Before we begin, I should fully disclose that I am about to discuss my personal non-profit and the work we’re doing. I am extremely compromised, super invested, and heavily opinionated about my non-profit, so we’re leaving Neutral Journalism Town and heading for Bias Avenue.
That being said, I have spent the past year working on the largest, strangest software project I’ve ever had the pleasure of managing. But to explain this project, I’m going to need to give y’all a history lesson first, so sit back and get in a 1980s mood.
In the beginning…
The year is 1986, and Lucasfilm Games has just completed the first round of development on an entirely new type of video game. The game will be hosted in a new service for home computer users known as Quantum Link, and will allow thousands of people to interact and live online in a graphical world with digital representations of people. These digital representations will come to be known as Avatars.
The game is called Habitat, and from 1986 to 1988, it will be in development but available to a select number of QLink users as well. Lucasfilm will host its yearly employee meeting in Habitat, and players from around the U.S. will log in to form what has to have been the first graphics-based online game community ever.
A few years later, Habitat will be sold to Fujitsu and be renamed Club Caribe. Science fiction themes and about half the digital world of the game would be roped off and made unusable. Later, the game would be reworked further and relaunched in 1995 as WorldsAway.
But way back in 1986, the original Habitat remained fairly difficult to access. While Lucas ran the game, players could only login via QLink, which at the time was only available on weekends and evenings, if you can imagine such a thing. Even when it was available online, QLink charged by the hour, and a Commodore 64 using a 1200 baud modem can’t really zip through large portions of the Habitat universe without heavy delays and lots of time.
About a year ago, I was put in touch with Chip Morningstar, one of the two big brains behind the game’s design. Morningstar is an engineer’s engineer, and he currently heads architecture at PayPal. Thanks to his designs, Habitat was built to withstand thousands of users at once, and it was able to contain a massive world which fit onto two 5.25-inch floppy disks.