'90s software pioneer John Henry Thompson talks Macromedia Director, the predecessor to Flash

'90s software pioneer John Henry Thompson talks Macromedia Director, the predecessor to Flash

Let's head back to the exciting days of the CD-ROM.


Beꜰᴏʀe Flᴀsh ʙᴇᴄᴀᴍᴇ tʜᴇ defɪɴɪɴg ɢᴀᴍᴇ plᴀᴛꜰᴏʀm ᴏꜰ tʜᴇ ᴇᴀʀly 2000s ɪɴternet, tʜᴇre wᴀs Shockᴡᴀᴠᴇ, ᴀɴotʜᴇr ɪɴterᴀᴄᴛive plugɪɴ thᴀᴛ ʟᴇᴛ ʏᴏᴜ pʟᴀʏ videos ᴀɴd ɢᴀᴍᴇs thᴀᴛ '90s ᴡᴇb bʀᴏᴡsers otʜᴇrwɪse ᴄᴏᴜʟᴅn't hᴀɴdle. Tʜᴇ Shockᴡᴀᴠᴇ Pʟᴀʏer wᴀs a ᴘᴏᴡᴇʀful ᴛᴏol—especiᴀʟʟy ʙᴇᴄᴀᴜsᴇ ʏᴏᴜ ᴄᴏᴜʟᴅ creᴀᴛe thɪɴgs ꜰᴏʀ ɪᴛ wɪᴛhᴏᴜᴛ ɴᴇᴇᴅɪɴg ᴛᴏ ᴋɴᴏᴡ ʜᴏᴡ ᴛᴏ program yᴏᴜʀsᴇʟꜰ. Thᴀᴛ wᴀs thᴀɴks ᴛᴏ MacroMɪɴd Directᴏʀ (lᴀᴛer Macroᴍᴇdia Directᴏʀ ᴀɴd tʜᴇn Aᴅᴏʙᴇ Directᴏʀ ᴛʜʀᴏᴜɢʜ acquɪsɪᴛiᴏɴs), a ᴛᴏol thᴀᴛ deʙᴜᴛed ɪɴ tʜᴇ lᴀᴛe 1980s ꜰᴏʀ tʜᴇ Macɪɴᴛᴏsh. Jᴏʜn Henry Thompsᴏɴ wᴀs ᴏɴe ᴏꜰ tʜᴇ ᴋᴇʏ arcʜɪᴛects ʙᴇhɪɴd ɪᴛ.

Black History Month

For Black History Month, we've talked to Thompson about his history in early CD-ROM games and highlighted up-and-coming Black streamers you should follow.

"It was an exciting time. We were always a niche, it seemed like," Thompson said this week, when we spoke to him about his time working in software development. "We were doing our simple little game thing, and there were much bigger companies. Microsoft, Apple. There were a lot of big players dealing with not just games, but interactivity in general. I think what we had was a close link to the creative community."

Macromedia Director rose in parallel to formative PC games of the '90s like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, and in a way it was the opposite of those games. While John Carmack broke new ground writing game engines that pushed hardware to its absolute limits, artists and animators could craft games without that coding knowledge with Director. But that made it the perfect companion to the rise of the CD-ROM, which made interactive video the hot new technology.

Myst was famously made in HyperCard, which was similar to Director, and hundreds of games ended up using Director and Shockwave throughout the '90s. Thompson created the programming language Lingo, the scripting language that made Director tick.

In our interview above, Thompson and Nightdive Studios' Larry Kuperman look back on its impact. You can learn more about Thompson's life and career on his website.

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