The world’s first “Metaverse” resurrection

“He laughed at me in person, thinking it was impossible.”

The world's first "Metaverse" resurrection

Although there is still controversy over how to define “online game” or “massively multiplayer online game”, and therefore, which game is the first online game or the first MMORPG in history, people’s cognition is not unified. , but the MMO game Habitat, which launched in 1986, was undoubtedly one of the first large graphics-based online communities. As a graphical MUD, it is considered a precursor to modern MMORPGs.

This game was produced by George Lucas’ Lucasfilm Games (later reorganized and renamed LucasArts), originally running on the Commodore 64 (C64) platform, and already basically has the key elements of online games that we are familiar with later: Graphics provided by the client , users can interact in real time by exchanging information through modems. This is the most avant-garde “Metaverse” of the 1980s.

The world's first "Metaverse" resurrection

The “Habitat” that players played back then looked like this

Perhaps too edgy, though, Habitat didn’t leave much of a stamp on gaming history. In 1992, Habitat was officially discontinued. After 25 years, it is back online thanks to the efforts of the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (The MADE).

In a previous article, we have covered the origins of The MADE. In 2011, technology journalist Alex Handy founded The MADE in Oakland, California, USA, an institution dedicated to preserving video games in the context of the times and treating them as a medium of historical and artistic value. To this end, the museum has collected a batch of ancient game consoles and old games that can be run, and visitors can also play them on the spot.

Unlike stand-alone games that can be played for a few games in a museum, the display of online games faces many difficulties. How did The MADE bring an age-old online game back to life? Handy said that in the process, the generous donations of the original developers, as well as luck and courage, all three were indispensable.

The world's first "Metaverse" resurrection

Alex Handy, founder of The MADE

An “act of righteousness”

Habitat is an online world that can support up to 15,000 people to experience at the same time. In the game, you can do business, play games, solve puzzles, create filming, or just hang out. Its advent is much earlier than other old MMOs such as the famous “Network Genesis” and “Eternal Task”.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, with the rise of online communities on the early Internet, games that supported multiplayer games appeared quickly. MUDs are the oldest online multiplayer game and are entirely text based. Habitat is inspired by MUD and takes the concept of multiplayer shared online game spaces a step further.

The world's first "Metaverse" resurrection

The cover of the first edition of Habitat

“MUDs used to be all the rage,” Handy said, “but for players, walking around a graphical world (even if the graphics were static) and interacting with other people was a whole new concept.”

Made by industry pioneer developers such as Chip Morningstad and Randy Farmer, Habitat runs on a C64 PC and requires players to play online through the Internet service Quantum Link (Q-Link).From 1986 to 1988, the game was run as a beta test version. In 1988, due to budget considerations, Lucasfilm had to cut off some of the gameplay and renamed the game “Club Caribe” before it was able to operate until the early 1990s.

The world's first "Metaverse" resurrection

Released under the name Club Caribe

“After Club Caribe was discontinued, the game was sold to Japan’s Fujitsu, and Fujitsu ported it to various platforms and servers. In Japan, for example, Habitat 2 was on Sega Saturn.”

Handy revealed that The MADE didn’t set out to bring Habitat back to life from the start, and it wasn’t a long-term goal, nor the result of a joint effort by him and his colleagues. “We got an unexpected opportunity,” he said. “It’s a rare opportunity.”

The story begins in 2013, when Handy plans to rent a booth at the Game Developers Conference site to showcase the ancient games collected by The MADE. He learned that former Lucasfilm developer Chip Morningstad was also planning to attend that GDC.

“I got in touch with Chip and asked him if he had anything on hand that we could show at the venue, like source code or something,” recalls Handy. To his surprise, Morningstad sent him the source code for Habitat. Surprised, Handy asked how the 27-year-old source code could be restored to its original state.

“He laughed at me in person, thinking it was impossible.”

The world's first "Metaverse" resurrection

For the version of Habitat for Fujitsu FM Towns computer platform, the communication fee is 20 yen per minute (excluding telephone charges)

luck is strength

It’s not unreasonable for Mourningsta to pour cold water on Handy. From today’s point of view, the source code of Habitat is too outdated. If you want to re-run the game, you have to find an extremely rare dedicated server and Stratus VOS Operating system – these things today’s netizens may not have heard of.

To solve the hardware problem, Handy needed a lot of luck. Over time, many tech companies have been retired, and even if a company survives today, it usually doesn’t maintain hardware products produced nearly 30 years ago. Fortunately, Stratus Technologies, the company that makes the Stratus servers and operating system, is still in business and still maintains the ancient hardware from the company’s history. So when Handy asked that company for a server, they sent him one.

The software side of things is trickier. In trying to find the Stratus VOS, many were confused by what Handy was asking. “Once I got the hardware, I contacted the Computer History Museum and asked if they could provide the operating system, and a representative from the museum told me: ‘Oh my God, we forgot about the Stratus!'”

The world's first "Metaverse" resurrection

The MADE now has a collection of 12,000 games across 40 gaming platforms that visitors can play with a single entry fee

Unable to get a copy of Stratus VOS, Handy decided to work with developers he knew to see if he could build a runtime environment from scratch. “I brought in a bunch of programmers who were very familiar with C64,” Handy said. “We called all the programmers and Chip and Randy Farmer into the same room and gave them a day to try. Later that day. , they got the server running.”

At this point, Handy has the source code for Habitat and has cobbled together a server that can hold that code. The next step is to make this ancient game work on the modern Internet, but at this point, he hits the biggest stumbling block – lawyers.

great courage

In 1986, if someone wanted to play Habitat, they needed to have a C64 computer and subscribe to the Q-Link service. The code needed for the Habitat server and C64 to work together is included on the Q-Link.

Habitat, then and now, wouldn’t function properly without Q-Link. In 1989, Q-Link changed its name to America Online (AOL), and after several rounds of ownership changes over the years, it is now copyrighted by Verizon.

Like when he asked Morningstar for game source code, or Stratus Technologies for hardware, Handy summoned the courage to call the head of Verizon’s legal department and ask for an early version of the Q-Link software. Luckily again, Verizon not only kept the old software, it seemed willing to give it to Handy, too.

“I thought I’d get them,” recalls Handy. “We started waiting for approval from Verizon’s legal department and had a colleague put the software on a USB stick.” However, for unknown reasons, the legal department didn’t approve that request. . “While it’s a 30-year-old piece of software, Verizon may think it’s relevant to the company’s security, so it’s reluctant to open it up to others, that’s my guess.”

The world's first "Metaverse" resurrection

Inside The MADE

What’s next? Handy has two options. Since Habitat requires Q-Link to function properly, he either chooses to give up or find ways to circumvent Q-Link. On a technical level, the latter approach is not difficult to achieve, and Handy’s team was able to develop an alternative to the Q-Link service. The problem is that if you decide to do this, you’re likely to violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Broadly speaking, the DMCA is designed to protect copyrighted material against unauthorized distribution by any individual or institution. Section 1201 of the Act makes it clear that it is illegal for anyone to use technical means without authorization to access copyrighted works, including books, movies, videos, video games, and computer software.

To protect games from unauthorized use by others, developers often embed digital rights management software (DRM) in games. Although Q-Link predates DRM, it acts similarly to the latter, protecting the digital rights of Habitat. Since the DMCA prohibits any person or organization from using technology to circumvent the protections, it would technically be illegal if Handy were to use another program in place of Q-Link.

However, the U.S. Copyright Office provides immunity if it believes an agency is in the public interest to circumvent technical restrictions. To develop a program that would circumvent Q-Link’s restrictions, Handy applied for an exemption from the U.S. Copyright Office.

The world's first "Metaverse" resurrection

“What Q-Link can do”

“At the end of the day, the immunity they gave us was something like this: You can keep an MMO and you can bypass those verification mechanisms, but only if that MMO is locked in a room and you sit in front of a computer and watch it. With it, you can’t let this thing connect to the Internet.”

Handy finally had what it took to get Habitat back online, but the Copyright Office didn’t really allow him to. If a certain online game cannot be played online, even if it can run on a stand-alone machine, it is worthless in function and spirit… So, what happened after that? Why is everyone playing this game now?

“We don’t care about that at all,” Handy said with a smile.

Although Handy’s exemption order clearly stated that no one can connect Habitat to the Internet, he still decided to put the game online. Handy emphasized that people can play Habitat with confidence because the game itself is not illegal. As a service provider, Handy got the source code from the game creator, and also got permission from the Japanese copyright holder to do anything with that code. “We really don’t have the software that allows games to connect to the Internet, which is Q-Link, and bypassing Q-Link’s restrictions on connecting to the Internet really doesn’t work in theory,” he explained.

Handy, however, doesn’t appear to be concerned about any legal ramifications that might arise from this guerrilla-style preservation of video games.

“If Verizon has an opinion and wants to intervene, they can indeed do so. We tried to discuss this with them, so let’s continue the discussion.” Ultimately, Handy decided to ask for forgiveness instead of permission.

The world's first "Metaverse" resurrection

Habitat is now playable again on modern computers and the web

Pioneers of MMOs

You can now play Habitat for free at (, find the source code on GitHub, or watch the game shared by streamers video. While Habitat was once able to support tens of thousands of players online at one time, Handy admits that the game has a small number of players today, but there are still people playing it all the time.

“Sometimes you may see several players entering the game.” Handy revealed that a Swiss club composed of C64 enthusiasts once held a party in Habitat.

When people talk about online games these days, World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV is often mentioned. These games have a series of standard features, such as the ability to customize character avatars, obtain virtual currency and purchase items, and participate in various activities such as team tasks and battles, and provide many social functions. These standards all originated in Habitat. In a sense, Habitat was the world’s first “Metaverse” when tech giants like Meta, Google, or Amazon imagined a “Metaverse” even before those companies were founded.

The cultural impact of video games is often underappreciated compared to movies, books, and music. People collect and financially support art in libraries, archives, and museums, for conservation and scholarly research, but video games don’t get the same treatment. With the development of technology, every few years, a large number of game hardware and software are withdrawn from the stage of history and completely forgotten by people. This means that in the history of video games, incalculable wealth is disappearing at an alarming rate.

Habitat deserves the tribute of all contemporary online games. But without Handy’s passion, The MADE’s efforts and resources, and the developer’s foresight to preserve the source code, Habitat would likely have been born like so many other games and disappeared into the dust of history.

Posted by:CoinYuppie,Reprinted with attribution to:
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