Yes, that’s Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates pretending to walk around in a level from DOOM and firing a shotgun at a demon marine.
When the original DOOM was released, it was installed on millions of PCs across the country. Microsoft, interested in pushing Windows 95, wanted id Software (and DOOM) involved in the OS. Microsoft convinced id Software to let the company port DOOM to Windows, and asked Gates to appear in a promo video, as part of a larger event to promote Windows and games.
Yes, that actually happened.
That’s the whole video, but how’d it come to be?
Much of what we know about this moment in time comes from David Kushner’s excellent book chronicling the development of id Software’s classic shooter, Masters of Doom. If you haven’t read that book, you should.
Though Gates knew of id Software, he became far more interested when programmer John Carmack was trying to recruit Microsoft coder Michael Abrash to join him in building the groundbreaking 3D shooter Quake:
Still, when Carmack asked him to come work for id, Abrash said he’d have to give it some thought, since it meant uprooting his family. Days later, he got an e-mail from his boss, Bill Gates. Gates had caught wind of the id deal and wanted to talk. Abrash was shocked; a meeting with Gates was like a meeting with the Pope. Gates was aware of id. His programmers had been talking with the company about creating a version of the game for the upcoming Windows platform. But id was just a small company down in Texas, he told Abrash. Microsoft had plenty to offer, he said, and regaled Abrash with the interesting research the company was planning to pursue in graphics. Gates also mentioned how a Microsoft employee had gone to work for IBM, only to return eight months later. “You might not like it down there at id,” he concluded.
Abrash chose Carmack over Gates. The potential at id was too great, he thought; he wanted to have a front-row seat to see that breakthrough virtual world, that networked 3-D world, evolve. Furthermore, he was touched by the subtext of Carmack’s invitation. Carmack seemed lonely, Abrash thought, like he didn’t have anyone who appreciated the beauty of his ideas.
Though Gates reportedly respected id Software’s technology, he was perplexed how a video game had captivated so many people to install software, compared to his operating system. That’s why he sought a Windows version of DOOM; a way to bridge the two. If games were popular on Windows, more people would be compelled to upgrade to Windows.
(At the time, most games were released on an OS called DOS.)
To make game development easier on Windows, the company had been developing a technology that would scale to each computer, no matter how the hardware differed: Direct X. (These days, we’re on DirectX 12!)
Id, he quickly discovered, was less than interested in taking on the job of programming a Windows version of Doom. The company had already turned away Apple and IBM because Carmack didn’t want to spend time doing ports. 160 And Doom was already running fine on DOS–and being played by plenty of people–so why bother? Furthermore, Carmack–long an advocate of giving away source code for the greater good of the technology–seemed almost disdainful of Microsoft’s proprietary stance. Alex assured him that id would not have to lift a finger; Microsoft would port the game itself. Carmack agreed.
WinDoom, as the version was called, was showcased at the Game Developers Conference in Silicon Valley in March 1995. Microsoft spared no expense, renting out the Great American Theme Park to unveil its goods. As the lights dimmed in the auditorium, the audience of gamers began chanting, “DOS! DOS! DOS!” in defense of Microsoft’s established platform for games. But as WinDoom began playing on the large screen, a hush of reverence fell over the crowd. The age of Windows and DirectX had begun.
(The Alex mentioned in this passage is the same Alex St. John that wrote that terrifying defense of poor working conditions in the games industry.)
Using DOOM as evidence of a gaming revolution on Windows, St. John had recruited a bunch of developers to bring their games to the platform. To put a stamp on everything, Microsoft started putting together Judgement Day, a Halloween event with developers and journalists. Set in a mansion, each developer would have an opportunity to build their own space.
Here’s what id Software’s setup apparently looked like:
Gwar, the scatological rock band that id had hired to produce the display, had pushed their renowned prurient theatrics to the edge. The vagina was lined with dozens of dildos to look like teeth. A bust of O.J. Simpson’s decapitated head hung from the top. As the visitors walked through the vaginal mouth, two members of Gwar cloaked in fur and raw steak came leaping out of the shadows and pretended to attack them with rubber penises. The Microsoft executives were frozen. Then, to everyone’s relief, they burst out laughing.
And this is how we loop back to the video at the top. St. John wasn’t able to secure Gates for the event, but his PR handlers agreed to a video spot. The idea that St. John had in mind, though, didn’t exactly fly with those people.
Alex’s requests to feature the CEO at the Halloween event, not surprisingly,were turned down. Gates had other things to do, he was told. But Alexpersisted and managed to persuade Gates’s public relations lackeys at least tohave him record a video address for the crowd. On the day of the shoot, Gates met Alex in the Microsoft video studio, flanked by anxious PR representatives,who began dictating how the shoot was going to proceed. Gates, noticing Alex’s clear dismay, cut them off.“So what do I need to do for this video?” Gates asked. Alex took a deep breath. Then he handed Gates a shotgun.
When the video was shown, St. John thought he’d get fired. He didn’t.
That Actually Happened is a weekly series at Kotaku in which we highlight interesting moments in gaming history. So far, we’ve revisited when Sonic kissed a human, a live game show on Xbox 360, and Sony throwing a God of War party with a dead goat. If you have any suggestions for future entries, please let us know in the comments below!