A review of Lucasfilm’s Habitat Reboot by The MADE and The Neohabitat Restoration Team: My Personal Experience with It
In 2017, the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) released a project called Neohabitat.
It’s a re-boot of the MMOW from 1986, Habitat beta, by LucasArts (actually Lucasfilm Games back then) as an open-source for anyone to tinker with it.
I’m a retrogamer. Sometimes when I play an ancient game I discover the primitive features and think that some old games aren’t meant to be played but that they belong to a museum.
Oh, the irony of finding about The Neoclassical Habitat Server project! It made all the sense what the MADE originated, they are a museum. Even if my first impression was kind of sad due to the server being just a demo.
Hopefully, in the future, they’ll figure out a way to run it competitively as a real MMOW. I personally think that there might be people ready not just to back it as crowd-funders, but also to put money into it as players; if they decide to make it 100% playable and monetize it with in-game purchases or any other revenue model like that.
A Bit of History
The beta version, Habitat, worked over plain old telephone system networks, and was hosted by Quantum Link; a telematic service that later on became the way more known America Online.
It’s considered the first graphical online game in history. Two years after its release it was modified, and re-released as Club Caribe on Q-Link, in 1988.
It was also licensed by Fujitsu and they released in Japan as Fujitsu Habitat in 1990. Club Caribe lasted for around five years. It closed in 1993.
At First, I Didn’t Get It
It’s hard to come by content, news, or information about it. I can understand that MADE’s grand plan is a complex thing and that they can’t allocate more resources of what they already did to this project in particular.
Or that they are in no obligation to provide any support for this project. Or that to advertise it is not a responsibility of the Habitat Restoration Team, either.
Still, the lack of information about it is abysmal. That’s unfortunate because you can’t deny the coolness of being able to play the first graphical commercial online game in the present.
It’s even cooler for those who are fans of retro games in general, and fans of LucasArts/Lucasfilm Games games in particular.
When I failed at finding information about Neohabitat, I resorted to online communities to research it. Reddit to be precise, and the lack of information continued on Reddit as in the rest of the web.
MADE and The Neohabitat Restoration Team
If you don’t use the title of this section as the keyword to get your information on Neohabitat, there’s some other content about Habitat and Neohabitat, but it is outdated, misleading and hard to find.
So much, so that when I decided to give it a try I was horribly waylaid by the lack of information and lost four-five hours without being able to understand the nature of the project.
What I thought was that someone, I think the original developers, had re-released it as Neohabitat and that that was it. For me, the MADE part in it was very hard to discover, as it was the scope of the project.
What actually happened was that the people at MADE pushed hard to get the source code released.
They ended up getting permission from Fujitsu to do whatever they wanted with the source code, except in Japan. Then they released it as open-source if I understood correctly.
My problem was that in the few search engines I used to begin my research there’s not any single page on the first page of results that explain exactly what the project is and how it works.
In a nutshell, Neohabitat’s most important feature is the MADE’s project to have a version online of it, to showcase in their museum. Which is not to say that one will have to go personally to the MADE to experience it.
The little community that exists provides instructions on how to deploy a development environment for it. This is to collaborate with the project.
Other than that, there exists a demo server that anyone can use to try the game. More on that below.
Test it / Collaborate
The problem for me was that I thought the instructions on this GitHub page were the instructions to install all the requirements to make it run as a mere visitor.
I thought that once I had installed all the prerequisites listed on that page, I was going to be able to log in and play to Habitat as if it was 1986.
That page, which confused me, has nothing to do with testing it as only a visitor. It’s actually the instructions to make a local development server; to tinker with the source and test it.
Even if I was doing something wrong, and I was never going to be able to test the game with what I was doing, it was worse than that for me. The Vagrant installation gave me a dozen of different problems.
Vagrant by HashiCorp is one of the software that the development environment, if deployed on Windows, requires. But as I see it, it’s not a tool you should install on a substantially hardened, Windows production computer.
It’s a software to install on a development workstation, with as less security restriction as possible. For paranoids like me, on an offline host, ideally.
Otherwise, it’s a pain to make it work. At least for what I saw of it. A software that is severely incapable of working on a high-security-configured Windows 7.
After many hours and a dozen of different obstacles that I had solved, in the end, I didn’t finish configuring the environment.
I’m not a developer and to hassle with the Windows configuration, text files and such annoys me.
Before I finished modifying security stuff to make it work, I found the link to the download of the test client!
I understood that for what I wanted to do, there was no need to install everything I had installed, and done everything I did.
The only thing I needed was the correct link, to the correct download, something I couldn’t find during the 2-3 days I was working on this.
A search like this one "download neohabitat" + windows was what I used, I just chose the incorrect link to follow of the seven results that Google gave me.
The link below is the correct page to download the client for Windows, OS X or *nix, of the demo server version.
The Neoclassical Habitat Server Project
The picture above is the web client for the game. If one doesn't want to install anything one can try it going to: https://v.ht/habitat
The version I tested, the Windows one, comes with the client pre-installed on the VICE emulator.
The only thing one has to do is click on the icon the installer creates on the desktop, and voila! back to the eighties.
Anyway, if you decide to install this version don’t get too worked up thinking you’ll be able to play it like it’s meant to be used.
It’s just a demo server. The demo server, when it opened three years ago was open only for developers, I don’t know if it is the case still.
In any case, it’s at the user discretion because if you download it you can log in without a problem as I did.
The demo server has a catch. It still doesn’t have account security, like three years ago, so I guess the demo server will stay being just that, a test-drive.
When I logged-on for the first time, I had 2-3 hours of fun. On the first connection, it looked very empty. But after some time I found an avatar and we chatted and walked around together for like one hour.
At like 10 PM he disappeared and I had a blast walking by Populouspolis for like three-quarters of an hour. The map went on and on, I must have walked by like 30 or three dozen regions in total.
- Saving Habitat: The World’s First Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game: A heavily hyperlinked article telling the story of the reboot, from the point of view of one of the developers.
- Habitat Technology Transfer Seminar: The previous article has a link to this document, but it’s broken. This one works.
- Getting Started: For those developers that want to collaborate with the project.
- Developers Documentation
- Habitat’s original manual and Club Caribe’s Guidebook
- Randall Farmer’s GitHub
- Blog Post of the reboot on the site Habitat Chronicles
- @NeoHabitatProj Twitter account
- @NeoHabitatProj Facebook Page
- A New Force in Games, Part 2: A Habitat in Cyberspace, and A New Force in Games, Part 3: SCUMM: two well-researched articles. The first tells the story of Habitat. The second is the story of how the SCUMM system came into being, which was an abridged version of the tools Morningstar and Farmer used to build Habitat.
- Habitat Anecdotes and other boastings by F. Randall Farmer
- The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat by Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer
- Social Dimensions of Habitat's Citizenry F. Randall Farmer Electric Communities