Organ Trail: Director’s Cut is a 2012 zombie-themed simulation/survival game. The game was developed by the indie studio, The Men Who Wear Many Hats. It is an expanded version of their 2011 browser game Organ Trail. Both are retro-styled horror parodies of the famous simulation-edutainment series, The Oregon Trail.
OT:DC drops players into a zombie-infested United States and tasks them with surviving on the road, where they fight against zombies, bandits, illness, and nature. Players are also forced to make tough decisions for the safety of the group in a choose-your-own adventure manner.
The Director’s Cut was successfully funded through Kickstarter in 2012, leading to its first release on iOS and Android. The game is also available for PC, Mac, and Linux though Gamasutra and Steam; the latter was achieved through Steam Greenlight. It was also a launch title for the Ouya.
Players are dropped into an ongoing zombie apocalypse where, with a party of custom-named survivors, they pile into a Station Wagon and travel from an overrun Washington D.C. to a Safe Haven in Washington state. In addition to survival, players are tasked with looking after their group, keeping track of supplies, maintaining the car, fending off zombies and bandits, and making difficult decisions when they arise. (e.g., “putting down” an infected party member; leaving a thieving child to die.) Players can also stop to investigate occurrences on the side of the road and view tombstones with humorous epitaphs.
The game is presented as a parody of the original Apple II version of The Oregon Trail, down to the graphic style and the overworld; even the game’s name is a play on words. Most of the gameplay is recycled from the source material, though it is re-imagined for the setting. For example, river crossings are replaced with sneaking through a large hoard of zombies, and instead of hunting, players scavenge the wilderness for food and supplies, while shooting at approaching zombies. Some gameplay concepts remain unchanged from the source material, like the food rationing, trading, and random events. However, there are special alterations, like being able to heal party members while on the road, and keeping track of the overall condition of the group and the ‘wagon.’
Among the changes for the Director’s Cut include the option to partake in jobs while visiting settlements. These act as mini-games where players can earn money and additional supplies. These settlements also offer upgrades for the ‘wagon’ and party leader. In the overworld, the player may sometimes have to fend off motorcycle-riding bandits or a stampede of zombified deer. The game also introduces “boss battles,” which take place in the minigames themselves; day-night and weather systems; as well as an “endless mode.” In addition, some concepts seen in the original browser game are cut, specifically the initial choice between three pre-determined party leaders. (A feature seen in the original Oregon Trail.)
Despite the grim scenario, the game is peppered with dark comedy. In addition to the humorous epitaphs, some of the events that can happen to the player are presented humorously in the announcements. (“A bandit stole one of your tires. Dick.”) In one pitch-black occurrence, a player can choose to adopt a kitten found on the side of the road; choosing to do so will automatically provide additional “food” for the group.
In addition to the humor, the game makes many nods to zombie-pop culture. Cameos from zombie classics can be seen throughout the game; the player’s party itself is comprised of digitized versions of famous fictional zombie hunters.
After the player is saved by a former priest named Clements, the two band together with a group of fellow survivors and plan to drive to a safe zone located on the west coast. However, Clements is bitten before reaching Washington D.C. and leaves the players and their group with his journal - which explains some of the gameplay - before being mercy killed by the player.
From here, players scrape together their initial supplies and leave Washington D.C. The city is nuked by the military, and the player’s party begins their cross-country drive. Upon arriving at the safe haven in Washington State, players are asked to assist the people inside by collecting gasoline, in order to power the generator that controls the haven’s draw bridge.
The bulk of the game is viewed through an overworld screen similar to the one seen in The Oregon Trail. This screen keeps track of the party’s health, the condition of the car, conditions on the road, and displays the game’s random events when they occur.
Like in the original Oregon Trail, players need to strategize how much food should be rationed and how fast their wagon should go; the choices have their own problems and benefits. Throughout, the player will have to keep track of supplies, aid party members, maintain the ‘wagon,’ fend off enemies, and deal with a list of random events ranging from damaged supplies, moral choices, thieves, disease, and the often inevitable zombie bite.
On the road, the player will often visit settlements, set in the ruins of cities and small towns, where they can purchase additional supplies, upgrades, and complete jobs for money and supplies.
The goal is to safely escort the party leader, with or without the actual party members, to a safe haven located on west coast. The player travels on a fixed, linear route; it cannot be changed at any time. The game ends when the party leader dies or when they reach the safe haven and complete the game’s final mini-game.
The overworld screen displays the player’s total and current progress. The upper portion displays the road, weather, time of day, and locations when they come into view. The lower portion displays statistics. (i.e., Party health, amount of food and fuel, zombie activity, etc.) There is also an option to stop the car at any time, which brings up additional options.
Progress is measured by the in-game hour, and for every hour there is a chance for a random event. The benefits of the events vary. They include:
- Roadside Events: These sometimes put the player in a “choose your own adventure”-style situation or a moral dilemma.
- Zombies: either a scenario where the group has to pass through a large crowd of zombies or one where the player has to protect the car from an attack.
- Bandits: either a motorcycle gang will pursue the party or a party member may be held hostage.
- Tombstones: may result in either a brief zombie attack or a chance to find additional supplies.
- Finding/Losing Supplies
- Health Issues (e.g., Injuries, disease, recovery, zombie bites.)
- Car Issues: if a player doesn’t have fuel or a certain part, the car will be stuck until the player can trade for the needed item(s).
- Trivial/Humorous: moments that don’t affect the player, but are added for the sake of parody. (e.g., “Check engine light is on”; “Someone farted”.)
Here, players can keep track of all the supplies in the group and find ways to conserve or earn them. This is where players can ration how much food is eaten by the group per hour. Players can seek out survivors to trade with, though sometimes the player may choose to wait for a trader—on an hourly basis—until they find an acceptable offer. This is also where players can play the “Scavenge” mini-game or keep track of the party leader’s special abilities.
As to be expected, this is where players maintain their station wagon. Players can choose to repair their car with scrap metal: the success rate of the repair is determined by how much available scrap metal is used in the repair. Players can also set the pace of their car, which will determine the amount of fuel consumption versus the distance traveled per hour. Here, players may also keep track of what upgrades they have bought for the car.
“Party” deals with the overall health of the group. Players can choose to heal themselves and/or a sick party member with a med-pack, or kill one that has been bitten and/or holding the group back. Med-packs cannot ‘cure’ a bite victim, but since they—like other sick party members—heal slower than healthier members, they can be used to keep the person alive, preventing death and additional bites. The group can also choose to rest, which will allow the party to regain a bit of health for every rested hour, though they will consume an hours worth of food.
The player may also choose to talk with any survivors in the area, who will share their own personal experiences; these sometimes act as tips for the player.
There are two types of settlements in the game: cities and landmarks. Cities are, as implied, bombed out and overrun ruins of famous large cities and boast a larger population of survivors. Landmarks are sparsely-populated small towns set in buildings or areas, and are located in between the cities.
Players can purchase additional supplies and upgrades for the group in both, but the two differ in what exactly can be bought. Cities often have a larger surplus of purchasable supplies, and there is also a garage where players can purchase spare parts, car upgrades, and repairs. However, they become farther in between as the player’s party travels further down the road. Landmarks have sparser supplies, and in place of the garage, players can purchase special abilities from a “grizzled man.” These landmarks can act as temporary rest stops between cities.
In town, players can also take up special tasks from the job board, in order to earn money and spare supplies. These jobs are presented as mini-games and have a varied difficulty level, regardless of what the game’s actual difficulty setting is: the higher the difficulty, the more enemies that will appear in the mission.
The settlements also offer the same options seen in the “Stop” menus.
Jobs and Mini-Games
|Scavenge||Players hunt for food and supplies, out in the wildness, while avoiding an approaching hoard.|
|Defense||The players stand on top of their station wagon, or behind a barricade, and shoot at an approaching hoard.|
|Recover||Players are tasked to go out into the field to recover a crate of supplies for a survivor client, while avoiding an approaching hoard.|
|Bandits||Players are tasked to go to a local bandit hideout and kill all the gunmen shooting from the windows.|
|Driving||Players must either defend their car from a gang of motorcycle-riding bandits or dodge a tailing stampede of zombie deer.|
|Finale||The survivors at Safe Haven ask the players to scavenge for cans of gasoline to power a generator. Any party members who have made it this far provides covering fire and act as extra lives.|
|Plain Zombies||Typical undead enemy; can be taken out with one well-placed shot.|
|Torso Zombies||Crawls on the ground towards the player; slightly faster and harder to hit.|
|Strong Zombies||Takes two shots to destroy; first shot stuns them momentarily.|
| || || |
|Bandits||Local troublemakers who harass the local survivor towns; seen in the “Bandits” minigame.|
|Bikers||Motorcycle-riding bandits who shoot at players while on the road; seen in the “Driving” minigame.|
Clement’s Quest is a physics-based driving bonus game where players play as the Clement, the priest from the main game. While the goal somewhat remains the same, players instead ramp their station wagon over large inclines and run over zombies on their way, to-and-back-from the Safe Haven.
There is still a group of survivors, who will get sick and injured like in the normal game, and will lose health if the food counter, located at the top of the screen, goes to zero. Visiting settlements will replenish food supplies, survivor health, or give a survivor a disease.
The game forces the player to go back and forth between Washington D.C. and Safe Haven until the party leader dies or the player crashes his car into the water on either sides of the map.
After the initial browser version of Organ Trail was released in 2011, fans pleaded for the game to be ported for mobile platforms. Initially, The Men Who Wear Many Hats were not interested in the idea, since they had planned to “walk away” from the Organ Trail concept. But after massive feedback, Hats halted their other projects and began a Kickstarter to fund a Unity license for the game.
The Kickstarter was a huge success, raking in much more money than the intended goal. The extra money was used to help them quit their day jobs, form a proper studio, and showcase the game at PAX East. Along with copies of the game and other special merchandise, one special benefit for the Kickstarter funders was the offer to write epitaphs for the tombstones randomly found in-game.
After releasing Organ Trail: Director’s Cut for iOS and Android, the game was submitted to Steam; there, it was selected by users through Steam Greenlight. The selection led the developers to create new additions for the game, which included bonus game modes and combat upgrades.
The game is also slated to be available as a launch title for the Ouya homebrew console, which was also funded through Kickstarter.
The music is provided by electronica artist and sound designer, Ben Crossbones. The game’s soundtrack fuses “fakebit", a style meant to synthesize chiptune, with influences of metal.
The soundtrack is available for purchase through Bandcamp, and can be found through this link.
(#) - Denotes bonus track
- Patient Zero
- I Know a Safe Place
- Rotten Meat Wagon
- Highways and Headstones
- Once Alive, Twice Dead
- The Dead Also Starve (#)
- Promise Me You Won't Die
- Five Broken Finger Discount
- You've Doomed Us All
- Come Back Alive
- Everyone I Love Is Dead
- Cold, Black Sky
- Hunger Pains
- Ravenous Decaying Teeth
- I'll Be Right Back
- Their Faces Still Haunt Us
- The Last of the Damned
- Twice and Forever Dead (#)
- The Last of the Damned (Orchestra)
- The Party is Dead
- Wait, I'm Still Myself (#)