Last week the popular computer game The Oregon Trail made its way to Facebook, courtesy of The Learning Company and Blue Fang Games. For those too old or young to have experienced it, The Oregon Trail was a computer game created in 1974 where the player assumed the role of a settler in 1848 traveling on the historic Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City. The game was well-known among students as it seemed to be installed on every single school computer (which were usually Apples) and teachers often had students play it during computer class instead of actually teaching them anything. I suppose it had the virtue of making it so that kids learned a handful of basic computer skills with some American history on the side, but what people really remember is dying of dysentery and writing funny things on their headstones.
I’ve been playing the Facebook conversion and it’s not bad. Because this is Facebook, it’s had some of the mandatory social elements tacked on—you can use your friends as members of your party (and subsequently watch them suffer from scurvy) and you can assist friends who are playing the game by fixing their wagon or hunting for them. Hunting, by far the most popular gameplay element of the original, is no longer limited by how many bullets you have (bullets are actually unlimited), but by how much energy you have. Energy refills over real time, so you can log off and come back to a full energy bar. Because time stands still in the game when you log out, it’s actually far easier than the original computer versions. So far no one’s died of dysentery or cholera, my wagon only turned over once in a river, and I only actually lost the game once, when I failed to reach Oregon before winter came. The game stacks, so items and money earned in a previous attempt carry over when you restart in Missouri, and it’s actually easier as you level up.
There’s also a real life monetary element to the Facebook version, where you can use your real money to purchase “Trail Notes,” which are used to buy really useful items and favors in the game. However, the game is easy enough you’ll never really need these extra perks.
The Oregon Trail is one way to make westward settlement come alive for today’s youth, another recent interpretation is Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel adaptation of the journey of Lewis and Clark. The book is set for release next week (February 15), but right now you can take a look at his overall creative process on the First Second Blog. He goes through five overall steps: writing, layout, penciling, inking, and digital manipulation. It’s really interesting to see a page go from a rough layout to a finished page, and it will be even more exciting to see the entire work when it’s released.