You Have Died of Dysentery:

The Making of the Oregon Trail

Appendix 4: A Different Journey to Oregon

After we finished and released The Oregon Trail in 1985, I continued to design Apple II products for many more years – but all of these later titles (except for Number Munchers) were created specifically for the school market, not the home market. I left MECC in 1986, a year after The Oregon Trail came out, but I maintained a close relationship with the company. In fact, all but two of the products that I designed during my freelance years were published by MECC.

It was several years before I made another attempt to design a historical simulation. After The Oregon Trail, my next seven designs included four science simulations, two math games, and one language arts game. Finally, in 1990, I began work on the most ambitious product that I had tackled since The Oregon Trail – a historical simulation game called Lewis & Clark Stayed Home. In this simulation, the player steps into the shoes of the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, taking over the leadership of the famous 1804 expedition to explore the American West – including the just-acquired Louisiana Purchase and the Pacific Northwest.

To a large extent, the Lewis & Clark expedition set the stage for the Oregon Trail four decades later. Like the Oregon Trail, the expedition began in Missouri and made its way across the West all the way to Oregon. Then the expedition returned to its starting point in Missouri. Therefore the design of this product would allow me to explore some of the same concepts that appeared in The Oregon Trail, but in a different setting. I was able to try out some of the ideas that I had wanted to include in The Oregon Trail, but had been unable to do so. And in the five years that had passed since the release of The Oregon Trail, I had developed many new ideas about how to create a better user interface and how to provide a better user experience.

As a freelance designer, I was responsible for creating the entire product myself, other than the graphics. Therefore, for Lewis & Clark Stayed Home, I did all of the research myself, and I did all of the programming myself – in addition to all of the design. MECC assigned Charolyn Kapplinger to help me with the graphics – the same person who created all of the graphics for The Oregon Trail. I was quite pleased to be able to work with Charolyn again. I completed the product in 1991, and MECC promptly released it to the school market.

Lewis & Clark Stayed Home was very well received, but for a variety of reasons it never became famous like The Oregon Trail. These reasons included:

  1. In 1991 the Apple II still had a large installed base in schools, but it was rapidly being eclipsed by more modern computers. Therefore new titles for the Apple II were not generating much notice in the world. And MECC never contracted me to create a version of the product for any other computer.
  2. I designed the activity to be a school market product, not a home market product, and therefore I put a lot less emphasis on gameplay. A small number of kids became big fans of the game, but in general the product did not have the same level of appeal as The Oregon Trail. (In hindsight, I wish I had put a bit more emphasis on tuning the gameplay.)

Still, I had many reasons to be proud of the product. And because both The Oregon Trail and Lewis & Clark Stayed Home were designed for the Apple II, it can be quite interesting to see how I approached similar design issues on these two different products.

Side-by-Side Comparison

The following screen captures are all presented in pairs. In each case, the image on the left is taken from The Oregon Trail. The image on the right is a comparable screen from Lewis & Clark Stayed Home. The text below each pair explains the differences, along with the reasons behind the differences.

Figure 1: The Main Menu

Right from the first screen, Lewis & Clark Stayed Home has a very different look and feel than The Oregon Trail. Instead of using a black background with white text on all of the screens – which is the normal default on the Apple II – I decided to use black text on a blue and white background. Instead of requiring the user to type a number to choose an item from the menu, I allow the user to make selections using the arrow keys, which moves a highlight bar up and down the menu. (However, typing a number also works.) I decided not to include a high score list, but I did include the ability to save a game in progress on a separate “data disk”, and to resume that same game later. Because a typical game of Lewis & Clark can take an hour or more, this feature was essential. I used my own font system on Lewis & Clark, and I custom designed all of the fonts.

Figure 2: Difficulty Level

In The Oregon Trail, the choice of difficulty levels is rather indirect – the player chooses a profession, which determines how much money he starts with. In Lewis & Clark, I took a different tack. I did not ask the player to choose a difficulty level, but instead I asked the player to describe how experienced he is. I felt that it was important that new players begin at the entry level and work their way up. A Beginner is given a fairly easy task to accomplish, while an Experienced player is given a much more difficult assignment, and an Expert player is given a long and difficult set of tasks to accomplish.

Figure 3: Personalizing the Experience

In The Oregon Trail, the player personalizes the experience by entering the names of the four other people traveling with him. In Lewis & Clark, you also travel with other people, but all of them already have names. Instead, after providing your own name, you pick the avatar to represent yourself on screen. In the screen capture above, you can see that there are six avatar characters to choose from. (Notice that character #2 appears in several of the screen shots below.)

Figure 4: Access Optional Instructions

A tricky issue I faced in designing the introductory screens – in both products – is how to keep the introduction short, while still providing the option to obtain more detailed instructions and information. In The Oregon Trail, my solution was to present a series of screens in which the player must make choices – but on each screen there is an option to seek advice or additional information. In Lewis & Clark, I first give the player the choice of visiting Thomas Jefferson, to find out the purpose of the mission, and then the option of visiting Meriwether Lewis, to find out additional important details.

Figure 5: Optional Instructions

In both products, the additional information is often presented to you through a simulated character. But in Lewis & Clark, you can actually see the character that is speaking to you.

Figure 6: Preparation for the Journey

In The Oregon Trail, the preparatory task – before starting the journey – is to buy your oxen and supplies at Matt’s General Store. In Lewis & Clark, you prepare for the journey by assigning tasks to the members of your crew. However, the amount of setup required varies according to the experience level that you chose. At the Beginner level, the crew has already been selected and given a good balance of tasks. So you can jump right into the game, without any delay. At the Experienced level, the crew has already been selected, but they have not yet been given their tasks. At the Expert level, you don’t yet have a crew, so first you have to decide how many people you want to have on your crew.

Figure 7: Preparation is Finished

In The Oregon Trail, your preparation is finished when you have bought a good mix of supplies. You can now start the journey. In Lewis & Clark, your preparation is finished when you have given your crew a good mix of assignments, including sergeant, hunter, collector, cook, camp guard, and pack crew.

Figure 8: The Travel Screen

The Travel Screen is dramatically different in the two products. In The Oregon Trail, you are following a trail, and except for a few branch points, the route is pre-determined. In Lewis & Clark, there is no pre-determined route. You are an explorer venturing into unknown lands, and at every step you must decide which direction you want to travel. In the example above, you have just left St. Louis, and you are now traveling north, as indicated by the footprints. You are near the junction of two rivers, and you are currently traveling through a broadleaf forest.

Figure 9: Approaching an Inhabited Place

In The Oregon Trail, the inhabited places that you pass are all forts, and these are the places where you can buy food and supplies. In Lewis & Clark, the inhabited places you pass are Native American villages, and these are the places where you can obtain food and supplies. Also notice that in The Oregon Trail, you have to press Return to see a menu of actions you can take, but in Lewis & Clark the options are indicated by numbered icons. You simply press a key from 1 to 5 to go directly to the various options.

Figure 10: Arrival at a New Location

In The Oregon Trail, when you arrive at any of 16 different locations along the trail – forts, river crossings, and landmarks – you have the option to “look around”. First you see a large graphic of the location, then you see a list of possible actions to take. In Lewis & Clark, when you enter any of 30 different Native American villages – each representing a different ethnic group – you meet the people there and see your surroundings. Then you are given a list of possible actions to take, including trading and doing an interview to collection information.

Figure 11: Available Actions at a New Location

In The Oregon Trail, the menu of possible actions is heavily weighted towards resource management. However, option #8 allows you to talk to people. In Lewis & Clark, once you enter a village, the menu of actions is focused on interacting with the people of that village. In fact, the entire menu of options is presented as a conversation system. You get points for successfully trading with each village, and you get points for successfully interviewing the people of the village. However, not every village welcomes you with open arms. In some villages the people are cautious, skeptical, or frightened. You must first win their trust before they will trade or agree to an interview.

Figure 12: The Conversation System

In The Oregon Trail, at each of the 16 locations there are three people that you can talk to. If you choose to “talk to someone”, then one of those three people will be randomly chosen, and that person will deliver a short monologue. In Lewis & Clark, the conversation is driven by the questions that you choose to ask. You have a choice of 12 different questions or statements that you can make. The native people, if they trust you, will provide answers. Plus, you get to see exactly who you are talking to.

Figure 13: Deciding What to Buy

In The Oregon Trail, you buy food and other supplies at forts, at fixed prices, and you pay in cash. In Lewis & Clark, you obtain food and other supplies by making trades in the native villages. Therefore, you have to decide not only want you want to obtain, but also what you are willing to trade for it.

Figure 14: Making the Purchase

In The Oregon Trail, making a purchase at a fort is straightforward. You choose which item to buy, and how much of that item you want. In Lewis & Clark, you have to bargain until you and the villagers agree on a price. In the example above, you have made an offer, and the villagers have responded with a counter-offer. This interaction is similar to what I had originally hoped to include in The Oregon Trail.

Figure 15: Reaching a Landmark

In The Oregon Trail, each trail segment ends at a key point, which is sometimes a distinctive geologic feature or other well-known landmark. In Lewis & Clark, as you travel the landscape, distinctive landmarks also appear from time to time. If you visit a landmark – by hiding the landmark under your footprints – then the name of the landmark appears in the right panel, and you get points for reaching the landmark. Unlike The Oregon Trail, where your points are not calculated until the end of the journey, Lewis & Clark provides a running total of your current score.

Figure 16: A Random Event (Theft)

Random events play a bigger role in The Oregon Trail than in Lewis & Clark. However, a random event that can occur in both programs is to suffer losses from theft during the night. In Lewis & Clark, you can minimize such loses by posting a sufficient number of camp guards. However, the more guards you assign, the fewer people you have for other tasks, such as the pack crew or hunting.

Figure 17: Running Out of Food

In The Oregon Trail, you have to watch the “Food” category on the Travel Screen to make sure that you do not run out of food. (Notice that I currently have 0 pounds of food.) Your only warning that you are starving is if some local Indians offer to help you find food. In Lewis & Clark, your sergeant warns you if you are running of food, and he warns you again if you completely run out. You can solve the problem in any of three ways – by assigning more hunters, by getting into a terrain that is better for hunting, or by visiting a village and trading for food.

Figure 18: Checking Supplies

In Lewis & Clark the program tracks a longer list of supplies than in The Oregon Trail. The items listed as “gifts” are brought along to serve as gifts to the villages you encounter, and for making trades in those villages. This screen also indicates the current rate of food consumption, compared to the rate of hunting additional food.

Figure 19: Checking the Map

In The Oregon Trail, the territory has already been mapped to a certain degree, so it is simply a matter of marking your progress on the map. In Lewis & Clark you are traveling through unmapped territory – and one of your goals is to map the territory, especially the rivers. (The more territory you map, the more points you get.) Therefore the map only shows the areas that you have visited. In this case it is clear that I have taken a northern route, because the southern parts of the map are still blank.

Figure 20: Arrival at the Destination

In The Oregon Trail, your arrival at the destination is rewarded with a large graphic of the Willamette Valley, along with a congratulatory message. In Lewis & Clark, you see a graphic of St. Louis upon your return there, then you go visit Meriwether Lewis. His response is based on the specifics of your journey. In this case, I returned a year late, and therefore Lewis is pleased to learn that I am still alive. He also observes that I have accomplished my principal goal (at the Experienced level), which was to find a route to the Pacific.

Figure 21: Your Points

In The Oregon Trail, you points are primarily based on getting your entire family to Oregon alive and in good health. In Lewis & Clark, your points are based on the degree to which you achieved the objectives of the expedition, such as mapping new territory, befriending the Indian tribes along the way, and finding new species of plants and animals. However, you lose points for returning late.

Figure 22: Rating of Your Results

In The Oregon Trail, your results are rated in terms of points, which are translated into one of three ranks – greenhorn, adventurer, or trail guide. The visual cue to your level of success is your position in the high score list. In Lewis & Clark, your final score results in one of six possible ratings – all of which are laudatory. In this example, Jefferson pronounced my results to be “superb”. That’s pretty good, but certainly not as good as “extraordinary”. The visual cue for my level of success is how many gifts the U.S. government presents me as a reward – anywhere from one item to six items of increasingly greater value. In this case I was given three items, which is an average result.

*** End of Appendix 4 ***

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