By Jennifer Fong
May 7, 1848. I’ve found myself into a bit of a predicament. I need to cross the Kansas River at the ford, but it’s almost four feet deep.
I could caulk my wagon and float it across, but that’s still a bit risky. Taking a ferry is safest, but it costs $5 and I’m a mere farmer. If only there were a bridge. If you’ve ever used an Apple II computer, chances are that you too have been in a similar situation.
Oregon Trail, the educational adventure game released by Mecc, was an elementary school staple in the ’90s — navigating a fictional family across the American Midwest was the best thing about Grade 5. Old-school Apple favourites, like the original Oregon Trail, have long fallen off the software assembly line, but many fans of the games still exist. Fear not: there are ways to play them, bad graphics and all, even on your shiny new Mac G5 or top-of-the-line Dell.
First-year Journalism student Tim Fujimoto says he loves playing Pac-Man, Lemmings, and Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego. He downloads old “abandonware” — software discontinued by publishers — off websites such as Romnation.net, but says it’s not always easy.
First, you need to find an emulator that can reproduce the older computer platforms that the games run on. Those, Fujimoto says, are easy to locate. It’s the game images that are a bit harder to come by. “Often you’ll have to download a pack of, like, 100 games and sift through it to find the one game you want,” he says. Still, he says it’s worth it. “The reason I still make the effort to go out and find them is because they definitely have a type of nostalgic quality to them,” he says.
“I’ll remember playing a game when I was little, and then I’ll just think, ‘I really want to play that again.'”
For second-year business student Daniel Lawrence-Leger, it’s the subject matter of the games that keeps him coming back. “In old games, the character movement was limited in 2D, so the game developers really had to come up with some interesting concepts for games,” he says.
What could be more interesting than the dysentery-plagued rush to the West? But like almost everything on the Internet, abandonware has sparked a copyright debate between publishers and gamers. Companies argue that even if software is no longer being manufactured and sold, downloaders are still infringing on copyright laws when they trade games online. CPUsed’s games specialist, Robert Laughlin, says many customers come to the computer store at Dupont and Bathurst streets in search of old games.
He understands their frustration when he can’t fulfill their requests. “I personally don’t agree with just downloading something that you don’t pay for,” Laughlin says. “But I definitely understand the mindset of someone when they can’t just walk into a store and buy something like they expect to.”
In his opinion, publishers should bring the classics back on to the market. “It’s a chance for them to cash in on the trend; they’d have to be stupid not to (do it),” he says. Tuncer Deniz, publisher of Gaming Magazine and website Insidemacgames.com, agrees.
He suggests publishers allow users to legally purchase and download the games online. He doesn’t see their retro appeal going away any time soon. “It’s like watching old movies; you don’t get tired of them,” Deniz says. “Once in a while, you want to come back to them and play (them) again.”
This is definitely true of Oregon Trail. I’m playing for the first time since grade school. I have to admit, it was a bit scary when Scooter got typhoid. But hey, I made it across the Kansas River just fine, thanks to trusty option number two: caulking my wagon.