If you've been following the weird gaming community vs. Microsoft debate lately, you may be interested to hear that Alex St. John was recently fired by Microsoft because he spoke his mind to the wrong people inside of Microsoft.
For those of you who don't know him, St. John spearheaded the movement to convince game developers that DOS was dead and that they should develop for Windows 95 instead. Now, after four generations of DirectX APIs, Windows 95 is the reigning champion of gaming platforms. St. John should be riding high, having so thoroughly accomplished his goals. But then the "OpenGL vs. DirectX" debate came along and he found himself on the outside looking in.
In June, id's John Carmack and John Romero (creators of DOOM, DOOM II, Quake, and other hit games) were among the leading games developers that signed an open letter to Microsoft begging them to develop OpenGL as a standard Windows 95/NT API for 3D games development. The developers explained that Direct3D, the 3D component of DirectX, was a miserable hack and was very much inferior to OpenGL. Alex St. John agreed with the developers that DirectX was too complex and wanted to create a simpler, OpenGL-like API. He said as much in debates about the topic within Microsoft, but the Redmond, Washington company had other ideas and decided to stick with the current line of DirectX APIs. St. John was fired for his vocal opposition to the decision.
"I was totally fired. I got really mad and really pissed off some important people and they shot me down, and I was actually glad. It was a relief to me. It was an awkward role."
St. John then elaborated on the events leading up to his firing. Here it is in his own words.
"The debate that raged within Microsoft," says St. John, "wasn't OpenGL vs. Direct3D. It was all about building something that would actually work."
"The trouble was, with Direct 3D and OpenGL, you had a bunch of brilliant engineers in the game industry who wanted the technically correct thing to be done. Perfectly reasonable. But that mapped to very weird politics inside Microsoft that the developers didn't understand. I had to represent Microsoft to the games community, while being aware of all the internal politics I wasn't allowed to talk about.
"At the time, Microsoft couldn't handle the one API it had," he says. "They weren't putting the resources on it to make it happen. What makes the developer community think things will be different if Microsoft simply switches to a different API?
"Microsoft comes from a corporate background. They make spreadsheets and business applications. They don't haven't a lot of real awareness, especially at the executive level, of what it means to make games, and what it means to make real-time applications. They're not sentient to that. So when you have groups like the NT group making technology for games, what they think is a priority is often on a very different bandwidth than what the games industry is thinking."
As a final statement to this story, Alex St. John plans to release an open statement to the gaming community as soon as next week, so he can respond to the issues that have been raised by these events. Stay tuned