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How Oregon Trail was ferried from teletype to computer

Ever wonder exactly how that old Oregon Trail game from your childhood came together?

Vice published an oral history of the game’s conception Wednesday, speaking to the three creators – Minnesota teachers Paul Dillenberger, Bill Heinemann and Don Rawitsch – about the very first iteration.

And this isn’t the black-and-green computer screen origin story.

This predates that DOS version, with the trio talking about the original teletypewriter version that required you to type commands on paper, then you’d see it punch out a response back to you.

It’s a good read (and not too long either), and goes over its transformation from a card/tabletop game, to one that needed teletype coding, and them eventually to an actual computer.

One sample: check out the original way they implemented hunting, via Heinemann:

“Hunting was one of those routines I stubbed in on Monday and created on Tuesday or Wednesday. One of the things that BASIC [an early programming language, which stands for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code] had built into its language was a variation of the INPUT command, where you could not only accept input, but be notified of the length of time it took to respond.

I thought, ‘Aha! This is perfect for hunting. I’ll tell the students to type ‘BANG.’ If the students spelled it wrong or took too long, they got nothing. The faster they typed, the more meat they got and the more positive comment they received.'”

Oregon Trail was inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame in 2016.

And the nostalgia wave for the game swept up Target shoppers last year too. The small game company Pressman Toys/Goliath Games released a tabletop version exclusively with Target, and it was sold out for weeks because of high demand.

And if you want to take a stroll down DOS memory lane, this website has the old game playable in your browser.


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