Tim Sweeney Honored at GDC
An old friend Tim Sweeney got much deserved recognition at the GDC today.
I’ve mentioned Tim a few times in blog articles over the years but I don’t think I have ever told the story about how he nearly became the original Direct3D team. Back in 1994 when we were first planning to create what became the Direct3D API, Tim was working at Epic on one of the first truly 3D engines. He was a teenager still living with his parents back then. I’ve told stories about the great political machinations behind the creation of Direct3D but suffice it to say that after the wildly successful launch of Windows 95 and DirectX 1.0, that Microsoft needed a consumer 3D gaming strategy to ensure that the PC remained competitive with leading next generation game consoles in that era. After surveying Microsoft’s internal resources I concluded that contrary to Microsoft’s high internal opinion of its own capabilities, there was nobody at Microsoft with the expertise and understanding of gaming to create such an API. Furthermore I found that aside from the few loner geniuses like Carmack and Sweeney the American education system was doing an abysmal job of producing engineers with the mathematical skills necessary to pioneer real-time 3D graphics. I set about analyzing the worlds gaming startups to find a team that I believed Microsoft could acquire to get the necessary gaming talent. After an extensive survey of the world my short list looked like this;
- Criterion (UK based 3D engine developer)
- Argonaught (UK based 3D engine developer)
- Rendermorphics (UK based 3D engine developer)
- Epic (US based 3D engine developer composed of 1 genius kid)
Tim had what was by far the most remarkable demo game engine, but it had not at that point, ever been used in a real game. He was also very young and still living at home. They wanted 10M for the company, which was nothing in retrospect. Unfortunately one young genius was too high a risk to bet Microsoft’s 3D strategy on at the time. The British companies all had large teams of geniuses working for them. They were far more advanced in creating complete engines and API’s. The next major criteria was, who had the most engineers that we could relocate to the US to seed Microsoft with the expertise necessary to creating a sustainable culture of 3D gaming expertise within the company. Rendermorphics had the most engineers willing to move to Redmond WA including the founders so we selected them and negotiated the acquisition which was announced in Feb. 1995.
Tim Sweeney, however had made an indelible impression at Microsoft. I had introduced him around the company at the time we were looking at acquisitions and later after the Rendermorphics acquisition I had brought Tim in to the middle of a heated internal battle over Microsoft’s future 3D strategy to help me make the case that keeping the Windows 3D hardware market open with the Direct3D API strategy was the smartest way for Microsoft to support the game community. The opposing points of view were to;
- Kill Direct3D in favor of OpenGL which really meant handing responsibility for supporting consumer gaming to a Microsoft group that hated gaming and knew nothing about it
- Kill Direct3D in favor of making a new Microsoft proprietary 3D API that only worked with proprietary 3D hardware concocted by Microsoft people who ALSO knew nothing about gaming
Tim of course blew the doors off the Microsoft audience, forever instilling the entire organization with a deep recognition of just how ignorant they were about gaming and real-time graphics in general, which led to an era of Microsoft actively recruiting more talent from the game industry like Seamus Blackley and Kevin Bacchus who were instrumental to making the case for Microsoft to invest in creating the DirectXbox. Tim was also one of my greatest early advisers on getting DirectX and Windows right for gaming. As such, he should be remembered as one of the founding pioneers in Windows gaming period.
*Search my blog site for “Sweeney” to find the many articles that chronicle some of his interactions and exploits with Microsoft in the early days of Windows gaming.