Microsoft dev shares story behind iconic Windows screensavers — 3D Pipes, 3D Maze, and more

A high-res recreation of the Windows 3D Pipes screensaver from Isaiah Odhnner's GitHub.
(Image credit:

Have you ever wondered where Windows' classic 3D Pipes screensaver (or 3D Maze) originated? On June 11, Microsoft developer Raymond Chen dropped a dev blog detailing how the 3D Pipes screensaver and its contemporaries (including 3D Maze and others in a video embedded below) came to be within Windows NT 3.5 and other classic versions of Windows.

Every Windows NT 4.0 Screen Saver - YouTube Every Windows NT 4.0 Screen Saver - YouTube
Watch On

An important sidenote on the above video for those of you with the most discerning nostalgia: the speed at which the old screensavers played out relied on the hardware in question. So, if you remember those screensavers playing out slower, you're right!

As it turns out, the "origin story" behind 3D Pipes and its contemporaries is actually quite simple, for the most part. When Windows NT 3.5 was scheduled to ship with OpenGL support, team members noticed that the operating system included very little that leveraged the graphics API. According to an unnamed old friend of Raymond Chen's, the solution was finding "a way to advertise the feature without risking product stability," which ultimately meant implementing 3D graphics in screensavers.

The classic 3D Pipes, 3D Maze, 3D Flying Objects, and 3D Text screensavers all stem from this initiative. The Windows OpenGL team's efforts to pick the best one in a screensaver writing contest ultimately resulted in all of them being added to Windows when a marketing team member spotted them. And that's basically it!

Though, of the classic Windows screensavers, I feel the need to emphasize that 3D Maze is obviously the coolest one. It could not more clearly be inspired by the likes of Wolfenstein 3D, and it was one of my favorite things to zone out to while procrastinating in elementary school a short lifetime ago. 3D Pipes might be a little more flashy, but 3D Maze really gets the ol' noggin' joggin', at least for tech-heads like me.

Someone also made 3D Maze playable, albeit as a mod for a cross-platform VR multiplayer shooter called Contractors VR. It's not like you could turn any of these other screensavers into a playable experience— just saying.

Christopher Harper
Contributing Writer

Christopher Harper has been a successful freelance tech writer specializing in PC hardware and gaming since 2015, and ghostwrote for various B2B clients in High School before that. Outside of work, Christopher is best known to friends and rivals as an active competitive player in various eSports (particularly fighting games and arena shooters) and a purveyor of music ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Killer Mike to the Sonic Adventure 2 soundtrack.