A few months ago I had a brilliant idea for a video game: players would control nanotechnology that had been injected into a human body. As the nanotech, you would battle things like disease and infection as they sprang up through the body. You could also repair damaged cells and deliver medicine. It was simple, clever, and 36 years too late.
Microsurgeon, released for the Intellivision system in 1982 was fundamentally built around the same concept. The game was developed and published by Imagic, and designed by Rick Levine (whom I now refer to as the man who stole my idea a few decades before I had it). Levine also worked on Intellivision’s “PBA Bowling” and was one of the five original programmers in the company’s software development group.
A description of the game appeared in the first issue of Numb Thumb News, a short lived publication by Imagic that was intended as a tie-in to the Numb Thumb Club (an Imagic fan club of sorts).Its description gave an idea of gameplay stating, “You navigate the Robot Probe through the patient’s blood stream, outmaneuvering white blood cells that attempt to slow you down. Remove a tumor from the brain, a blood clot from near the heart and much more!”
A loose story was slung over this premise. A toxic gas spill was causing people to fall ill with a variety of immune disorders. As a surgeon at the Xenon Medical Center, your job was to pilot a Robot Probe that would travel through the patient’s body and fight off the effects of the gas.
The game gave players an “x-ray” view of the human body they were operating on, but the term x-ray doesn’t really do it justice. It looked a bit like the cadavers that have been sliced into segments and placed in panes of glass, providing a cross section view of the human body. The effect resembled something that could have leapt from a Hannibal Lecter fever dream.
Microsurgeon received positive reviews when it first came out, and time has remained fairly kind to the game. It appears on several lists of essential titles for the Intellivision. As noted in Danny Goodman’s 1982 review in Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games, the controls were “slow and precise.” The graphics were striking, and though nearly four decades have passed, the game’s concept remains novel (despite my unwitting attempts to rip it off).