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

Before Flash became the defining game platform of the early 2000s internet, there was Shockwave, another interactive plugin that let you play videos and games that '90s web browsers otherwise couldn't handle. The Shockwave Player was a powerful tool—especially because you could create things for it without needing to know how to program yourself. That was thanks to MacroMind Director (later Macromedia Director and then Adobe Director through acquisitions), a tool that debuted in the late 1980s for the Macintosh. John Henry Thompson was one of the key architects behind it.

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.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).