LucasArt’s 1986 MMO Is Being Revived
The short-lived predecessor to Second Life required a bit of tinkering to reactivate.
Image: Lucasfilm Games.
18 years before World of Warcraft, 19 years before Second Life, 13 years before EverQuest, heck even a year before making a name for themselves with Maniac Mansion, LucasArts (then Lucasfilm Games) opened a beta for a game called Habitat, which ran from 1986 to 1988. Highly unusual for its time, Habitat allowed Commodore 64 users to chat with strangers, explore new worlds, dress like total idiots and act like a-holes decades before that became the norm. Thanks to a restoration initiative from The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE), you will soon be able to play the ancestor to many video games being released today. If you're skeptical, the MADE has declared Habitat to be an open source project, dumping a whack of Habitat's files on Github.
Habitat did not have any goals or missions structures, simply areas and various cosmetics for players to mess with. Features like robbing, even killing other users were added in gradually, but a large part of the pitch was that the game would be defined by the users' shenanigans. This sounds a lot like a Second Life for the '80s, and before you go snarking "yeah but with a lot less cyber-porking," this promo video from 1986 suggests their head might've already been in the gutter because let's face it every generation assumes theirs is the horniest.Despite being a predecessor to incredibly influential games, Habitat was not a huge success itself. Using Q-Link, a service for Commodore 64 that would later become AOL, Habitat could not maintain more than 10,000 users at a time. Q-Link also only ran on evenings and weekdays, meaning you could either play the game or do things with, I don't know, friends.
When Habitat did leave its beta, it was rebranded as Club Caribe which actually removed a lot of the high-genre sci-fi aesthetics like monsters and robots. LucasArts licensed the technology to Fujitsu in 1989, who released their version called Fujitsu Habitat in 1990, and then another version in 1995 called Worlds Away, and subsequently lost millions between the projects.
The MADE's mission to bring back Habitat began In late 2013, in preparation for a LucasArts retrospective at 2014's Game Developers Conference. They got in contact with Habitat's amazingly named creators, Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer. They got the blessings from Fujitsu. They even dug up a 300-pound Nimbus server from 1989 for the most authentic '80s online experience. It seems one of the only lingering threads left is a go-ahead from AOL, being the predecessors of Q-Link. The MADE seems confident that the Habitat relaunch is imminent in any regard
"A lot of the things that we see in modern MMORPGs originated in Habitat," founder of the MADE Alex Handy told Gamasutra. "It's extremely valuable for us to preserve the history of those things and this is doing that."