Every Windows user knows Minesweeper. A new book now reveals: Microsoft founder Bill Gates was obsessed with it. Until a computer stole his high score.
It’s one of those game principles that can develop a kind of pull: once you’ve discovered the simple logic puzzle Minesweeper, it’s hard to get rid of it. One of the most obsessed fans was hooked on the game before it was even released: Microsoft founder Bill Gates. He is said to have been chasing the high score so much that the company had to use a trick to pry him away.
This is reported in the new book “Minesweeper” by journalist Kyle Orland. In an excerpt published by Orland’s employer “Ars Technica”, the author explains how Microsoft also developed into one of the most important players in the gaming market through the simple puzzle game. And how that connected to Bill Gates’ fascination with minesweepers.
The puzzle game, in which you have to use logic to find all the mines on a field, was not initially intended for publication. It was a software experiment written by the developers Curt Johnson and Robert Donner and was originally a test field for using the computer mouse, which was still quite new at the time. But by 1990, it was spreading through the company like wildfire — and infecting Bill Gates as well.
“In the beginning I got an email from Bill saying, ‘I cleared the beginner level in ten seconds. Is that a good time?'” recalls manager Bruce Ryan. He replied that that was very good. “I think our internal record is eight seconds.” Apparently Gates was spurred on by that. “The record was so close to his that he made it his mission to beat it.”
It was the beginning of an obsession. “Bill was addicted,” Charles Fitzgerald, another Microsoft executive, told the author. It got so bad that Gates threw the program off his computer, Ryan confirmed. But even that didn’t stop him from continuing to play.
Problematic gaming behavior by Bill Gates
“It was Sunday afternoon and I got a text from Bill. ‘I set a new record in Microsoft CEO Mike Hallman’s office,'” Ryan recalled. Because, according to an internal agreement, records were only valid if a third party had seen the final window themselves, he and a colleague had to come to the office on Sunday evening to confirm the 5-second record. “That’s when I realized how much time games could waste,” Donner recalls hearing about the incident.
The scale of the problem didn’t go unnoticed by management either. Melinda French, later known as Melinda Gates, called Ryan into her office at one point – and had a clear message. “Please don’t tell Bill any more about new minesweeper records.” How much he gets into the game is no longer acceptable. “Bill has very important decisions to make and they shouldn’t be taking up that much of his time,” she lamented.
But Ryan had a better idea of how to stop Gates from chasing records: he needed a record that simply couldn’t be beat. It quickly became clear to him how this worked in theory. In theory, there should be a field that would be solved with a single click. “You’d have to play it a million times to do that,” Ryan said.
So he set to work. He developed a small helper program that repeatedly created a new minesweeper field and clicked in the same corner. And immediately restarted. Only when the win window opened did it stop. Then he ran the software on his own computer.
Four days later the spook was over: Ryan sent Gates a screenshot with the new 1-second record. “Sorry, your five-second record is permanently broken. I don’t think you will be able to beat one second,” he wrote in the email. He didn’t expect an answer, he recalls. But to his horror, one was in his mailbox the next morning. “There were few things scarier at Microsoft back then than an email from Bill,” he says, explaining his fear of opening the message.
But instead of getting angry, the boss took the automated record with humor. “My critical thinking got beaten by a computer. This technology thing is going too far,” Gates quipped. “If machines are faster than us, how can we preserve our human dignity?” In the subject line, he even offered the program his job. “Chairman replaced,” it said simply.
For the game, however, the episode was just the beginning of its success story. It was first released a few months later as part of Windows 3.0.
Quelle: “Minesweeper” – via Ars Technica
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