After seeing that there was a KickStarter aimed at recreating the 70s classic American school pastime Oregon Trail – IN SPACE, I had to get in touch with the people behind the project. Here I talk with the lead developer behind the project Orion Trail, Dave Bennett, on what we can hope to see in this interstellar remake.
Techraptor: Tell us about Schell Games and your latest project Orion Trail.
Dave:Schell Games is a game studio located in Pittsburgh, PA, run by the renowned game designer Jesse Schell. We do a variety of projects, including games, location based experiences (think theme park rides or exhibits), among many others.
Our most recent project, Orion Trail, is a lighthearted space adventure where you make the tough calls that only you, a space captain, can make. It’s part resource management, part choose-your-own adventure, part awesome pixel art written in a humorous tone.
The original idea and prototype came out of a week-long “game jam” that Schell Games holds every year, where the everyone in the studio pauses work on their current projects and works on something that excites them personally. Orion Trail was the game that Evan Brown and I came up with, and it was so popular within the studio that we wanted to develop it further by crowdfunding it on Kickstarter. The response from the public so far has been great! We’ve already been greenlit on Steam.
TR: Apart from the obvious allusion to the 70’s game Oregon Trail, what were your other influences for this title?
Dave: We’re all big sci-fi nerds, so if you like Star Trek, Red Dwarf, Galaxy Quest and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this should be up your alley.
As for games, our big influences include Space Quest, FTL, and Super Amazing Wagon Adventure. Space Quest has that classic, over the top humor that pokes fun at a lot of the tropes in sci-fi. FTL is a great reference for their text-based events, along with the emphasis on difficulty. And, lastly, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is totally great because it manages to capture that sense of misremembered nostalgia while remaining uniquely its own, which is something that we hope we can achieve.
TR: In what ways does Orion Trail change the gameplay from Oregon Trail? And what elements can we hope to see again?
Dave: Similar to Oregon Trail, we want the game to be about your party of (in our case, space-faring) friends as you make a dangerous journey. Mechanically, you can expect to see the resource management of the original, along with the short choose-your-own-adventure events. Where Orion Trail diverges is a bigger emphasis of leveling up your crew and ship by earning stat points, so you can better deal with different types of encounters.
We also plan to have longer, self-contained events that are called “Away Missions.” In an Away Mission, you’ll pick an officer and figure out how many redshirts you want to head down to the planet, and begin a series of high-risk / high reward scenarios. Do you let all of your redshirts die to let your officer get stronger? With your officer near death’s door, is it worth risking his or her life to gather some much needed food? Stuff like that.
Lastly, we really want hunting in the game, but in order to keep the budget reasonable we made it one of our early stretch goals. Hunting space-buffalo with lasers is super ridiculous.
TR: Your game has a much stronger emphasis on quirky scenarios than the original, why did you come to this decision?
Dave: The writing and art are things that we see as strengths in our team, so we wanted to try and build the game to best support those things.
However, we also wanted the game to be more than just a series of text-based encounters, so we layered in some elements of strategy and resource management to weigh each of your decisions against.
TR: What were the major challenges on this project?
Dave: I think the big challenge we had to overcome (and will have to keep dealing with) is the role of randomness in our game.
We think that the prototype we made is currently fun, but at times it feels brutally (and unfairly) random, which makes the player’s decisions feel entirely arbitrary and meaningless. During development of the prototype, we tried to balance it as best we could using the simple random system we decided to try, but we want to see if we can make the system a little smarter as we develop it further.
It’s something that we’re very aware of, and the feedback we’ve been getting so far has been really helpful.
TR: What makes Orion Trail unique from the other games out there at the moment?
Dave: The writing, humor, and awesome art. Funny games are hard to make, but we’re confident that we can deliver.
TR: What sort of gamer would enjoy your game?
Dave: In addition to anyone who’d love the obvious nostalgia from both Oregon Trail and classic sci-fi, Orion Trail is for people that are looking for a short, lighthearted adventure in the strange, stupid and terrifying universe that we’ve created.
TechRaptor would like to thank Dave for talking to us. You can find Schell Games on twitter. You can find out more about the project on Kickstarter and Steam. You can also read my preview of Orion Trail here.
Would you be interested in Orion Trail? Please comment below.