Lost Habitat alpha artwork rediscovered

Lost Habitat alpha artwork rediscovered
A user peruses the vending machines in the General Store during the Lucasfilm's Habitat alpha testing period with the lost token artwork visible in the speech bubbles.

After seeing the amazing work SpindleyQ had done with the Habitat Inspector tool, it reinspired me to work on recreating Club Caribe again as I mentioned back in February during the 30th anniversary of the services closure.

Part of recreating Club Caribe would involve recreating all of the documents that were in the world which we have screenshots and video footage of. These would typically consist of in game newspapers written by the members themselves, flyers for events, maps and other assorted things.

Currently, to do this we have to log on to a NeoHabitat server using either a real Commodore 64 or more often the VICE C64 emulator, type the document out by hand, paying attention to get the spelling and spacing correct, looking at the server logs to copy the values the server saves for the document, pasting those values into a JSON file and finally compiling that document and checking it out on the server.

This is quite a cumbersome task because of all the moving parts required and it means any restoration work is significantly slowed down.

Fast forward to this past week when yours truly had the idea of asking SpindleyQ if it would be possible to recreate the in game text interface from Habitat in the browser as part of Habitat Inspector.

The blurb from William Gibson's 1984 proto cyberpunk novel "Neuromancer" as seen in the text interface of Habitat

This would make it significantly easier to recreate the text and PETSCII style artwork we see in the videos and screenshots from Caribe, and also Habitat, thanks to the Beta Blast footage containing a bunch of amazing historical documents.

SpindleyQ took a look into if this would be possible and it turns out, it was! But only after realizing that Habitat didn't use the standard Commodore character set, but a custom one made specifically for Habitat which had unique characters in.

An image of an avatar using the vending machines in the General Store in Populopolis. You can see the Habitat currency symbol next to the price of the object in the machine. The T stands for token which was the name of the currency.

One of these unique characters remained in the original 6502 client source code, just commented out. It appeared to be the artwork for the Habitat currency symbol (currency in Habitat were called Tokens).

The chunk of code which tells the C64 client how to draw the token symbol. The code was commented out with semi colons which told the compiler program not to include this in the Habitat client.

I wondered what it would look like and to my surprise, SpindleyQ had it rendered out almost straight away!

The Habitat alpha symbol for currency. According to Randy Farmer on the NeoHabitat Slack, it was intended to work as a replacement for the dollar sign

I was surprised I'd never seen this before anywhere, but it would make sense if we never had access to alpha builds of Habitat and there weren't any screenshots available.

That is, until Randy Farmer mentioned that a screenshot did exist from the alpha test.

Sifting through magazine scans yielded the following result from the July 1987 edition of LOGiN magazine from Japan.

A user peruses the vending machines in the General Store during the Lucasfilm's Habitat alpha testing period with the lost token artwork visible in the speech bubbles.

I've seen this screenshot before when examining the magazine article, but I don't really recall seeing a different symbol for tokens here before. It's kind of blurry and it's possible I may have chalked it up to this image being a photograph of a screen and then shrunk down to print in a magazine at a lower resolution.

You can clearly see now however that the symbol for Habitat currency in this screenshot matches the find in the code. Amazing work SpindleyQ and another Habitat mystery solved!