Let Me Make a Game: Oregon Trail Online

"Hey Brandon, you just died of a snake bite!" Kids today have it great.  Back in my elementary school days, the computer was an object locked in the dark room that was our father's "office" (looking back, I don't even want to know what they did in there).  The only time  we had any real time with computers was at school, when we were allowed to play a handful of games aimed at teaching us something. One of those games was Oregon Trail. Oregon Trail was the king of the games installed in the classroom and there is not a  person I have met in my age-group that does not remember playing this game. Yet, even with a gaming industry that consistently takes advantage of properties from our childhood, the ultimate  adventure game is left as a dead franchise. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="512" caption="The 'deluxe' mac version we all played in class"][/caption] So I propose a relaunch of Oregon Trail.  The last time Oregon Trail was published was the 90's, video games were flat and two-dimensional affairs, where even full-motion video was a big thing.  What would Oregon Trail look like today? First thing to ask is what kind of game was Oregon Trail? At its most basic level, the player took the part of a wagon leader trying to get a group from point a to point b while managing an inventory through trading, buying, and hunting.  The magic of Oregon Trail came from being in a classroom with your friends and watching them get accidently shot in a hunting accident or drown fording a river. Oregon Trail was an online game before Al Gore even invented the internet.  Why not make "Oregon Trail Online".

  The modern version would barely have to change the game at all, just make it 3D and massively multiplayer.  Just like in any other online game, the original Oregon Trail started by creating a character and outfitting him/her for the journey. Each player would start the game in the starter city of St Louis and form a wagon out of either NPCs (non playable characters) that they find in the city.  Want to put your friends and family in your wagon? No problem, head over to the Census Office and craft your own characters to fill your wagon with. One of the main tiers of Massively Multiplayer games is usually a class system and the original Oregon Trail had that too when you created your wagon group.  Here are the classes (occupations) I have grabbed from the original and the type of benefit each would have to your group:
Doctor - Healing Abilities Gunslinger - PvP class, increased gun skills Merchant - call sell items to other players Tailor -  create clothing which modifies skills (protection, warmth, etc.) Pastor - Buffs characters Trapper - Detect animal, increased hunting ability Bandit - Steal from other players, kidnap npcs Cook - best cooking skills, more food from dead animals, can gather berries Entertainer - tells stories and sings songs to increase moral
The game would progress exactly like the 2D game, as you head down the trail, but this time you make your own route.  Will you take the mountains and risk the cold harsh climate, or go around and take longer and use more supplies?  Do you trust the player and his wagon you just came across to make a wagon train? I always think that one of the most exciting parts of online adventure games like World of Warcraft is filling in the empty map as you explore and that is literally what americans were doing at the Oregon Trail time in history.  This was the old west, it had a layer of mystery, legend, and pure danger to it and Oregon Trail Online could capture that. Over every mountain pass could be a camp of native americans or a herd of buffalo, you can never know.  Even though it is the only genre that is purely American, western have yet to be captured in modern gaming.  If video games existed in the 1960's there probably would have been thousands of western video games, why haven't we caught on to this?

For the hunting sections of the game, it could switch into a version of the 3D hunting games you see at Wal*marts. The hunting section was always the most popular, although I would get so sad when people would shoot the little bunnies (they only gave you a pound of meat, why waste a bullet on them?  Looking back at the classmates that shot nothing but bunnies and they all ended up as criminals, so I guess there is some truth to what they say about violence in games). I think I am on to something, so much in fact that I would not be surprised if this game is not in development already. We have seen online movements spread like wildfire to grow into bigger projects. I ask if it does, my resume is available.  So what do you think?  Leave your ideas for Oregon Trail Online below in the comments.  If would like to see Oregon Trail Online developed, pass this article on to your friends, digg it, blog it yourself.  With each child that goes through elementary school without reaching California with dysentery, a piece of America dies.

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7 Responses to “Let Me Make a Game: Oregon Trail Online”

  1. Alex November 12, 2008 at 9:20 am #

    Amazing! Love this idea. We played this a lot in school in the “G&T” program…basically they didn’t know what to do with the smart/nerdy kids so they let us stay in at recess and play educational games.

    If I remember correctly, there was a newer version of this game that was 3-D and looked fantastic. Well, as fantastic as games COULD be in 1999/2000.

  2. Alex November 12, 2008 at 9:21 am #

    OH! Did you ever play Amazon Trail? That was pretty kickass too, because you were in the jungle and got to hunt for lions.

  3. Brandon November 12, 2008 at 9:41 am #

    you are correct, there was Oregon Trail 5th Edition, which used sega-cd-like full motion video graphics. It looked amazing back then, but when you look at them now it looks like the worst green screen EVER.
    Amazon Trail was pretty good, but we all liked the original trail in my school ha.

  4. Shan November 13, 2008 at 3:12 pm #

    I think its a good idea! my mom is a computer teacher for an elementary school and they have updated versions, however its only available through the school. i can see it being wildly popular if made for the public. my friends would absolutely buy the game, no doubt.

  5. Jasmer February 5, 2009 at 12:08 pm #

    I was discussing this problem with our “Educational Technologist” just this morning! Great minds, etc. You’re probably aware of the OT 1 clone at http://westward.globalgamenetwork.com/cgi-bin/westwardtrail.pl?command=startgame

    And there’s a class apparently using some form of the game at http://www.cyberbee.com/wwho/index.html

    The school I support has beacoup OT 2 CD’s, but those don’t work unless you install the archaic Quicktime (2?) that came with them, and provide admin rights to all users if you’re running XP. I’ve seen some poor reviews regarding OT 5, so I don’t know how much better the later editions of the game were. But there’s definitely the desire, particularly by educators.

    I think you could easily go with a micropayment model, such as that used in http://ikariam.org/ and make a decent enough profit without any of the licensing silliness. However, the problem would be that of obtaining permission to the original license. MECC was eaten by Broderbund was consumed by The Learning Company was swallowed by Riverdeep was chewed up with and spat out by Houghton Mifflin. Who knows where the licenses and Intellectual Property wound up? There’s nobody supporting the original games now, but there’s definitely money still being made off them.

  6. Jessica August 24, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

    HAHAHA. I was looking for this game a couple months ago trying to see if I could find a copy of it so I could play it. ( Im a uber dork) Anyways I didnt. It would be awesome to play it.

  7. me November 9, 2011 at 4:08 am #


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