Today marks the 88th birthday of professor Thomas Kurtz, who invented the BASIC programming language with his colleague John Kemeny.
To mark the occasion, the iOS and Apple Watch port of DONKEY.APP, a game originally programmed in BASIC by none other than Bill Gates, has been made temporarily available for free by its developers.
What better way to celebrate Kurtz’s birthday than by playing the modern port of a clunky old 1981 driving game?
As I’ve written before on Cult of Mac, Donkey played an intriguing role in the history of personal computing. Gates worked on the game prior to turning his attentions to, you know, creating Windows, becoming a billionaire and dedicating his life to curing the world’s diseases. But Donkey also had an Apple crossover.
Gates’ original co-developer on Donkey was a young hacker named Neil Konzen, who later became Microsoft’s technical lead on the Mac project.
On his excellent Folklore website, original Mac engineer Andy Hertzfeld recalls being asked by Steve Jobs to look into the DONKEY.BAS source code to get a sense of how BASIC worked. You can read his reminiscences here.
Donkey game is part of computing history
To be frank, the game — in which you guide a car down a road, while switching lanes to avoid hitting donkeys — isn’t good compared to modern games. It wasn’t even particularly great in 1981.
However, if you remember playing Donkey back in the 1980s, or simply want to get to grips with a game whose creators went on to change computing history, it’s certainly worth a look. If only to marvel at the fact that what once seemed amazing to play on a home computer is now easily playable on your Apple Watch.
Beyond that, let us just say happy birthday to Thomas Kurtz. You can read more about the creation of BASIC and Kurtz’s singular contribution to computer history here.