Forty Years Later: How ‘Oregon Trail’ Was Born
For the next two weeks, Dillenberger and Heinemann spent each night wedged into a tiny computer office—a former janitor’s closet at Bryant Junior High School—tapping code into a teletype machine. The teletype was a screen-less, electromechanical typewriter connected via telephone to a mainframe computer that could issue prompts, receive commands, and run primitive programs.
With no monitor, the original version of Oregon Trail was played by answering prompts that printed out on a roll of paper. At 10 characters per second, the teletype spat out, “How much do you want to spend on your oxen team?” or, “Do you want to eat (1) poorly (2) moderately or (3) well?” Students typed in the numerical responses, then the program chugged through a few basic formulas and spat out the next prompt along with a status update.
“Bad illness—medicine used,” it might say. “Do you want to (1) hunt or (2) continue?”
Hunting required the greatest stretch of the user’s imagination. Instead of a point-and-shoot game, the teletype wrote back, “Type BANG.”
If the user typed it in accurately and quickly enough, the hunter bagged his quarry.
“Nice shot!” the program answered. “Right through the neck—Feast tonight!!!”
By Jessica Lussenhop, City Pages