AD found another article from Inside Gaming that explores the early days of id Software - particularly Wing Commander's influence on the company's growth (and Wolfenstein 3-D!). Many sources credit Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss as the 3D first person inspiration for the game, but it's easy to see where Wing Commander could have played a role as well. Wingnuts are mostly well aware of what Origin was up to in the early nineties, and this piece is a good review of what a contemporary was up to. Find the full article (and video) here.
But they wanted to be making their own games as well, and the dudes of id had a new inspiration. Wing Commander had released the previous year, taking the 3D mechanics popularized by Flight Simulator and adding a combat element into it. The result was a revelation to the guys, a three-dimensional vehicle shooter from the first-person persepective. Technically, this was nothing new: Battlezone had released all the way back in 1980 with the same basic mechanics. But Wing Commander had updated and modernized the idea, and made it look good. The problem was that it was slow. High-resolution graphics in three dimensions in real time was a huge burden on the processors of the time. But id’s resident programming genius, John Carmack, thought he could do better.
In April 1991, id made Hovertank 3D for Softdisk to distribute. It was a 3D vehicle shooter, in which a pilot had to navigate his tank through a maze to rescue citizens while fighting off mutant monsters. Gameplay-wise, it wasn’t a revolution over anything Wing Commander had done. Technically however, it was lightyears ahead. Carmack’s engine avoided the slow jerkiness of earlier 3D games, and presented the player with a smooth, fast world. While an important milestone for the company, proving that the guys could handle 3D game design, it didn’t leave a big impact on the industry. As a Softdisk product, it was only available to their subscriber base, and thus couldn’t spread by word of mouth the way id’s Internet-distributed Keen games could