Father of DirectX
We're very pleased to present our interview with Alex St. John, former Microsoft employee, and considered by many to be the father of DirectX and gaming on Windows. Those of you who don't know about Alex from his DirectX efforts may have heard from him during his very public debates with John Carmack a few years ago on OpenGL vs. Direct3D - much of it was published in what was then known as "Boot Magazine." Alex now heads up his own company, WildTangent
, which aims to completely reshape the gaming industry by revolutionizing the development and distribution process behind computer games. Firingsquad questions are in bold
type and Alex's responses are in plain type.
FiringSquad: Hi Alex! Thanks a lot for taking the time to meet with us and answer a few questions about yourself and your new company, Wild Tangent.
Alex: The pleasure is all mine! Oh by the way, if you've got some extra time, you might be interested in knowing that I helped put together Microsoft's Doomsday event in 1995, where Thresh won his first major tournament. If you'd like, I could try and share some memories from back then.
FS: That sounds great! We'd love to hear what you thought about Doomsday, and the Deathmatch 95 tournament in particular. It looks like you've been entrenched in the gaming history of MS since the very beginning.
For now, let's start with the basics. Can you tell me a little more about yourself, and how Wild Tangent first came into being?
Alex: Well, before WildTangent, I worked at Microsoft for 5 years, where I started the original development of Direct X. I actually started at the company doing publishing and graphics evangelism at first, but I was very interested in gaming, and wanted to be a part of that.
Before leaving MS, most of my time was spent developing the core architecture for ChromEffects. Microsoft spent a couple of years building it out, but that was eventually scrapped because of the Department of Justice hearings against them - the idea of ChromEffects was seen as a direct assault on Netscape, and at the time, Microsoft didn't need to supply any more ammo for that, so it was dropped.
FS: What was Microsoft's philosophy or attitude regarding games when you began?
Alex: Oh, it was completely nonexistent! During that time, their entire focus was on multimedia video, the primary mission of DirectX wasn't to benefit and push gaming, but simply to drive Apple and Quicktime into the ground. We had to take the idea for DirectX and push it through from its very inception.
FS: What about the direct predecessor to DirectX, I believe it was called WinG?
Alex: That's a great question, it was also one of our projects. When I started game evangelsim WinG was a technology being built by Chris Hecker in the research group, and at the time it was one of the small "Microsoft Skunkworks" projects, very low profile and off-the-wall. Basically it was fixing broken Windows drivers to make them run faster and more acceptably. Using it, we were actually able to create a video API that could run DOOM almost as fast under Windows as it did in DOS.
While working on WinG, we realized that there was a need for a much more comprehensive effort. This is why DirectX was born. If I told you six years ago that within several years, all games would be written for Windows 95, you'd say I was absolutely crazy! Game developers are always looking for the fastest, most direct way to hardware. However, you also have to look at the advantages DirectX brought to the table - the simplicity of single API design, never having to deal with specific drivers or hardware products, etc. Nowadays, there are NO games being developed for MS-DOS, it's all Windows.
DirectX was a completely "bootstrap effort." In fact, it wasn't even shipped with the OS for the first three generations of its development.