Illuminatus

1989 MikroBitti Magazine

Platform: Atari ST

A slightly unusual post now, for a title that wasn’t really a game – but then almost turned into one!

Illuminatus was news to me, until I heard from contributor Janne Sirén, who highlighted this fictional game that was once reviewed as an April Fools joke for Finland’s gaming magazine Mikrobitti in 1989. It was perhaps similar to what Zzap!64 did with Mindsmear.

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Janne has essentially provided most of the text and information which you will read here, which has been invaluable for putting this page together.

Illuminatus was an Elite style trading game, which caused quite a bit of a stir back in the day, because for many weeks/months – people felt the game was real. It even appeared in printed mail order advertisements in later issues of MikroBitti (where traders even fell for it). Distributors would call the magazine, asking how to get hold of the game and many readers were desperate to find a copy in the shops.

The entire thing was thanks to mastermind Niko Nirvi, who wrote for MikroBitti back in the day. Niko depicted the game as one which would expand upon the idea of ​​Elite considerably. As well as the usual space trading, looting and fighting – there would be tactical and strategic warfare in both space and on planets. There would be advanced artificial intelligence and the possibility of multiplayer.

The article on the game suggested it was being developed for the Atari ST, by fictional German programmers Jürgen Sternreise and Erik Dorf. Of course, none of it was true – and many young gamers would be completely disappointed once they learned of MikroBitti’s trick several months later.

Many wouldn’t forget the game, and it seemed still dreamed of seeing it some day. An interesting twist was that Finnish demo crew Future Crew were inspired to actually implement and create the game some years later. All of this would be based on information that was gleaned from MikroBitti’s original article. However, their work was never to be finished, and disappeared without trace.

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The question is whether anything could exist of that actual development. How far did it get? Or was it yet another hoax overall?

Well, Jack Yarwood (who kindly highlighted our post about this game at Time Extension) contacted members of Future Crew, where it was confirmed that development never progressed beyond just discussions about how the game could be done. Sami ‘Psi’ Tammilehto had apparently written some very bare bones basis for an engine, but then it was quickly abandoned. However, Jack has revealed that MikroBitti were involved in commissioning the project with them – so further investigations are being checked out on this.

Many years later the game was still in the thoughts and memories of those who were caught out by the trick back in the day. Finnish computer culture magazine Skrolli would resurrect memories of the title through a somewhat playful and jokey article in 2014 to pay respects to the trick that MikroBitti played.

In conjunction with the first issue of the international edition of the magazine, a special playable demo was also created. So now you can finally play something of a game that never existed. You can learn more about this great and fun creation via their free PDF magazine: https://skrolli.fi/numerot/skrolli-2016-1e-international-edition/

Here is a more recent article by Janne himself too, which highlights yet more jokes with “FreeIlluminatus”, showing an image representing a faked strategy segment: https://skrolli.fi/2019/04/illuminatus-paras-peli-ei-ikina/ … It seems that Illuminatus continues to cause ripples, even some 33 years on!

In the meantime, if you know anything more about the Future Crew development, then please do get in touch. It would be fantastic if they had got somewhere with their development back in the day.

With huge thanks to Janne Sirén for highlighting this intriguing and elaborate April Fools and for all of the information provided which forms most of this piece, Skrolli magazine for the images, Jack Yarwood for reaching out to Future Crew and the Time Extension piece, and MikroBitti for the original article.

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