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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.

August 13, 2007 — 6:28 am
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