OK kids, gather round, it’s time for a history lesson from your ol’ uncle Jim.
Habitat was the world’s first graphical multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) launched on the Commodore 64 back in 1986. Yes, before the internet as we know it. There was no World Wide Web, and our smart phones are way more powerful than the computers were back then. Habitat was made possible by C64’s ‘internet’ called Quantum Link (later known as America Online).
I still remember my sister and I loading the Quantum Link disk on our C64 and trying to set up a fake account before chickening out and quickly turning it off. Later I learnt you needed a modem.
This was a pioneering decade for computer games. Computing systems and floppy disc drives were becoming more advanced (don’t giggle that’s what they were called), and this meant more advanced games.
With a nickname during development called Microcosm, Habitat was developed by Lucasfilm Games (now known as LucasArts). Habitat was only a beta test, an experimental game that allowed users to dial in and interact with each other through on-screen avatars (sound familiar?). This system of interaction, being the first, was without moderators and the society was self-governed. Well at least until users started to abuse the system and then tougher rules came into play. The experiment was shown to be too costly to keep going, and after two years the pilot was finished, later becoming a scaled-down version, and then being bought by Fujitsu with Fujistu Habitat released to Japanese audiences.
Although Habitat had a relatively short life, it paved the way to what we now know as MMORPGs and pretty much all point and click games owe their lives to this little known classic.
Now over 30 years later, a non-profit video game museum called MADE (Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment) has made Habitat available again to the public. MADE is “dedicated to preserving our digital heritage through playable exhibits of significant works and free programming classes for the public”. Habitat, like other games on the MADE database, is free, completely legal to download, and just requires the correct emulator.
Interested in playing? Check out Neohabitat, the open sourced projected by one of Habitat’s creators – Randy Farmer. Need more convincing? Check out the hilarious short video below: