The History of the Headshot

A new video on our YouTube channel looks at the history of the humble video game headshot and its evolution over the years. 

Wolfenstein 3D was released in 1992 and while there were game before it that shared some of its features and mechanics, the game is widely seen as the origin of the first person shooter genre. Neither it, nor Doom the following year, offered headshots, though the latter enabled a degree of verticality which made it all possible.

In 1994, Raven Software launched Heretic, which used a modified version of the Doom engine to allow vertical aiming. However, body region context shots still hadn't been implemented. The first game to allow players to actually have targeted shooting of a specific body part was a Sega arcade game from that same year called Virtual Cop.

Virtual Cop soon inspired similar features in rivals like Time Crises and House of the Dead. While headshots are perhaps most associated with first person shooters, they made their way into the original Resident Evil, a third person survival horror, in 1996.

The first 'true' FPS to enable headshots was legendary Bond title 007 Goldeneye, with the developers citing Virtual Cop as the inspiration for the feature. While many games now feature one-headshot kill today, many enemies in Goldeneye needed to be shot twice in the head or once in the head and somewhere else on the body to die.

Unreal Tournament, released in 1999, had a commentator who would yell "headshot" whenever one was made. This caused some controversy, as the game was effectively celebrating headshots while previous titles like Goldeneye had merely allowed them.

After that, there was no stopping them. Headshots became increasingly popular in single player, where they allowed players to demonstrate their skills, but they really took off in multiplayer. By focusing on headshots, players were encouraged to improve their skill at aiming. 

When Resident Evil 4 was released in 2005, it punished players for headshots. Some enemies would mutate into more powerful foes when shot in the head. At around the same time other Japanese developers started to appreciate the headshot and the demand for it, which had largely been abandoned in the country after a string of arcade on-rails shooters. 

2008's Fallout 3 took the opposite approach, effectively freezing gameplay with its VATS combat system and allowing players to target the specific body part they wanted to shoot. The feature is returning in Fallout 4, but instead of freezing time it merely slow it down considerably. In Fallout 3 headshots usually yielded slow motion depictions of successful hits.  

Which game do you think has best implemented headshots?