Oregon Trail on Facebook survives dysentery in pioneering new game

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The Oregon Trail in action
Just about everyone who attended grade school in either the '80s or '90s remembers the infamous phrase, "You died of dysentery." In fact, this has become an Internet meme over the years and harkens back to one of the only games that schools would allow for its educational value, The Oregon Trail. Luckily, it was one of the greatest adventure games of the time.

Waltham, Mass.-based Blue Fang Games has partnered with publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's The Learning Company to revive the text-laden, pioneering spirit of the original on Facebook. And after getting a sneak preview of the game, I cannot wait until computer class-er, to try it out when it goes live today.

The first choice players will have to make--and the first glaring difference from the original--upon touching down in Independence, Mo., is a profession. Initially, players will only have access to the settler profession, but as they progress through levels more professions will unlock and provide bonuses to certain tasks like hunting, fishing and goods management. "One of the things that we've really built out in The Oregon Trail for this platform was creating this experience that you can grow and extend as you play," says Blue Fang studio director Eduardo Baraf.

The Oregon Trail party
Of course, staples from the original return like the General Store and your trusty wagon, both of which will help you avoid having to pay up in Trail Notes when daunting obstacles are met. Trail Notes is the game's paid currency and gets you out of tough jams such as visiting a doctor for a snake bite, something that Baraf suffers early on in his travels during his guided tour. However, these maladies can also be overcome through your party.

While everyone had a party in the original Oregon Trail, it definitely wasn't like this. When choosing your traveling party, you have the option of electing your Facebook friends to join you. If they happen to play the game, their professions will provide you with bonuses. This is to make requesting friends to join you a much more meaningful decision than, say, "Hey everyone! Give me 500 Nails!"

Not to mention it supports something surprisingly new to social games: close group play. As opposed to traditional social games where quantity of friends matter, the quality of your friends in The Oregon Trail is more meaningful. "[The Oregon Trail] is really this game that you play with a core set of friends, and that's something we think is dynamic and new in this space," Baraf says.

Chimney Rock
At a glance, this is the major takeaway from The Oregon Trail. Of course, the artwork and animation are a lively, fresh and shockingly accurate recreation of the original. (And the mini games look to be a blast.) Yet most importantly, Blue Fang seems to have created a social game surrounding you and your closest gaming buddies rather than you and the over 200 million Facebook gamers. Even when on the trail, it's possible to run across friends who happen to be on their own journey, help them out by tossing them a ration or antidote, and be on your way.

Sure, The Oregon Trail's social elements are largely asynchronous like FrontierVille and the lot of popular Facebook games. But it's both this MMO-like persistence of "the Trail" and focus on making the best of your closest, most dedicated social gaming friends that makes The Oregon Trail one of the most forward-thinking social games I've seen in a long time.

Click here to play The Oregon Trail in Facebook Now>

Does this bring back memories of playing computer games in grade school? What do you think of the social edition of The Oregon Trail? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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