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Tech by VICE

This 80s MMO Needs Your Help to Stay Alive

'Habitat' needs your Java skills.

by Nicole Carpenter
Feb 7 2017, 11:00am

Image: Lucasarts

As one of the first massively multiplayer online games ever, Habitat is a crucial piece of gaming history, and it needs your help to stay alive.

Originally designed for the Commodore 64 and Q-Link, Habitat has been back online since early February. "But it's not in the state to just have anybody on it," one of Habitat's original designers Randy Farmer told me. That's why he made a public call for engineers to help bring it back up to working order.

Habitat got back online thanks in part to Alex Handy from The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, who got the source code from original Habitat designer Chip Morningstar. However, the back-end server code from Quantum Link (now America Online), where the game was hosted, didn't come with it, which MADE only found that out after acquiring a 30 year old computer server and putting all the pieces back together. AOL promised it will deliver the code soon, Farmer said, but Morningstar, Handy, and him are tired of waiting.

"We're essentially building the back-end for a completely finished front end," Famer said. And that's where they need help. Using server framework called Elko, Farmer rebuilt the server code from scratch. The work now consists of porting the original game code, which uses early procedural programming language PL/1, and translating that directly to Java. "Line for line," Farmer said. "You have to know how to build Java projects, but you don't have to be a Java wonk."

Farmer said there are 200 objects that need to be added into the game. At the moment, the game's regions and rooms work online, and the MADE will have those back up in a matter of weeks, Farmer said. But stuff like weapons, shrubbery, and other basic objects in the world still need to be implemented. To put it another way, it's as if we got an archived version of World of Warcraft up and running, but were unable to use the weapons and other items that make it fun to play.

Habitat's GitHub has a full list of objects that needs to be translated. Even Farmer doesn't remember what some of them do. There's something called "road pizza," and something called  Hand of God, which was an item used to punish spammers on the server. "It turns people into a skull on a pile of ashes," Farmer said. "It's funny."

A list of things that need to be done is available on the project's Github page.

If another half dozen engineers sign onto the project soon, Farmer predicts they'll be able to lock down the project in months.Those willing to help out are being pointed toward the Neo Habitat Slack or Twitter.

"It's like rebuilding a dinosaur from bone fragments," Farmer added. So if you've got an interest in digital archeology and reconstruction, you're needed on the Neo Habitat project .