Historical Java

Discussions elsewhere (in more than one place; coincidence?) reminded me that in the long long distant past I was "hot" java programmer ("hotjava", geddit? Ah shaddup!). I actually wrote what I believe was the first website Java applet sold commercially in the UK, back in 1995. It was a teaser site for the SciFi Channel (which was due to launch around then) called "zorg". We got involved 'cos we were Sun partners and the client had gone to Sun asking for some Java development.

The ad company (Star Interactive) had the concept of "aliens were trying to communicate with us and learn our language". So they paid for teaser icons to be placed on some high traffic UK web sites (with no explanation; just some "alien looking writing") that linked to the zorg site. There you were presented with a sort of rip-off of Stargate as a Java applet. There was a pretty neat graphic of a square alien device with writing on it. And a "throbbing" type sound. If you clicked on the writing then the writing would flash at random and various of the writings would stay lit. The sound increased in speed and pitch. Click again, the same thing happens. Click a third time and...

If you got it wrong the screen flashed red and you were transported to some foreign web site, such as the Swedish Phone Directory. Get it almost right and the sound effects would ramp up and then stop, and you'd be transported to one of the teaser sites. If you got it correct and the sounds effects would ramp up, a vortex would open and then you got passed onto the second game (which was a traditional HTML game; no more java). If you won all three games then you got to an "egg" image with partially decoded alien writing. As the channel launch date came closer more of the writing was decoded.

The rule was pretty simple; each icon was numbered. If you clicked on todays number then you failed (so the solution was different each day). If you clicked either side of today then you won. Else you almost won. It worked :-)

This was very early in Java history. Sun HotJava Alpha 3 was the only java browser. Netscape 2.0b1 arrived and this had a different java model. And every version of the Netscape betas changed something in java each time. So the index page turned into a quick CGI that went to whatever code version was required for your browser (or a html based one for non-java people). But it worked and we got a few hits.

It was fun. I hadn't even seen the Stargate film at the time, but I think I did a pretty good immitation :-) Gamelan rated the site as "cool" with a comment such as "we don't know what it does, but it's fun!" Later, after the launch was complete I added a comment explaining what the site was about. I doubt anyone would have got the ad peoples "concept"!

There are few mentions of it anymore. Unfortunately I've lost the source :-(

This led me into delving through old directories of crud I've accumulated over the years. And I found my very first piece of Java, written for HotJava Alpha3. This was a simple drag'n'drop system; click on an icon and drag it around and release it. I also added the icon changing when you clicked on it and some simple sound effects. A slightly newer version still works on current browsers, and can be found here.

One big difference between HotJava Alpha3 and Netscape can be seen in the current version. First time you click on something there's a delay. This is because Netscape delays actual loading of data (such as images and sounds) until it's needed, whereas HotJava would download immediately. So in HotJava, Image im1 = getImage(s + "/T" + i + ".gif"); would result in an immediate hit on the webserver; in Netscape it didn't. So when I wrote the zorg game I had to pre-cache all the data to improve "game play".

And then I didn't touch Java at all for 7 or 8 more years, when I wrote a simple graphing program (which would allow arbitrary zooming and stuff) for work. And I haven't touched it since.

My web design skills are basically stuck back in 1996 with HTML2 and tables. One day I should really learn CSS and Javascript and DHTML and all the neato stuff that's around. Until then...

Last modified: Friday, 28-Feb-2014 12:23:20 EST