The Oregon Trail (1985)
The Oregon Trail is an educational strategy video game developed and published by MECC, initially for the Apple II in 1985, then later for MS-DOS in 1990. This is the fifth release of the game, and it often viewed as the "classic" version, and one of many games released in the Trail series. In 1992, and enhanced version was released.
In the game, you play the leader of a family in 1848 leaving from Independence, Missouri across the wild US frontier to settle in Willamette Valley, Oregon. You must manage your family's supplies, hunt for food, cross rivers, stave off disease, and avoid the many dangers that await you.
The Apple II game was written mostly in Applesoft BASIC with the hunting portion written in 6502 assembly. The DOS port was written mostly in Turbo Pascal and used the Borland Graphics Interface. The DOS game is labeled as version 2.0, and a patch of 2.1 was later released.
When I was in elementary school, I remember seeing this game on an Apple II. However, I don't remember ever playing it. Instead, I played the older Commodore 64 port in Expeditions. It wasn't until I was in my 30s that I actually played the DOS port, but, by then, I wasn't very interested in the game. After reverse-engineering most of the game's data files, I decided to actually play it all the way through and beat it on 2021-04-20 as a banker.
I don't own this game, but I have beaten the MS-DOS port as a banker.
Best Version: MS-DOS
— This section contains spoilers! —
- The graphics by Charolyn Kapplinger, though not technologically special for the time, look good and add to the feel of the game.
- The use of traditional American folk tunes was a nice addition to the MS-DOS port.
- The new game play is much better than the original.
- Despite calling itself an educational game, I didn't find the game very educational. The game certainly popularized the travel route, and lets people know that dysentery is a disease, but that's about it. The game never expects the player to answer questions about the trail, know about the flora and fauna, or demonstrate applied knowledge of any kind. The few places where you can read about the history of the trail aren't all that informative, and are entirely optional.
- The UI for when you first buy goods to outfit your journey is poorly designed. Because the inputs are so slow and mistakes are not easily corrected, you're better off making a ledger on paper and then typing the numbers in afterward.
- The game's audio is bad. Although Apple II users wouldn't have expected much since the platform didn't have decent audio capabilities anyway, the DOS port was released in 1990 when sound cards were becoming more popular. Instead, the game ony plays short song excerpts through the PC speaker.
- The rafting minigame is dull.
- The game removes the encounter of being attacked by bandits. My guess is they did this to avoid violence, but I think it was a legitimate worry for pioneers.
- For the most part, the game is boring. You do some min-maxing and occasionally play a minigame with bad controls, but, the vast majority of the time, you're watching a mostly static screen with the occasional pop-up of a random event completely outside of your control. Beating the game as a banker is trivial and beating it as a farmer requires a great deal of luck.
- The controls for the hunting minigame are atrocious.
This game suffers from some hilariously terrible box art.
The game doesn't have credits, but the lead designer has written articles describing who was involved in the project and what they did.
|Lead Designer||R. Philip Bouchard|
|Lead Programmer||John Krenz|
|Programmers||Bob Granvin, Roger Shimada, Steve Splinter|
|Ox and Cart Idea||Bill Way|
|Additional Help||Timothy Anderson|
|Original Game By||Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, Paul Dillenberger|
- philipbouchard.com/oregon-trail.html - Designer's articles about the game.