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The Woebegone Trail: DevLog - Day 1



Woebegone: An “The Oregon Trail” Homage - DevLog: Day 1 (05/12/24)


Here begins my “devlog” for “The Woebegon Trail” (working title, subject to change); my build of a “homebrew” Atari 800 version of, or at least homage to, the 1985 (and later) versions of “The Oregon Trail”.


Why “Woebegone”?


Let’s start with a definition:


Woebegone [phn: woh-bi-gawn, -gon]




  1. Beset with woe; surrounded by woe; affected by woe, especially in appearance.

  2. Showing or indicating woe.


Beyond the events of the game, reading some history of the Oregon Trail paints a hopeful, but hard and often miserable, transit.  The grit, motivation, and courage of those that undertook this journey astounds me.  But I’m still pretty sure they experienced their fair share of woe along the way.


Between harsh conditions, wheels falling off auntie the wagon, the occasional midnight oxen-mutiny, repeatedly dissing Terry for causing everyone borderline starvation by sneaking more than his share of the food, the coffee running out before Snake River, only finding scrawny squirrels to hunt, and sister Sarah already having broken all her limbs - twice, the days were long and hard.


Then its wake up again to a quick bout of pre-coffee-cholera or typhoid, before losing half your supplies in a clearly doomed river-crossing attempt, a brief stint of mid-morning pneumonia, and then dying of dysentery shortly after lunch.


I mean, if that was me … I would be beset with woe.  Would you be beset with woe?  I’d be beset with woe.


Oh, and in addition to being “woebegone”, the word “woebegone” sounds a bit like “Oregon”.


Anyway …


About the Devlog


Posts here will not be limited to code/technical matters, though those will certainly be covered - both for the game itself and for any related tools I may build along the way.  They will, of course, track progress, and will be crucial for floating ideas, questions, and considerations that would benefit from community input/perspective.


I’ll post, and attach, relevant builds, assets, code etc. along the way.


Philosophy & Approach


This will not be a “straight port”, though fundamental gameplay, models, decision making points and so on will be preserved.  I see things like the “hunting”, “river crossing” and “Columbia River rafting experience” differently.  I’d like to include some of the ideas that R. Philip Bouchard (the 1985 Apple II version of the game’s lead designer) had but was not able to include due to space/time/technology constraints.  And I want to take as much advantage of the Atari hardware as my programming abilities and knowledge will permit.


Having just read “You Have Died of Dysentery – The Creation of The Oregon Trail” (highly recommended, by the way – especially if you want to get a proper feel for the nuances and specifics of the game) … I feel much like R. Philip Bouchard described as he undertook his re-design - in wanting to deliver something that captures the spirit or essence of the prior versions, but that adapts and expands upon it.


For me, this is a passion/fun-project.  The code, and any assets, will be open source (license to be decided).  I’ll make the GitHub repository public as soon as the real coding for the project begins.


Considerations & Community Input


There are lots of considerations for this project, given what I want to achieve - many of which will benefit greatly from community input, which I hope to receive.


One goal is that this be a “10-foot experience”.  That means its easily and fully playable sitting on a couch, in front of a large screen, with just the joystick for control.


A primary requirement is that this be playable on real hardware as well as in emulators.  This has implications for what format I build for.  Indeed, this is the biggest, community-related, concern I have at the moment:


The 1985 Apple II version shipped on a single double-sided disk with 280KB of space.  My early calculations suggest I’ll need about the same, but to be safe I’m thinking a double-sided, double-density disk/.ATR to get to 360KB.  However, I have no idea how prevalent such drives are today, nor if real drives are being used or it’s all on things like the SDrive.  


Going with a disk-based model, rather than a bank-switched cartridge (etc.) is reinforced by the original using persistent storage for “tombstones” and its high-score table.  I’d like to preserve those elements.


Input here is very welcome!


Graphics – very much not my strong point.  It’s not a “concern” as such, as I have several ways I can address this to get appropriate quality assets, though community involvement (which doesn’t have to mean free/volunteer) here would make the final thing more a "community" thing once its done.


Next Steps


I’ll likely make individual posts on these items, and plan to wrap them up over the next week:


  • Finalize my development environment and tools selection.
  • Complete re-assessment of my 6502 and Atari 8-bit technical currency.
  • Build a title/start screen (in the manner of the dream I had that started all of this), to verify the point above.
  • Define and document the internal program structure, layout and architecture.
  • Make the GitHub repository public.
  • Several posts soliciting community feedback on my ideas/questions around:
    • Input model (all joystick driven)
    • Trading interface (maybe M.U.L.E. like?)
    • The hunting activity (first-person?)
    • The rafting “finale” (a reverse Frogger-ish thing?)


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