In a previous post, I was reminiscing about the good ol’ Apple ][ computer, which reminded me of probably my favorite game for Apple II: Oregon Trail. I played it many times, and sometimes I made it, sometimes I didn’t. (Maybe that was part of the thrill of it — you needed to make good decisions in order to get to your destination.) Anyway I found it very memorable, and thought I’d jot down a few more details:
You couldn’t carry enough food to make it all the way to Oregon, so you had to hunt when supplies got low. While the deer danced across the top of the screen, you’d press the space bar (<Bemmp Bemmp>) and then watch the shot (looking vaguely like a cloud of gnats) go up there (<Doot Doot!> Direct Hit!) You’d get to where you knew when to shoot by where the deer were on the screen, since they always danced the same way. (I never got as good at shooting the wolves — they came less frequently so I didn’t get as much practice). Later editions of the game had you running around the bushes with the animals, and added bears, squirrels, and maybe a couple of other kinds of wildlife to the mix… but the version I played most was the deer-only, cloud-o-gnats one.
There were a lot of these to cross on the way to Oregon. You always had to decide how to try to get across. Did you want to Ford the river, Caulk the wagon and float across, or…? (I think there were one or two more options, neither of which was “give up and just live here” :) And I believe it told you how deep the river was and how far across, to help you decide. I think I usually picked Ford the river, probably because it had the coolest animation. Tip: don’t try to ford a river that’s 20 feet deep and 300 feet across!
Having a bunch of these was good, since sometimes someone would drown or die of a disease, and it seemed that these afflictions always came to the kids first… the more kids, the more buffer between you and affliction!
As I recall, you could take an Easy pace, a Steady pace, maybe one other kind of pace, or a Grueling pace. There was a trade-off here: an Easy pace and you’d find yourself trying to travel in winter, which didn’t work so well (could you stop travelling and wait out the winter? I never thought of that when I was playing this as a kid…) On the other hand, keep going too long at a Grueling pace and next thing you know someone’s dying of fever.