Title: Modern First-Person Shooter Videogame on a Gaming Computer

Date Occurred: March 8, 2019

Date Written: April 1, 2019

Written By: Joel T. Kant

Copyright (c) July 19, 2019


Back in the early Eighties, there were three Apple II microcomputers in the Math-Science Learning Center of University of Wisconsin-Platteville. There was often a line of students to use them with a sign-up list and one-hour limit. These computers were only to be used for academic tasks such as word processing, math training software, VisiCalc spreadsheet, graphing programs, or learning to code BASIC. Yet, some guys would try to sneak in games.

If no names were on the waiting list as might true for first hour or two after opening as college students tend not to like to wake up early, the tutors might look the other way at some videogame playing on the Apple II's. Because of this, I learned the favorite Apple II game by far was a shooter game called Castle Wolfenstein. It was not a first-person shooter, but more in the style of the coin-op game Robotron. It had a top-down view. The player could shoot up, down, left, right, or the diagonals. Below is the Commodore 64 version rather than Apple II version, with the image taken from Wikipedia. (Fig. 1)

Castle Wolfenstein on Commodore 64

Figure One: Castle Wolfenstein on Commodore 64


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Uploaded: 27 August 2007

Web Site Accessed April 1, 2019

Castle Wolfenstein also had sampled speech, so would talk with brief phrases like, "Achtung!" Memory limitations kept these phrases short, but to have a videogame use even short snippets of speech in 1981 was amazing.

As far as I know, every version of Castle Wolfenstein that I saw whether on an Apple II or other system like a Commodore 64 was pirated.

This led to another game in the series called Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. VGA graphics were new at the time. The MS-DOS version therefore had 256 colors with 320x240 graphics. (Fig. 2)

Wolfenstein 3D

Figure Two: Wolfenstein 3D


In-game screenshot of the DOS version, showing the player character firing a submachine gun at guards

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This image contains Nazi or other fascist insignia which may be banned in some countries.

File:Wolf3d pc.png

Uploaded: 20 April 2017

Web Site Accessed: April 1, 2019

Although very pixelated and limited color range compared to the photographic true-color of today's games, it felt amazing at the time.

The company that produced it had a guilt-free shareware version. To get extra levels, one was to send in money to buy a version. I personally never went beyond the shareware version.

This brought in the era of first-person shooter videogames that continues to this day. A year later, the next very popular first-person shooter game was Doom. Something I found interesting is Doom made popular gameplay with a keyboard and mouse. One can use the keys WASD to move the character, with the mouse used for pointing the gun and shooting. I had grown accustomed to video games using either a switch-based joystick or analog joystick.

On March 8, 2019, a friend named Mike showed me his high-end gaming keyboard and gaming mouse attached to his gaming tower computer. I believe he said that the keypresses are optically detected, unlike how most keyboards work. The keys WASD are printed in green, unlike the other keys. This seems since so commonly used in first-person shooters of the 21st century, following the same pattern set with Doom in 1993.

I first saw Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 when it was showed to me by Scott Billie in Wisconsin. He was an expert at it, but I was inept. I am still inept at it, as well as being inept at all first-person shooters.

In just a matter of minutes, Scott blew away dozens of Nazi guards, moved on the next level, and blew away dozens more.

I tried to show Scott a probabilistic calculation. Let's say one had a 95% chance of victory per single gunfight. The chance to kill twenty-four guards in a row, and his character had gone further than that by then, his chance of surviving would only be 0.95 to the twenty-fourth power times 100% or 29%. That is, if each gunfight had a 95% chance of victory, only less than a third of the time should the character be able to face the twenty-fifth opponent.

Scott acted like the whole probabilistic idea that I was exploring was uninteresting and dull. The game for him seemed almost cathartic. He did not seem to want a realistic chance of his character dying in the gunfight.

In 1992 when Wolfenstein 3D came out, I was in grad school at The Ohio State University. Now that I knew what to look for after returning to Ohio, it seemed lots of students as well as some professors had discovered the game Wolfenstein 3D. It was extremely popular, and the shareware distribution model seemed to be working for the company.

Swamped with research and course work, I felt I faced a choice. There were only so many hours in a day and days in a week. I could no longer keep up with home computers unless fairly directly connected with my courses and research. No more reading of Byte, PC Computing, Computer Shopper, Dr. Dobbs Journal, or other computer magazines. Although I had a BSEE with Computer Engineering Minor, to do well in my biomedical engineering, I felt it was time to put the computer engineering aspect of my education to bed. That was a time that for me had passed.

Even though after I got a SuperVGA card so my home computer could play Wolfenstein 3D, I almost never did play it. In grad school, I hardly played any computer games.

Grad school felt so different from the early Eighties with me typing in short computer games in BASIC from manuals and magazines, then sometimes modifying them. Learning how some of the games worked back then felt like part of my education.

Yet, I was for a time in grad school in the Image Processing Group at the Cleveland Clinic. I was doing background subtraction and flat-fielding, and an occasional cosmic ray removal (one pixel maxed out) on microscope images. Quite tame compared to what the others in the Image Processing Group were doing it, but I was in it for a time. As my research shifted away from microscope images to mainly spectroscopy, it felt like I and the others in the group began to speak a different language. When they talked about edge detection with rubber-banding techniques, it had become gibberish to me. On the other hand, they seemed about as lost when I talked of principal component analysis (PCA) using logistic regression rather than linear regression. So, I ended up out of the Image Processing Group around the mid-Nineties as it was eating a lot of my time while not getting anything too helpful completed for my big thesis.

Instead of keeping up on home computers, videogames, and even image processing, I had to focus on things like ADH stands for Anti-Diuretic Hormone, the difference between a blood vessel and a lymph vessel, transitional versus columnar epithelial cells, Soret absorption band of hemoglobin, and a thousand other such things. I found much of what I needed to do in biomedical engineering was pure memorization. I am not that strong at that. Still, I survived.

Of course, home computers and videogames continued to evolve whether I paid the slightest attention to them or not! Game makers could hardly care whether a random overworked grad student played their games or not. I was not their main market!

I vaguely realized first person shooter games took over much of the video gaming market. They improved over the years. Rather than just a flat maze, there started to be hills, valleys, and pools the character had to wade through.

The color palette became photographic instead of 256 colors. The resolution kept getting better and better.

This gets us well into the twenty-first century. I still am not at all current in the modern world of videogames. Over a quarter century of nearly ignoring them has taken a toll. However, an electrical engineer named Mike Jamison tried to get me up to speed on modern videogames. Mike spent about twice as much on just the graphic card for his gaming computer than my entire laptop cost brand new. I was curious what that high end hardware was all for.

Therefore on March 8, 2019, Mike showed me his current favorite first-person shooter videogame, which is called Destiny 2. (Fig. 3) I reduced the resolution to 640x480 for this web site. The real image is much sharper than what you see here.

Screenshot of Destiny 2

Figure Three: Screenshot of Destiny 2

[Screenshot taken by Mike Jamison, Taken March 25, 2019]

If anything, I was much worse at playing first-person shooters than I had been in 1992 when Scott Billie showed me Wolfenstein 3D.

I had the character standing still when Mike walked over and peered over my shoulder.

Mike helpfully commented, "If you go over that hill, you will find enemies to shoot."

I replied, "I'm looking at something."

Following my gaze, Mike apparently thought I meant looking for enemies in the distance were there was some hills with trees and tall grass, and said, "I don't see anything."

I pointed to the screen to the tall grass in what appeared to be the distance. A breeze seemed to be making it wave around.

I commented, "Look at that grass move. That's hard to do with the nearly parallel lines. I think there is a little deliberate motion blur going on to hide imperfections."

Being in EE himself, Mike seemed interested in what I was saying rather than bored as a normal game player would have been.

I told Mike this brings up the legend of the infamous Lena. Back in the early Nineties, there was a photograph of a woman's head that was commonly used to illustrate image processing algorithms. The photo was called Lena. She had long, straight hair. She wore a hat with a feather in it. (Fig. 4)

Image of Lena Soderberg

Figure Four: Image of Lena Soderberg


Image of Lena Soderberg used in many image processing experiments. (Click on the image to access the actual 512...512px standard test version.)

Web Site Accessed: April 1, 2019

The image taxes compression algorithm because patterns like the feather or the strands of long, hair in parallel lines show defects easily.

Back in the early Nineties, I was reading a genuine peer-reviewed image processing article that had a Lena image in it. I think it was in an IEEE publication. I was in the Cleveland Clinic image processing group back then, and a fellow male grad student had recommended I read it. A female grad student looked over at me. She bitterly complained about Lena's come-hither look. She said that image was so sexist that it should be banned! I was confused. All I saw was a woman's head and shoulders.

The female grad student explained to me it was a cropped image from a Playboy centerfold.

She asked, "Didn't you know that?"

I truly had not. I later was at a library that happened to have Playboy magazine. Quite an unusual thing for a library to have, I must admit. Sure enough, Lena's head is cropped from a fold-out centerfold. The centerfold shows much more than the head, hat, and shoulders as one would expect from a Playboy centerfold.

Back to the videogame Destiny 2, I then turned the viewpoint of the character upward.

Mike asked, "What are you doing now?"

I replied, "Looking at the leaves of the trees and the clouds beyond them."

Mike said with wonder, "You're cloud-watching in a first-person shooter game?"

I said, "The few leaves flipping around isn't as convincing to me as the long grass waving. The moving leaves looks like a computer game, not a movie. The shape of the clouds looks like real clouds, though, and the drift rate seems reasonable."

At last, an enemy showed up as my character dallied.

Mike had to explain what I was to do with the mouse and keyboard to kill him. The enemy was super inept, so my character did not die as he should have before I was able to kill him.

Mike remarked, "Most people don't intently look at flowers and clouds in a game like this!"

I walked around some more. The character then waded into water. I stopped and watched the water. There were lilies floating in the water. Unlike the cloud watching, Mike understood why I paused here, and pointed out the reflections and gentle waves were well done. (Fig. 3)

I added that the sound of the water enhanced the illusion as well.

I had my character intentionally bump his leg against a water lily. A water droplet formed on a lily it rocked.

I said, "That water droplet seems an Uncanny Valley Effect to me."

To my surprise, Mike had not heard of the Uncanny Valley Effect. I explained it was when things look close to reality but not quite right in a way that bugs your brain. The way the water droplet was on the lily was well done, yet not quite right in a way that bugged me.

I told Mike that the movie most often discussed for the Uncanny Valley Effect is The Polar Express with Tom Hanks as one of the voice actors. For other movies like Charlie Brown's Christmas Special, Charlie Brown looks nothing like a real boy. He is a cartoon. His eyes are just dots, after all. Viewers know and accept this is a cartoon of a boy. Most viewers have no problem that cartoons do not look all that much like a photograph of a real boy.

In The Polar Express movie, the boy is made with computer graphics. His hair texture, clothing texture, skin tone, and so on have him looking almost realistic, almost photographic. However, CGI (computer-generated imagery) boy and his friends have spooky, unnatural, Zombie-eyes! To some viewers like me and apparently some others, it is as if the living undead have invaded a kiddie's heart-warming Christmas tale!

Mike then understood what I meant about the Uncanny Valley Effect.

Some enemies at last showed up.

I fumbled very ineffectively with the mouse and keyboard. My character died.

Mike dryly commented, "You're really bad at the controls in a game like this."

"That I am," I admitted.

Mike said that the control system is based on what was done all the way back in 1993 with Doom. However, I am bad at that game as well.

Mike did have a valid point that I might do much better at a first person shooter videogame like this if I looked for the enemy rather than at waving grass, passing clouds, floating lilies, textures on metal, water waves, water droplets, and flickering leaves in distant trees.


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