Before LucasArts, and well before the MMO online boom of the 2000s, Lucasfilm Games released Habitat, the first graphical massively multiplayer online RPG, in 1986. Habitat was only live for a few years, but its interface and advancements in player interactions paved the way for later MMORPG design.
If you wanted to play Habitat however, you were out of luck. After Lucasfilm Games shut down the servers in 1988, it was briefly licensed to Fujitsu before vanishing in to the mists of game history—until now.
After working on restoration for two years, the Museum of Digital Art and Entertainment (MADE) has uploaded the source code for Habitat onto Github, making it available to historians and developers curious about the history of online gaming.
In a post on the MADE’s website, founder and director Alex Handy writes that the project is a culmination of nearly three years’ worth of work that began in late 2013, when original coders Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer sent over the Habitat source code to be presented in association with GDC 2014.
After the 2014 presentation, Handy says the museum felt obligated to put in greater effort at preserving Habitat’s code for future generations to study and experience. Handy and his fellow preservationists reached out to Morningstar, Farmer, and beyond to recover as much source code as possible.
They even reached out to Fujitsu, where a lawyer who oversaw the transfer of technology during the licensing effort in the 1980s was still around to help them recover some parts of the code.
After months of work, and one long hackathon hosted in September of 2014, Habitat’s source code is now available on Github.
Handy says that the project still has two major goals left. First, to get the game running on Linux servers, and second, to recover any original code libraries from AOL, who hosted the original Habitat servers when the company was still known as Quantum Link.
But even with these challenges still ahead of them, the museum’s success in making Habitat’s code open source is a major milestone for games history. “A hearty thanks goes out to everyone who helped on this project,” writes Hardy. “A great many people worked very hard to make this happen, and they did it all out of love for the game.”
If you want to read more about the effort to restore Habitat, be sure to read our coverage of the 2014 hackathon where Morningstar and Farmer helped lead efforts to restore the game.