Ask any Gen-Y console gamer to pinpoint the moment at which they believe the first-person shooter was born. I’d wager that approximately nine in ten would cite 1997’s Goldeneye 007. The first-person shooter can, however, be traced back some 5 years prior to the release of Goldeneye (and first-person, without the ‘shooter’ component, even further). Wolfenstein 3D (1992) represents perhaps the earliest manifestation of the first-person shooter as we know them today, and even if it was not the first, it certainly proved to be genre-defining.
The Goldeneye loyalists, however, may have a decent argument in support of the Bond title. Although made and released later than other shooters, Goldeneye pioneered some of the core features we now accept as standard issue. Among these were; a weapon-aiming mechanic independent of player movement, varied weapon attributes (damage, accuracy, fire rate, etc.) and changes in inflicted damage dependent upon which part of the enemies’ bodies your bullet finds its way into. I remember vividly the moment when I realized just how significant a leap in game design Goldeneye represented; when I shot a faceless Russian grunt in the leg and he writhed on the ground, clutching that same leg. Seems gamers appreciate the little things.
In addition to these gameplay innovations, Goldeneye has gained its cult following and legendary status in the historical gaming pantheon thanks in no small measure to the commercial traction gained by piggybacking on an already established and hugely popular franchise. It has left a unique legacy regardless of its inexperienced development team (eight of its ten designers had never before worked on video games). Following an unsuccessful preview at E3 1997 and low expectations among the gaming community, Goldeneye proved to be a massive success both commercially and critically – it has since become the third best-selling Nintendo 64 game behind Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64, having sold over 8 million copies worldwide. Its difficult to imagine a similar scenario playing out in the modern gaming industry – surely only the major production companies could enjoy such a level of success. Sadly, the days of genre-defining classics being developed by a number of people you can count on your fingers may very well be over.