ImagiNation Network

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ImagiNation Network
Developer(s) Sierra On-Line
(1989 – 1995)
WorldPlay Entertainment (1995 – 2003)
Publisher(s) Sierra On-Line
(1989 – 1994)
AT&T Corporation
(1994 – 1995)
AOL
(1995 – 2003)
Engine LSCI (Large scale SCI)
Platform(s) MS-DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Mac OS
Release date(s) 1991 (As TSN)
1994 (As INN)
1996 (As CyberPark)
Genre(s) MMOG
Mode(s) Multiplayer
Distribution 3.5" disks (2 to 7)
CD-ROM (1)

The ImagiNation Network (INN), aka The Sierra Network (TSN) and CyberPark, was an early online multiplayer gaming system. Developed by Sierra On-Line in 1989, and first available to the public in 1991, the ImagiNation Network was a unique online gaming network that gave subscribers from all over the U.S. a place where they could "play games, make friends and have fun". A wide variety of games (including RPGs, a World War I aeroplane simulations, live trivia, card and board games) meant that many different types of fans could find something enjoyable to play. INN also featured an electronic post office, many bulletin boards, chat rooms, and the company boasted of having "more than 200 groups, clubs and special events online."

Sierra On-Line founder Ken Williams wanted to create a network that even his grandmother would find easy to use, and to that end INN emphasised a friendly, graphics-heavy interface. Each user was represented by a persona which they assembled using INN's built-in 'facemaker'. The facemaker was detailed, with enough different options to construct over 84 million unique personas. Users could then indicate their level of skill in various games, in order to encourage fair match-making between players, and a short list of hobbies to help match interests with new friends.

History[edit]

The Sierra Network[edit]

In early 1989, Sierra On-line president Ken Williams expressed an interest in creating an online adventure game in the style of Sierra's best-selling Kings Quest series. Sierra's lead systems programmer, Jeff Stephenson, began improving Sierra's adventure game engine to communicate by modem with a maximum speed of 2400 baud, Matthew George worked on creating hardware and network protocols to support a gaming network, and David Slayback (Game Programmer) started to work on designing game prototypes that would run on this improved engine, along with Al Lowe.

However, the problem of designing an adventure game with a non-linear plot that could support multiple central characters all experiencing different parts of the world and story at the same time proved difficult to solve, and both David and Al began designing board games to test the engine's communication abilities while they worked out the design of the main adventure game. These board games worked very well, and it was decided that the network should focus primarily on parlour and board games, eschewing the adventure game paradigm entirely.

Ken insisted that the network be easy enough for even his grandmother to use, so the user interface of this gaming network received considerable attention: it was designed to be colorful, easy to use, and universally appealing. Dubbed The Sierra Network (TSN), this gaming network began operation as a private beta test in late 1989, with testers drawn from a list of registered Sierra On-Line game owners. As a result of this push on innovation, TSN won a User Interface design award.

In 1991, TSN's doors were opened to the public. Originally only parlour games such as Chess, Checkers, Backgammon, and Bridge were available to subscribers, but over the next three years Sierra On-Line added many new games, such as the role-playing game Shadows of Yserbius and the dog-fighter simulation Red Baron.

Throughout TSN's existence, tournaments were held for many games in which winning players and teams could win prizes. Top chess and bridge players regularly played on the network, as well as several celebrities (including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett), players were invited to compete against them.

While TSN achieved over 30,000 paid customers, unfortunately it was not profitable for Sierra On-Line, losing millions of dollars a year. Most of the loss was attributed to high bandwidth needs for some of the real-time games, and the inexpensive subscription model used by Sierra On-Line.

The ImagiNation Network[edit]

In 1994, AT&T purchased a half-interest in TSN for 50 million dollars. Under AT&T's direction the network's name was changed to the ImagiNation Network, hourly rates were increased, and several elements of the network considered "too risqué" were removed entirely. A year later, AT&T bought the remaining half of the network for an additional 50 million dollars, making Sierra On-Line one of the few companies at the time to have made money from online gaming. AT&T continued to make enhancements and Improvements to the service until August 6, 1996, when America Online purchased the rights from then-owner AT&T Corporation for an undisclosed price (rumored to be $40 million).

CyberPark[edit]

AOL shut down ImagiNation Network Servers in two Phases, AOL's first Phase was to Terminate access from Non-Preferred Access Numbers on August 16, 1996. AOL's Second Phase was to completely Terminate INN on September 1, 1996. This ended seven years of operation. Although The Shadow of Yserbius, along with its successors (The Fates of Twinion & The Ruins of Cawdor) remained online until Late 1996, AOL soon pulled the plug on them, which were each major competitors to their existing online RPG Neverwinter Nights. Most parts of ImagiNation Network were completely scrapped, only choosing to maintain the parlour and board games for a future project, GameXpress. Shortly after ImagiNation Network had been Terminated, AOL renamed the company entity which maintained ImagiNation Network from The Imagination Network, Inc. to WorldPlay Entertainment, Inc.

After the closure of ImagiNation Network, WorldPlay developed GameXpress during 1997, a two-dimensional set of online games for Windows 95. Shortly after completing GameXpress, WordPlay began work on CyberPark, a spiritual sequel to ImagiNation Network. CyberPark is to be a somewhat three-dimensional world in which players can interact and play games together via both Text and Voice, still vaguely reminiscent of the basic concept of ImagiNation.

Some time during 1998, WorldPlay delivered CyberPark to AOL with a 60% reduction in staff. Then in 2000, AOL lent the surviving WorldPlay engineers to Electronic Arts to help build out ea.com. During 2003, AOL pulled the plug on the WorldPlay game servers and liquidates CyberPark, ending a further eight years of operation (fifteen years in total).

Games[edit]

TSN & INN[edit]

The ImagiNation Network & The Sierra Network were composed of several 'lands', each one featuring a different theme and selection of games and services.

Clubhouse[edit]

The Clubhouse featured traditional card and board games.

"The Clubhouse is the place to go when you want to meet new people, play traditional card and board games, read the Bulletin Boards, and chat with your friends. It is where you'll find the Welcome Room for new members and the INN Help Room. You can also join an online conference while you're in the Clubhouse, or learn something new at INN University." (Manual, Pg 15)

Games available at the clubhouse:

LarryLand[edit]

(also known as CasinoLand, which was an added feature a few years later)

"CasinoLand is the ImagiNation Network's casino and resort area, with fantasy gambling and games. Sorry, but no one under the age of 18 is allowed in CasinoLand. (If you would like access to CasinoLand, please fill out and return the CasinoLand Access Card included in this kit.)." (Manual, pg 15)

Games available within LarryLand:

MedievaLand[edit]

"...is a fantasy-filled land where you can find adventures as a knight, wizard or another character of your own creation." (Manual, pg 15)

Games available in MedievaLand:

SierraLand[edit]

"...is the place for exciting arcade style games, challenging board games and other amusements." (Manual, pg 15)

Games available in SierraLand:

FunHouse[edit]

(also known as School House, Little Red Funhouse)

"The Little Red Funhouse is the future home to 'edutainment' games and activities. It is a place for kids who want to have fun learning." (Manual, pg 15)

  • RocketQuiz (a 1 to 3 player math quiz game)

Arena[edit]

"The Arena is where you'll find exciting sports and action games." (Manual, pg 15)

CyberPark[edit]

[To be filled later]

Pricing[edit]

When owned by Sierra On-Line, one was given a certain amount of hours per month which one could play, with multiple monthly fee plans available. Only one plan, for $119.99, allowed for unlimited hours of play. These fees did not include any additional dial-up charges the user may have incurred with their phone services as this was a dial-up modem access only service.

Once acquired by AT&T, however, the unlimited hour plan was ditched, and using hours beyond the monthly plan involved a $2.50 per hour fee. AT&T also added a surcharge for those subscribers who did not access ImagiNation Network through a "Preferred Access Number" (PAN). This surcharge, combined with the general increase in subscription fees and removal of the unlimited hour plan, contributed to the decline in users until ImagiNation Network's shutdown in 1996. Without a preferred access number, all weekday time between 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. was billed $6.00 an hour, additional time in one minute increments. AT&T users were given a 10% discount on their monthly membership fee.

Rates as of 1995 were as follows:

  • Welcome Plan: 5 hours for $9.95, $2.95 each additional hour
  • 10 Plan: 10 hours for $19.95, $2.75 each additional hour
  • 15 Plan: 15 hours for $29.95, $2.50 each additional hour
  • 25 Plan: 25 hours for $49.95, $2.25 each additional hour
  • 50 Plan: 50 hours for $99.95, $1.95 each additional hour
  • Unlimited Plan: for $129.95

Revival Attempts[edit]

FauxINN[edit]

In mid-2003, a high school student named Zane Wagner released a public alpha of the first completed ImagiNation Network remake, which he entitled FauxINN.[1] FauxINN emulated many of INN's features, including Bulletin Boards, the Post Office, the Town Hall, and a limited form of the Clubhouse with a select few board games. New versions followed at weekly intervals, with each new release more closely emulating the original interface of ImagiNation. Hundreds of people played on the server over a period of several months. However, Zane conceded that he had lost interest in the project after he ran into problems while revamping the game's graphical API.

In 2004, a new group of developers attempted to recreate INN, they chose to re-adopt the name 'FauxINN' as the name of their project.[1] As of 2008, the FauxINN domain has not been renewed, and has been replaced by an ad placeholder site.

ImagiNation Revival[edit]

The ImagiNation Revival is the first[citation needed] successful server emulator for the ImagiNation Network. Development of the emulator has progressed to the point where many of the previously available games are now playable, including the MMORPG: Yserbius. This new service was opened to the public in March 2007. Unlike the early remake versions that tried to rebuild the network from scratch, the Revival project uses DOSBox and the original client software to connect to a server which emulates the original. There are also several fan made installers which make Installing the Revival Project easier, they are: The Sierra Help Pages Installer and Seek's Installer.

Further development is underway to resolve a few known issues and to make more games available for play.[2]

References[edit]

External links[edit]