Matt's Journey on The Oregon Trail

Matt Barton's picture

I can think of very few "edutainment" titles that have inspired the deep, long-lasting veneration earned by MECC's The Oregon Trail. Originally a mainframe game, The Oregon Trail was designed by three student teachers at Carleton College in Minnesota. It was a nice collaboration--Don Rawitsch was a history instructor, whereas Bill Heinemeann and Paul Dillenberger were math teachers. The three of them put their heads together to figure out a way to use computers to teach kids, and Don's historical background gave him the key insights necessary to create The Oregon Trail.

The Oregon Trail was popularized in 1985 when it was at last commercially published by MECC for the Apple IIe computer, and this version quickly circulatHunting: Big Buck Hunter Meets Apple IIHunting: Big Buck Hunter Meets Apple IIed throughout American schools. I remember playing the game on a Franklin (Apple clone) at Urania Elementary in Louisiana. Who would have thought I would be writing and talking about that game two decades later.

What makes the game so much fun to play is no doubt its balance of management, strategy, and arcade action, all based on a historically authentic setting. The developers loaded the game with history--it comes out in conversations with fellow travelers as well as the geography of the trail itself. Even the music is historical! A kid hoping to learn some facts about American in 1848 could do a lot worse for herself than to spend a few hours playing The Oregon Trail.

The bulk of the gameplay consists of moving between landmarks--we might call them "waypoints" today. Some of these are forts, where players can buy additional equipment and supplies, and rivers, which must be crossed, floated across, or forded. Players can start off rich or poor, and must carefully balance their resources and plan far ahead if they hope to get to Willamette intact. I must admit, I was only able to get there after losing my wife, who died of cholera, and good friend Rob, who died of typhoid fever. Playing this game really gave me an appreciation for the brave settlers who made this arduous journey.

Rafting: Totally tubular! Rafting: Totally tubular! The minigames consist of the famous hunting sequence, a simple shooting game that nevertheless holds up well today, and a wagon rafting sequence. The rafting sequence is recognizable to fans of games like Toobin', and it's quite fun.

Still, these arcade segments are merely marshmallows in the cereal. The real value is the history and the management, two things that any kid (or adult, for that matter!) would do well to learn.

The Oregon Trail's popularity was challenged by Broderbund's Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? games that arrived in the mid 1990s. These games eventually became popular enough to warrant a PBS TV series and spawned many sequels. Still, there have been few other edutainment games that have gained major attention, though I'd like to think Her Interactive's excellent Nancy Drew games are the heir of such useful and important projects.

Still, I know that many of us still have a soft spot or The Oregon Trail, and I'd love to hear your stories about the game. Did you play the commercial version, or one of the earlier public domain ports? Did you play the sequels (Yukon Trail, Amazon Trail) or perhaps MECC's other hit, Lemonaid Stand? Sound off below and let me hear all about it.

BTW, you can play the original game very easily in your browser: Oregon Trail. Happy trails!

Comments

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Glider - not it, but something similar conceptually
Catatonic wrote:
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I remember the "Great International Paper Airplane Design Kit" for the first iteration of the Macintosh (128K). I *think* that appeared on multiple platforms.

Unfortunately, that's not it. The software you mention above is just templates that you print out. The game I remember involved flying your designs in the game. Hmm. Mobygames doesn't seem to have it. It may have only been sold to the educational market.

I have Glider for the Mac as well, another classic, but I don't recall you constructing the plane, only flying it.

I'm trying to wrack my brain to remember something that allowed for modeling AND testing in game. If there was such a thing - and I don't doubt there was - then certainly it must have been a fairly sophisticated physics model, as it took quite a few years for even Flight Simulator to simulate multiple aircraft.

Vintage Games book!
Xbox 360: billlog | Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

n/a
Catatonic
Offline
Joined: 05/20/2006
What could it be?
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I have Glider for the Mac as well, another classic, but I don't recall you constructing the plane, only flying it.

I'm trying to wrack my brain to remember something that allowed for modeling AND testing in game. If there was such a thing - and I don't doubt there was - then certainly it must have been a fairly sophisticated physics model, as it took quite a few years for even Flight Simulator to simulate multiple aircraft.

They way I remember it, the graphics were 2D. You saw the flight from a side view. I'm not even sure if you controlled anything. It might have been just adjusting some parameters of the paper airplane and then seeing how far it goes. Anyway... don't worry about it.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
My 10th episode of this

My 10th episode of this little series is coming up soon...Got me thinking about the direction of the show and whether the "formula" is working out. My basic idea for the show was to cover a single great game per episode, interwoven with some updates about my other projects. I originally wanted to include a brief commentary or "rant" like section, but found that 10 minutes just wasn't long enough for that. I guess I'm happy enough with the current format, and I'm thinking now that I could always use the game under discussion as context for talking about design principles or even social/cultural impact, though I hate to take away from what is admittedly very brief coverage to begin with.

The show is slowly growing--a great deal more painfully slow than I hoped, I admit. It's actually pretty discouraging to see the number of views, which I hoped would be much higher. Still, I'm willing to slog for at least a dozen or so more episodes, tweaking the formula and trying to build up a larger audience. I'm not sure if this is just something that will come with time, or I just have an inferior product, lack of sustained marketing, or what. I know some of you guys (MaximumRD, ahem) have been very successful at building up a large audience, so please give me tips if you have them. :)

n/a
Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/04/2006
Views
Matt Barton wrote:

The show is slowly growing--a great deal more painfully slow than I hoped, I admit. It's actually pretty discouraging to see the number of views, which I hoped would be much higher. Still, I'm willing to slog for at least a dozen or so more episodes, tweaking the formula and trying to build up a larger audience. I'm not sure if this is just something that will come with time, or I just have an inferior product, lack of sustained marketing, or what. I know some of you guys (MaximumRD, ahem) have been very successful at building up a large audience, so please give me tips if you have them. :)

I was going to comment on this episode itself, but this seems more important: a crisis of faith. I have no immediate answers, unfortunately. But perhaps something I say will help in some way, if only philosophically.

First of all, there's nothing inherently wrong with your videos. I get a kick out of them, they're getting better and better, and I have even found myself looking forward to them, if not outright addicted to them. Okay, I AM addicted to them. "I wonder if a new 'Matt Chat' is coming out this week?" I would think to myself. Your persistence has surprised even me; already nearing 10 episodes! Certainly there's a whole lot worse on YouTube, as you can no doubt see for yourself.

That leads me to believe that your alleged "lack of views" is due to MARKETING factors. Outside of AA, WHO KNOWS ABOUT MATT CHAT???? "Matt Chat" is certainly not going to come up casually on a standard YouTube page; your titles have been too obscure. "Oregon Trail???" "Elite?" "Defender of the Crown?" These titles will only come up if a retrogaming enthusiast takes it upon him or herself to actively SEARCH for them. Otherwise, NO ONE WILL KNOW THEY EXIST. How will you get immediate hits if no one knows?

I believe the answer is to find a way to effectively MARKET your videos without crossing the line of "spamming." I don't know how you'd do that, but perhaps others here might. You know doggone well there's more than 200+ retrogamers on the world-wide Internet that would be interested in your videos. I suspect that they just don't know about it. How do you reach them?

Then again, ask yourself why you're doing these videos? You are, in your own way, RECORDING HISTORY! The hits will come over time, I believe, because eventually people WILL come across Matt Chat and discover the wealth of content! SOMEONE will eventually search out "Dungeon Master" or "The Sims" or whatever, and your title will come up, perhaps being the catalyst to viewing more of your videos!

If you want an instant 50,000 views, put out "Matt Chat: Matt Smokes Marijuana for the First Time!" Yeah, there you go. You RoXXorz, dude! Certainly more idiots are looking up "marijuana" than "Oregon Trail!"

MaximumRD has a base of followers, but he definitely is catering to the "hardcore" crowd. No one, outside of us hardest of hardcore, will be interested in many of his videos, and I suspect he's okay with that. He's not trying to compete with "American Idol," he's just doing his thing and being himself. You are innately doing the same thing (I think).

I would say more, but I'm running out of time. PERSISTENCE pays off, as you have no doubt proven to yourself with two books and an upcoming documentary. I noticed the newspaper article about you didn't mention "Matt Chat." A bit of a shame, really.

I don't believe "if you build it, they will come." I believe "if you build it, and people KNOW about it, they will come." If that wasn't true, we'd have no need for an advertising industry. Think about it.

Adam Smith to the rescue... :-)

(P.S. another great episode! I will comment on the episode itself probably tomorrow night.)

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.