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Disney Lion King DisasterThe Saint

Microsoft Wine Guide

Microsoft’s Frank Lloyd Wright

There were many interesting events that led to the creation of DirectX but the story of DirectX could not becomplete without recounting the story of the Disney Lion King debacle. In mid-1994 I was made responsible for game evangelism for Windows 95. There are some great stories about how this former Publishing Evangelist got that job but the short version was I was the closest thing thatthe Developer Relations Teamhad to a graphics expert and Bill Gates really wanted to make Windows a successful consumer OS and to drive Windows PCs into every home. His hope was that Windows support for CD-ROM drives would result in a slew of multi-media titles like the legendary Myst that would drive consumers desire to play games on their home Windows PCs. Microsoft even had a substantial investment in producing Multi-media titles from a division of the company called Microsoft Homerun by former Microsoft Executive Patty Stonesifer which was busy cranking out memorable titles like;


Microsoft Bob

“McZee Is Coming!”

and other excitingproducts presumably designed to somehow bore people into buying PCs? To this day it still pains me to think about the many horrible media products Microsoft created in that era. Microsoft Bob was of course hugely hyped as the next great consumer desktop experience, it was managed by Melinda French now known as Melinda Gates. Getting that gig was apparently Melindas reward for creating Microsoft Publisher which was how I met her while I was Publishing Evangelist. Then there was the most unspeakable debacle of all, McZee, a childrens character that Microsoft invested heavily in developing with the hope that he would be the leading character in an endless franchise of hit childrens games. McZee was Microsofts version of Elmo, Big Bird and Barney all rolled into one pedophilic package. I was first introduced to McZee when greeted by a horrific poster of him pasted across every Microsoft corridor and cafeteria. The poster is thankfully lost to the sands of antiquity but imagine if you will a classic Warner Brothers bulls-eye logo with Porkey Pig springing out of it saying Thats all folks! except this poster featured McZee popping out of it, eyes crossed and tongue lolling,shouting McZee Is Coming!

I still have nightmares about it and the idea of letting McZeecome anywherenear my children.


This was about the same time that Microsoft thought it was a brilliant idea to add avatars to Microsoft Office so that a useless %^$! Paperclip was constantly dancing around on your documents demanding attention and making itself enragingly useless whenever you actually got so desperate for help that you were forced to resort to interacting with it. Like the more modern Windows 8 desktop, no amount of feedback that everybody unilaterally hated it would deter them from imposing it on every hapless Microsoft Office user withlittle hope of disabling it.

Thats not to say that Microsoft didnt have some hit multimedia titles including Microsoft Flight Simulator and Microsoft Golf both DOS games.

The short of it was that if Microsoft was depending on the quality content coming from its own studios to drive wild consumer demand for Windows 95 in the home, we were in serious trouble. Fortunately there was hope! A young wizard named Chris Hecker working for the prestigious Microsoft Advanced Technology Group under Nathan Myhrvold had, with assistance from the legendary Microsoft genius Todd Laney, created an API for Windows 3.1 called WinG that enabled Windows to actually render graphics at reasonable frame rates. The secret trick? Hecker was hacking into broken Windows video drivers and patching them to work correctly usually resulting in 10X-100X increases in rendering performance. This was an era long before Microsoft had rigorous driver compatibility tests and certification programs. Windows drivers were all disasters. Layered on top of the patched drivers was an API called CreateDibSection that enabled direct bitmap rendering to the display instead of drawing through Windows cumbersome GDI interfaces. Hecker had made contact with game industry legend John Carmack and persuaded John to let him attempt to port DOOM to Windows. Hecker had drawn enormous attention at Microsoft for his amazing demos of DOOM running in Windows at 60fps. When word reached my management (Rick Segal) that Hecker was doing something in gaming that might make it possible to recruit real game developers to the Windows Platform I was dispatched to evaluate the project to see if I could productize it and get developers to use it.

Hecker, like many Microsoft kids in that era, was brilliant, energetic and young. Over the course of several months I persuaded several leading game developers to port DOS games to WinG for launch on Windows 3.1 for Christmas 1994. Todd Laney had fully implemented the CreateDibSection API into Windows95 so presumably any games we could get to market on it earlier would be compatible and well integrated when Windows 95 shipped a year later. However when it came to delivering the standalone WinG API on time for Christmas 1994, Hecker struggled to deliver I was in a panic because I had signed up many leading game developers to adopt WinG and bet on Microsoft for the first time including; Activision, ID, Origin, Mindscape and Disney. The fact that Disney was betting its first Windows Lion King game onWindows was regarded as a huge evangelism coupe within Microsoft. It would be a disaster for their confidence in adopting Microsoft platforms in the futureif they bet a game on us and we failed to deliver the platform in time for the all critical Christmas season more importantly it would destroy my street cred with developers

I approached my good friend Craig Eisler, who at the time was a tools evangelist working to drive adoption of Microsofts MFC libraries, with my serious problem. (It should be noted that at that time Craig was already highly regarded among game developers because he was famous for writing the Watcom DOS extender that enabled DOS game developers to create 32bit applications) Craig and I had become friends because of a common interest in weight lifting which we did every other morning at the Microsoft Gym before work. I needed his help getting WinG out the door, if we missed Christmas we were dead. Craig signed on to help Hecker finish WinG. As an engineer Craig was highly structured and monstrously prolific, he put in the extremely long hours and motivated the WinG team of three to do the same to get it done. I have manyentertaining stories about this period but the one that sticks in my mind related to WinG was a very late night in building 11 finishing up WinG. I had meals catered in for the team and we were all taking a break to eat. Craig had recently had a very painful and personal surgery for men which of course involved nasty complications that he felt compared to “share” with us over dinner. Chris had his own story of comparably horrific genitalia surgery and for nearly an hour Craig and Chris sparred to one up each other over whose surgery and complications were worst while the rest of us were alternately unable to eat out of sheer disgust and/or laughing too hard to breathe.

In the end, 24 shiny new multimedia titles shipped for Windows 3.1 on time for Christmas 1994. I was of course hugely relieved and walking on air.

and then disaster

1994 Windows Lion King CD

Disney had done a deal with Compaq Computers to ship the Lion King Game pre-installed on a million Compaq Computers destined as Christmas presents for children everywhere across the country. The NEW Presario line had a NEW Cirrus video chip and NEW Cirrus video driver never before tested with WinG. The Wall Street Journal published a feature articleabout Disney spoiling Christmas for children everywhere as the much anticipated Disney Lion King game blu- screened on computers across the country Christmas morning. At this point, as I had resolutely believed on many other occasions at Microsoft, I was going to be fired. The disaster was epic, the bad media was epic and Disney was not happy. I thought I was going to get justifiably raked over the coals for perpetrating such an epic market and PR disaster for Microsoft, Disney and Compaq all in one fell swoop. For the first time in ages the casualy attired Microsoft campus was swarmed in black suit wearing Disney executives. I thought I was going to be in recrimination meetings until the end of time but bizarrely the wave seemingly passed right over my head. My management, my managements management, their management were all embroiled in constant meetings. Not a word was said to any of us about it until the dust began to settle and Rick Segal looking much bedraggled from the many Disney recrimination meetings he had attended asked me to propose what I would do to ensure that something like that didnt happen with Windows 95. For all of the mess, getting Disney and many other reputable developers to attempt to make Windows consumer games for the first time was considered a success despite the embarrassing first missteps.

Craig and I began work on specifying the Windows Game SDK for Windows 95 which ultimately included plans for rigorous driver testing and developer events scheduled each fall called MeltDowns in which game developers and video card manufacturers would all gather at Microsoft for a week of game and driver testing ahead of the Christmas season. Doom was not one of the 24 games that shipped on WinG, despite heroic efforts, we could never make it run well on Windows 3.1. Craig left the Developer Relations Group to join the Multimedia team in the OS group, then run by Paul Osborne, where he would begin the effort to redesign the Windows graphics architecture. I went on to develop relations across the game industry by initially focusing on ensuring that Windows 95 would be compatible with 1000 DOS games in time for its release. I had many other adventures during this effort. Eric Engstrom who had also been a tools evangelist with Craig but moved to join the same Advanced Technology Group Hecker had worked for, would soon enter the story as we ran into our next major obstacle in creating DirectX. As for Chris, an understandable rivalry developed in which he got to play the role of courageous young technology Jedi and I reluctantly got to play Vader on a battlefield of 3D standards.

*I have original WinG SDK’s somewhere in storage, next time I get a chance I’ll dig one out and post it.

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