In 1981, 26-year-old Bill Gates found the time to create one of the world’s earliest computer games.
Called Donkey.bas, or just “Donkey,” it was essentially an old-school arcade driving game where players steered a digital racecar down a straight highway littered with, well, donkeys. The point of the game, simply, was to avoid crashing into the donkeys. The longer you can go without hitting a pixelated donkey, the more points you rack up.
Gates wrote the game’s programming with one of Microsoft’s first employees, systems programmer Neil Konzen.
Even though the game seems incredibly rudimentary by modern gaming standards, mobile app developer XVision resurrected Donkey.bas in 2012 to bring the old-school game to mobile devices running Apple’s iOS. Now, the game is available for download in Apple’s App Store for just 99 cents, and it can be played on an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Apple TV.
When Gates and Konzen wrote the game, Microsoft was only six years old, having been founded in 1975. The still young company was only a year removed from signing its first major partnership with IBM, in 1980, to develop a non-exclusive operating system for IBM’s first personal computer.
IBM had asked the Microsoft team to create a simple interactive computer program, featuring color graphics and sound, for the Microsoft BASIC computer programming software that came included with IBM’s PCs, according to the 2014 book, “Games vs. Hardware: The History of PC Gaming.”
In a 2001 speech, Gates said that he and Konzen wrote the game’s programming in one late-night coding spree that kicked off at 4 a.m. “We wrote, late at night, a little application to show what the Basic built into the IBM PC could do,” Gates said at the time. “And so that was Donkey.bas. It was, at the time, very thrilling.”
Now, XVision invites iOS users to “play the great grandma of all racing games,” with “Donkey” being recognized as one of the very first games built for IBM’s PCs.
“Relive the classic game that started it all,” XVision writes in the game’s boilerplate on the App Store website. “Beat the DONKEYS and become the top driver you’re born to be!”
And of course, the company also pays tribute to the tech icon who helped created the game: “Shout out to Bill Gates.”