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Life and Death (now on 5 1/4″ floppies!)

life&death the game

Behold! One of the many ancient boxes of software that hit the junkpile this weekend: Life and Death for the IBM PC. This was a 1988 surgery simulator. Games of the era were always a disappointment; software boxes promised so much and computers were capable of so little. I had an instinct that it was all headed someplace good, and I kept hoping the next game I bought would keep its promises, but they were all bitterly stupid. Bitterly, expensively stupid.

L&D was no exception, but it was cleverer than most. It had some nice touches. They tucked a surgical mask and latex gloves in the box. The instructions included a pretty good history of surgery. The copy protection dealie was in the form of a little pager.

Gameplay didn’t entirely suck, either. Basically, you had two operations you were capable of performing: an appendectomy and some brain surgery thing I don’t remember very well. The game was in two parts. In the first, you examined patients until you found one who needed an operation you could perform. Then you did the operation.

It was a matter of memorizing the actual steps in the actual operation: grabbing the right loop of intestine, popping out the bit with the appendix in, propping it up with gauze, clamping it off…and so on. During which, the EKG would occasionally spike or the patient’s BP would drop and you’d have to shoot him up with the appropriate counteractant.

The flaw, as with so many computer programs, was that it wasn’t enough to know what you needed to do. You needed to know how to tell the computer you had the right answer; which precise, non-obvious clump of pixels you had to touch to activate a particular control. And it all happened in realtime. If you killed somebody (this happened a lot), they sent you to ‘tard medical school for a while before you could come back and try again.

I think I had a 286 at this point — a surplus, genuine IBM AT from work. Home computers of that era could make boops and beeps at various pitches, simulating music, but they absolutely could not deal with an analog signal, play recorded sounds or mimic speech.

So about two in the a.m., I use my simulated hand to palpate a virtual abdomen, and the patient screams, “ooo!” I think I screamed “ooo!” too! Hell-o? Computers cannot do that! I poked that poor virtual lady with the bum appendix over and over to make her squeal. It was a grinding, unnatural sound, like they’d overclocked a chip or thrown the transmission into reverse or something…but unmistakably a human voice. A female human voice. Amazing.

I bet it took one whole floppy disk to make it do that.

You can see Life & Death in all its 3-color glory here. And, apparently, you can download a working version of it from the same site, but the page is full of so much odd English I wouldn’t guarantee it isn’t a Romanian virus propagation lab or summat.


Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: August 13, 2007, 6:59 am

Odd that you would choose this game on the day our leader Rove (insert appropriate genuflection here) has announced his resignation. From whom are we to take our secret orders from now? Will our nefarious plans continue moving towards fruition, or is all chaos?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 13, 2007, 7:43 am

I don’t know. I was taking marching orders from Charlton Heston, but he’s gone the Way of Ronnie.

I’m thinking of giving Maggie a call. She’s old, but she’s still a classic.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: August 13, 2007, 8:10 am

Yeah – I liked Chuck Heston. Pity his brain is going tharn. He deserved better.

Maggie’ll do…

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 13, 2007, 8:35 am

Ready for some pharmaceutical-grade name dropping? My dad had lunch at the White House at a table with Charlton Heston and Billy Graham once. They’d all been involved fundraising for — wait for it — Richard Nixon. This was the thank you. He said it was like the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (you’d have to know my dad and his gigantic ego to know how funny that is. He was just a regional party operative type guy, though).

Anyhow, I asked my dad about it when I was at the reunion last July. He said Billy Graham was a huge blowhard. Heston picked up on it and was gently baiting him into being even more of a pompous asshole, asking him tongue-in-cheek questions about his wonderful life and all the important people he had met. My dad said it was very sly and very funny. He liked Heston a lot.

I was relieved to hear it. It’s one thing to sport a “My President is Charlton Heston” bumpersticker during the Clinton years, but I kept mine during the Bush years. And I’d have it still, if that car hadn’t died from under me.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: August 13, 2007, 9:45 am

Now that’s cool. I’d read somewhere else (a long time ago) that Graham was a blowhard egotist – AND – I’d heard that Heston was a down-to-earth regular guy. Good to hear first-hand (kinda) that they’re both true. I’ve known folks who met Heston at gun shows and said he’s a straight-shooter kind of guy (no pun intended) who really knows (uh, knew?) his firearms.

I never was much on bumper-stickers. Except for my little Darwin 4-legged fish sticker my bumpers are bare.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 13, 2007, 9:52 am

I have a strict “two bumpersticker” policy. After that, you’re self-identifying as a nutter.

I had a strict “one cat” policy for the same reason, but you can’t turn down a kitten.

Comment from Lokki
Time: August 13, 2007, 10:01 am

I had a computer game back in the day of 5 inch floppys called “Battle of Britian”. It wasn’t too bad on my 386 although the graphics weren’t very good by today’s standards.

The idea of the game was that you could either be the Brits or the Huns during the Battle of Britian, and you could fight each air battle each day with the historical number of planes and odds stacked accordingly. You would fly your Spit or Hurricane or ME 109 or Heinkel, and the results would multiply.

During the 50th anniversary of the Battle, I tried to fly that day’s mission each day. My interest was whetted because I’d actually become friends with a Scot who (now lives in America) who was a bombardier during the war. Very interesting man. Two things left an impression on me – one was how thin the metal on those damn’d bombers was -we visited a museum in Norfork Virginia together which had the nose of a B-24 Liberator on display that you could walk into…. the metal was literally as thin as they could make it and have the plane hold together. I think you could easily ram a ballpoint pen through it. The other thing I remember is that when I showed him the computer game. He got kind of a far-away look and said “You couldn’t shoot down any of those fighters coming at you. You would only see them for a second and then they were either gone or you were dead. Flying in those things really was “Life and Death”

By the way, since I wasn’t good a launching my planes in the right places when I got radar warnings, the Brits lost the battle when I played. Those men will always have my respect and awe.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: August 13, 2007, 10:10 am

Same here viv-a-vis respect and awe for the Brits during the BofB. I’ve read several books on the subject (and seen the flick of the same name, of course). Their backs were against the wall and they did not quit.

Comment from True Republican
Time: August 13, 2007, 10:15 am

You fools really think Rove is retiring?

Bwaaaa Haaa Haaa!

This is just ‘a small step back to prepare for a great leap forward’

You don’t think he can really work on Fred’s someone’s campaign from the White House, do you?

Bwaaaa Haaa Haaa!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 13, 2007, 10:19 am

The area we’re moving to the South of England, the ploughs still turn up engine parts. Sometimes, I look up and try to imagine watching a thousand planes going over the Channel.

I’m told that Hitler had a guidebook and deliberately targeted historic and beautiful places for bombing. Poor old Canterbury, for example, is basically a giant shopping mall now. The cathedral survived, but very few of the ancient pubs and houses. It must have been very beautiful once; now it’s where you go to find Woolworth’s.

Comment from BONGO MIRROR
Time: August 13, 2007, 10:38 am

My recollection is that Civ came out not much after that and I think even the original Civ didn’t suck. Also, I recall the Mac having a silly speech synthesizer. The dictionary it had was quite small so it was easy to get it to sound quite funny.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 13, 2007, 11:15 am

Civ I was excellent! Wikipedia puts that one at 1991 — an important four years, graphics-wise.

Comment from True Republican
Time: August 13, 2007, 11:47 am

I now have Civ IV but never play it. I prefer III. IV seems to be a ‘gilded lily’… “Wow, we have all this crunching power, how can we use it? There must be something we can add!”

Too many layers of too many features and too much information.

I know, I’m a technological troglidite, but my position that change and progress are different.

This also why I hate Hollywood sequels.

Comment from True Republican
Time: August 13, 2007, 11:48 am

I know, I’m a technological troglidite, but my position is that change and progress are different.

This is also why I hate Hollywood sequels.


Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: August 13, 2007, 12:17 pm


(re: Rove) Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone the true plan. All my comments were a ruse to distract them all.

Engine parts, Weas? Hell, I thought they were still finding the occasional live-like munition?

Lot ‘o hardware was shot – and shot down – back in them days.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 13, 2007, 12:42 pm

I didn’t think Civ IV looked that much better than Civ III, which was really pretty . But I hated the gameplay in III. All civs advanced at the same pace techologically, so I never had the lucky game where weaseltanks rolled over stone age civilizations.

Which was the whole point of Civ, if you ask me.

Comment from True Republican
Time: August 13, 2007, 1:06 pm

Weaseltanks roll[ing] over stone age civilizations!

Bwaaaa Haaa Haaa!

Comment from Gnus
Time: August 13, 2007, 2:21 pm

Fear the weaseltanks!

I love the rustling noise the units make when ya moves ’em around (Civ IV). Makes me giggle every time.

Comment from Lokki
Time: August 13, 2007, 2:35 pm

Evil Weasel Tanks
Crushing civilizations
Sic transit Gloria mundi

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: August 13, 2007, 4:18 pm

I remember that game, rented it back when it was legal to rent out game discs. It was harder than hell too.

So… when you say oooo! you have a website? that’s an exclamation of pain, not interest?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 13, 2007, 4:38 pm

Whiff of sarcasm, more like.

Hey, happy VJ day, everyone! Rhode Island is the last state to observe Victory over Japan Day, and every year we collectively have the same argument:

We shouldn’t celebrate this; Japan is an ally now.
They weren’t then.
Yeah, but we don’t celebrate the day the Germans surrendered.
Well, at least change the name.
Hey, you can’t change history.

Deal is, state employees get the day off, so THAT’s not going to change. And veterans get touchy when you talk about renaming it, so that’s a tough sell, too.

Long story short: today I get mail, but I don’t drag my garbage to the curb.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: August 13, 2007, 5:21 pm

Interesting. Got mail today, and garbage was picked up. But this is MO. It’s called the “Show Me” state ’cause…well…we ain’t got a clue.

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: August 13, 2007, 5:23 pm

Obviously they need to start celebrating VE day too so the krauts won’t feel all left out, and the nips won’t feel all alone!

Comment from Lokki
Time: August 13, 2007, 5:24 pm

Japan was our foe
Nowdays they’re our car salesmen
How soon we forget

Comment from Lokki
Time: August 13, 2007, 5:25 pm

The Krauts lost the war
And their cars cost way too much
What’s to celebrate?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 13, 2007, 7:01 pm

Wow. I’ve been going through old 3.5″ floppies, seeing if they held anything interesting before I tossed ’em. I found a fully functional CD player .exe that clocked in at 62K.

See, that’s what I call programming. Squeezing it down to the last byte.

Comment from Muslihoon
Time: August 14, 2007, 12:03 am

Apropos of nothing:
So, England gets you and, in exchange, England is sending Beckham and that Spice girl thingy?

Not good enough.

Send over The Queen and the Princes of Wales as well (William and Harry, please not Charles: England may most certainly keep him and his husband) and we’ll call it barely even.

Send The Iron Lady (Thatcher, that is; with or without the Royals and athlete and singer-wannabe), and all will be considered well and good. Sorry, Weasel.

Do you and your beloved make fun of any/the Royals?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: August 14, 2007, 6:14 am

Certainly, although I have a bit of a warm spot for Liz. I think they’re all closet lefties (as ultra rich people often are).

You’d have to trade all of New England to earn Maggie, though. Even if she is a hundred and two now.

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