Tuesday, May 01, 1990

The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat





One of the early papers on building virtual worlds. It has amazing list of lessons -- I especially like their reference to standards.

Full version is here.

Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer

This paper was presented at The First International Conference on Cyberspace held in May 1990 at the University of Texas at Austin. It was published in Cyberspace: First Steps, Michael Benedikt (ed.), 1991, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Introduction

Lucasfilm's Habitat was created by Lucasfilm Games, a division of LucasArts Entertainment Company, in association with Quantum Computer Services, Inc. It was arguably one of the first attempts to create a very large scale commercial multi-user virtual environment. A far cry from many laboratory research efforts based on sophisticated interface hardware and tens of thousands of dollars per user of dedicated compute power, Habitat is built on top of an ordinary commercial online service and uses an inexpensive -- some would say "toy" -- home computer to support user interaction. In spite of these somewhat plebeian underpinnings, Habitat is ambitious in its scope. The system we developed can support a population of thousands of users in a single shared cyberspace. Habitat presents its users with a real-time animated view into an online simulated world in which users can communicate, play games, go on adventures, fall in love, get married, get divorced, start businesses, found religions, wage wars, protest against them, and experiment with self-government.

The Habitat project proved to be a rich source of insights into the nitty-gritty reality of actually implementing a serious, commercially viable cyberspace environment. Our experiences developing the Habitat system, and managing the virtual world that resulted, offer a number of interesting and important lessons for prospective cyberspace architects. The purpose of this paper is to discuss some of these lessons. We hope that the next generation of builders of virtual worlds can benefit from our experiences and (especially) from our mistakes.