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'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.

When he's not 50 hours into a JRPG or an opaque ASCII roguelike, Wes is probably playing the hottest games of three years ago. He oversees features, seeking out personal stories from PC gaming's niche communities. 50% pizza by volume.