History of the First 3D Video Games

By Joshua Laud

Updated September 22, 2017

The earliest video games were developed in the late 40s and then during the 50s, and included very basic games such as "Tennis for Two" and "Tic Tac Toe." During the 60s, "Spacewar!" was developed, which was one of the first video games to be distributed. Technology advanced rapidly over the following decade as the 70s saw the rise of the Arcade and first generation video games consoles. This decade also saw the first instances of what would become 3D video gaming.

1974 and the Origins of 3D

In 1974, "Maze War" and "Spasim" (short for Space Simulation) both began early experimentation into 3D gaming. In "Spasim" you flew between space networks and saw other players flying around as well. "Maze War" set the precedence for all first person shooters that would follow. In "Maze War," you could move forward, backward, left and right and shoot. As with most subsequent shooting games, you gained points by killing an enemy and lost points by being killed.

The 1980s

The 80s saw the rise of pseudo-3D graphics where game programmers would use either physical graphical projections to give the illusion of 3D or use basic 3D gaming environments, limited to a 2D plane. Pseudo-3D is also known as 'two and a half dimensional.' The first home computer 3D game was released in 1981 called "3D Monster Maze."

3D Racing Games

During the 80s, racing games began to use a rear-positioned trailing camera view. While other 3D technologies were quick to advance, in racing games this system survived long after the late-90s switch to real 3D as the preferred view for the genre. The first example of this was Namco's "Pole Position."

1990s and First Person Shooters

First person shooters were constantly redeveloping the possibilities of 3D technology. "Wolfenstein 3D" was one of the first video games to feature texture mapping where graphical textures are wrapped around 3D objects. During the mid-90s, 3dfx Interactive introduced cheap 3D accelerator graphics cards. Games such as "Quake," and subsequent games using the "Quake" engine, were first to take advantage of this new easily-accessible technology.

The Fifth Generation of Games Consoles

Towards the end of the 90s, the fifth generation marked the turning point towards real-3D games. With the advent of games such as "Super Mario 64" and "Sonic Adventure," all video games were gearing towards the 3D market that only first person shooters and driving games had attempted before. This change was met with technological advancements and in particular switching from cartridge to disc in the home console market. This allowed for much larger, fully 3D worlds, that still exist a decade later.