Illuminatus - The Greatest Computer Game Ever

In their 1988 April issue the Finnish computer magazine MikroBITTI ran a two-page story about a game that would be released RSN for the Atari ST called Illuminatus, written by two German hackers: Jürgen Sternreise (code) and Erik Dorf (graphics). The article had a single giant screenshot of what was supposed to be the title screen of the game and a "preview" written by the game reviewer Niko Nirvi.

Illuminatus was the dream of every gamer given form. Basically, it was a space-trading/combat game akin to the even-then-legendary Elite, but orders of magnitude better. For example, you could land on planets, walk around starports, buy more ships to eventually expand your single-ship trading efforts into a true multi-fleet empire (which you would then control with a "clean, icon-driven interface") and oh so much more. Illuminatus featured all this in a glorious 3D environment drawn in real-time.

The only problem: the game did not exist. Illuminatus existed only in the heads of Mr. Nirvi and Petri Teittinen, who drew the screenshot of the title screen in Deluxe Paint. The whole thing was the magazine's April Fools' Joke for the year 1988. Such cruelty!

The readership of MikroBitti completely bought it. People started calling software dealers about buying a copy, who in turn started telephoning their distributors about the game. Finnish BBSs were overwhelmed by discussion about the game that would blow everyone's mind in ways Elite never did. The software house CRL contacted MikroBitti to find out more about the game. In short: everybody went nuts - and was mad as hell when they finally caught on. One reader wrote (paraphrased): "To recover I needed six hours of Star Trek and twenty-four hours piloting the Cobra Mk. III. Do not ever do this again!".

In retrospect, it is depressing that Illuminatus could really have been, had some software company had the courage to take the plunge and develop it. Mr. Nirvi took great care in making sure that all the ideas represented in the article were actually possible to create and incorporate into a game on the hardware in question. Even up to this day, no game that would come even close to Illuminatus has yet been produced (but David Braben's Frontier was a step in the correct direction despite all its shortcomings). Even more depressing is the simple fact that current technology would make possible ideas that were completely unimaginable in 1988.

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