Halloween on the Oregon Trail

October 31st, 2011 11:37 AM
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Oregon Trail is one of the seminal computer games, making an indelible impact not only on the education of an entire generation, but also on the development of the interactive fiction genre. But a game that was fun thirty years ago could sometimes stand a little updating to make it more relevant.

With everything from romance to comedy having been infused with the pop culture phenomenon of zombies, and today being Halloween, what better time to bring the undead to the Oregon Trail? Courtesy The Men Who Wear Many Hats comes Organ Trail, the game that challenges you to survive a trek across the country in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. It's a brilliant romp with allusions to other undead manifestations, such as Resident Evil 4.

Organ Trail

It's the end of the world as we know it — let's head west!
Click to play.

Organ Trail isn't the first time MECC's classic game has been adapted to a free, online Flash format. Thule Road Trip eschews many of the embellishments of Organ Trail, instead opting to update the game to a modern setting with few other changes.

But the innovation and timeliness of Organ Trail ranks it among my favorite recreations of my youth. This time around, you have bigger concerns than dysentery! Enjoy!

Travelling soundtrack

September 5th, 2011 1:27 PM
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While at the CIO100 last month, I attended a keynote speech by Tom Peck, CIO of Levi Strauss. One of the videos he presented was a subtle advertisement for his company's products, and also a really neat work of filmography:

I immediately appreciated the video for the clever effects and also the sense of adventure and wanderlust such artistry inspires in me (see: Where The Hell Is Matt?). But when I got home and watched the video again on my own, I noticed a nearly subliminal aspect that appealed specifically to the retrocomputing enthusiast in me: the soundtrack. The video is set to the song "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Recognize it? No reason you shouldn't, right?

I realized it's the same song used in the Oregon Trailer that debuted last August — another video about traversing this great land!

Oregon Trailer

I think this connection is a neat example of the personal influence of the Apple II on one's perceptions and reactions. "Home" (a BASIC reference?) can be found on their MySpace page or in iTunes on their album Up From Below.

Alderaan Trail

September 20th, 2010 1:23 PM
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Oregon Trail, having recently enjoyed a successful film adaptation, is now being adapted to a variety of other media. The first is a mashup with another storied film franchise:

Alderaan Trail Shoppe
But I was going to Tosche Station for some power converters!
Image copyright Matt Marchini.

Sadly, this is one of several pictures that are not screen shots from an actual game, but mockups of a theoretical one. From the photo album's description:

A long time ago in a galaxy pretty far away… As a galactic civil war rages on, the escalating violence in your system has reached new heights. Seeking a better life you and a small band of compatriots set out on a perilous journey to find a new home. Alderaan, a small blue planet know for it's civility ( it is said by many that they have no weapons) would make the perfect retreat for your loved ones hoping to avoid Imperial entanglements. Untold danger awaits you on… THE ALDERAAN TRAIL.

A version that's closer to the original in setting but a far cry in genre is So Long, Oregon! for iOS. Here's a trailer for this side-scrolling shooter:

Also available for the iPhone is Oregon Trail itself, which was reviewed in the March 2010 issue of Juiced.GS. More affordably, if you want to play a modern retelling, check out Thule Road Trip online, as detailed in my KansasFest 2009 presentation.

In whatever era or medium you play this classic game, you'll likely find it harder than you remember. Rather than mourn your inevitable failure, celebrate that you were able to experience even a fraction of the glorious Oregon Trail:

epic fail photos - Cake WIN

(Hat tip to Bob's House of Video Games)

A Digg at the Oregon Trail

September 2nd, 2010 12:03 PM
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If you follow social media, you may be aware that Digg, the social news site founded in 2004, launched the fourth iteration of its Web site last week. The previous incarnation had been around long enough to attract a devout following of users who voted stories up and down, determining what news would make the site's front page and which stories would be buried. It was an inexact science, but it seemed to work.

As with any change to an established system, the new Digg is being widely criticized, with developers responding by fast-tracking several changes and additional resources to accommodate its new audience. In the meantime, it's not unusual for the site to experience outages. Just as Twitter has the fail whale, Digg has its own custom error message:

Digg error message

Due to the colors and extreme pixelation of this image, I originally suspected this picture was derived from a version of Oregon Trail more primitive than the Apple II edition. But when compared to a screen shot from that game, I realized that what had thrown me was the size of the image. Digg has blown the picture up to more than 300% of its original resolution, creating its blocky appearance. For comparison, here's an animated GIF I composed of the original picture and Digg's take:

Digg error message (animated GIF)

That still leaves one puzzle, though: the meaning of the number of Diggs trailing behind the wagon. They would seem to be years, but I can't discern their significance. Oregon Trail has had many versions (the first Apple II version was released in 1978) but none of them were published in 1984, according to Wikipedia. The game's fictional family makes their way across the country in 1848, nearly a half-century before 1889. And 1955? What could that mean?

The real-life Oregon Trail

August 9th, 2010 1:21 PM
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The worlds of the Apple II and Hollywood recently collided when Jordan Mechner's Prince of Persia platforming game was adapted to the silver screen. Despite mixed critical reviews, it was a commercial success, earning more money than any other video game adaptation to date. It can't be long before avaricious directors attempt to reproduce this film's profits by following the same formula. Similar success demands a similar source, so where else to look but to other Apple II games for inspiration?

Just because a movie is based on an existing property doesn't mean it need be unoriginal. With so many rich possibilities for interpretation, the potential for creativity is boundless. Instead of an action-packed film based on, say, Choplifter or Lode Runner, why not a character-driven drama that shows a journey both physical and emotional? American audiences have often enjoyed the intersection of personality and peril found in the Old West from Gunsmoke to Dr. Quinn to Deadwood. Given that undying demand, it's a natural fit for the next Apple II movie — Oregon Trail:



This trailer is the work of Half Day Today!, a Los Angeles-based new media production group. Although the trailer says the full movie is "coming soon", I suspect the trailer is the final product, and an excellent one at that.

Another group called Mega64 brings video games to life by acting them out amidst an unsuspecting citizenry. Their efforts are often embarrassing, though their Oregon Trail adaptation would be one of the better ones, were it not for the reliance on toilet humor.

By comparison, Half Day Today!'s work is not only a professional production, but one that has earned the accolades of alumni of MECC, the company responsible for the original educational software. Within two days of the Oregon Trailer's premiere, it became one of their most-watched videos. I hope their library capitalizes on that popularity by growing to include other ingenious Apple II adaptations.

(Hat tips to Bob's House of Video Games and Boing Boing)

Classic gaming inspirations

July 5th, 2010 11:25 AM
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In January of last year, Darren Gladstone posted a blog to PCWorld.com entitled "Classic Apple II Games That Inspired Today's Greats", though it wasn't until three months later that I found it. Wanting to spread the word of the Apple II's influence, and under the content-sharing agreement between PCWorld and my own employer, I reposted the blog to Computerworld.com. For some reason, that republication got noticed more than the original, and sites like Virtual Apple experienced a noticeable increase in traffic.

That same blog post got me thinking not just about classic Apple II games, but also their modern analogues on the Mac or online. I started drawing mental comparisons, similar to the Life & Death / Trauma Center similarities I've already outlined here. As the list grew, I decided to present my findings at KansasFest 2009. To streamline the presentation by remaining within a single operating system, I downloaded YouTube videos demonstrating the gameplay of Apple II classics and had their Mac or online equivalents ready to show. I didn't have time to make all the comparisons I'd prepared, but here are those that were showcased:

Apple II
Equivalent
Mac
iOS
Flash
Montezuma's RevengeMidnight Mansion
Conan: Hall of VoltaMidnight Mansion
RobotronGrid Wars
Lode RunnerAndroid
Qixl1neum
ChoplifterChopper
SolsticeAlien8
ShadowgateMalstrum's Mansion
Oregon TrailThule Road Trip


Click on the checkmark in the appropriate column above to find that version of the game. Note that Grid Wars is listed but no longer available from its official source due to a potential copyright infringement with the popular video game Geometry Wars. Grid Wars' Wikipedia entry suggests alternatives.

I've compiled a YouTube playlist demonstrating the gameplay of the above Apple II games:



The session was better received than I anticipated. I didn't think anyone would enjoy watching me play games, but the trip down memory lane paired with modern gaming somehow seemed to resonate. In hindsight, the only game I should not have included was Solstice, as it turned out to be for the Nintendo only and was never released for the Apple II — no wonder my audience didn't recognize it!

The positive feedback from my 2009 session has motivated me to revisit the topic later this month at KansasFest 2010. I have nearly a dozen more games to compare and contrast, but I welcome your suggestions. What Apple II entertainment software would you like to find an equivalent for on a modern platform?