‘Father of DirectX’ talks Microsoft and gaming

The crew at Shacknews has had a chance to sit down and interview Alex St. John, the ex-Microsoft veteran who fathered DirectX technology and propelled Microsoft into the gaming business. In the interview, St. John explains how he started the DirectX project as an underground effort at Microsoft with a “couple of friends” and eventually managed to persuade game developers to adopt the technology. He recounts his first brush with Bill Gates, the launch party for the Windows 95 version of Doom, and how he was almost fired after an unfortunate encounter with the press. St. John makes some choice comments about Windows Vista, too, including a tirade on how the new operating system handles games.

I don’t think Microsoft did anything to help the PC as a gaming platform with Vista, and that’s a tremendous frustration because I take it very personally. If I would’ve been there, I would have made much more aggressive efforts to make sure Vista stayed out of the way of games. What you see with Microsoft is, without people at Microsoft who realize that the operating system does not add value to gaming, it gets in the way, they think they can add more value by adding in more [doo-doo] that only gets in the way of making a good game. Unfortunately, Vista does that. Microsoft added more [err, poo] that impedes game development. It’s certainly possible to make great games in Vista, it’s just more of a pain in the ass than it needs to be. I think Vista is a missed opportunity for Microsoft to have done a better job in supporting PC gaming.

He is also critical of Vista’s security, comparing it to a concrete house that has screen doors. “It’s an enormously overbuilt security system with huge, gaping holes. It’s extremely intrusive, and it gets in the way of the user’s experience without actually being secure,” he claims.

Comments closed
    • DreadCthulhu
    • 14 years ago

    I think reason Vista isn’t as friendly to games is the the Xbox 360. Microsoft makes money on the sale of Xbox 360 games, while they don’t from PC games, giving MS a good reason to kill of PC gaming in favor of their pet console.

      • gtoulouzas
      • 14 years ago

      Not quite. An awful lot of home PC users stick to Windows on account of games. Many of these users would quickly switch to either Macs or Linux if Microsoft somehow managed to “kill” PC gaming (which I seriously doubt they could accomplish, even if they wanted to).

      As Microsoft earns considerably (and consistently) more money out of Windows than they do from consoles, I seriously doubt they intend to kill the goose that lays their golden eggs by undermining Windows gaming.

    • Hance
    • 14 years ago
      • Krogoth
      • 14 years ago

      Sadly, that commercial is so true

      UAC is the biggest nanny ever. Perfect for average joe, but downright annoying to power users. “OMG ARE YOU SURE THAT YOU WANT TO OPEN X FILE?” “OMFG PROGRAM Y IS TRYING TO OPEN UP PORT Z! ALLOW OR DENY?

      UAC was a step in the right direction for security, but hampered by ham-fisted execution.

        • adisor19
        • 14 years ago

        LOL i wish those would be the EXACT dialogs that vista woud ask the average joe… once can only dream 🙂

        Adi

    • Fighterpilot
    • 14 years ago

    Every article on TR about Vista produces a slew of “OMG the UAC is so annoying” comments yet apparently its the people who dont have Vista that are making them all.A 5 min test of a beta doesnt count btw.
    I’m as easily aggravated as anyone, yet having actually used and purchased Vista I can testify to the fact that its such a insignificant problem it deserves about a 1 line sentence…once.
    If you dont have Vista why not stfu about it as you are just repeating the clueless FUD spread by other MS haters rather than adding anything of value to the whole affair.

      • deathBOB
      • 14 years ago

      < Vista User

      UAC /[

        • Shintai
        • 14 years ago

        Besides a fancy GUI, its a utter mess and disaster underneath. It even got more bugs each month than windows now. And they dont get fixed as fast…

          • poulpy
          • 14 years ago

          OSX being built upon a rock solid BSD base I’d put it at the other end of a “utter mess and disaster underneath” scale. But feel free to add some technical insights to your “analyse” if you have any.

          You’re not a developer are you? Since when the number of /[

            • Shintai
            • 14 years ago

            Ye sure, until it was heavily modified and forced on a wrapper with the Mach kernel. There aint as much BSD left as you think and the rock solid is replaced with cardboard paper. The same kernel+wrappers is the reason on why OSX performs so in alot of multithreaded scenarios.

            Even benchmarks shows it:
            §[<http://www.anandtech.com/mac/showdoc.aspx?i=2520&p=7<]§ And for bugs. Bugs usually follow the popularity trend with what OS/App got the biggest marketshare. Apple aint doing so well, tho they try make it sound like OSX is wastly more secure. So unless you are a mac0lyte...OSX aint pretty(underneath.)

            • poulpy
            • 14 years ago

            There is no wrapper involved whatsoever you have clearly no clue on this subject. Please have a read before leaking that much FUD.
            §[<http://www.kernelthread.com/mac/osx/arch_xnu.html<]§ Performance had nothing to do with your first post, it doesn't show it more or less secure. Of course Apple wants its OS to look "wastly" more secure but again that has nothing to do with your previous point on number of bugs that made no sense. I'm no Mac lover, but you should maybe follow your own advice and stick to the facts instead of FUDing away.

      • sigher
      • 14 years ago

      If you admit you actually purchased vista at this stage it’s clear you are a fool and that sort of destroys the value of your comments.

    • blitzy
    • 14 years ago

    eh he cant talk, opengl was always much nicer than directx back in the day

    grain of salt to his face mr ex MS employee, not like one would expect an EX employee to have good things to say

      • d2brothe
      • 14 years ago

      No ex-employee would have something good to say, I hardly thing thats a fair assesssment, I’ve had lots of jobs, I’ve got lots of good things to say about them, not everyone leaves under unpleasent circumstances, and even if they do, most people are reasonable enough to at least be able to point out the good and the bad of the job/company.

        • blitzy
        • 14 years ago

        that may well be the case, but this guy seems like he is beating his own drum to me

    • albundy
    • 14 years ago

    “it gets in the way of the user’s experience”

    you mean every single thing you do requires you to click 10 times “are you sure?”

      • BiffStroganoffsky
      • 14 years ago

      Ah, I see where that would impede your gaming experience.

      *click* fire RL
      …are you sure…
      albundy takes hit…life at 75%

      *click* yes…fire the RL damnit
      …are you sure…
      albundy takes another hit…life at 50%

      *click* yes…fire the fricken’ RL you $#!@! machine!
      …are you sure…
      albundy takes a lethal hit…game over

      would you like to play again?
      *click* yes
      …are you sure…

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 14 years ago

      Eh? I have never had it prompt me more than once to do something.

    • bdwilcox
    • 14 years ago

    His arguments are pointed and cogent, but each needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Alex St. John is the founder of Wild Tangent, so he definitely has a bias and an ulterior motive behind a lot of things he says. This doesn’t make what he says “wrong”, just skewed to his perspective.

      • swaaye
      • 14 years ago

      Everyone has an agenda. But, If he weren’t in the industry we wouldn’t take stock in his comments at all. It’s too bad for all of us that he isn’t still at MS, methinks.

        • SPOOFE
        • 14 years ago

        Well, he cites security problems and the game explorer… the first sounds like a general, non-gaming-specific problem, and the second just sounds like an unnecessary effort. What other aspects of Vista “get in the way of gaming”?

          • Madman
          • 14 years ago

          Lets take a look at DirectSound for example. Vista require to wrap it to OpenAL to get hardware acceleration, therefore stealing driver development time from Creative, which they by the way BADLY lacks…

        • bdwilcox
        • 14 years ago

        To #10

        The reason I stated this is that the article didn’t explicitely reveal this conflict of interest on his part. Full disclosure should have been made early on in the interview so the reader could understand where he was coming from. That’s simply good journalism.

      • gtoulouzas
      • 14 years ago

      The press rarely ever fails to advertise St. John’s involvement with the development of DirectX ; there has even been a semi-hagiographic book called “Renegades of the Empire” written about him (subtitle : “How Three Software Warriors Started a Revolution Behind the Walls of Fortress Microsoft”, snicker).

      All hyperbole and self-aggrandizement aside, the concept behind DirectX has certainly been important. Having said that, I distinctly remember the initial iterations of the API being hideously buggy, underperforming and prone to literally bringing down systems with them upon installation. Hardly the stuff “revolutions” are made of, is it?

    • Hance
    • 14 years ago

    The Saint has been ranting about Vista for months now. He writes a monthly colum for CPU magazine. He has a lot of insight into the inner workings of redmond so he tends to be fairly accurate when he says something.

      • DrDillyBar
      • 14 years ago

      Indeed. I’m getting a bit tired of his diatribes though…

    • SPOOFE
    • 14 years ago

    A good read, and the guy seems to know his stuff. It’s a shame that mavericks tend to have shorter life-spans than the stuffy suits with no connection to any reality other than that damned ubiquitous “business”.

    • Gandhi
    • 14 years ago

    r[< I think Vista is a missed opportunity for Microsoft to have done a better job in supporting PC computing.<]r Fixed the original quote to reflect reality.

      • eitje
      • 14 years ago

      damn, that’s HARSH, coming from Ghandi.

        • SPOOFE
        • 14 years ago

        Is Vista really that bad? Never touched the program, and I hear conflicting reports.

          • sigher
          • 14 years ago

          My impressions is that’s it’s great for people that combine both the simplicity of the user vista is marketed for, and the technical savvy to work around the bugs and failures so typical of a microsoft OS.
          In short it’s nice if you are a good little non-tech citizen with a large social network to help you out :]

    • alex666
    • 14 years ago

    What a great read. That MS once had a party for game developers that included an 8-foot vagina with 100 penises hanging from it, and OJ’s severed head, well, that’s a tough one to top.

      • 5150
      • 14 years ago

      Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina.

        • alex666
        • 14 years ago

        What’s your point?

          • BiffStroganoffsky
          • 14 years ago

          He’s frightened by the 8ft. vagina.

      • totoro
      • 14 years ago

      Yes, but I don’t think that was intentional.
      They invited GWAR and um..well GWAR did what they do best.
      Penises. And vaginas. Spraying stuff.

    • adisor19
    • 14 years ago

    Aahh, i remember DirectX back in the 95 era when it automatically updated my drivers for my Asus VideoExpression VT264 and caused a blue screen of death whenever i exited a full screen DirectX game.. ah the memories 🙂

    Adi

      • swaaye
      • 14 years ago

      Yeah but the IHVs back then almost never updated drivers. So, if MS didn’t get them for you, you were often screwed and had to buy new hardware.

      I had an ET4000 back then and a friend had a Trident 9440. Both actually worked as well or better with those DX drivers. Eventually I think Hercules made some even better ET4000 drivers for my card tho. But Trident was shit throughout their entire existence. Both in support and actual speed.

        • Forge
        • 14 years ago

        Mmmm, good old Tseng ET4000. I had one of those once, but the last Windows it ran was a beta of 95.

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