Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Xbox Live Arcade Desires: Oregon Trail

The Xbox Live Arcade service has proven to be a great platform for revitalizing older PC and console titles and delivering them to a newer audience - however there are some games missing that may prove to be excellent additions to the service. Consider this....

Oregon Trail Live
If you used a computer in the early to late/mid 1990s you probably have stumbled across this gem in any of its iterations. Fans of the series often recall blocky DOS graphics, the awkward but engrossing hunting experience with little square bullets, dying of dysentery, and having their hopes of winning the game dashed on a rock in the Dalles. Of course, buried in this fun was a learning experience in managing money, time, health, and also some historical facts brought to you in conjunction with MIDI sound.

Beyond the nostalgia factor and fan service, a serious case can be argued for re-releasing this game. Microsoft has been trying very hard to push the 360 as a more family friendly console and a game long respected for its educational value being placed on the console would do a lot to further this image. This is likely one of the few games that can carry a wide appeal to both younger gamers and mom and dad. The cost of porting the game is relatively low compared to writing a new engine for a game and development would fall into a relatively short cycle.

Speaking of development, should the game be released, I propose it be done in two flavors - classic and enhanced. Classic would retain the older DOS graphics (modified to be HD compatible) and gameplay, tweaked only to fit the Xbox controller layout. Enhanced would contain the graphical improvements of the newer editions of Oregon Trail and updated sound. An optional "LiveConnect" mode could also be made available for both modes, where the game would communicate with the Live servers to note where party members died or notable events occurred. Other gamers would be able to see randomly selected tombstones and such as they take their party along the trail to Oregon. Gamerscore could also have a hayday with some serious awards, such as completing the trail, and some fun awards like getting cholera.

So Where Is It?
There are some definite hurdles in making this release happen. The largest is licensing the game from The Learning Company, owners of the franchise after MECC sold the rights. Traditionally TLC-owned properties do not perform well in terms of sales on consoles, such as the case of the GameCube's Carmen Sandiego and the Secret of the Stolen Drums. The populace has come to expect some titles on a PC and in turn believe a console version may be less fun.

The other large hurdle preventing Oregon Trail Live is convincing a developer there is a market out there. Every game will sell a handful of titles but developers want million seller titles to make their profits. Unless your Atlus, finding a developer can be a hard sell on this point alone. Or has no one realized the gold that exists in this game? It's conceivable someone could attempt a release with the XNA platform, but that world has plenty of snarls that need to be worked out first, not to mention an indie developer likely cannot pony up a license fee to TLC.

If someone out there stumbles upon my idea, hear my plea. I'm sure two other people besides myself would like to relive the glory days of buying oxen and learning about Soda Springs again. Bring us Oregon Trail Live! Here are my thanks in advance.

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