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About the Story
Originally published under the title "Dr.Livingston: The Search For..." for TRS-80 in Softside, vol 2., no. 12, Septmber 1980, pp. 26-29; Vol 3., no. 1, October 1980, pp. 76-78; corrections vol. 3, no, 4., January 1981, p.76. Unofficially ported to Atari 400/800, Commodore 64, and TRS-80 MC-10
Being a BASIC text adventure from the early 1980-ies, In Search of Dr. Livingston features (quite unsurprisingly) almost no plot and minimalist descriptions. Those are quite doubtful virtues in themselves; unfortunately, the game has got a few more confusing surprises for the player. One of them was the way it only understood commands in upper case for the most part; this was especially delusive because some of the commands (e.g., QUIT) were understood both in upper and in lower case, and as I found out later, at a couple of points in the game lower-case input was required. Then, there were several minor bugs or, rather, behaviour inconsistencies - sometimes, one action would have different results when repeated for no apparent reason (like room exits mentioned in the descriptions: some of them were totally unavailable in spite of being listed, but a few of them would suddenly get you somewhere after you tried entering them several times). The worst of all, however, were the puzzles - mostly of the "try something random" type. I quickly found myself completely unable to solve the game, and resorted to the source code that came with it. Even then, it wasn't *that* easy - as mentioned above, the game was written in BASIC, and untangling the spaghetti code turned out to be quite a feat. In fact, I lost patience before long and gave it up, feeling I already spent more time on it than it was worth. An even harder task, however, was thinking of one single reason why someone would play this. The only thing I could come up with was nostalgia; since, however, my personal childhood isn't burdened with memories of playing primitive (or any, for that matter) text adventures, In Search of Dr. Livingston had got no chances on me, sorry.
-- Valentine Kopteltsev
|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 4
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This is a pretty awful game. I have played it a bit in recent years (I would sort of like to solve it on principle, but its not very entertaining, to put it mildly, and so I never have put in the effort needed to do so). I was born in 1970, and I played this game in 1981, or maybe '82, on my friend's Commodore 64, when it was actually new. It was only the second IF game I ever played (after Scott Adams' "The Count"), and I actually did enjoy it back then (that just shows how desperate we were in those days). Unless you, personally, played this game during the early 1980s, there is no reason to play it now; its all about the nostalgia. I suppose IF history buffs might find it intriguing (but in fairness, it wasn't even close to being state-of-art at the time of its 1980 release - its difficult to imagine when this game would have been considered sophisticated...1973, perhaps?). (Spoiler - click to show)The only detail from it that ever struck me as remotely interesting happens to be a puzzle spoiler. There's a deadly snake (a "viper") blocking your way, and you evade him by using the command "dodge viper." This seems almost slightly clever...until you check Wikipedia, and see that they didn't begin manufacturing the Dodge Viper until 1991. So I have no idea why that puzzle was included in 1980. Weird.
I spent a number of hours on this one. The c64 version using an emulator. The navigation around the world is like one big maze where going East then West right away may take you to a completely different path than where you started. In addition, I found Dr. Livingston, but I could not get him or rescue him. I looked at a walk-trough and what I was typing should have worked, but there seem to be serious problems with the parser -- at least on the version I played. I spent way too much time on this out of nostalgia when I could have been playing something else.
I have read the other reviews and can't but wonder whether some of the frustrations result from the versions they are playing. The parser is not so problematic in the TRS-80 versions of the program. These machines often ran in all caps mode (the original TRS-80 didn't have uppercase characters and the TRS-80 MC-10 never had them). Apparently there were also changes made to the puzzles in many of the unofficial versions. The TRS-80 version I ported remains entirely true to the original TRS-80 16K version.
There are some intentional inconsistencies to the movement in the game. I didn't find them all that bad (especially compared to some other games from the era). For the most part I think they were carefully chosen and meant to enhance the effect of being "lost in the jungles and savannas" of central Africa. To a large extent, I think this technique works successfully in this adventure, where the setting makes it appropriate to use. Once I had some mapping in place, it wasn't all that problematic and there is a kind of logic to the backs-and-forths.
There are some really charming aspects to the game. The quicksand graphic is a wonderful piece of TRS-80 chunky pixel 8-bit animation. (Spoiler - click to show)If you die the program simulates a return to the basic command prompt, before surprising you with a resurrection to a restore point part way into the game (preventing a need for a complete restart.
The game is challenging and doesn't have any of the totally arbitrary deaths that are so common in games from this genre. I found the plot to be a nice balance between slightly humorous almost fantastical whimsy and and an attempt to remain true to the Victorian mythology of the quest for Dr. Livingston.
For fans of 8-bit Basic adventuring I would highly recommend this game. But for less hardy souls, it might be better to stay away from venturing into the dark heart of the Victorian imaginary.
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