Wednesday, July 27, 2011

DONKEY.BAS: Bill Gates tries to create Xbox twenty years too early...

Good friend and fellow blogger Scott Bradford pointed out that today is the 30th anniversary of Microsoft giving MS-DOS its name. That was the main operating system for the vast majority of personal computers for many years, until it came to be supplanted in the mid-Nineties by Microsoft's own DOS-less Windows software (even though every version of Windows since Win95 has had the original style DOS window available to open, just like the old days).

Well, 1981 was another landmark year for Microsoft, though it's the kind of history that Bill Gates would no doubt just as well wish nobody would remember! It was in 1981 that Gates and fellow programmer Neil Konzen wrote DONKEY.BAS. This was the very first video game that Microsoft would ever produce for commercial retail. It was packed in the early versions of MS-DOS, as a way to sorta "show off" the IBM PC architecture's power along with that of the BASIC programming language. Legend has it that Gates and Konzen were working in a hot, sweaty room one Sunday afternoon at Microsoft HQ when they came up with this thing.

So here is the game they produced: Donkey. It's a rudimentary driving game, so named because the "cow" that the driver had to avoid hitting ended up looking more like a donkey. So it became Donkey...

I've read numerous accounts over the years about how Apple's staff broke out into hysterical laughter when they saw DONKEY.BAS in action. And it's not hard to understand why. But in retrospect, DONKEY.BAS is pretty neat in the sense that twenty years later, Microsoft would be rolling out the Xbox and come to dominate home video gaming (a trend that continues with the Xbox 360).

Aim here to read more about DONKEY.BAS at Wikipedia.