The Oregon Trail (video game)
The Oregon Trail is a computer game originally developed by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger in 1971 and produced by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) in 1974. The original game was designed to teach school children about the realities of 19th-century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. The player assumes the role of a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon's Willamette Valley via a covered wagon in 1848.
|The Oregon Trail|
DOS Cover art
The Learning Company
|Platform(s)||Android, Apple II, Atari 8-Bit, iOS, Macintosh, BlackBerry, Commodore 64, DOS, Facebook, Java ME, Nintendo DSi, Nintendo 3DS, Wii, Windows, Mobile, Phone 7, TI-99/4a, ColecoVision|
|Release||December 3, 1971|
|Mode(s)||single-player video game|
The game is the first entry in the Oregon Trail series, and has since been released in many editions by various developers and publishers who have acquired rights to it, as well as inspiring a number of spinoffs (such as The Yukon Trail and The Amazon Trail) and the parody/homage The Organ Trail.
The game includes several landmarks along the trail where players can make decisions, shop for supplies or rest. These landmarks include: Kansas River, Big Blue River, Fort Kearney, Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, Independence Rock, South Pass, Fort Bridger, Green River, Soda Springs, Fort Hall, Snake River, Fort Boise, Grande Ronde Valley in the Blue Mountains, Fort Walla Walla, and The Dalles. When approaching Oregon's Willamette Valley, travelers can either float a raft through the Columbia River Gorge or take the Barlow Road.
An important aspect of the game was the ability to hunt. Using guns and bullets bought over the course of play, players select the hunt option (#8) and hunt wild animals to add to their food reserves. In the original version, there were no graphics and players were timed on how fast they could type "BANG," "WHAM," or "POW," with misspelled words resulting in a failed hunt. In the first full-graphics version, players controlled a little man who could aim a rifle in one of eight directions and fire single shots at animals. In later versions, players hunted with a cross-hair controlled by the mouse or touch screen (or the Wii Remote pointer in the Wii version). Bison were the slowest moving targets and yielded the most food, while rabbits and squirrels were fast and offered very small amounts of food. Deer (eastern section) and elk (western section) were in the middle in terms of speed, size, and food yield; bears were between bison and deer in all three properties. While the number of wild game shot during a hunting excursion is limited by only the player's supply of bullets, the maximum amount of meat that can be carried back to the wagon is 100 pounds in early versions of the game. In later versions, as long as there were at least two living members of the wagon party, 200 pounds could be carried back to the wagon. In the later version, players could hunt in different environments. For example, hunting during winter would result in graphics showing grass covered in snow. In later versions, the over-hunting of animals would result in "scarcity" and reduce the number of animals that appeared later in the game. Also, some versions also allow the player to go fishing, with the 40th anniversary version released on Wii and Nintendo 3DS using motion controls to cast the fishing rod.
Throughout the course of the game, members of the player's party could fall ill and not rest, causing further harm to the victim. The party could die from various causes, such as measles, snakebite, exhaustion, typhoid, cholera, and, perhaps most famously, dysentery. People could also die from drowning or accidental gunshot wounds. The player's oxen were also subject to illness and death. In the Oregon Trail 2/OT2 for PC and later releases, when a member of the player's party dies, the player has the option of conducting a brief funeral: If the player elects to do so (as the game's instructions and in-game advisers strongly recommend in all but the very harshest environments), the player may write a tombstone epitaph for the party member before continuing down the trail; if the player declines to hold a funeral, the party suffers a severe blow to morale.
At the conclusion of the journey, a player's score is determined in two stages. In the first stage, the program awards a "raw" or unscaled number of points for each remaining family member (weighted by party health), each remaining possession (weighted by type), and remaining cash on hand (one point per dollar). In the second stage, the program multiplies this raw score depending on the party's initial level of resources determined by the profession of the party's leader; for example, in the Apple II game, a banker starting with $1600 receives no bonus, the final score of a carpenter starting with $800 is doubled, and the final score of a farmer starting with $400 is tripled.
The Oregon Trail was extremely successful, selling over 65 million copies, after ten iterations over forty years. It was included in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. It was a hallmark in American elementary schools in the 1980s, 1990s, and early-mid 2000s as many school computers, including the Apple II, came bundled with the game. Smithsonian magazine observed, "The Oregon Trail is still a cultural landmark for any school kid who came of age in the 1980s or after. Even now, there remains a constant pressure to revive the series, so that nostalgic Gen Xers and Millennials can amble westward with a dysentery-riddled party once again." In 2014 it inspired a parody musical, The Trail to Oregon!
The game spawned many remakes, which received average to poor receptions. The Wii version obtained a 3 out of 10 from GameSpot, citing bland graphics, awkward controls and a confusing interface. Despite this, the reviewers stated that it could be a good educational tool. The game's iOS remake received a better reception, with a Metacritic score of 66/100. Multiplayer claimed the game was fun at first, but soon went downhill. They gave the game a 65/100.
Polygon described it as one of the most successful games of all time, calling it a cultural icon. IGN (in 2009) described the game as a "fond memory that will not let you down." Due to its widespread popularity, “The Oregon Trail” was inducted into World Video Game Hall of Fame in 2016. In 2012, The Oregon Trail was listed on Time's All-TIME 100 greatest video games list. In 2016, Time placed the game 9th on its The 50 Best Video Games of All Time list.
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