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The “Aliens TC” was a total conversion mod by Justin Fisher, released in 1994. Fisher used an early community-made modding tool, DeHackEd, to hack the Doom executable to add acid blood, flashing proximity sensors, hatching alien eggs, and other fiction-building flourishes. His custom campaign roughly mirrors the structure of the film Aliens, with a masterfully paced first level called “Landing Pads” that contains no monsters whatsoever and exists only to setup tension and tell a story — you just move through the level, with no “challenges” whatsoever, then push the exit button.
That is: this skillfully hacked piece of game design, the first level of the first mod of the first explosively successful, bonified first-person shooter… was a highly experimental, non-industry-affiliated, functional equivalent of Dear Esther, designed back in 1994.
Yet in spite of this profound legacy in modding, or of Myst’s influence in present day FPS design, we still hold both types of design as less legitimate and less deserving of representation in the history of the genre than the 2005 film adaptation of Doom — which the genre’s Wikipedia page currently mentions twice. Again, this bias is pervasive, even among the industry’s critics: ex-industry now-indie developer Steve Gaynor (designer on Minerva’s Den) remarked that “there’s sort of this zeitgeist of people saying the first-person perspective is really interesting. What happens if you take out shooting?”
In “A People’s History,” I wish to argue that this interest in experimenting with the first-person perspective is not a zeitgeist nor a recent trend. It’s more that we’ve been systematically denying the “first-person” genre label to such games, which is based on pleading semantics rather than any meaningful distinction.