Judgment Day

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Promotional banner for Microsoft Judgment Day.

Judgment Day was a combination Halloween party, game developer convention, informal press conference, and entertainment event for the public at large organized by Microsoft and held on October 30, 1995 - also called "Devil's Night". Primarily organized by then-Microsoft employee and principal architect of DirectX, Alex St. John,[1][2]:160 the event brought together 35 game developers,[3] including id Software, who were given center stage for the event via inclusion of the finals for Deathmatch '95, a previously organized and officially sponsored DWANGO multiplayer tournament for Doom and Doom II.[1] Doom95 would play a pivotal role in the event as a part of Microsoft's continuing strategy to promote Windows 95's potential as a gaming platform. The event also served as the official release party for Raven Software's last Doom engine game, Hexen: Beyond Heretic.[4]


I wanted the event to be a highly concentrated source of stories for the hundreds of press we would invite to attend; consumer stories, business stories, Microsoft stories, human interest stories, gaming stories, as much buzz as I could generate in one evening.

—Alex St. John[1]

Alex St. John had been previously assigned to design a promotion for WinDoom at the Computer Game Developer Conference in 1994,[2]:160 and the success of this event (despite St. John's fears to the contrary, as he had almost been fired over his insertion of the phrase "Who do you want to execute today?" into the slideshow) led to continuing assignments to find new ways to promote the emerging DirectX technology as the future of gaming.[1][2]:160 He undertook planning a major event to precede the important holiday shopping season with colleague Jason Robar. The two settled on a haunted house theme for what would be a grand, carnival-like Halloween party, inspired by the infamous biennial events held by video game entrepreneur Richard Garriott at his mansion.[1]

All festivities aside, the primary core of the event would be to serve as a launch party for the first generation of DirectX games on Windows 95, including Microsoft's own Doom95. Due to the relationship St. John already had with id Software's Jay Wilbur and John Carmack from negotiating on the development of WinDoom and Doom95, he was able to persuade them, along with new business assistant Mike Wilson, to combine the Judgment Day event with the final rounds of the already-ongoing Deathmatch '95 tournament, for which Microsoft would take over all expense.[1]

According to David Kushner in Masters of Doom, St. John could not have called id at a better time since to Mike Wilson, "life was a party that never died." Wilson would create an enthusiastic press release for id Software, stating, "We are leading Microsoft down the highway to Hell."[2]:160-161

Inviting id Software to participate in the event, and making it "their" event, took a significant amount of pressure off St. John, who had been facing constant battles with Microsoft's internal public relations teams and other opponents who insisted on attempting to micro-manage the event and tried to rein in the more ambitious elements of its planning.[1]


A photograph of a portion of the main volcano stage from PC Zone magazine issue 34.

St. John was in need of an environment less sterile and uninspired than the main Microsoft campus to house the event, and found a perfect solution in the form of the "Red West" campus still being constructed for the Microsoft Home team. Its unfinished, underground parking garages formed a "concrete labyrinth," complete with dirt walls, and were adjacent to a "cathedral-like" cafeteria building well-suited for the event.[1]

The haunted house was to be designed and staged by Two Downtown of Seattle, Washington. Included in their plans was a central hub for the event in the form of a three-story-tall volcano, complete with rising steam clouds, two huge projection screens for display of the final rounds of the Doom tournament, fork-lift mounted chairs from which the finalists would play their match, and an internal elevator to bring the finalists up through clouds of smoke.[1] The tournament audience would have a capacity of 3000.[1]

Outside the event proper visitors would be able to find a Ferris wheel, a circus tent with beer and barbecue, and listen to entertainment by master of ceremonies Jay Leno.[2]:161

Bill Gates in Doom[edit]

Bill Gates kills a zombie who interrupted him.

A significant part of the kick-off for the event was to be a video featuring Microsoft CEO Bill Gates being blue-screened into Doom. Alex St. John initially met yet more resistance from Microsoft PR while trying to secure access to the executive, and he eventually bypassed them entirely, bringing the proposal directly to Gates himself. Gates accepted the idea, albeit without an entirely clear picture of what form it would yet take.[1] According to St. John, Microsoft had already been "into making funny viral videos" featuring Gates and fellow executive Steve Ballmer, and this acceptance from Gates was mostly expected by St. John, who found Gates to have a liking for his proposals.[1]

St. John states that on the day of recording, Bill Gates arrived with only 20 minutes to spend on the project. Again, PR attempted to micro-manage the recording, and growing frustrated, Gates himself turned to St. John and asked, "What do you want me to do?" Alex handed the CEO a trench coat and a shotgun and gave him his lines.[1][2]:161 The video was recorded in a single take, without any prompter or notes, and without rehearsal.[1]

St. John would again insert the phrase, "Who do you want to execute today?", a play on Microsoft's "Where do you want to go today?" promotion, at the end of the video, in part to spite the executive who earlier threatened to fire him over its use.[1]

Upon seeing the results, the public relations personnel demanded that the video was to only ever be shown once, at the event, and was to then be surrendered to the Microsoft archives.[1][2]:161 St. John states that it is only thanks to a DirectX fan employee who smuggled the video out of the company that it is now widely available.[1]

Developer displays[edit]

Of the 35 game developers present, several were given entire areas of the venue to do with as they pleased. Activision chose to convert their area into a lush jungle to promote the release of Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, while Zombie Studios[2]:162 created a giant Tesla coil operated by monsters. Accolade created a "mortal combat" arena.[5]

id Software chose to give their space to the heavy metal shock band GWAR, who filled it with suggestive and outright obscene props, including an eight-foot-tall vagina dentata monster with an effigy of O. J. Simpson's severed head attached as the clitoris and rimmed with dildos. Members of the band were present at the space, dressed in a combination of "fur and raw steak", and variously attacked visitors with fluid-spraying sex toys or made them kneel and kiss their leather boots.[5][2]:161 Of all the details which emerged during planning, the inclusion of GWAR into the event gave Alex St. John and his colleagues the most pause, but in the end they did not suffer any consequences from it despite most of the Microsoft executive team passing through the area.[1][5] Press largely neglected to mention the presence of these elements at all, perhaps afraid of offending their readers.[5]


As a form of keynote event to start the party, Alex St. John and two coworkers, dressed as red devils with horns, ascended onto the volcano to pass judgment on a hapless gamer, played by Jason Robar, whose only sin was to still be an MS-DOS gamer. After condemning Robar to eternal punishment in Hell, lights were cut and the video of Bill Gates in Doom was played back. Once the video had finished, the Deathmatch '95 finals officially kicked off, and attendees were then free to watch the games, wander the show floor, or enter the haunted house.[5]

During the tournament, a Dallas-local three-man industrial band who were friends of Mike Wilson, Society of the Damned, played while dressed as the Pope, Jesus, and Satan.[5][2]:162 According to St. John, their style was so harsh, and their presentation so blasphemous, that the Microsoft PR team had finally had enough, and they directed two security guards to storm the stage and shut off the band's equipment during performance of the song "Gods of Fear".[5][2]:162 St. John, after speaking with Mike Wilson, who was upset by the development, attempted to ward off PR and restore the band's equipment.[5][2]:162 In the process, St. John ended up yelling at his own boss and was asked to leave the event, again sure that he would be fired. The band continued to play throughout the tournament, however, a fact which St. John would discover a few days later when eventually updated about the fallout.[5]

Haunted house[edit]

Groups of twelve people were brought into the haunted house at a time and had to enter through an elaborate obstacle course of horrors. It began at the gates of Hell themselves, where Virgil, the guide from Dante's Inferno, would take them past menacing guardians into the catacombs. Other obstacles included a maze through which attendees had to crawl on hand and foot; the Hall of Judges, where demonic minions would interrogate them and then subject them to the twelve-person guillotine; and individual coffins, into which they were sealed and then suddenly released onto the show floor in a fright.[5]


Alex St. John was told that the event had been a "huge hit across Microsoft." In addition, hundreds of positive press articles were written detailing its various aspects.[5]

Cancelled sequel event[edit]

Judgment Day II was planned to take place a year later on October 30, 1996.[6] It would feature much of the same attractions as its predecessor, but swapping the haunted house theme for an H. R. Giger-designed organic spaceship. Bill Gates was intended to again appear in a video, this time pretending to pull off his human face to reveal a grey alien. The X-Files actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had already been secured for the event.[6]

However, upon hire of a new executive with authority over Alex St. John's projects, the new boss decided that the project had run over budget and needed to be cancelled, despite the fact that cancelling the event itself cost Microsoft in excess of $4 million.[6]

It is unknown if id Software would have continued to play a role in the event had it occurred.


See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 St. John, Alex (15 February 2013). "Judgment Day." The Saint (archived 🏛). Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 Kushner, David. Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. Random House, 2003. pp. 160-162.
  3. Cheifet, Stewart. "Computer Chronicles #CC1308 - Greatest Games." Stewart Cheifet Productions. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  4. Mann, Audrey, Glenn Mandel, and Laurie Rubenstein (21 September 1995). "DWANGO to Host World's Largest Deathmatch Tournament; Final Showdown Played on id Raven Software's Latest Computer Game, HEXEN--Beyond Heretic, at Microsoft's 'Judgment Day' Party." Business Wire (archived 🏛). Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 St. John, Alex (16 February 2013). "Judgment Day Continued..." The Saint (archived 🏛). Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Callaham, John (4 June 2013). "DirectX co-creator offers info on Microsoft's infamous (and cancelled) Judgement Day II event." Neowin. Retrieved 12 August 2021.