Before Second Life, This On-Line Service Started It all

We all have come to love our Second Life avatars. The mesh, the clothing, the 3D world we all enjoy and explore. However, what was it like before Second Life? Was there truly another world that allowed users from across the globe to explore, chat, interact in a world? If you grew up in the late 80’s, early 90’s, chances are you had a Commodore 64, or knew someone who had one. The Commodore 64 allows for the FIRST TRUE interactive, graphical social experience.

Welcome to Q-Link and Habitat! A world that allowed Q-Link users to explore Habitat (also called Club Caribe), interact and much more. The FIRST real time Graphical World.

Lucasfilm’s Habitat was an early and technologically influential online role-playing game developed by Lucasfilm Games and made available as a beta test in 1986 by Quantum Link, an online service for the Commodore 64 computer and the corporate progenitor to America Online. It was initially created in 1985 by Randy Farmer and Chip Morningstar, who were given a “First Penguin Award” at the 2001 Game Developers Choice Awards for this innovative work, and was the first attempt at a large-scale commercial virtual community (Morningstar and Farmer 1990; Robinett 1994) that was graphically based.

While not VR (virtual reality), as a “graphical MUD” it is considered a forerunner of the modern MMORPGs, which are more similar to VR-style applications, and it was quite unlike other online communities of the time (i.e. MUDs and MOOs with text-based interfaces). The Habitat had a GUI and large userbase of consumer-oriented users, and those elements in particular have made the Habitat a much-cited project and acknowledged benchmark for the design of today’s online communities that incorporate accelerated 3D computer graphics and immersive elements into their environments.

Users in the virtual world were represented by onscreen avatars, meaning that individual users had a third-person perspective of themselves, making it rather like a videogame. The players in the same region (denoted by all objects and elements shown on a particular screen) could see, speak (through onscreen text output from the users), and interact with one another. Interestingly, Habitat was governed by its citizenry. The only off-limits portions were those concerning the underlying software constructs and physical components of the system. The users were responsible for laws and acceptable behavior within the Habitat. The authors of Habitat were greatly concerned with allowing the broadest range of interaction possible, since they felt that interaction, not technology or information, truly drove cyberspace. Avatars had to barter for resources within the Habitat, and could even be robbed or “killed” by other avatars. Initially, this led to chaos within the Habitat, which led to rules and regulations (and authority avatars) to maintain order

Lucasfilm’s Habitat ran from 1986 to 1988, after which it was closed down at the end of the pilot run. A sized-down incarnation but with vastly improved graphics (avatars became equipped with facial expressions, for example) was launched for general release as Club Caribe on Quantum Link in January 1988.

Quantum Link (or Q-Link) was a U.S. and Canadian online service for Commodore 64 and 128 personal computers that operated from November 5, 1985, to November 1, 1995. It was operated by Quantum Computer Services of Vienna, Virginia. In October 1991 they changed the name to America Online, which continues to operate the AOL service for the IBM PC and Apple Macintosh today. Q-Link was a modified version of the PlayNET system, which Control Video Corporation (CVC, later renamed Quantum Computer Services) licensed.

Q-Link featured electronic mail, online chat (in its People Connection department), public domain file sharing libraries, online news, and instant messaging (using On Line Messages, or OLMs). Other noteworthy features included online multiplayer games like checkers, chess, backgammon, hangman and a clone of the television game show “Wheel Of Fortune” called ‘Puzzler’; and an interactive graphic resort island called Habitat while in beta-testing and later renamed to Club Caribe.

In October 1986 QuantumLink expanded their services to include casino games such as bingo, slot machines, blackjack and poker in RabbitJack’s Casino and RockLink, a section about rock music. The software archives were also organized into hierarchal folders and were expanded at this time.

In November 1986 the service began offering to digitize users’ photos to be included in their profiles, and also started an online auction service.

Club Caribe was developed with Lucasfilm Games. It was designed using software that later formed the basis of Lucasfilm’s Maniac Mansion story system (SCUMM). Users controlled on-screen avatars that could chat with other users, carry and use objects and money (called tokens), and travel around the island one screen at a time. One fun note – Club Caribe allowed you to take the head off of your character, carry it around or even set it down. However, if you did set it down, then someone else could pick it up and carry it away. Hence the reason for some headless people walking around the island. Club Caribe was a predecessor to today’s MMOGs.

Truly amazing how far technology has come.

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