Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Oregon Trail (1975 Version)

I promised that I'd get back to The Oregon Trail, and I am a man of my word.  It was kind of mysterious to me that The Oregon Trail was the 1st game listed in the book "1,001 Video Games to Play Before You Die", even before Pong.  This is because it was originally released in 1971.  A few student teachers at a Minnesota college, as part of their history class, wrote a computer program using an early variant of BASIC to help teach the class.  This program, of course, was Oregon Trail. 

I actually found, via Wikipedia, a very interesting blog in which the blogger tries to track down the earliest known version of Oregon Trail to have existed.  The original version was up on the college network until the end of the semester, and it was then deleted.  The creator printed out a copy of the original source code, but unfortunately, the whereabouts of that source code are no longer known. 

However, a friend of the blogger was able to find a tape copy of a program simply entitled "Oregon" at a school, dated 1975.  Upon loading the program up, it turned out to be a version of "Oregon Trail" dated 1975, three years earlier of the earliest known version said to have existed prior to that point.  I found it really cool that a few people were that passionate about the game and about the past of computing. 

But have my feelings changed on playing Oregon Trail for the first time in many years, especially since it is the first copy now known to be in existence?  Sadly, no.  First, there are no graphics whatsoever, unlike the one you probably played in elementary school.  Just purely text-oriented, as basic as it gets.  Not to say that I mind this.  I have a fond affinity for some text-based games I used to play, key among those being "Zork".  But those games were pretty much like interactive novels. 

A key frustration I always had with this game, and this early version is no different, is the lack of control that you have.  You start the game with approximately $700, and you have to allocate so much to clothing, oxen, food, ammo, etc.  After that, the events that happen to you seem entirely random.  After each day, or turn, you can choose to hunt, stop at a port if available (to buy food and supplies), or continue your journey.  If you hunt, you must type the word "bang" very quickly.  And I do mean, quickly.  I can touch-type very fast (between 90 and 100 WPM), and was able to successfully kill an animal for food once.  I cannot guess why that is, maybe because I was playing on a computer screen, rather than via teletype (typewriter) as the game was originally designed?

But anyway, regardless of what you choose, some big event may happen to you and your travelers that you may or may not survive.  The first time I played, I had gotten relatively far; I believe you must successfully complete 18 days or turns in order to "win" the game.  But on later occasions, I survived maybe 3 or 4 days before perishing.

I plan on trying out later versions of the game as I progress through the games in the book.  But so far, I really doubt that my feelings will change.  In order to play either the 1975 or 1978 version, you must open a command prompt window (if you're using Windows, this should be under Accessories) and type in a teletype command.  The blog I linked to has further instructions.  And one more interesting item of note:  the famous "you have died of dysentery" line did not come up in the series until later when it came out on the Apple II.

This Youtube video is a very cool look into the history of The Oregon Trail. 

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