Bill Gates… Thanks For Your Contributions To The Game Industry

Today is Bill Gates‘ last day on the job at Microsoft, and I find it a little sad and nostalgic. Believe it or not, there are very few people in the world that have been more influential on the game industry than Bill. Probably Miamoto, but I can’t readily think of any body else. Of course, Bill has never designed a game or even played very many, but he has always supported them and felt they were important, so his platforms have been supportive and open to them, thus allowing thousands upon thousands of game developers and publishers to grow and prosper.
Bill Gates Game Influence
From the earliest days, Microsoft has supported games. Initially by publishing them. Probably the first computer game I ever played was Olympic Decathlon published by Microsoft. Colleen and I practically wore out the keyboard on my spanking new Apple II with that game. And, of course, no story of Microsoft and games is complete without mentioning Flight Simulator, which was always at the top of the best seller charts back in the day.

To show the importance of the PC for game developers, it is necessary to start somewhere else. When I first started making games pre-Dynamix, we supported the Apple II. It was open, and the graphics system, while convoluted, was well supported and documented by the community in magazines, etc. (pre-Internet, of course), and it had the most user penetration of any system at the time. When the Commodore 64 eclipsed the Apple in sales, we targeted the C64 and ported to Apple which was feasible because they both had 6502 processors. Then one day the sky parted and we were working on a pre-release version of the almighty Amiga with its awesome 16 bit CPU, 32 colors (more in weird modes), sound chip, input devices, etc. ArcticFox for Electronic Arts was on its way!

While we were working on the Amiga, Apple, and C64 we used a cross compiling system that worked on the PC, but we never even considered making games for that platform. Why would we want to learn a completely different architecture to support crappy four color CGA graphics and no sound system? For us, it was Amiga or nothing!

My friend Greg Johnson (of Toe Jam and Earl fame) was working on designing Starflight, which was targeted to be released on the PC as its first SKU. I thought it was going to be a failure. Starflight’s huge success shows that I’m certainly not right all the time! Even though it only had four color graphics Starflight showed just how powerful the PC was plus it showed that the huge audience on the PC wanted to do more than just make spread sheets with Lotus 1,2,3.

The Amiga basically failed as a platform, so we jumped feet first onto the PC as did the entire game industry. It was not easy. First came 16 color EGA boards, then clunky sound cards, then 3 1/2″ floppies, then 256 color VGA cards and Roland MT-32 synthesizers, then Sound Blaster cards, then CD-ROM’s, then dedicated 3D graphics cards, etc. Along the way, we would ship games with 5 1/4″ and 3 1/2″ floppies that supported graphics modes from CGA to VGA, sound cards from the single beep internal speaker to the incredible sounding MT-32, and 3D graphics from software rendering to Voodoo.

The early Nineties were the absolute heyday of PC games. It was heady times with publishers like Sierra, Broderbund, Electronic Arts, and Microprose filled with great developers like Origin Systems, Westwood, and Dynamix (even if I do say do myself) making cool games like Command and Conquer, Wing Commander, F-15 Strike Eagle, King’s Quest, and The Incredible Machine (!!). The big got bigger and went public, supplying enough money to the industry to make innovative games and create new genres. Game development risk was not so large yet that risks could not be tolerated.

Through out these changes on the platform Bill was always right there giving the development community encouragement and direction as well as making changes in the MS-DOS and Windows operating systems to support games. Behind the scenes Microsoft was moving the industry along from the C prompt to Windows while figuring out how to address all of the needed technologies within the operating system, e.g. we would need more more memory, put in hacks break it, then MS would figure out how to rein it back in.

Meanwhile the console industry was growing too, but it was kind of a different set of publishers and developers working on relatively “closed systems”. Initially, it was difficult for PC based publishers to make the jump to success to both platforms. But, as the PC platform became more convoluted, more publishers and developers were making the jump, so Bill listened to his constituents and developed the Xbox and Xbox 360 platforms, which brings us up to date.

All along this journey, I don’t think Bill made these investments and bets because he liked games. I think it was because he understood that people using his operating system and the hardware it ran on liked them. What ever the reason, it is a long way from publishing Olympic Decathlon on the Apple II to the awesome, connected, wireless input Xbox 360. It helps to have billions to invest to make it happen. All I can say, is I’m glad he did it.

Thank, Bill. I’m looking forward to you making the world a better place with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games

  • Bill

    If only his corporation worked to help embrace the community standards, rather than impose the Microsoft standards…

  • Bill

    If only his corporation worked to help embrace the community standards, rather than impose the Microsoft standards…

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      Although I am thankful for Bill's contributions to the game industry, I have never been much of a fan of Microsoft's monopolistic operating system and business application businesses. I think the back of that monopoly has been broken for good by Google and cloud computing. I agree, however, that if they would embrace community standards, their job would be much easier.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    Although I am thankful for Bill's contributions to the game industry, I have never been much of a fan of Microsoft's monopolistic operating system and business application businesses. I think the back of that monopoly has been broken for good by Google and cloud computing. I agree, however, that if they would embrace community standards, their job would be much easier.

  • http://www.garagegames.com Brett Seyler

    Great post Jeff. This is really getting fun to read :) As much as people beat up on MS, they really have been pioneers in this space both with the introduction of the Xbox (hugely risky at the time) and with they're new XNA effort. Both have benefited gamers and game developers.

  • http://www.garagegames.com Brett Seyler

    Great post Jeff. This is really getting fun to read :) As much as people beat up on MS, they really have been pioneers in this space both with the introduction of the Xbox (hugely risky at the time) and with they're new XNA effort. Both have benefited gamers and game developers.

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      I totally agree about XNA. I posted about that (http://www.makeitbigingames.com/blog/?p=34) when GarageGames first got involved and certain members of the game development community did not get it. For unfunded game developers, it is still one of the best ways of getting notice on a console.

  • http://spacecreeps.com James Hofmann

    My early childhood(late 1980s) was the period when Microsoft began its meteoric rise. Although my dad had computers around the house, being a (business) programmer, and he too bought into Microsoft's platform, my view of PC gaming was perpetually behind the cutting edge that you got to see as a game developer: I was still playing Atari 800 games from the early 80s in 1990. I skipped 16-bit platforms entirely, going straight to PC; and I had only Soundblaster clones and later the impressive-but-overlooked Gravis Ultrasound. I never got to hear a real MT-32 until I bought one on eBay last year ($40 inc. shipping) specifically to play all those old games that used them – Dynamix, by the way, did a superb job with it.

    So in my experience it wasn't until the later half of the 90s that Windows, DirectX, and hardware advances combined to make a developer target platform that matched what most consumers actually had. I also pinpoint that time as being the seeds of my disinterest in mainstream gaming, though it's hard to say _exactly_ why that is. Today a dichotomy again exists on the PC between 3d haves and have-nots, one which may close with the coming of GPU-CPU integrated processors.

    But my main point is, most people didn't get to see the whole of gaming as it was in the pre-Windows era – at best they would see only brief snippets. Keeping up with it now is probably even more unlikely, with a multitude of platforms and options – phones and portables, browser-based, console, etc. Fortunately, it is also more affordable in most respects.

  • http://spacecreeps.com James Hofmann

    My early childhood(late 1980s) was the period when Microsoft began its meteoric rise. Although my dad had computers around the house, being a (business) programmer, and he too bought into Microsoft's platform, my view of PC gaming was perpetually behind the cutting edge that you got to see as a game developer: I was still playing Atari 800 games from the early 80s in 1990. I skipped 16-bit platforms entirely, going straight to PC; and I had only Soundblaster clones and later the impressive-but-overlooked Gravis Ultrasound. I never got to hear a real MT-32 until I bought one on eBay last year ($40 inc. shipping) specifically to play all those old games that used them – Dynamix, by the way, did a superb job with it.

    So in my experience it wasn't until the later half of the 90s that Windows, DirectX, and hardware advances combined to make a developer target platform that matched what most consumers actually had. I also pinpoint that time as being the seeds of my disinterest in mainstream gaming, though it's hard to say _exactly_ why that is. Today a dichotomy again exists on the PC between 3d haves and have-nots, one which may close with the coming of GPU-CPU integrated processors.

    But my main point is, most people didn't get to see the whole of gaming as it was in the pre-Windows era – at best they would see only brief snippets. Keeping up with it now is probably even more unlikely, with a multitude of platforms and options – phones and portables, browser-based, console, etc. Fortunately, it is also more affordable in most respects.

  • http://newretro.org sillytuna

    Woah there Jeff. I have to disagree with this comment:

    “The Amiga basically failed as a platform”

    It most certainly did not – at least in Europe it was very successful. The problems with the Amiga were very much down to C= mismanagement during it's mid-term and later years. While the PC and Mac progressed through competition (PC) and marketing (Mac), C= never quite sorted themselves out.

    For several years the Amiga was immensely popular and successful, however.

    Interesting post other than that ;)

  • http://newretro.org sillytuna

    Woah there Jeff. I have to disagree with this comment:

    “The Amiga basically failed as a platform”

    It most certainly did not – at least in Europe it was very successful. The problems with the Amiga were very much down to C= mismanagement during it's mid-term and later years. While the PC and Mac progressed through competition (PC) and marketing (Mac), C= never quite sorted themselves out.

    For several years the Amiga was immensely popular and successful, however.

    Interesting post other than that ;)

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      I knew somebody would call me out on that, but I stand by my statement. The Amiga didn't survive, Commodore did not survive. Immensely popular is an overstatement. The Amiga sold a couple hundred thousand units. The reasons it did not survive are irrelevant, the fact is, it did not survive. That does not mean we did not love it. EA had to push us very hard to quit working on the platform.

  • http://snowballz.joey101.net Michael Lubker

    Incredible Machine was one of my favorite games…

  • http://snowballz.joey101.net Michael Lubker

    Incredible Machine was one of my favorite games…

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      Of all the games I have worked on, TIM is my favorite.

  • http://gamenotes.org mattsayre

    I played so much Flight Simulator. I guess I can thank Bill for one of the games that got me hooked on PC gaming too. And of course Starflight, my favorite game of all time, further fueled my addiction. Even though I could never get it working on the PCjr for some reason, I stuck with it and finally played the snot out of it on the PS/2 Model 30. That right there may have turned me into a gamer for life. (I didn't realize Starflight was the PC's first SKU)

    As for the Amiga, that was my “dream system” back then. It had the ability to play voices! How much more fun Earl Weaver would have been on that… Sadly, our family never owned one.

  • http://gamenotes.org mattsayre

    I played so much Flight Simulator. I guess I can thank Bill for one of the games that got me hooked on PC gaming too. And of course Starflight, my favorite game of all time, further fueled my addiction. Even though I could never get it working on the PCjr for some reason, I stuck with it and finally played the snot out of it on the PS/2 Model 30. That right there may have turned me into a gamer for life. (I didn't realize Starflight was the PC's first SKU)

    As for the Amiga, that was my “dream system” back then. It had the ability to play voices! How much more fun Earl Weaver would have been on that… Sadly, our family never owned one.

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      Starflight was not the first PC game, it was Greg's company's first game, and it was developed for the PC platform before it was ported to any other. My bad on the way I wrote that.

      • http://gamenotes.org mattsayre

        Ah ok, that didn't seem quite right.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    I totally agree about XNA. I posted about that (http://www.makeitbigingames.com/blog/?p=34) when GarageGames first got involved and certain members of the game development community did not get it. For unfunded game developers, it is still one of the best ways of getting notice on a console.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    I knew somebody would call me out on that, but I stand by my statement. The Amiga didn't survive, Commodore did not survive. Immensely popular is an overstatement. The Amiga sold a couple hundred thousand units. The reasons it did not survive are irrelevant, the fact is, it did not survive. That does not mean we did not love it. EA had to push us very hard to quit working on the platform.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    Of all the games I have worked on, TIM is my favorite.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    Starflight was not the first PC game, it was Greg's company's first game, and it was developed for the PC platform before it was ported to any other. My bad on the way I wrote that.

  • http://gamenotes.org mattsayre

    Ah ok, that didn't seem quite right.

  • David Blake

    Any blog that has Flight Simulator (or Jet, which I also loved), TIM, and Starflight in it is an instant win for me. Of course, Dungeon Master on the Amiga was a win for me as well! I want Starflight 3, but I don't get to play games as much as I used to back in the day. One of the things that I've always had to commend Bill on was solid vision. I may not always have agreed or liked the vision, but he always seemed to have a solid one.

  • David Blake

    Any blog that has Flight Simulator (or Jet, which I also loved), TIM, and Starflight in it is an instant win for me. Of course, Dungeon Master on the Amiga was a win for me as well! I want Starflight 3, but I don't get to play games as much as I used to back in the day. One of the things that I've always had to commend Bill on was solid vision. I may not always have agreed or liked the vision, but he always seemed to have a solid one.

  • http://fosters.realmwarsgame.com Logan Foster

    Good post Jeff. I think a lot of people get caught up in trying to be cool geeks and hating Microsoft so much that they often overlook what a driving force it has also been for the personal computer market. Yes Microsoft has done some deplorable things, but they have also done some gret things as well that we should never forget.

    I found it intersting that on Gamasutra today Blizzards Rob Pardo was bashing Microsoft for not supporting PC gaming and instead focusing on making the 360 succeed. What he forgets to mention though is that the issues with gaming on the PC are more to do with a) a fragmented industry of “Me first”, b) crappy hardware/drivers and c) annoying 20 step processes of install 5GB of data, register your game, setup your DRM, update your drivers, click on some launcher window, insert your password, then you might actually get to play your game.

    Plus honestly who can blame Microsoft for stepping back a bit from the PC and trying to head off Sony at the pass before they cut the PC market off at the knees by becoming the defacto gaming and data interface in the home, thus forcing everyone into the Sony monopoly (but oh wait… Sony is cool and Microsoft isn't I forgot, Sony hasn't yet pissed off computer enthusiasts yet, just every other electronic enthusiast in the world with their business practices).

    I digress, but that's what I see of the market today.

  • http://fosters.realmwarsgame.com Logan Foster

    Good post Jeff. I think a lot of people get caught up in trying to be cool geeks and hating Microsoft so much that they often overlook what a driving force it has also been for the personal computer market. Yes Microsoft has done some deplorable things, but they have also done some gret things as well that we should never forget.

    I found it intersting that on Gamasutra today Blizzards Rob Pardo was bashing Microsoft for not supporting PC gaming and instead focusing on making the 360 succeed. What he forgets to mention though is that the issues with gaming on the PC are more to do with a) a fragmented industry of “Me first”, b) crappy hardware/drivers and c) annoying 20 step processes of install 5GB of data, register your game, setup your DRM, update your drivers, click on some launcher window, insert your password, then you might actually get to play your game.

    Plus honestly who can blame Microsoft for stepping back a bit from the PC and trying to head off Sony at the pass before they cut the PC market off at the knees by becoming the defacto gaming and data interface in the home, thus forcing everyone into the Sony monopoly (but oh wait… Sony is cool and Microsoft isn't I forgot, Sony hasn't yet pissed off computer enthusiasts yet, just every other electronic enthusiast in the world with their business practices).

    I digress, but that's what I see of the market today.

    • Morgan

      All true.

      Microsoft were always making the effort to support developers, and products like Visual C++ and the MSDN library are still top of the line.
      Sony, on the other hand, has one of the worst documented SDK for the PS3. As a coder you simply realize that supporting its own developers is very low on their priority list – the Sony toolchain is at par with debuggers from decades ago and we supposed to use it on the state of the art console.

      I'll take the Microsoft monopoly over Sony's monopoly anytime!

  • techknight

    There was one game that Bill worked on (with Neil Konzen)… Donkey, included with DOS 1.x! :)

    More information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DONKEY.BAS

  • techknight

    There was one game that Bill worked on (with Neil Konzen)… Donkey, included with DOS 1.x! :)

    More information here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DONKEY.BAS

  • Morgan

    All true.

    Microsoft were always making the effort to support developers, and products like Visual C++ and the MSDN library are still top of the line.
    Sony, on the other hand, has one of the worst documented SDK for the PS3. As a coder you simply realize that supporting its own developers is very low on their priority list – the Sony toolchain is at par with debuggers from decades ago and we supposed to use it on the state of the art console.

    I'll take the Microsoft monopoly over Sony's monopoly anytime!

  • http://www.shapesandlines.com Todd Pickens

    Jeff, Nice trip down memory lane, brings back lots of memories. Good stuff.

    Coincidentally today was my last day at Garage Games.

  • http://www.shapesandlines.com Todd Pickens

    Jeff, Nice trip down memory lane, brings back lots of memories. Good stuff.

    Coincidentally today was my last day at Garage Games.

  • http://blog.hexagonstar.com/aliens-and-alot-of-pixel-blood/ sascha/hdrs

    Very well said! I think people should stop bashing Bill Gates and start bashing Tom Cruise instead … who does not support games at all!

  • http://blog.hexagonstar.com/aliens-and-alot-of-pixel-blood/ sascha/hdrs

    Very well said! I think people should stop bashing Bill Gates and start bashing Tom Cruise instead … who does not support games at all!

  • http://www.deannolan.co.uk Dean Nolan

    I think Bill and MS have done a lot for the games industry.
    The XBox 360 is an amazing console with a lot of great games.
    Then there's XNA to allow hobby developers to get thier games on the console, which is really cool.

    XBLA is really good for small dev teams to get games out, without having to go through a 4 year development cycle and risk no return.

    Then my favorite, and a lot of people will agree, the absolutely amazing Visual Studio (especially 2008). It's the standard IDE/Compiler used in the industry and it makes life so much easier.

    Thanks MS.

  • http://www.deannolan.co.uk Dean Nolan

    I think Bill and MS have done a lot for the games industry.
    The XBox 360 is an amazing console with a lot of great games.
    Then there's XNA to allow hobby developers to get thier games on the console, which is really cool.

    XBLA is really good for small dev teams to get games out, without having to go through a 4 year development cycle and risk no return.

    Then my favorite, and a lot of people will agree, the absolutely amazing Visual Studio (especially 2008). It's the standard IDE/Compiler used in the industry and it makes life so much easier.

    Thanks MS.

  • marcus

    yah, that's some good brown-nosing there. also, the 68000 is not a 16-bit cpu no matter how much you focus on the fact of its 16-bit wide external databus. it does not matter to, or affect, any programmer that it shuffles 32-bit data to/from memory in two steps, becuse its data registers are 32 bits wide, and you do 32-bit operations with them, and you 32-bit operations on memory – you work with full 32-bit capabilities at your hands in the -exact- same way you do on any other 32-bit cpu.

  • marcus

    yah, that's some good brown-nosing there. also, the 68000 is not a 16-bit cpu no matter how much you focus on the fact of its 16-bit wide external databus. it does not matter to, or affect, any programmer that it shuffles 32-bit data to/from memory in two steps, becuse its data registers are 32 bits wide, and you do 32-bit operations with them, and you 32-bit operations on memory – you work with full 32-bit capabilities at your hands in the -exact- same way you do on any other 32-bit cpu.

    • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

      I wasn't brown nosing. It is just the way I feel. Oh yeah, and thanks for the astounding insights on the obsolete 68000. All those programmers out there still making their living creating products for that chip thank you.

  • http://www.makeitbigingames.com Jeff Tunnell

    I wasn't brown nosing. It is just the way I feel. Oh yeah, and thanks for the astounding insights on the obsolete 68000. All those programmers out there still making their living creating products for that chip thank you.