Friday, 20 June 2014

Guest Game 2: The Oregon Trail - Final Rating

Trickster's Note: The below post (and indeed all posts for The Oregon Trail) was written by guest blogger Ilmari Jauhiainen.

We've seen lot of games on Trickster's blog, but I think none have so obviously not been adventure games. Presumably Oregon Trail cannot then score very high, even if it shines otherwise, but we'll see how it will fare under my critical eye.

Puzzles and Solvability
This is simple: Oregon Trail has no puzzles, but relies on other obstacles, like resource management and simple action sequences. I might be nice and give some consolation points, but if I must punish the game for its non-adventurishness in some area, I think it must be here.
Rating: 0

If this is closest to a puzzle it gets, it's definitely not an adventure game.

Interface and Inventory
I really have nothing major to complain about with the interface. The menu system might feel a bit primitive and I certainly missed mouse support, but the interface is rather intuitive and instructions for the more complex sections of the game (like the hunting) are readily available, if you just are patient enough to read it. Inventory is also a simple, but efficient list of the items your crew is carrying. True, there are no descriptions or even pictures for the food, wagon parts and ammunition, but considering the nature of the game, this feels quite adequate. Checking on what Trickster has given to similar efficient, but not fancy interfaces, I think 5 will be sufficient.
Rating: 5

It can't get any simpler than this.

Story and Setting
A group of immigrants leaves for Oregon, faces some obstacles, and arrives at Oregon. The story is not very engaging, and the only game so far with a similar setting, Gold Rush!, had a lot more going on. I got the feeling that you could have just discarded the whole Wild West setting and the gameplay would still have been the same (I hear they did this with Organ Trail). All in all, the story elements are rather primitive and almost non-existent, so I can't go really high here.
Rating: 1

In an adventure game this would start a new side plot: try to find some medicine for the father. Here it is just a not too subtle hint for the effects of too hard pacing.

Sound and Graphics
If this version of Oregon Trail would have been published a couple of years earlier, I might have praised its graphics more, but now they just seem quite dated, even in EGA-standards. The still images of different forts and towns are nice, but you see them so rarely, and most of the time you just watch the same animation of a bull and a wagon or then some very non-graphical menu. Sounds come from the PC speaker, which compared to what the other games of this era have to offer was just too grating for my ears. Comparing Oregon Trail with the two other low-quality EGA games of the year, Earthrise used its graphics more effectively and while the graphics of Oregon Trail were of a better quality than graphics of Hugo, there still was more graphics in Hugo.
Rating: 2

If only I could have seen more pictures like this...

...but all I got was this!

Environment and Atmosphere
Here I must take into account that I was not playing the game in a way that it was meant to be. I should have been doing this a couple of decades younger, in a classroom, full of other pupils, everyone fighting over who gets to do the hunting this time, classroom clown making fun jokes about all the various illnesses, history teacher explaining what exactly happened in Soda Springs... As it is, I was forced to play this just by myself, as a cynical old player expecting an adventure game instead of a semi-educational experience. Furthermore, my engagement was also hindered by the fact that I am not from the USA. I guess if you have an aunt living near Soda Springs, it is a bit more exciting to actually get there in the game. For me, all the little towns were just unfamiliar names. All in all, I cannot really give high marks for this category, but I still don't want to punish the game for me not belonging to the intended player group.
Rating: 3

Swimming in a fresh Mountain Dew. (What do you mean I cannot have sponsors here?)

Dialogue and Acting
What little dialogue there was, was professional enough. There just wasn't that much writing in the game at all. Even the most substantial and developed pieces of text in the game or the short discussions with the locals in the forts were rather short. Again, although Oregon Trail beats Hugo in its professionalism, Hugo at least tried to use the text for plot related purposes, so it seems reasonable if they both get the same rating.
Rating: 3

Why does it have to be all business with you, Matt? Why don't you tell us your dreams?

Final score should then be 23, but I think the long history of the game in history education justifies an extra point, so 24 it is! This might sound quite harsh, but  remember that although Oregon Trail was a decent enough resource management game, its graphics and sound weren’t up-to-date and it definitely was no adventure game.

Did anyone guess the correct score? Nope, but the nearest one was TBD. Congratulations! You will get a copy of Organ Trail from Andy Panthro and a bunch of CAPs.

CAP Distribution to come...


  1. I'm pretty sure this version is VGA, as the colors don't look like the standard EGA palette. Still, they don't seem to use more than 16 colors at a time, which is part of why it looks a bit cheap.

    1. Les Manley and Altered destiny did the same thing; VGA but limited to 16 colours. All actual EGA games have the exact same palette (as far as I know).

    2. I'll have to bow to superior knowledge here. So it's different colours than in standard EGA, but still only 16 at a time? And the resolution seems still to be same as with EGA?

    3. Yes and yes.

      This is the EGA palette:

      Mark Ferrari described it best: "I sat down to create a whole game's worth of environments and visual atmosphere with just one, fixed, EGA pallet containing only 16 unalterable and utterly grotesque colors: black, dark gray, light gray, white, dark blue, light blue, cyan, yellow, mustard brown, dark red, poppy red, peach, magenta, acid-hot pink, grass green, and acid-chartreuse. What was I expected to draw with such a pallet but a bad children's' book or an acid trip?"

  2. I think you're too harsh in two categories - Puzzles/Solvability and Story/Setting. The resource management problems and maybe the mini-games count as puzzles in my mind. Based only on your playthrough (I haven't played the game), it sounds like it should rate 2 or 3 in the Puzzle category.

    For Story/Setting, Oregon Trail attempts to dramatize the "story" of exploring and settling the Old West. That already gives it a more believable setting, and a semblance of story, than most games of the period. I would give it a 2 or 3 in this category for that reason.

    With these changes, Oregon Trail would still have a low score, but not quite as abysmal as you rated it.

    1. Determining a just rating was difficult for me, not just because this was first time I got to use Trick's rating system, but especially because Oregon Trail was so clearly not an adventure game and I often felt like I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

      I thought of giving a point or two for the puzzles, just because there were problems to solve. Then I considered "Were there any adventure style puzzles?", and with a negative answer, all I could really give was zero.

      Similar considerations went for the Story/Setting-category. There are plot elements, but how well they are integrated in the game? Would the game have been really different, if instead I had been a settler going through Siberia during the time of Russian expansion?

      In retrospect, I might have been too harsh with both categories, and I could have given a one or two points more for both of them. Still, at least now the score clearly tells that this is not an adventure game, which was my main priority here.

      As a sort of strategy game, the game is pretty entertaining, although probably a bit simple for a real enthusiast of the genre.

    2. IF (and that's a big IF), there were at least some texts (based on historical facts, of course) every time you hit a settlement, I'm sure Ilmari would have rated Story/Setting higher. I understand that this game was meant to be a supplementary teaching aid but seriously, a little background text wouldn't hurt.

    3. Yeah, that was my problem playing it as a kid. I didn't really understand where most of the places where, or why it was telling me about such and such a fort when I couldn't do much there.

      The UI is a lot better in the Windows 3.1 versions, and ads mouse support.

  3. It's hard to overstate how seminal this game was back when I was a child. It was the only game we had in school, and was pretty fun and somewhat challenging. It was the only computer game most of the girls in my class ever played, but even they were hooked. It was a much desired respite from the dull classroom environment. Ironically, even though it was billed as educational, I don't think anyone paid the slightest attention to that element - my former classmates couldn't tell you where soda springs are any more than they could identify sea of tranquility. But they could shoot some buffalo, and how...

    1. Yea, that's the difficult element of nostalgia, which I couldn't really capture during my own gaming session, because I never got to play this game as a young kid in classroom. I am sure, if I had got the chance to play this game in school, I would have been really excited.

    2. My class was more about throwing exploding bananas at each other as gigantic gorillas.

  4. Interestingly he also tested quite a few electric skateboardmotors whilst trying to determine the ideal wattage to use for his boards and what he found was that quite a few of them actually rated quite a bit under what they were labeled as (one of the leading brand's 500 watt motors only rated at 220 watts).

  5. Hum, I recall liking The Yukon Trail a fair bit more then this one, did anyone play it? I'll have to ask my Dad, it could just be that I played it when I was older. I didn't like Amazon trail though, I remember that.

    As a note, these were put out by The Learning Company in Canada. The founder of that is now a millionair and a host on CBC's Dragon's Den, if there are any other Canadians around or people who watch Canadian TV.