As part of a research project on computer games produced prior to 1973 (the date of 101 BASIC Computer Games), I have been conducting research on The Oregon Trail, which originated at Carleton College in Minnesota in 1971 by Don Rawitsch, Paul Dillenberger, and Bill Heineman. The game was played in one of Rawitsch’s history classes and in programming and simulation classes taught by Dillenberger and Heineman, then put in storage until Rawitsch copied it onto the MECC computer system in 1974, with a revision in 1976 based on new research. It was alter copied and published in the July-August 1978 issue of Creative Computing. The 1978 version is thus fairly close to the 1971 original, only with more accurate data. The original version also contained more jokes to make the learning process more interesting, but the data was still fairly accurate. Rawitsch testifies to the value of a simulation for teaching:
Although students can find out about the Oregon Trail by reading books, visiting museums, watching movies, and similar activities, the simulation allows them to learn from actively participating in the simulated experiences of people from another era.
Data on the Oregon Trail was collected from books and diaries and provided accurate information regarding the cost of goods, types of supplies to buy, and the frequency of disasters (i.e. bad weather occurs 20% of the time and injuries 5% of the time in the diaries, so they occur at the same rate in the game). The code also detects where the player is on the trail and adjust random events accordingly (i.e. it snows in the mountains and river disasters occur on the plains).
Unlike the graphical version we are more familiar with, the original version was text-based. Each turn, players would type their choice (stop, hunt, or continue; eat well, moderate, or poorly) and the game would load an event subroutine to let you know what kind of disaster occurred this turn. After making a choice in the event sequence, the game tallies up the results and continues until the player either dies or reaches Oregon. Also unlike later versions of The Oregon Trail, the 1978 version does not keep statistics of whether a family member dies and you cannot name your family members or yourself. Finally, the popular hunting sequences involve typing a word such as “BANG” quickly into the computer, with accuracy based on speed.
One of the things I’ve noticed by looking at the code is that there are many disasters that can either deplete bullet stock or be overcome by using bullets. This means that success might rely on a large supply of ammunition. Rawitsch also suggests that players spend $200-$300 on oxen and at least $175 on food as a good initial supply.
Below is a text document containing the code for the program, originally called OREGON. It runs in 3.1 BASIC and was designed for a CDC Cyber 70/73-26 (of which there are apparently many still in operation, and one man is selling a rather expensive emulator of the system to this audience).
I haven’t figured out how to get the code running in a BASIC emulator (say in a presentable version such as Highnoon), but if anyone can help, please let me know! The code is approximately 700 lines long.
This code was found in David Ahl’s Creative Computing May-June 1978 issue.