever.”

        What are you smoking, John? I’ll have some of it too because I would really want to believe that statement but it’s simply not true. RTS is dead and it certainly is smaller than ever in every sense.

        Sure, there are a lot of little experimental games around nowadays but they barely scratch that real RTS itch. It’s nice that Offworld is so different but that’s not an RTS revival. Ashes of the Singularity? It’s not gonna be SupCom 3 and you know it if you read between the lines of Stardock’s marketing talk. The big franchises or promising next-gen titles of yore are all dead now (C&C, AoE, SupCom, WiC, etc.). Only StarCraft II is alive with its addons but then we’re talking about a game which strictly emulates a 1997 RTS feeling in terms of game mechanics, it’s a baffling disgrace in that regard. CoH(2)? We all want it to be Dawn of War III, yet that doesn’t come. Total War? Pathetic stuff after Rome 2 (and Empire, and Medieval 2, etc.), you can better call it an unfinished DLC factory. The only reasons that franchise is still floating around are the turnbased part, the fact TCA are British and that the name Total War once meant something.

        No, the RTS genre is further behind the times than ever before. Many promising concepts have been put to death by a press that never truly wanted to explore the genre properly in the past. Games like War Wind, KKnD, Dark Reign, Warzone 2100, Original War, Battle Realms all tried to be different but have never been valued like that unfortunately. Big publishers don’t care about it, indies don’t care about it either and sadly the audience is more interested in MOBA’s than anything else. Even this site follows the trend of doing frequent MOBA-articles. If you call RTS bigger than ever then where the hell are our weekly RTS articles? I noticed that excellent Warlords Battlecry study from several weeks back, but that’s not a recent RTS game, now is it?

        We should all be ashamed for not screaming louder at developers all over the world for not giving RTS fans what they want.

        • Vayra says:

          I would much rather say Console killed the arena style FPS.

          Half Life had nothing to do with this. It was the consoles who killed it. Why? Because the console killed twitch shooting completely. Analog controls/sticks destroyed fast response. Fast response only existed in terms of pressing a button, but not in terms of movement of player or looking around. Instead, those two aspects were horrifyingly slow. Hell some games even invented a button to turn 180 degrees, even Dying Light has one to this day. Beyond cutscenes, the only thing that remains is scripted events to further the story. And those are your falling skyscrapers right there.

          Only ONE shooter really did something nice with this change of pace: Killzone. A slower, more coverbased shooter with scripted events but also a relative amount of tactics and choice built into it. Killzone introduced multiple paths to reach an objective instead of pure linearity (generally offering a stealthy and a non-stealthy approach through most of the content) and the whole pace of the game felt right with using a controller. Even multiplayer worked well, and unsurprisingly, arena style shooters’ multiplayer on console did not work AT ALL. Anyone remember Unreal Tournament on console? Or UT3? It was horrible.

      • Frank says:

        I see you share my definition of RTS as a click-fest, hence covering MOBAs and tower defense.

        • P.Funk says:

          My experience is that most MOBA enthusiasts get about as upset when you call them glorified RTS games as when you try to tell an Ultimate player that they use a Frisbee.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        There has been virtually no RTS in the recent past, not sure where you are getting that from when you are on one hand talking about the lack of FPS then saying there are lots of RTS. There are magnitudes more FPS games made than RTS in the last 10 years. The number isn’t even close.

        However I don’t think it’s Starcraft 2’s fault. Mainly blame the rise to prominence of consoles and more importantly multi-platform games which has meant that companies stopped making RTS because they just don’t work on consoles.
        Second reason I think has been the desire for strategy games to get bigger and bigger which has lead to a shift over to grand strategy with things like Civ and Total War becoming wildly popular and causing lots of development of similar types of games.

      • Vayra says:

        What RTS is making it bigger than ever then? The ‘classic’ RTS is pretty much gone and Starcraft really does NOT fill the urge I have for occasionally massing Mammoth Tanks to run over that big enemy base.

        Seriously, I am puzzled. There is still *strategy* and lots of it, but a lot of RTS superstardom has been taken up by pretty great 4X titles. If anything, I’d say 4X is better than ever before and it is occasionally taking up elements of the RTS within its concept.

    • rcguitarist says:

      I completely agree. A positive turning point, yes, a massive one at the time. But killing the genre because hardly any games can match half-life, not so much. As someone who didn’t have the financial means to be a pc gamer back in the half-life and half-life 2 days, but now is a pc gamer and this year played those two games for the first time, I can absolutely say that I have played MANY first person shooters that have not only done everything the half life series did, but improved upon it to make an even better gaming experience.

      So have there been plenty of games better than the half-life games , absolutely, and there will continue to be.
      Have those games taken lessons learned about what works and what doesn’t from half life 1 and 2, probably. The industry learned a whole lot from those 2 games.

    • ffordesoon says:

      I would argue that any epochal and game-changing work which grabs the zeitgeist by the collar and shakes it is destined to, in one way or another, ultimately become a burden to its medium which must be sloughed off for continued evolution to happen. Other creators often take all the wrong lessons from the milestones in the history of a form.

      The example I always go back to is Watchmen and its effect on comics. You had this insanely intricate and beautiful dissertation on the history and limitations of a comic-book genre that does a hundred things nobody had ever thought of before and used preexisting tricks better than anyone had done it up to that point, and what did creators and executives and even readers seemingly take away from it for the next decade or two? “People want more dark/realistic/gritty superheroes.” The darkness was not why Watchmen was important or successful or good, of course, but that’s what mercenary imitators do: scrape the surface-level aesthetic choices off the top of a resonant work and glue them awkwardly to something threadbare and lifeless and cynical. They’re not interested in what’s good. They’re interested in what sells.

      For every one person with influence who sees the forest, ten will see the trees. And then immediately force creative types to make “better” (read: prettier, for certain shallow values of pretty) trees.

      • joa says:

        I think this is just an avoidable consequence of big budget creative work. If you’re going to be dropping tens of millions to get something made, ‘what’s good’ is going to have to take a back-seat to ‘what sells’. And I think also that humans are quite easy to entertain — all you need is a girl and a gun, after all — so there’s not a huge amount of incentive to ‘evolve’ things. Especially since evolution could easily spell financial disaster. Even many things that later become undisputed greats got a lukewarm reception, both commercial and critical, on their initial release.

        • ffordesoon says:

          Well, yes. It’s less a fixable problem than an inherent flaw in any hit-driven business model. Competition has its downsides, and this is one of them.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Also it’s important to remember that not everything can reinvent the wheel. For the medium to survive the industry must keep working in order to keep consumers interested and workers employed. Scrapping every project because it wasn’t some groundbreaking, amazing new thing is not financially viable and if only handfuls of games were coming out a year people, although they like to complain about the state of the industry, would get bored and probably would stop gaming.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      “Honestly, this is very much not something I would blame Half-Life for.”

      Not really blame though is it? It’s setting a par that money men, as opposed to engineers who love what they do, can’t seem to hit.

  6. NEligahn says:

    I disagree somewhat with the thesis of the article. While Half-Life 2 DID create a very tall bar for other developers to match, I think history’s shown that the culprit of FPS progress-halting is more than likely the twins Call of Duty 4:Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and not for the usual “LOLCALLOFDUTY” reasons.

    Both MW and MW2 had pretty darn solid and comprehensive campaigns (though the endings to both were infuriatingly insulting). And even as you mentioned there were many other FPSes in the years between HL1 and HL2. But the MW-twins also had something else: multi-player.

    Sure HL2 had multi-player, but it didn’t rock the mainstream like MW1/2 did, mostly 2. People lined up to buy the game not for the campaign, despite the shock-value “No Russian” level, but for the multiplayer.

    This demonstrated something to the FPS-developers. Like how games such as Unreal Tournament and Quake showed it was silly to ship games /without/ multiplayer, MW1/2 showed you could ship games that were ENTIRELY multiplayer.

    This lead, in part, to the shoehorning of the Singleplayer campaign-side of the FPS to the extreme farthest back burner. It was all secondary to the multiplayer. But this is also where your thesis does come true, in part.

    Half-Life 2 did demonstrate that set-pieces and scripted events brought people in, but these had been increasingly a thing since HL1. In fact the original Call of Duty is FULL of the very same scripted, set-piece to set-piece gameplay that we lament in modern shooters today.

    So in conclusion, I don’t think it was so much “this game is scripted and that’s what people want” as it was “we can push out multi-player focused games and get away with a theme park single player because it’s cheaper to do”. So it’s more a combination of factors backed by publishers wanting to make more money with less time investment.

    Just my thoughts.

    • Marclev says:

      Err … Unreal Tournament was entirely multiplayer, that was the point! As was Quake 3 (single player comprised a training mode against bots in both of those). People figured out a long time before COD that they could save money on the single player campaign by making money on the multiplayer.

      • NEligahn says:

        Right, but neither of those hit the mainstream with as much of a concentrated storm as the MW-twins did. Yes, they were popular, but they didn’t amount into the millions of millions of sales that MW1/2 did. But you can count on one hand the amount of “multi-player only” FPSes that were released before the MW-twins. I’ll save you time:
        Unreal Tournament, Quake 3, Counter-Strike, Battlefield 1942, Planetside. There might’ve been smaller ones but we’re focusing on the big guns (ha, pun).

        While all of these had a great deal of success, specifically Counter-Strike and Battlefield, as I said, none of them REALLY hammered the multiplayer to the mainstream like the MW-twins did, largely MW2.

        • BooleanBob says:

          Nerf Arena.

          Sorry, I just wanted to be that guy.

          I also remember playing a demo off a disc from the late-90s early-00s PC Gamer heyday that was basically a fantasy Unreal Tournament. There were a bunch of different classes, melee and archers and magic-users, you had different maps with special objectives. One of them had you fighting over a magic sword on a pedestal. Hmmmm.

    • Baines says:

      Modern Warfare did *not* show that you could ship an FPS that was only multiplayer. Activision was smart enough to keep single player Call of Duty.

      Launching without single player was shooting yourself in the foot before you even started. Activision continued to spend money on expensive campaigns and added other content that could be played both solo and with others online. Multiplayer might have been the focus, and the real breadwinner, but you don’t abandon single player if you dream to sell big (or dream to even establish a new IP.) You could look at other games and see why it mattered. How many games phoned in single player modes, and never established the critical mass for a healthy online audience?

  7. Reapy says:

    Seems simplistic to blame half life. The increasing budget and decreasing title count is prevent amongst all AAA general. Indie scene is also growing to cover the mid budget games but that also has a rising standard.

    So if indies are the solution the problem is that as an indie sticking your head in any of the AAA covered spaces is going to be really hard, suddenly your 2 man team is competing with million dollar production budgets, so you have to be different.

    Well now that I think on it there are a lot of fps view indie games out there doing just that, the survival genera is doing well, the adventure one also.

    I think the main problem is really just a lack of intense simulation in the AAA space. Content is time and money, additional gameplay and interactivity is undefined and thus much more risk.

  8. MrBehemoth says:

    So, what you’re saying is not that HL2 killed the FPS, but that it set a very good example and others failed to live up to it… that’s kind of the opposite. I’d go further and say that both the original HL and HL2’s raised the bar for environmental narrative and immersion in other genres too. The fact that the big budget FPS machine has not evolved as much as the rest of the industry cannot be pinned on this franchise alone, if at all.

    • MrBehemoth says:

      Also, ppppplease bring back the edit button!

    • John Walker says:

      The point here is, though, that without HL’s steering FPS toward the spectacle, it could have evolved in a very different direction, with emphasis on player action, rather than decorative action.

      And sorry about the edit button – we’d like to, but we’ve yet to find a way that doesn’t obliterate our already enormously expensive servers.

      • dragonfliet says:

        This is a pretty silly point, though. Spectacle was already a HUGE thing. Call of Duty was all about spectacle and came out a year before HL2 (and built upon the success of the team’s Medal of Honor games), and it got bigger, more explodier sequel because it did so well, and THAT got a bigger, more explodier sequel because THAT did so well, etc.

        So what we have is not, in any way, shape or form that Half Life steered it towards that, but rather, a different, divergent path was going on, among a number of game developers, in which they were finding out more successful ways of emulating massive blockbuster films to maximize profits.

        • Duoae says:

          Yeah, I have to agree with this point. I was just coming in to write that myself. Call of Duty already had the scripted spectacle down to a ‘T’ (in its day)… and CoD franchise has just evolved from there. All of HL2’s innovations were and have been mostly ignored by the industry in favour of copying CoD.

          Also, as dragonfliet says, this was all built off of MoH’s back… which really means that all of the woes of modern FPS exceptionalistic expense extravagansas are due to Spielberg’s WW2 epic… and Medal of Honor. Either way, Half Life and Half Life 2 had very little to do with it – much as I love them.

          • mattevansc3 says:

            And Medal of Honour was scripted by Steven Spielberg straight after he had successes with Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. Spielberg killed the FPS!

          • mattevansc3 says:

            Oops, in a two paragraph post I managed to not read your second paragraph.

        • John Walker says:

          Sorry, I should have said HL2 there. And I need to go away and cohere my points regarding COD1 and MOH. And ideally replay them.

  9. Cochise779 says:

    Another reason here why the market might be shrinking is the cost of getting mechanics right. Take something as seemingly simple as a headshot and realize that no shooter would be accepted today without headshots that worked as expected – a lot of the time this might even include a little “forgiveness” space for what players perceive as a headshot even if very literally it’s not.

    I’m certain Half-Life has a part in it. But the demand of quality for the shooty-bits being so high also contribute to the increasing costs and shrinking product volume.

  10. Kollega says:

    What sucks about the sheer expensiveness of the modern FPS to me is that it discourages experiments with the form. There aren’t many FPS games in general, so there aren’t many FPS games that play with your preconceived notions about the characters (for example, by making you or your enemies not who you think you/they are), or give you a chance to visit interesting places, meet interesting people, and kill them (for example, by reconstructing the classic “space marine” power fantasy by making the environments and characters actually interesting instead of just ripping off Aliens for the umpteenth time), or spin a relatable story full of incidential detail and complex three-dimensional characters (for example, by making a magical realist FPS where each of your squadmates has an entire world’s worth of quirks and personality traits, Amelie-style). And all of these suggestions are sadly not something that the indies can pull off with ease either.

    • Archonsod says:

      I think the form might be the limitation to be honest. There’s been grand single player FPS games since HL2, though the ones which have been more successful have generally offered more than a simple corridor shooter or indeed environmental narrative / cutscenes (and those which did stick to that formula tanked quite badly). Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the epic length RPGs or something, but I suspect the problem devs face today is that the basic mechanics behind the traditional run and gun simply aren’t capable of entertaining a modern gamer for more than a couple of hours. So you either cram everything into a short campaign and rely on multiplayer for longevity (CoD et al), or you move beyond a corridor style shooter (FarCry, Deus Ex:HR et al).

  11. Cedori says:

    Say, how about we stop jumping around the bush and just flat out say that videogames killed videogames? No? Well, who did then? I’ll tell you.
    You. You, homo sapiens sapiens, are the ones who killed FPS genre. It’s humans who ask trillions of USD for making toppling buildings. It’s humans who apply economics theory to game development and make games for BIG business first and everything else later. It’s humans who make idols of other humans, so “techno soudtrack” becomes “spectacular OST by John Smith”, where John’s name is main point, not genre or suitability of said OST. And it’s humans who prefer willing stagnating, even if it completly obvious it will lead to their demise, figural and literal.
    Valve did their share of other mistakes, they are no angels. BUT. Saying that best FPS of certain time period killed whole genre? It’s straight excuse for all hacks and talentless persons who can’t make anything better or are too lazy to try.
    It is every other developer’s fault that they just go extensive way of evolution. And it’s “consumers” fault that they get profits. You see – no matter how much acid spit you throw at CoD, having it bought in your game library is ONLY point which matters to developers and publishers.

    And yes, this title is dictionary example of click-bait. I’m sorry for insult, but it is, and you know it.

    • John Walker says:

      I don’t think “click-bait” is fair. It’s certainly a title that’s intriguing, as it seems to suggest the opposite of what is usually said of Half-Life, but I think I go to great efforts to argue why the title is accurate in the text.

      You can disagree with the premise, of course! But the title isn’t, “You won’t believe how Half-Life ruined my life.”

      And then, even ignoring all that, WHAT IS WRONG WITH A TITLE THAT CAUSES PEOPLE TO WANT TO CLICK?!?!!


      • Serenegoose says:

        They’re completely unheard of. That’s why books never had names or covers, because enticing people to read them is inherently dishonest. Same for videogames, films, TV shows, etc. The moment people found out that just giving your thing an interesting name or title completely short-circuited free will and compelled further investigation, the whole world agreed to ban it so we could all be safe from its perfidious influence.

      • ffordesoon says:

        Oh, come on, John. It’s not a bad article, or even a bad headline, but you know in your heart of hearts that “How [insert accepted masterpiece generally considered unimpeachable] Killed [insert medium/genre to which said masterpiece belongs]” is one of the classic click-harvesting headlines. And it’s fine to use it occasionally; the Journalism Police aren’t going to revoke your license or anything. But at least own your intent here.

        Also, I feel like all the Half-Life talk buried the lead, which is that first-person shooters are now “the most under-served, under-developed, and rarest of mainstream releases.” That feels like a more interesting and salient point than lobbing a j’accuse at an old videogame. I mean, I kind of agree, because Half-Life 2 is very much of the same lineage as the cinematic FPSes currently in vogue, and scripted events are now an expected part of games which descend from that lineage. But I’d have to agree with a poster above that Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare was the game which really codified (heh) the design tenets of the modern FPS by uniting the story-driven linearity of HL2 with the regenerating health, operatic bombast, and console-centric multiplayer of the Halo series, and then making it all faster and louder.

    • Failmore says:

      This. Both developers and players got too lazy, former are too lazy to make (or invest into) anything ambitious and see it to the end, and latter are too lazy to search for anything good and just take whatever grabs their attention. You could spend all your money on advertising game, or you could spend all your money on actually make the game, but sales of hugely advertised game will almost always be higher, so why even bother, then?

    • iamgenestarwind says:

      hmm i am not sure if the title is click bait yea i clicked it but i click on lots of things i find interesting
      that said i agree with you 100% half life was back in my younger years i didnt play many first person shooters then but half life was one of the few games that really impressed me also the only one to make me scream in surprize when an alien i didnt see in the ceiling ate me
      sadly this is a thing you see in movies too like for an example the ghostbusters first movie with the giant marshmallow man or the labyrinth movie with puppets and actors in it. those movies risked being different and so they stick in our memories years later often poeple who set the budget or are working under one think oh this has to be a success so i cant take risks i cant allow this to fail, but it is the movies and games that takes risks are the ones we will remember ones that dont well, we will sort of recall them, alittle bit but mostly we will not recall them at all
      its really sad that those who set the budget many times not seem to understand what success is
      making a game that sells isnt hard, its making a game thats sells really well or fantasticly well is and if your ideas are the same as others well there isnt much point in buying that is there

  12. Corb says:

    Honestly I still blame the publishers. They destroyed the concept of reasonable expectations. They’ve built a culture that everything has to be written from scratch in house. They can’t possibly give money to company X to borrow their awesome technology Z and they throw away that money instead re-inventing the wheel. Then on top of it they significantly reduce development time on each game forcing a franchise to be built into a specific way that lets them cobble a game together quickly destroying any individuality the game might of had. Worst of all, they still blow the budget on their ridiculous marketing and that is the most expensive part of the entire thing! (150 million vs the 50 milion dev cost!? The marketing is x3 the expense of the product!)

  13. Ham Solo says:

    HL1 and 2 raised the (crow)bar for FPS or even changed the “metagame” a bit, but the failure of modern AAA shooters are not to blame on those 2 games, but rather on the copy/rehash-stuff, the same CoD we get every year, the same narrow corridoors, the same bad AI, the same terrible pathos and pseudo-patriotism, the same overarching theme, the same brown, “gritty”, pseudorealistic mess. Not to mention the disastrous DLC-infestation, starting from day 1 of the release, most noticably Evolve.

  14. EhexT says:

    That’s a nice story, but simply blatantly false. Call of Duty is what started Call of Duty doing bombastic scripted scenes, and call of duty selling well is what made everyone else try to follow. It has nothing to do with Half Life 2 whatsoever.

    Call of Duty 1 is best remembered for it’s D-Day and Stalingrad opening scenes – scenes that EVERY WW2 game afterwards tried to copy. The entire Call of Duty franchise was built on those scenes – and they came out BEFORE Half Life 2. Compared to CoD and it’s other FPS copiers Half Life 2 is less bombastic, less scripted and less over the top “look at our explosions”.

    The premise of this article is simply wrong.

    • Ham Solo says:

      And Call of Duty took all of that from Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (That game’s D-Day level especially).

      • EhexT says:

        Absolutely, I forgot to include that. It wasn’t even CoD that did it first, but they perfected it and went to a “big spectacle for the start of every campaign” system, which then evolved into “big spectacle every level” – and that last one just isn’t sustainable and doesn’t leave a lot of room for the player to actually play the game. It’s too busy showing off it’s scripted explosions.

      • jonahcutter says:

        Yeah, the MoHAA D-Day level is what I’d peg as the original example of fps “scripted spectacle”.

        • Baines says:

          Yes. I remember mainstream news in the US even covering D-Day levels, doing things like asking WWII vets what they thought of it.

  15. Horg says:

    I’m just glad that Croteam are still making Serious Sam games, even if the last one caught a slight whiff of the corridor taint. While Half Life was off doing scripted linear story based FPS better than anyone else to date, Serious Sam refuses to age or acknowledge that time has passed sine the First Encounter. The Sam games have hit the perfect spot between proficient mechanical Doom style shooter and self depreciating genre humor. I was getting worried after the first few hours of SS3 that they had lost their way, but after the first boss battle it was all massive levels, cheesy one liners and hordes of chaos until the end. That core single player game play is still fun and I don’t know why no one else is making shooters like the Sam games any more. Shadow Warrior is about the only other title I can think of that scratches that itch. If Croteam can crank out a 30 hour campaign with a tiny fraction of a AAA budget, surely some bigger studios could take a punt on an old school revival shooter to test the water.

  16. ChairmanYang says:

    Isn’t the dearth of big-budget FPSes a reflection of the general dearth of big-budget games in general nowadays? In the indie space, there are plenty of already-released and upcoming FPSes, many of which do interesting things. The Magic Circle, Eldritch, Ziggurat, Garbage Day…I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting, and I’m sure the future will bring plenty of advancements and innovations.

    You say indie FPSes aren’t enough? That you want better production values and more content? That FPSes need bigger budgets to be truly great? Well, that’s a reflection of consumer preferences, then…it’s not Half-Life’s fault.

  17. nimbulan says:

    I would argue that FPS is absurdly expensive and dying because developers AREN’T following Half-Life’s example. Most games seem to be obsessed with control: controlling how fast the player can move, where the player is looking, and where the player can go. Developers expend a lot of effort keeping players on this tightly controlled ride. These things are the complete opposite of what Half-Life offers: freedom to move at the player’s own pace, retaining player control unless absolutely necessary to remove it, and gameplay controlled by the player.

    I also find the idea that Half-Life’s scripted events somehow caused the Michael Bay-esque arms race of exposition in Call of Duty completely absurd.

  18. Marclev says:

    This article seems to rather suffer the effect of rose tinted glasses.

    Yes people made lots of FPS games back in the 90’s.

    There’s a reason the only ones anybody talks about are the classics (Doom n, Quake n, Half-Life n, Unreal n, NOLF, Duke Nukem 3D, Dark Forces, etc…) It’s because the rest were really badly flawed. People didn’t call them “Doom clones” and “Quake clones” out of fondness!

    And there have been probably as many or as few noteworthy FPSs since Half-Life as there were before. I can immediately think of STALKER, Crysis, Bulletstorm, Dishonored (the article mentions Thief, so this is valid), Borderlands, Shadow Warrior (new version), Metro, Fallout 3/Vegas (it’s first person and you can shoot a lot), and that’s just the ones that come straight to mind.

    • airmikee says:

      My thoughts exactly.

      I’ve never played any of the Half-Life games. During the reign of those games my computer couldn’t handle FPS’s so I used it for strategy and RTS, and enjoyed the hell out of Perfect Dark/Goldeneye, Halo, and the Turok games on consoles. Now that I’ve got a decent gaming rig I’ve gone back to play through Crysis 1 and 2, Dishonored (and even Skyrim should count), Fallout:New Vegas, RAGE, and while I still prefer my strategy and RTS games, I can’t think of any reason to say that modern FPS games are dead because of a 17 year old game.

      Half-Life may have altered the course of FPS games, but saying it killed FPS games is kinda like saying a foundation ruins a house.

  19. Artist says:

    This article is soooo wrong! Every kid today knows that Minecraft killed the FPS genre, hehe!

  20. Muzman says:

    I’ve been saying it for years. Half Life 2 specifically, in my case. It was a watershed in FPS styles. In way the watershed was before it even came out. There was a preview of the game with GabeN himself, I think, showing off the AI and talking up how they would react to the player dynamically, kick down doors by themselves if you closed them, find cover, seem to work with and react to more powerful allies like striders. An amazing ‘living breathing’ system under the hood.
    None of it worked right by release of course. Similar scenes occurred in the game though. Scripted so that they worked right and looked good doing it. At the time no one really cared about the difference and one is a lot easier to debug than the other.

    After experiencing the strange meandering solitude of the game itself, the game I imagined had to be next was something of total freedom, endlessly evolving and dynamic (I always make the mistake of thinking progress in games to be exponential, when it so isn’t. Although some mad people tried to make this game. It was called Stalker. It wasn’t like that when it was finished though). Instead the real next game came along; Call of Duty. It took the stuff everyone remembered from HL2 and boiled it down. Semi squad combat, vehicle sections, scripted spectacle, more deliberate pace. And so the old FPS was dead. It was shorter, slower and could work on consoles (Halo itself would shed its looser and more old school origins and grow into being this sort of game). This was a method for pure distilled gaming wow for the masses. Half Life2 met Heston Blumenthal.

  21. essentialatom says:

    I’ve taught about this before and concluded that you can complain about set-pieces and corridors and lazy storytelling, but the real death of FPSs, if that’s the right term, is in multiplayer. That’s what they’re built for now. I don’t play multiplayer in shooters and haven’t for about eight years, and despite the expense that goes into building the single-player campaigns of the likes of CoD, it’s increasingly clear that if I’m not going to join in online I’m not the target market. The campaigns get stupider and more boring, because they’re increasingly unimportant to the game’s success, it seems.

  22. Bodylotion says:

    No singleplayer FPS comes even close to Half Life. Ofcourse the shooters before Half LIfe; Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein, Blood … were good in their own right. Games that launched after Half Life were pretty good aswell but they all got nothing compared to Half Life. Games like: Requiem (Yes, I still remember that game!), Kingpin, Red Faction, Redline…..

    The only game that changed some of the FPS mechanics after Half Life was F.E.A.R.
    Yes, Bioshock was also good but personally I did not like it as much.

    • Artist says:

      Deus Ex 1 beats HL1 by miles! I hoped DE1 would be the future of shooters, not Half-Life, which was just the continuation of the Doom/Quake era. Deus Ex was change.

      • Distec says:

        I feel like DX and HL aren’t really comparable, given what they try to do. DX certainly has a lot more going on, but I think you’d be very hard pressed to say it was a better shooter than Half-Life. ‘Cos as much as I love it, it really isn’t.

  23. Jerkzilla says:

    You should maybe also talk about how much “they” deserve to live. Are FPSes dying or just thinning out as the design philosophy changes, or just temporarily burned out as fad?

    One problem I see is that the kind of spectacle and set pieces mentioned in the article aren’t really specific to the FPS, which is why I have a hard time believing that it’s either only FPS games that are dying or that they’re dying at all. That comparison with the 94-95 time period certainly needs context to be of any use. There were 64 FPSes, out of how many total games released in that period?

  24. quidnunc says:


    -Call of Duty and Battlefield aren’t that expensive to make because of the cost of making the single player component

    -It’s not cheap to make good emergent gameplay either — and scripted sequences including cutscenes are only in conflict with emergent gameplay under the philosophy that the player must always have control. There are plenty of good games that break this “rule” that supposedly makes games better. I agree that many narrowly scripted encounters would be better with more open ended gameplay but it’s often not done because it’s harder to do well

    -I think one of the major reasons for first person shooter decline in single player has been consoles. Developers figured out that third person cover shooters work better on gamepads by decoupling aiming from shooting. The innacuracy compared to mouse put a ceiling on interesting movement patterns and AI that we were seeing before consoles were the center of gravity in the shooter universe (many of those third person games are great – but they don’t help the evolution of the first person shooter).. There are a lot of other reasons like fads in development philosophy e.g. that tent pole games will sell better if they are dumbed down for casuals.

    -lest we create sacred cows that all games should aspire to we should also consider the downsides of the alternatives. Some years ago people were harping on open world games as the one true future of games until we got enough of them to realize that it can become boring collecting items and fighting enemies that behave like they are only slightly smarter than mobs in an MMO. We could just as easily be harping on the lack of active story and events in those types of games. It’s difficult to do everything right.

    -Many of those me too games that followed Half Life simply didn’t understand or lacked the talent to realize what was good about the Half Life series (e.g. pacing, sense of exploration). I do feel too many games followed the Call of Duty model but it seems weird to me to blame that on Half Life which played out very differently. Interestingly the early Call of Duty and Medal of Honor games didn’t have that sense of being everywhere always shot in the face. They went down a strange alley in Call of Duty 4+ that many developers followed them into to some extent because they were blindly trying to copy and capture some of the success of the series. So I blame this perfect storm of bad encounter design more than I blame scripting in general. Trigger based scripting can be good and often is if it’s used coherently to realize a good gameplay loop instead of mindlessly copying another game without proper consideration of what would make a good action adventure or whatever

    -we have had innovation in first person games through genre blending. pure shooters have a limited set of verbs so it’s not surprising that the pure shooter stagnates somewhat compared to the series which become moer like general action, stealth or rpg games

    • mattevansc3 says:

      I wouldn’t say its not cheap to make emergent gameplay. Some of the best examples of emergent gameplay of this and the last generation are “indie” titles. I just finished playing Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and it looks like a PS2 game in parts but I can’t think of a single game who’s gameplay alone has been so emotionally evocative. The dialogue is at the Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men level, there is nothing written anywhere. This is a game that masterfully toys with the idea of player interaction. It gives you the option of doing something you don’t want to do and not doing it. Choosing not to do it doesn’t just stop the game from progressing but stops the character from emotionally progressing. You as a player doing something that you don’t want to is worked into larger metaphor of how people deal with grief. This a game that is £11 on Steam.

    • frightlever says:

      I think you nailed it. Third Person killed First Person shooters. There’s no end of Third Person games with run and gun as a game component.

  25. KDR_11k says:

    I blame Half-Life for making reloading and boring real life guns the standard. It was the game that made rocket launcher shots as rare as the BFG. Nowadays all weapons are boring real-life bullet hoses, automatic hitscan weapons that need reloading after two seconds of sustained fire and you must always aim for the head. You get 50 bullet hoses but not a single plasma gun and people cry when you use so much as a rocket launcher (“noobtube!”). And when you’ve got a ton of high DPS hitscan weapons you’ll have difficulty convincing anybody that a plasma gun fits into your game (see also Borderlands 2, non-hitscan weapons often have lower DPS and lower ammo efficiency despite being harder to use and much rarer).

  26. neoncat says:

    oblig HL >>> HL2 ^_^

  27. Serenegoose says:

    I wish halflife2 had as much influence over the trajectory of games as you argue. I’d be really happy if more games played like halflife and less like halo.

    Which is being mean to halo. At least it has some fun weapons and isn’t afraid of the colour purple. But you get what I mean. Gears of war. Whatever. Brown and grim hide behind a barrel and watch the game play itself shooters.

  28. Janichsan says:

    According to Wikipedia’s listing, 1994-95 saw 64 FPS games come out. In 2014-15, so far, it’s been ten. It’ll maybe reach 15 by the end of the year.

    Aren’t we a bit dramatic? Just by taking the recent, so far generally slow year as standard paints quite a wrong picture. Just go back to 2012/2013, and you have 33 FPS game releases.

    • airmikee says:

      And that list of 64 games includes plenty of small developers that can easily be considered ‘indie’. Steam has over 500 user tagged ‘FPS’ games and DLC’s. At only ’15 a year’ Steam must have opened for business decades ago.

  29. ninenullseven says:

    I knew it! I told people that Call of Duty ain’t the source of all evil. HL1 is. It is the game that started it all. Because it was so damn good. Because it was and is an icon of FPS genre. It all started there.
    It’s not Halo, not Call of Duty, it’s our lovely best shooter of all time. And it’s not even HL fault, it’s too good for money-making industry, and industry failed miserably at replicating.

    For me the most close game to Half-Life is S.T.A.L.K.E.R., feelings I had while playing it is basically the same, despite it being absolutely different game.

  30. Pazguato says:

    Couldn’t agree more with the article. The story, the invisible ways to drive you without really caring if they were driving you, the feeling of being in a world. All that died with Half Life and since then we’ve only seen glimpses in other games. Just glimpses.

    • frightlever says:

      You don’t think Bioshock had that?

      • Pazguato says:

        Bioshock was an empty atmospheric corridor more, the gameplay was lacking. I think is one of the most overrated games of last decades with The Last of Us. I strongly prefer Dishnored, for example.

  31. mattevansc3 says:

    I read the article and while I can understand the point of it I’m struggling to agree with what was said. You are attributing numerous trends to a single focal point.

    In the same timeframe between Half-Life and Half-Life 2 being released you also had Halo:CE released on the original Xbox. All of the current releases you mentioned are also available on consoles as well as platform exclusives such as Half and Killzone. You could easily change the reference point to Halo:CE and say how the console FPS killed the PC FPS and the article wouldn’t be any less correct.

    Once again looking to consoles there was a figurative and literal change of perspective going on in games. More and more shooters shifted from FPS to OTS (Over The Shoulder). Resident Evil 4 was the earliest big one to use it that I can remember but Gears of War really set that trend going. Take away the cover mechanic and Gears of War is really just Doom with the camera pulled back about two foot.

    The article makes it sound like spectacle was only happening in the FPS genre and only because of Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Two years prior to Half Life you had Mario 64, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, the year prior to Half-Life you had Final Fantasy VII and the same year as Half-Life you had Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid. The 3D gaming explosion on home consoles was invigorating many genres and there were numerous pioneers pushing the boundaries of interactive gaming, storytelling and spectacle. If Half-Life and Half-Life 2 didn’t happen FPS gaming would still have been caught up in that larger trend. Lets not forget that Morrowind also came on the scene between Half-Life and Half-Life 2 being released and that game’s legacy will have had an equally huge impact on modern gaming.

    Lets ignore the above and say Half-Life and Half-Life 2 were responsible for everything. Did it kill the FPS or just the singular definition of what an FPS could be? FPS as an almost on rails corridor shooter genre is “dead”. FPS as a viewpoint is far from dead. The storytelling of HL/HL2 spawned the likes of Portal. Half-Life diversifying the genre may be the reason S.T.A.L.K.E.R was allowed to be made. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was one of the first (and last) First Person Survival games to exist while that category was still a part of the First Person Shooter genre.

  32. OmNomNom says:

    This loss of spirit is mostly thanks to consoles and their audience.

    I shall generally rant now.
    Regenerating health, auto follow, quicktime events, auto aim, quick play, no dedicated servers, simplified controls, achievements, 30/60 fps limits, ruined ui / commorose, recoil reduction/removal, muddy textures, low poly count, low player counts, crappy weapon switching, mouse acceleration, control responsiveness linked to fps, war, poverty, assholes.

  33. kalirion says:

    Don’t take that wikipedia listing for #FPS titles at face value – it seems to have a lot of obscure titles from the early/mid 90s, but missing many the higher profile indie titles from last couple years.

    Where’s Wrack? Fancy Skulls? Paranautical Activity? Hell, even EVOLVE isn’t listed there!

    link to Have fun.

  34. Not_Id says:

    Interesting article John.

    I’d just like to add that Star Trek Voyager Elite Force is also a great game. One of the best pc games ever made.

  35. bleeters says:

    Wasn’t the first Call of Duty released before Half Life 2? That game didn’t exactly lack for spectacle.

  36. SwiftRanger says:

    Setpieces are overused in shooters. You’ve got a point.

    Putting so much focus on what Valve did with HL1 and 2 isn’t gonna help though. Yes, Valve deserve respect for these titles but there have been other (dary I say better) first-person shooters as well. Opposing Force beats out HL1 in terms of great pacing just like HL2: Episode 2 beats out the rest of HL2. FEAR beats it in AI, STALKER/Metro are the true kings of atmosphere, Far Cry/Crysis offer more intriguing ways of dealing with conflicts yourself. The industry is too focused on the very linear Half-Life model (we should call it the MoH-/Call of Duty-model though, HL is a dead franchise for several years now). Valve shouldn’t be blamed for this, we should point at all the rest for just taking the same cinematic setpiece road instead of innovating singleplayer FPS gaming.

    • P.Funk says:

      You, and apparently several others in these comments, are missing the point that it was Half Life that was the primary catalyst for this shift to the model that people more readily associate with Call of Duty, or so the argument in the article goes.

      You might as well be saying that Jaws can’t be blamed for starting the blockbuster culture (as has been claimed before) because its a dead franchise. What does that have to do with tracing the origins of something?

      This argument John is making about HL’s seminal influence btw isn’t original. The moment I read the title I said “well that’s been said for a long time on these interwebs.”

      • mattevansc3 says:

        We aren’t missing the point, we are looking at more points in a larger picture.

        The very first Medal of Honour was scripted by Steven Spielberg after he had successes with Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. The feel of both the game and the set pieces are directly attributable to Spielberg’s work in film. The games that tried to emulate it such as Call of Duty have their history more rooted in Spielberg’s work than Valve’s.

        While Valve may have done it first it was Bungie’s mantra of “30 seconds of fun” as seen in the Halo series that also pushed FPS to narrative based shooters punctuated with bouts of intense action and spectacle. Bungie weren’t copying Valve either, their earliest hit, Marathon on the Mac was one of the first FPS to be story orientated and predated Half-Life by a good few years.

        Valve is being credited with an FPS revolution that was started by many people independently of each other.

  37. shrieki says:

    for me half life was the first game to add something like “artificial intelligence” – weird pixelized humanoid beings i could talk to- and they would react. it was very weird and creepy and i wasnt at all thinking so much about the shooting. i just worked off the shooting sections to come to those interactions with those weird artficial “intelligence” — and when half life 2 came and they looked at me for the first time in the train- with their shiny eyes… i was blown away. i had never seen anything like it.

    half life did not kill the fps – i think it rather infused life into it – and not nly to one genre it spread over to all games.

  38. Frank says:

    Maybe it broadened the audience for FPS, but killed? No.

    The output of Epic, id and 3dRealms was always super niche relative to the broad audience for video games (Myst, Solitaire, Oregon Trail, anyone?), and by the time HL came around, they’d already made the same games 100x over, when it comes to theme and how it feels to play. Even Shiny, lauded for its originality, was playing the same ball game. It was kind of inevitable that that flavor of game would not flourish as the audience for games expanded; blame the passage of time, advancement of technology and success of the industry.

  39. alms says:

    Thanks, indeed.

    Misunderstanding and putting most of the money into things to make sure the game sells, instead of putting most of the money into making a game that sells.

    Thank you, shortsightedness, thanks risk aversion.

    • iamgenestarwind says:

      i agree with you 100% alms shortsightness and fear of risk have killed games NOT half life i really dont get how the writer came to this idea maybe he is really tired, maybe sick ? you can see more of bad game making decisions today with many fps deciding that having mutli player means that they dont need single player and that they can just get rid of alot of game content instead

  40. bill says:

    I think it’s one of the sad ironies of PC gaming that the greatest FPS of all time started the trend that made FPS dull as ditchwater.

    I’m not familiar with other genres, but I wonder if you could apply the same argument to some RTS game. (Starcraft?)

    Anyway, I basically agree. Though I guess Unreal was probably the game that started us on that path, if not Duke 3d.. and even the ones that didn’t were probably trying to get there. To make everything more epic and more cinematic.
    Possibly, a natural side effect of the quest for never-ending increases in graphics is a quest to be more realistic and a natural tendency to want to be more cinematic (as the most similar visual entertainment medium).
    And, I must admit, at the time I was very impressed by all the cinematic moments and fully on board with the trend… it’s only later that it becomes clear what other aspects of gaming were lost in the process.

    I meet so many people these days who play Battlefield 4. They don’t play video games, they play BF4.
    So gaming has finally expanded into the mass market and the mainstream.

  41. Meirril says:

    I think the author needs to look outside of self-titled FPS games to find the true spiritual successors of Half-Life. Bethesda makes two series that fit very well into the mold of HL1 and 2: Fallout and TES: Skyrim. Both games use a story telling system that seems like a slight advancement of HL2 where you choose to talk to NPC, and choose how you progress with them both through dialogue and your actions. Actually in a way its even more free form than what Valve would allow because in Valve’s story telling you can’t kill story critical NPCs but in most Bethesda games you can, with consequences. While Bethesda wants to tell you a story, they recognize that sometimes you just don’t want to play along and its ok. And its ok to let the player miss things.

    So what I’m basically saying is HL is the grandfather of the first-person RPGs we have today.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      The Fallout series was a spiritual successor to Wasteland which came out in 1988 and the Elder Scrolls was first released in 1994 then Daggerfall being the first 3D version was released in 1996, two years before Half-Life.

      • Baines says:

        So, ultimately, Half Life didn’t really inspire anything?

        Modern FPS are driven by Call of Duty’s success, which has its bombastic set pieces dating back to Call of Duty 1 and Medal of Honor. Medal of Honor having a much stronger claim than Half Life to being the start of the bombastic spectacle. (Based on the spectacles of Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg listed as creator, made by Dreamworks,…)

        Halo was driven by (and was an unofficial prequel to) Marathon, which predates Half Life. People have long argued that Marathon’s contributions and achievements have been overlooked by PC gamers, as the series was on the Apple Macintosh.

        Fallout of course was driven by Wasteland.

  42. Hypocee says:

    It sticks out to me that three of your four Big FPS examples do not pursue Half-Life’s heavily scripted corridor approach in their single-player campaigns, in the cases which even have one.

  43. shutter says:

    I’m comforted to know that in the chaos and unpredictability of life, John Walker being wrong about the video game business is one of those absolute constants in the work, a rock of stability amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the universe.

    This is one of those arguments that sounds good until you realized that this happened industry wide. It turns out that graphics and big media budgets sold games in the 2000s, and no one had figured out how to build and sell a game with reasonably good production values cheap enough to recoup costs yet (apparently the answer is a) steam, b) unity, and c) pre-sell it through kickstarter), so pretty much every single genre saw reductions in how many titles they put out. RPGs (pretty much just Bioware, CD Projekt Red, and Bethesda putting out a game every 2-3 years now), MMOs (what, like maybe 1-2 a year), Sports titles (pretty much only one franchise per sport, and a lot of sports got cut), RTS games (Starcraft is left, and….nothing), the entire Point and Click Adventure genre, most of the movie tie-in games, etc. etc.

    Even individual developers cut down within their own portfolios. EA went from doing like 50+ titles a year in the mid 00s to like 15 a year. And this continued pretty much all the way up until the big indie boom of the last year or two. The only difference is that FPS games are still suffering, because you can’t make an indie CoD in your garage without going back to Doom-esque graphics.

    So thanks John, your wrongness is a shining beacon of stability in this mixed up crazy world.

  44. Alan Alda says:

    Good article, though one thing bothers me: Thief is mentioned as a game that stuck to traditional storytelling. While it may have had cutscenes (to establish mission objectives), it was also GREAT at environmental storytelling… maybe even better than either HL, in ways.

    • Ravey says:

      Yes, I’m sure it was Gordon in the trash compactor, he’s dead. Let’s head back now.

  45. cylentstorm says:

    *yawn* Time to evolve, then…

  46. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Hmm, on development costs I would argue Half-Life actually showed the way to do it affordably by being the first AAA FPS I can think of that used someone else’s engine. I remember that was a big deal to Valve allowing them to focus on design over tech, a bit like that other ‘best game ever’ we’ve been talking about on RPS of late.

    On the impossibility of indie studios making AAA levels of shine to a modern FPS I would point to Black Mesa and say there is proof it can be done if that’s your focus. Yes, it’s building on an existing template but all the assets are being built from scratch, the hardest most expensive part.

    I also disagree that Half-Life 2 then raised the bar out of reach for everyone else, for that I would point to Call of Duty franchise. As noted, it more than any other learnt the lessons Half-Life 2 taught. It cracked the formula and churned it out infinitum. That’s what killed the genre.

    In the same way Radiohead didn’t kill Indie Rock, it’s the turgid pile of copycat Muse/Coldplay drivel that followed. Luckily Radiohead had already moved on, same as Valve have done. Quid Pro Quo: Half life 3 ain’t happening.

    Also worth remembering the shadow of Duke Nukem Forever hangs over this genre, something that terrifies the guys and girls in control of budgets I imagine.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Oh and a special mention to Battlefield 1942. That was, for me, the game that showed a newer, better way: action setpieces that were truly dynamic, in the way only games with other humans can be.

  47. FoSmash says:

    Spot on article. Well done.
    I actually never played HL2 because of the scripted events, so a pretty accurate account of the rise and fall of the FPS for me.
    Someone above commented about how BF:1942 was their epitome of “dynamic action setpieces”, for the same reasons I didn’t play HL2 this is exactly what ruined those games for me. I found you could actually skirt the event trigger areas so it became a total farce, these ‘dynamic’ events would be telegraphed from a mile away. An all too conveniently placed doorway/ledge/hedgerow/generic obstacle would tell you well in advance that something was about to be triggered.
    HL was great because it was the first to do so, but perhaps as is the fate of many sequels, a repeat of the same trick no matter how dressed up isn’t enough to help it stand on it’s own.

  48. Iskariot says:

    “If your game is comprised of the narrowest corridors, then you have to make an awful lot of them to see it last the necessary six hours of the modern shooter (compared to the 15 of the 90s era).”

    Necessary six hours… indeed.
    I still refuse to pay 50 bucks for a game I can play through in one afternoon.

  49. SanguineAngel says:

    “It would be madness to affix any suggestion that Valve had this in mind. They set out to make the best game they could, and in doing so, made the best FPS game ever.”

    I was not aware that Valve made Escape From Butcher Bay or Dark Forces: Jedi Knight :D

  50. gazp says:

    Ehm… What? Half-Life was the bestest FPS ever because it had no cutscenes, and we should have had more Half-Life clones, and because we didn’t, and the technology got too complex and expensive, the genre is now dead?

    What the hell are you smoking man?