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The Oregon Trail (DOS)

The Oregon Trail Deluxe VGA DOS
Genre: Educational, Simulation
Perspective: Diagonal-down, Side view, Text-based / Spreadsheet, Top-down
Visual: Fixed / flip-screen
Pacing: Real-time
Gameplay: Managerial / business simulation
Interface: Text parser
Educational: Geography, History
Setting: Western
Published by: MECC
Developed by: MECC
Released: 1990
Platform: DOS

One of the oldest and most famous computer games, "The Oregon Trail", in 2016 included in the list of the fifty best representatives of this art form of all times and peoples under the honorary ninth number by Time magazine in 2016, first reached the IBM PC only in 1988 year - almost twenty years after its birth. Unfortunately, unfading gameplay coexisted both in this version and in the 2.0/2.1 update that followed three years later, with the same graphics and the same texts that distinguished the Apple II version back in the mid-1980s - and therefore everything looked it's not very attractive. Of course, this could not go on for a long time, and already in 1991 the “Deluxe Edition”, or 3.0, was released, remade for VGA - with a 256-color palette and a resolution of 640x480.

The classic story and all the mechanics have not changed a bit here either: we are still traveling in 1848 from Independence, Missouri, to the Willamette Valley in the promised land of Oregon, fighting obstacles, hunger and disease, and trying to bring our wagon and members to the goal families safe and sound, but outwardly the game has changed almost completely. Thanks to the increased resolution, the picture is exactly four times higher than that of the "normal" DOS version, and the animated cutscene, together with the yellow background of the screen instead of the gloomy black, is very pleasing and sets us in a much more optimistic mood regarding the outcome of our long journey ahead. At the very beginning of the journey, you traditionally have to choose a name for your protagonist and his family members, a month to start, and the main character also has a profession: instead of three options, as many as eight are now available, differing not only in coefficients for points scored and the size of the wallet, but also in skills (for example, the companions of a doctor have a much greater chance of recovery in case of illness, and the farmer has a slightly better health already oxen). After we wisely (or not) spent the amount given to us on the equipment of the expedition, we get to the main window of the game, where we have to spend almost the entire journey.

The interface screen at first glance may seem somewhat overloaded: as many as six different sections replace a single window of the old DOS version, and that's not counting the double decorative border, but the convenience of such a solution is obvious. In contrast, it should be noted, from aesthetics: let's say, the view of the city or other sights on which we are currently located, although it has added color and volume to the palette, now it does not occupy the entire screen, but albeit the largest one, but still one of its sections - the top one in the second column from the left. As for the sound, only some of the events are marked with effects (for example, shots while hunting or unpleasant incidents on the way), and the music, as before, sounds only when visiting some sight - in the form of one of the historical melodies or folk songs popular in the middle of the 19th century.

Under the mentioned illustration on the screen there is a caption to this picture, and even lower - a detailed diary of the expedition with records of all incidents (and with the possibility of scrolling). The column to the right is reserved for useful information: the date on the calendar, weather conditions and temperature (in the form of a cute icon - the sun, clouds, etc. - and a thermometer), an indicator of the distance to the next point of interest on the Trail and the size of the path we have already covered, as well as the state and settings of our party. The last item includes the speed of movement and the size of the rations, the general level of health of family members, the amount of food supplies available, and simply the current state of the expedition (moving, standing, resting, or late, i.e. lost our way or otherwise fall behind optimal route and schedule). Below, in a separate section, there are two special large buttons: "Options" to call the main menu with settings (and even with the unusual ability to save your progress) and "Time Out / Continue" to pause the game or resume the path.

However, stop the course of inexorable time and other control buttons, located five in the extreme columns on the left and right. The first is a map that replaces the location picture and is displayed by default while driving, under a miniature animation of a van moving from right to left, sometimes with an approaching icon for the next point of interest. Unfortunately, neither this illustration nor the map itself, unlike the previous version of The Oregon Trail, can be enlarged, and there are no inscriptions on the map - only symbols: forts, rivers, etc. (so the updated VGA versions and some minor flaws, not just advantages). But the second left button from the top allows you to display something that was not in the original at all: a built-in mini-encyclopedia with, albeit not the most detailed, but very useful information both about the cities we visit and other places, and, say, about diseases, various Indian tribes and other things that a traveler in the Wild West is able to meet. No less convenient is the third button, “Status”, which displays (instead of the same main window with a map and animation) a list of the contents of our reserves, including cash, as well as a report on the health status of each of the family members, which was so lacking in the 1988 version. The fourth button on the left, as well as a similar one on the right, will allow you to change the settings, respectively, for the issuance of rations and the speed of movement of the van (in case for some reason you need to enter a strict diet or especially fast driving - due to the indispensable deterioration in the already unenviable state of health of both us and our companions and draft animals). The fifth button will allow you to go shopping - but only in the original city or in the forts (of course, the further inland, the higher the prices).

In the event that some of the necessary stocks have suddenly run out, you can try to bargain on the principle of barter by clicking on the upper right button and indicating the desired type and quantity of goods - it is possible that in wilder places there will be a suitable Indian nearby who agrees to change food or ox on clothes or cartridges. But the next command, "Conversation", is intended to be used for purely educational and entertainment purposes: as in the previous version of the game, some soldier from the fort or a migrant like ourselves will always be happy to share a small and instructive story from own life. The third button on the right gives the command to rest, which is quite useful in case of illness of a member of the expedition or as a way to wait out bad weather. Finally, the last option on the bottom right is a favorite of many hunting: in the “deluxe edition”, the business of obtaining food for oneself by ruthlessly exterminating the American fauna was greatly simplified, but at the same time it was, so to speak, ecologized. This occupation is now presented in the form of a shooting gallery from the first person - and it is much easier to hit the hares, squirrels, antelopes and, even more so, bison or bears running across the screen with the mouse cursor than before. However, regardless of the “catch”, it will only be possible to take 200 pounds of food with you into the van at a time (or even less, depending on the number of surviving family members who can help with transportation): this is more than enough for a single buffalo or deer, so there is no point in organizing a genocide of wild animals. Moreover, it is unlikely that it will be possible to hunt again in the same place due to the impoverishment of the territory we have already visited.

In general, the updated version of the famous educational game leaves the most pleasant experience. The appearance here is definitely more preferable than that of the 1988 edition, however, apparently, there were some simplifications, as well as minor flaws: for example, in addition to the already mentioned impossibility to enlarge the image of the map, the messages in the diary about involuntary stops for some reason stopped be accompanied by an indication of the number of days thus lost by us, and the random events themselves, such as the nighttime thefts of our property, seem to have become somewhat more rare. At the same time, this edition is the last one released for DOS, so you should definitely pay attention to the “improved” incarnation of the imperishable classic.