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Classic Games (Games) Education Games

The History of The Oregon Trail 58

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-have-died-of-dysentery dept.
Rick Zeman writes "Those of us of a certain age recall The Oregon Trail with fondness as the pioneering educational game that had the audacity to make learning fun! This article takes a look at the history behind the game, even going back to its initial text-based offering, showing how some programming magic pulled a generation of kids together. Quoting: '[F]or two weeks, the roommates holed up in a former janitor’s closet at Bryant Junior High School, where the school’s teletype was stored, and spent their evenings programming. Using Rawitsch’s historical knowledge, Heinemann and Dillenberger developed a series of algorithms, punching hundreds of lines of code into the teletype. But just because they created the program didn’t mean they could breeze through it. When Heinemann tried The Oregon Trail for the first time, he died of pneumonia midway!'"
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The History of The Oregon Trail

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  • by guytoronto (956941) on Friday August 02, 2013 @03:34PM (#44460021)
    That he didn't die of dysentery.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I would have been first post but my river raft (which i PAID A TON FOR) sunk and my oxen died.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ..they really needed to make the wagons more robust - I can't tell you how many times they broke while crossing the river.

    • Yeah, that's because you were a dumb kid who didn't know how to cross a river properly. An adult playing the game to win will have no trouble with anything like that.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, that's because you were a dumb kid who didn't know how to cross a river properly. An adult playing the game to win will have no trouble with anything like that.

        Don't confuse 'dumb' with harsh conditions and malnourishment. Even adults are subject to chance, the cold chance of the open range, the unyielding white waters and charging buffalo, the sheer tedium and toil! Hearty construction is vital in such situations.

  • by Nutria (679911) on Friday August 02, 2013 @03:41PM (#44460139)

    I see what you did there!

  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Friday August 02, 2013 @03:49PM (#44460235) Journal

    I'm sure it's been updated for modern audiences, as game makers see it. Which is to say, the hundreds of options are now just 4 to fit on a console controller: 2 offensive, one block, and one break-free-from-hold.

    It's ok. Just use in your announcement that you have "re-imagined Oregon Trail and it is now an Action RPG MOBA!"

    You might wanna use three exclamation points, but that's up to you.

    • Which is to say, the hundreds of options are now just 4 to fit on a console controller:

      Don't be "that guy". You know the one. The one that think console games are stuck in 1985, and that there are no complex console games with tons of stats and min-maxing.

      it is now an Action RPG MOBA!"

      The Department of Redundancy Department called. MOBA's are action RPG's with a few RTS elements from their heritage.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      I'm sure it's been updated for modern audiences, as game makers see it. Which is to say, the hundreds of options are now just 4 to fit on a console controller: 2 offensive, one block, and one break-free-from-hold.

      I remember the original versions of Organ Trail being very simple with only perhaps 5 or 6 options for supplies and 3 or 4 professions.

      If I recall correctly; later updates to it didn't remove options they added more options, and made it more complicated....

  • by dj245 (732906) on Friday August 02, 2013 @03:50PM (#44460247) Homepage
    I took away exactly one thing from this game.

    Q: Why did buffalo become an endangered species?
    A: Because hunting buffalo is fun.
    • by XiaoMing (1574363)

      I took away exactly one thing from this game.

      Q: Why did buffalo become an endangered species?

      A: Because hunting buffalo is fun.

      For me, that takeaway was actually a pleasant consequence of the very educational fact that it's way more cost-efficient to start your cross-country wagon trip with 99 boxes of bullets in lieu of "real food" and whatnot.

      • You're joking, but in someway this is the classic "teach a man to fish" vs "give a man a fish"

        • No, the lesson is "Shoot everything in sight and fuck the wagon trains coming after you."

          • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@n ... t ['etz' in gap]> on Friday August 02, 2013 @06:36PM (#44462021) Homepage Journal

            While it is a common to think that the settlers were responsible for hunting buffalo to near extinction, it really was a combination of a deliberate program by the U.S. Army to hunt buffalo (where they wouldn't even take the hide or meat.... leaving the animals to rot on the ground where they were killed) and the fact that much of the range of the buffalo was consumed by cattle... creatures that pretty much fill the same environmental niche.

            The deliberate hunting of buffalo was done explicitly to drive the plains Indians into reservations by destroying their food sources. I'm not defending this practice as I consider it to be a war crime and unethical in so many ways, but it was a measured and purposeful act that killed far more buffalo than anything taken by the wagon trains going over the various westward migration trails.

            The buffalo herds were so vast and the unoccupied land at the time of the game so large that it would be like somebody with a single fishing rod depleting the fish stock of the south Pacific Ocean. Bullets and weapons also offered protection not just from "Indians", but also a large number of "highwaymen" that hung out on the trails (often dressed up as native tribes to shift blame).

            I'll also note that the pioneers also ate berries, nuts, roots, and pretty much anything else that they found along the trail. They even went fishing in many of the streams that they found along the path too. Why do you think all of this kind of food gathering was such a bad thing?

      • by mysidia (191772)

        For me, that takeaway was actually a pleasant consequence of the very educational fact that it's way more cost-efficient to start your cross-country wagon trip with 99 boxes of bullets in lieu of "real food" and whatnot.

        Apparently your wagon never tipped, losing 99 boxes of ammo down the river, when attempting to caulk and float across.

        Or perhaps you never had 99 boxes of ammo get stolen by bandits or indians at night?

        Frequently the trail could be unhuntable for long stretches... :)

    • I took another lesson away from the game that is probably much more useful:

      Under absolutely no circumstances should you ever try to walk or drive across a river. You'll tip over and Zeke will drown. Somehow an Indian will help you though.
    • This was the first game taught me how to rage quit.

  • Game starts.

    You take two steps.

    You have died of dysentery. There is no explanation why this happened.

    It doesn't take long before you search for something else that's a much better embodiment of fun.

    So, who is it that called this game "fun"?

  • by Walking The Walk (1003312) on Friday August 02, 2013 @04:04PM (#44460423)
    Looks like a rehash of the story we saw here a couple of years ago [slashdot.org]. I've only read the first few paragraphs of this new article, but I haven't found anything different from the previous one. I'm not suggesting plagiarism, I'm just saying it looks like the author just took the information from previous stories and rewrote it in his own words, without adding anything new.
    • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Friday August 02, 2013 @05:18PM (#44461171) Homepage
      Yeah, it totally does look like a rehash of the story we saw here a couple of years ago [slashdot.org]! I've also only read the first few paragraphs of this new article, too, but I also haven't found anything different from the previous one. I'm not suggesting plagiarism either, I'm just also saying it looks like the author just took the information from previous stories and rewrote it in his own words, without adding anything new. What a douche!
      • Yeah, it totally does look like a rehash of the story we saw here a couple of years ago [slashdot.org]! I've also only read the first few paragraphs of this new article, too, but I also haven't found anything different from the previous one. I'm not suggesting plagiarism either, I'm just also saying it looks like the author just took the information from previous stories and rewrote it in his own words, without adding anything new. What a douche!

        Ah; but you added something new.

        We'll know things have really gone south when all the links on front page items on Slashdot actually link to comments in older articles....

  • The article doesn't clarify.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Your wagon will flip over, you'll lose 1000s of pounds of food and bullets, and someone will drown.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_rSKIbAMR4&feature=player_detailpage&t=486 [youtube.com]

  • by spopepro (1302967) on Friday August 02, 2013 @04:55PM (#44460963)

    Ah MECC. I sometimes wonder how different the world would be if SoftKey hadn't MBA'ed all of the great educational-entertaining software companies into oblivion. After MECC, games went back to assited rote practice of basic skills, which is basically the entire educational games segment today. I kind of wonder if it would have happened anyway; was the time right just then, or would it have sustained and grown? The key is: I don't see games like Oregon Trail, Carmen Sandiego, Rocky's Boots, etc. anymore--unless it's just re-skinned versions of those games.

    Fun fact: the two major rights holders these days to the SoftKey (aka, The Learning Company) IP are Houghton Mifflin Harcort and Ubisoft. Yeah... those are some fun people to try and work with...

    • Fun fact: the two major rights holders these days to the SoftKey (aka, The Learning Company) IP are Houghton Mifflin Harcort and Ubisoft. Yeah... those are some fun people to try and work with...

      I must have missed the merger between Houghton Mifflin and Harcort Brace Jovanovich. I guess they didn't want to go with Houghton Mifflin Harcort Brace Jovanovich. Just shows that it's worthwhile to insist your name goes at the beginning of the merger name; Eventually when we have Houghton Bell, everyone else will have been forgotten.

      Reminds me; who owns Humongous Entertainment with Atari going the way of the Dodo yet again?

    • Around 1997-1998 the bottom seemed to fall out of the educational software market in general, including with prices falling for boxed software and expectations rising for artwork and embedded video. That was unfortunate for me and my wife as we were just finishing a first version of an educational garden simulator. I first had the initial idea about ten years earlier while a program administrator for the NOFA-NJ organic farm certification program; too bad it took so long to bring it to fruition (including g

  • I not only played the teletype version of the game, later when I had a real job I worked on the MECC mainframes a couple times. Now get off my lawn!
  • I own a mint condition Apple IIe, with the two disk drives and the colour monitor, and the only game I have for it is Oregon Trail, on an original MECC diskette that still works great.

    I'm a pretty big Oregon Trail fan =)

  • One of the most famous of these trails was the Oregon Trail, which led from the state of Missouri in the center of the country to the state of Oregon in its northwestern corner.

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