Organ Trail: Director's cut

January 5th, 2012 11:57 AM
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I spent this past Halloween playing and blogging about Organ Trail, The Men Who Wear Many Hats' zombie-themed rendition of the classic Apple II edutainment title, MECC's Oregon Trail. Now that modern update is going the Kickstarter route to get funded for Mac, PC, iOS, and Android ports. Check out the trailer (contains one swear word near the end):

The campaign even comes with its own fake backstory, which includes an unfortunate and gratuitous slam:

Originally developed many years ago as a teaching tool for students, schools across America used the game to prepare children for the impending zombie apocalypse, and dysentery. But what the public doesn't know is that the released version does not follow the program director's original design. Before they tried to have him killed, he stole all the code and it has taken him 40 years to program the game in his own vision. Unfortunately no one uses the Apple-II anymore, so he's putting it on those newfangled phones.

In addition to the ports, the game will also include new features, such as a day/night cycle, the ability to converse with NPC survivors, as well as a new soundtrack.

The project ends after thirty days on Thursday, January 19, at 1:20 PM EST, but by the time I discovered it on Facebook, it already had 91 backers and $4,417 of the requested $3,000.

I've nonetheless pledged $20, though what they'll do with these excess funds, I'm unsure; their promise of "If we reach $5k, we will add an Android and iPad version of the game to the preorder options" seems a sure bet. So I offer this challenge — and incentive: I will multiply my donation 12.5-fold if The Men Who Wear Many Hats offer a reward of an Apple II version of their game. Their fundraising video states that they're making Organ Trail to look like an Apple II game. Why not go the extra step and port it?

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!

A mathematical problem

October 11th, 2010 11:11 AM
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One problem with using a computer as old as the Apple II is that most of its software was released more than two decades ago. Finding and preserving that data is a never-ending quest, but we are sometimes stymied at the very first step: remembering what the programs were! A chance encounter with a random program when we were half the age we are now is a difficult one to pin down, as the software's function and interface often stick with us longer than its title screen, which is its most historically identifying feature.

Faced with this exact problem, gaming cartoonist Philip Armstrong recently explored this issue in the most descriptive manner he knows: comic strips. He drew three illustrated stories in which the main character, Oat the Retronaut, reminisces about "a series of forgotten edutainment titles that are the Apple II [equivalent] to Professor Layton[, Nintendo's series of handheld puzzle games]." Here's an excerpt:

Retronauts comic strip

Despite attending a grade school with a lab of Apple II computers, I grew up with little edutainment software. With the exceptions of Scholastic Microzine and Oregon Trail, I missed out on many classics like Number Munchers. I therefore have no recollection with which to help Mr. Armstrong find the games in question. The same goes for Asi Lang, who wrote to Juiced.GS with a similar request.

Can the Apple II community help either of these gentlemen reunite with their youth?

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)