Saturday, May 7, 2016

Adventure: Dr. Livingston, In Search Of (Softside, 1980)

Thanks to all the longtime readers inquiring as to my whereabouts.  I assure you I am well, just busy with life elsewhere.  I have not written a new post since August of last year, and my old weekly schedule will not be returning any time soon, so I'm going to just start calling these "Adventure" posts instead of "Adventure of the Week."

Anway, I had a little free time this weekend, and so I wandered randomly into the SoftSide disk magazine archives in search of something I haven't played yet.  And I discovered that I had somehow overlooked this TRS-80 text adventure from September of 1980: Dr. Livingston, In Search Of... -- also known as African Adventure: In Search of Dr. Livingston when it was ported to other platforms later on.

It's basically a jungle-themed treasure hunt, without much of a plot to speak of.  Like many of the SoftSide adventures, this BASIC-language game's author is uncredited -- the engine appears similar to other games the company published, which I will probably appreciate if we get stuck along the way.  This game predates the availability of lowercase alphabet display kits for the venerable TRS-80, so the parser will only recognize entries in uppercase.

I've been considering changing my old format for these posts, especially when I'm dealing with animated/modern adventures and well-known games where walkthroughs are commonly available and that level of detail doesn't necessarily add value.  But this adventure is more obscure, so I'm going to stick with my usual approach, detailing my playthrough experience in the following.  In other words, if you plan to search for Dr. Livingston on your own, you may want to stop here.  There are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

We begin where so many other adventures begin, in a bedroom, presumably our own, in pajamas, with a closet, a bed, and some bedcovers that are curiously emphasized in the text as TURNED DOWN.

There's also a TIMEWORN BOOK on hand, so it makes sense to READ BOOK.  Oh, right, YOU DON'T HAVE IT.  I am clearly out of practice!  I GET BOOK -- 'TIS DONE providing a nicely period-appropriate parser response -- and then READ BOOK; TRY READING IN BED.  Um... okay.  I GO BED and now we can finally READ BOOK to discover its title: "AFRICA - LAND OF THE UNKNOWN - BY R.U. REDDE." 

The book seems fairly central to the action here, as we can also OPEN BOOK and READ PASSAGE: "... PLORER NODDED OFF TO SLEEP, HIS THOUGHTS BEGAN TO DRIFT T..."  This seems like a clue, but we're not allowed to SLEEP, GO SLEEP or CLOSE EYES, so I'll GET UP and see what else we can do here.  EXAMINE CLOSET yields no information... and neither does GO CLOSET?  Ah, we have to OPEN CLOSET, adding a faded red knapsack and a pair of hiking boots to the visible items in the room.

I'll GET KNAPSACK and GET BOOTS -- they are automatically worn, it seems.  OPEN KNAPSACK reveals only that it's already open, and I can't seem to PUT BOOK or DROP BOOK in any way that involves the knapsack, so we'll assume it is just here for show or perhaps to increase our carrying capacity.

There appears to be no way to leave the bedroom -- N, W, S, E, U and D all reveal various blocking messages.  I suspect these are randomized for variety, and that the "THAT DIRECTION IS SEALED OFF" text doesn't necessarily mean we can open up a passage there.   We can't seem to do anything with the nightstand, so we'll try going back to bed.

I suspect we need to sleep, but repeated reading of the book doesn't do anything, and I can't PULL BEDCOVERS or COUNT SHEEP.  Ah!  DRIFT OFF is hinted at by the passage in the book... and now we find ourselves DRIFTING IN A ROWBOAT ON A LAKE.  That's a nice transition of a type peculiar to text adventures -- the conceptual pun, if you will.

There's a tiny grey mouse in the boat with us, and we can see a beach on the eastern shoreline.  We can simply GET MOUSE and store him in the knapsack, and go E to arrive on the shoreline with our boat conveniently tied to the dock.

The game does not in most cases tell us which directions are available for travel; going N is unsuccessful, so I'll head S into a grassy plain where a native throws a spear at us.  Fortunately, HE MISSES AND RUNS OFF, and we can now GET the poison-tipped SPEAR.  The grassy plain is a bit of a local maze, and I eventually find my way out to the east, where a trail begins near a tree.

It would not be an outdoor adventure game if we weren't obligated to CLIMB the occasional TREE, and this one hosts a VICIOUS VIPER.  We can't seem to SPEAR VIPER or KILL VIPER, but this snake isn't particularly strike-happy, so I'll climb back Down and head south onto the trail.

We can see cliffs to the east leading to a plateau, but I'll continue south for now to the overgrown end of the trail where we find a sack of coffee beans, which we'll take with us in case they come in handy later on.  We can't go any further south, but we can travel east to see a nearby village.  This would be a good time to SAVE GAME, if this engine sported such a feature; but it does not, so I'll have to live in 2016 and make do with an emulator save state.

As we enter the village, A VOLLEY OF SPEARS FLIES OVER YOUR HEAD!  AN OBVIOUS WARNING!  So we'll take this under advisement as we flee back W... except we can't go back that way!  I stumble S into a hut, where we find a crumpled note that reads: "SWAMI DIAMOND."  Okay, I was hoping for something a little more coherent, but we'll keep the note in case this comes to mean something later on. 

Unfortunately, when I re-emerge from the hut, we're dead, presumably from a native attack, with only 5 of 250 possible points earned -- but to my surprise, this early game actually has a bit of an auto-rewind feature, and we find ourselves drifting in the boat on the lake again.  However, we have none of our inventory... though this turns out to be informative, as when I make a direct return to the native village, people seem much friendlier and one native offers a trinket in trade for something.  I think perhaps we are better received if we're not carrying the spear I picked up earlier... and yes, if I restore my earlier save and DROP SPEAR before going into town, we're safe here.

I can't TRADE KNAPSACK or TRADE MOUSE, so let's do some more exploring.  I find a jungle south of the trail's end, where we meet a wild dog who is not friendly.  Fleeing at random, I find some quicksand -- we can't travel north across the quicksand, it seems, though we can see that a trail continues beyond.  I can't seem to find a way out of the jungle, either, so we'll restore again and check out the cliffs alongside the trail we saw earlier.

A FIERCE BLACK LEOPARD BARS THE WAY to an opening in the cliffside, and we can't THROW SPEAR (it just hits the ground) or KILL LEOPARD (THAT'S TOO DANGEROUS.)  So I'd better map this area out more thoroughly and make sure I'm not missing some important inventory items.  Oh, wait -- I didn't try to TRADE the coffee BEANS to the friendly natives, and that works -- now we have a GOLDEN NOSE RING in inventory and 20 points in our SCORE.

I try to JUMP QUICKSAND when I run across it again, and the game asks, "DO YOU REALLY EXPECT TO JUMP OVER 30 FEET?"  To my surprise, when I answer YES, the game displays a short bit of vintage TRS-80 animation as we leap over the quicksand with a satisfying "TA DA" at the end!

Safely on the opposite side, we can acquire some sugar cane.  I wander around some more, and apparently we've been whittling as we walk, as suddenly we're informed that we've converted the sugar cane into a CHARMING LITTLE FLUTE.  I also discover that if we DROP MOUSE by the plateau opening, the leopard is startled into flight and we can now go U into the opening, where we find a SPARKLING DIAMOND, worth another 20 points it appears.

I discover we can enter the cave to the east, finding a cavern and a pearl-handled dagger -- but our load is getting too heavy, and there's an occasional unsettling voice heard uttering the word "SWAMI," so I'd better decide what to do with some of this stuff.  I can't seem to PLAY FLUTE, but I can CHARM VIPER with it, and take the LETHARGIC VIPER along.  We can DROP VIPER near the wild dog in the jungle -- the two fight and both disappear into the quicksand, and a DEEP-BLUE SAPPHIRE appears sparkling in the grass.

There doesn't seem to be much of a plot in this adventure.  Can we stash these treasures back in our bedroom?  Yes, if we return to the boat and DRIFT again, we find ourselves back home.  And now we have 102 points, suggesting that this is indeed what we're meant to do with the treasures.  I also discover that we can only DRIFT at home when we have the book in inventory, but it does not travel with us to the rowboat.

I return to the caverns and acquire the pear-handled dagger, then find a passage heading east to a valley.  A trading post here offers a silver chain in exchange for something... there are ears of corn in a field to the south, but they aren't in demand it seems.  I find two shrunken heads on a sign to the west -- apparently headhunter territory.  I also find some groundnuts near a squirrel running by, with a sign suggesting this is also a trading post of some kind, although it may just refer to the nearby hut we visited earlier.  To my surprise, I can TRADE GROUNDNUTS for the silver chain.  Time for a trip home to drop off some treasures, and we're at 137 points now.

Exploring some more, I find a hungry alligator lurking in the marshes but am unable to escape being eaten by him.  I stumble into the UJIJI VILLAGE, land of the shrunken-head artistans, and in a pit to the south I actually find Dr. Livingston!  I can't GET LIVINGSTON -- or can I?  The parser responds, DR. LIVINGSTON?, and when I guess successfully by typing the "magic words" I PRESUME, 'TIS DONE, and now we have him in inventory!

We can take Dr. Livingston back to our room and drop him there, and now we're at 187 points.  So it feels like we've finished the story, but we must have at least a few more random treasures to acquire.   What haven't we done yet?  We can THROW SPEAR to kill the alligator, though the result is randomized and it took me a few tries and fatalities before I succeeded.  This doesn't seem to accomplish anything new, though, and eventually the DEAD ALLIGATOR is replaced by another HUNGRY ALLIGATOR with nary a treasure or other substantial change in sight.

What was the meaning of the note in the hut?  Are we supposed to bring the SWAMI DIAMOND there?  I try that, and nothing happens in the game or score-wise. So I think this is the best ending I can come up with:

Looking at the code, I don't see any other treasures or events I haven't seen.  It turns out that we get points for dropping ANY of sixteen inventory items in the bedroom, not just the treasures -- and in fact, it looks like we are better off keeping some of the mundane items than going for the treasures in trade, although there are some other specific scoring events that award points so it's not strictly a matter of treasure hoarding.  We've seen what there is to see here, it appears, and I'm not motivated to track down the perfect combination of actions to earn all 250 points, so I'll leave that as an exercise for more obsessive adventurers than I.

So I think that's it for the oddly named Dr. Livingston, In Search Of!  And I hope to be back, if not next week, at least relatively soon with another post.  Thanks for reading, and for your patience of late!


  1. Haha, I love the part about jumping over the quicksand.

    "Do you really expect to jump 30 feet?"

    Well, as a matter of fact I DO expect to!

    "Well fine! Have a short animation then."

    1. Yeah, that reminds me of how you killed the dragon with your bare hands in Crowther & Woods' _Colossal Cave_ adventure.

  2. Yay, welcome back sir! Greatly missed. It was a lovely and pleasant surprise to see your new post. I do hope you can combine your twin interests agreeably. Once again, wonderful to have you back.

  3. Good to see you back sir! Keep up the adventures!

  4. Thanks for making me aware of this cute little game. I was able to port it to my favourite little 8-bit: Here's a vid: (spoiler alert: includes new graphic of the great quicksand jump)