Hello and Welcome

Chillin' on the street
Cast your mind back to the mid 1990s. The Spice Girls had just released their debut single, the space shuttle was still flying, and if you had a PC, and not many did at home, you'd probably find it had a '486 inside, or if you were flush, a Pentium.

If you were even more cutting edge, and had a modem to link your PC to your home telephone, it wasn't likely it was for The Internet. You'd more likely be calling CompuServe, America On-Line, Prodigy or your local Bulletin Board.

For those daring to access The Internet (we still gave it capital letters) you'd likely be using Netscape Navigator. Microsoft had only just released Internet Explorer, and nobody yet used it. There was no Google. No Facebook. No twitter. No YouTube. In fact, hardly any streaming of any sort. You could use Real Player to access some very scratchy music if you were desperate. If you wanted to download music, it could take hours for a short audio clip. Chat with your mates was via email, usenet, IRC or the new instant messaging services such as ICQ.

CompuServe - Go Away!
Into this mix came something new and revolutionary. A chat system with graphics. Beautifully decorated locales to stand your customisable avatar within. This was WorldsAway, exclusively on CompuServe. Developed by Fujitsu, and based on Habitat, a Japanese service, it blew us away.
Those of us that lived in WorldsAway, and live we did, made friends, found lovers, played games, bought and sold rare items, and quite frankly had more fun that we did in the "real world." Actually, some spilled over into the real world too. There were group gatherings, where we got to see what people really looked like, and played many of the same games. More than a few in-world couples made it real, too, giving rise to weddings and, I'm afraid, the occasional divorce.

Against this backdrop, a couple of us devoted users wanted more. The single, later three, worlds offered by CompuServe and Fujitsu were not enough. We tried to sign up to Fujitsu's affinity program, to set up our own server and our own world, but they never seemed to be ready to launch it. In the end, we decided, hey, we're techy, why not write our own server?

Ah, the follies of youth. But we managed it. If you could count a single room as a world. There was no encryption between the client on the local PC and the servers, so it was dead easy to decode the protocols.
Talking to an empty room

Fast forward 22 years. I'm older, wiser, have slightly more coding knowledge, and the Internet is a completely different place. You're used to photo-realistic graphics, full screen video, and not spending a tenner a month just to access a single service.

They say Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. It is. So I dusted off my code, rewrote it in something slightly more modern, and fixed most of the deficiencies.

So here we are. This is just an experimental demonstration world. There's nothing much to see, except for each other. I'd like to see how many people it can accommodate without slowing down too much. Please, invite your friends, come on in, and explore. There's no charge. It may not be working all the time. It may crash on you. But it's here to play in.

Register for an account here - Login here

Going forwards, the log files I have include enough information to recover some of the original WorldsAway locations. In some cases, these may be the only surviving evidence showing the Dreamscape, among other worlds, as it was at the time. It is typical of the client-server model of service that clients store little or no information, and once a server goes away, or changes are made to it, all of that history is lost.

* For the avoidance of doubt, and in case anybody wants to get stuffy about it, I will restate: this was written to replicate the server the late 1990s CompuServe WorldsAway 2.4 client talked to, using information gathered at the time. I had no access to the server or its specifications, then, or now. Only monitoring of the unencrypted data traffic of the client I was licensed to use was done. This is explicitly permissible under my local jurisdiction's laws. I am aware that there is a current service running using this technology; I am not a subscriber and have virtually no knowledge of their history or legitimacy; there were several breaks in service and changing of hands of the domains which makes it hard to understand.

Images © Fujitsu, 1995-2020


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