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Did Blake's 7 predict the modern FPS?

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Possibly the most accurate – if unintentional – screen prediction of the modern first-person shooter...

Some familiar looking action from the 'Blakes 7' episode 'Death-Watch'

Fans of Terry Nation's late 1970s 'Robin Hood In Space' SF show are used to forgiving it its predictable lack of budget. Blake's 7 (as it is now known, though the BBC could not afford the possessive apostrophe in 'Blakes' back when the show was actually made) had a dark and gritty feel that was true to Nation's general pessimism about the future of mankind, and some really great characters in among the tin-foil sets and cheap location shoots in quarries and other all-too-obvious 'interplanetary' locations that were near enough to BBC Centre to avoid any nasty overnight hotel bills for cast and crew.

Battle computers winning virtual victories in the Star Trek TOS episode 'A Taste of Armageddon'The March 1980 season 3 episode 'Death-Watch' centred around the familiar SF concept of two warring factions using reductive means to settle their differences. The Star Trek TOS episode 'A Taste of Armageddon' had borne a similar plot-line, about two neighbouring planets at war who used rival battle-computers to simulate military assaults, with the 'losing' side of any offensive sending those citizens in the imaginary 'blast-zone' to the suicide booths that Futurama's Bender knows so well.

If 'A Taste of Armageddon' predicted the likes of Sid Meier's Civilization, 'Death-Watch', looking back, seems inadvertently to have underbudgeted its way to predicting modern taste in FPS games. The episode's plot finds the brother of one of the show regulars facing off against an android in a ritualised battle that will settle a dispute between two neighbouring star systems. We are told early on in the episode that the environment created by the battle computer could be anything, from lush mountain ranges to vast alien landscapes.

Stephen Pacey as Deeta Tarrant in the 'Blake's 7' episode 'Death-Watch'That the computer chooses a grotty, burnt-out factory (handily within 30 minutes' drive of the Beeb) was no surprise to viewers familiar with the conflict between Blake's 7's scope and its budget. It all looked pretty low-rent at the time, and in a way it still does.

And yet, two years before John Carpenter arguably planted the idea of endless wooden boxes that were to populate FPS titles (in 1982's The Thing); six years before James Cameron was to originate the iron-gridded corridors that were to end up in the likes of Bungie's Marathon and Id's Doom (in 1986's Aliens); at a time when Atari's wireframe-actioner Battlezone was the height of video-arcade sophistication...

...'Death-Watch' was predicting not only the mano-a-mano shoot-outs in the ruined post-industrial landscapes of titles such as Gears Of War and the Half-Life franchise, but also the 'net-connectivity' that would make online play such a visceral experience for thousands of people at a time. Check out this clip from about 22 seconds in. Look familiar...?


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