The cover artwork for The Dig, displaying the three astronauts in the story
|Writer(s)||Orson Scott Card
INSANE (cut scenes)
|Release date(s)||November 30, 1995
July 8, 2009 (Steam re-release)
The Dig is a graphical point-and-click adventure game developed by LucasArts and released in 1995 as a CD-ROM for PC and Macintosh computers. Like other LucasArts adventure games, it uses the SCUMM engine, and features full voice-over soundtrack including notable voice actors Robert Patrick and Steven Blum, and a digital orchestral score. The game uses a combination of drawn two-dimensional artwork and limited pre-rendered three-dimensional movies.
Unlike other LucasArts adventure games, which typically included a good deal of humor, the tone of The Dig was more serious and took a somber approach to a science fiction motif. The game is inspired by an idea originally created for Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories series. In the game, the player takes the role of Commander Boston Low, part of a five-man team to plant explosives on an asteroid to avert its collision course with Earth. Discovering the asteroid is hollow, Low and two of his team are suddenly transported to a strange alien world, in a long-abandoned complex exhibiting advanced technology. Low and his companions must undertake xenoarchaeology to learn how the technology works, the fate of the alien race that built it, and other mysteries to find a way to return home.
The Dig received mixed-to-positive reviews, with critics primarily praising its atmosphere. Multiple reviewers said the game's puzzles were too difficult, and other aspects of the game, such as its graphics, audio, and dialogue, received mixed receptions. A novelization of the game was written in conjunction by science fiction author Alan Dean Foster.
A radio telescope in Borneo detects the approach of a large asteroid on a collision course with Earth; authorities dub it "Attila" after the ancient conqueror Attila the Hun. Scientists determine explosives planted on the surface of the asteroid may divert it into a stable orbit around Earth. A five-person expedition use the Space Shuttle Atlantis to rendezvous with the asteroid and plant the charges. The crew is led by Commander Boston Low (voiced by Robert Patrick), and joined by Dr. Ludger Brink (Steven Blum), a German archaeologist and geologist, Maggie Robbins (Mari Weiss), a linguistics expert and reporter, pilot Ken Borden (David Lodge) and NASA technician Cora Miles (Leilani Jones).
Low, Brink, and Robbins spacewalk to the asteroid and set the charges. While they are successful in altering the orbit of Attila, they find the inside of the asteroid appears hollow, and proceed to explore. When they enter a central chamber, they are trapped as the asteroid transforms into a dodecahedron pod and accelerates to unimaginable speed. When the three recover and can exit the pod, they find themselves on an alien planet, on a central island surrounded by five smaller, spire-shaped islands; in the game's novelization, they name the planet Cocytus. It clearly shows signs of former intelligent life, but as they explore, they find no evidence of any sentient creatures that remain, and the one advanced complex they are in shows signs of long-term deterioration.
Low and the others search for a means to return to Earth, using Brink's and Robbins' talents for xenoarchaeology to decipher strange alien text and images. They soon come across strange green crystals containing glowing liquid with restorative properties; Robbins dubs them life crystals. Their power extends to resurrection; when Brink accidentally falls off a cliff and dies, the liquid from the crystals revitalize him. As the trio continue to explore, they find Brink has become addicted to the crystals and started hoarding them for himself, leading to conflict within the group. Low and Robbins explore the islands independently, but stay in contact via their communicators. Low discovers a pyramid that houses a preserved alien, whom Low is able to reanimate by use of the life crystals. Through Robbins, the alien explains that the rest of his species started to recognize the corruption the life crystals had; they decided to travel to a new universe, Spacetime Six, from the current one, which they call Spacetime Four. The alien chose to remain behind to warn others about the crystals. However, the rest of the species have been unable to find a way to return to Spacetime Four, and only they would be able to provide the humans with a spacecraft to return to Earth.
Low offers to travel to Spacetime Six to show the aliens how to return to Spacetime Four, but this requires them to repower the portal that was used. During the process, Robbins is killed; Low tries to get a crystal from Brink's hoard but Brink has also died without revealing where he stashed the crystals. With no other options, Low uses the portal to meet the rest of the aliens in Spacetime Six; with the portal open, the aliens can perceive the route home and return to Cocytus. They restore Brink and Robbins to life and cure Brink of his addiction to the crystals, though this leaves him as an elderly man. As promised, the aliens reconstruct a spacecraft for the humans, and representatives of the species join the humans as they return to Earth.
The Dig is a point-and-click adventure game, where the player, as Commander Boston Low, uses the mouse cursor to point to people, objects, and other parts of the environment to look at them, collect and use materials within their inventory, and talk to non-player characters. The game runs on the SCUMM game engine, and was the eleventh LucasArts game to do so.
The Dig was originally conceived by Steven Spielberg as an episode of Amazing Stories, and later as a film, but was concluded to be prohibitively expensive. Industrial Light and Magic created some of the CG imagery. Writing is credited to Spielberg, author Orson Scott Card, who wrote the dialogue, and interactive fiction author Brian Moriarty, whose previous Lucas engagement was with Loom.
The Dig had by far the longest development length of all LucasArts adventure games. The game's design team met for the first time at the Skywalker Ranch on the day the 1989 San Francisco earthquake struck, but the game was not released until 1995. During its development there were four successive project leaders, starting with Noah Falstein, followed by Moriarty, then Dave Grossman. The Dig 's final project leader was LucasArts' Sean Clark.
The first pre-production involved a storyline that took place in the distant future. A crew of explorers in a space ship visit an abandoned planet and discover signs of very intelligent life with powerful technology and artifacts. It is first assumed that the occupants of the planet had died off, seeing as there is no sign of them left, but as the story progresses, the player discovers something very different.
When Moriarty took over, he decided to start again from scratch. This version of the game was similar to the actual game that was released, but it had one extra character, a Japanese science-hobbyist business tycoon named Toshi Olema, who uses his money to buy his way onto the Attila project crew. Toshi would have met a gruesome death when he stumbled into a cavern with acid dripping from the ceiling, with the other astronauts being unable to safely retrieve his body to bring him back with life crystals. He was later completely removed from the story. This version of the game was also very bloody and adult, and although Spielberg thought this feel was very fitting, he had received quite a bit of complaints about the first Jurassic Park film, from parents who had ignored the PG-13 rating and brought their young children to see the movie because it was about dinosaurs, only to discover that the movie contained blood and graphic violence. So, worrying that parents would purchase the game for their rather young children, he requested that it be toned down a bit.
Other notable design ideas which were dropped during the game's production include a survival angle, which forced the player to keep water and food supplies for life support, and exploration of entire huge cities on the planet.
On November 30, 1995, the game was released exclusively on CD-ROM. Upon its release, The Dig became LucasArts's best-selling adventure game, with over 300,000 copies sold. During the game's release, the director did not deny the possibility of making it into a movie. However, almost two decades later, no progress has been made on a film version of the story. LucasArts announced on July 6, 2009 that the game would be re-released using the Steam content delivery system on July 8.
The Dig has received moderate to positive reviews, with GameRankings giving the PC version an aggregate score of 70% based on eight reviews. The game's puzzles were generally viewed as more difficult than most LucasArts games. The graphics, audio, and writing were given an uneven reception by critics, though the cut scenes were more favorably received, and the music was universally praised.
Evan Dickens of Adventure Gamers stated, "The Dig is a lot more reminiscent of Myst than any other LucasArts adventure." He said the game was a bit too difficult, with very challenging puzzles. GameSpot's Jeffrey Adam Young agreed, saying of the puzzles, "some follow logic, others just call for trial and error, and yet others will leave you clueless". Joshua Roberts of Allgame praised the puzzles, saying there were "only a few real brain twisters" and that most could be solved with patience and consideration. Bernard H. Yee of PC Magazine said that some of the puzzles were "a bit more frustrating than others".
Dickens noted that the graphics looked a bit dated. Roberts was more generally complimentary, saying, "You'll be impressed with the scope of the alien landscape". Young called the character animations "tired" and "lo-res". Yee was also unimpressed, saying the graphics are "a bit blocky" and commenting that the characters "lack fine detail". Dickens felt the cut scenes animated by Industrial Light & Magic were excellent, as did Yee, who said they have a "truly grand, cinematic feel".
Dickens had mixed feelings about the game's audio, calling its score "majestic" and saying it was the best part of the game. He thought the voice acting was "mediocre", saying Robert Patrick was the right voice for protagonist Boston Low, but that he missed some emotional nuances in his portrayal. Young thought the voice acting was acceptable but "stereotypical", but he also noted the "grand music score" as the highlight of the game. Yee called the voice acting "top notch" and compared it favorably with Full Throttle.
Dickens also thought the writing was hit and miss, panning the dialogue as "relentlessly cheesy and cliched", but approving of the overall storyline and its suspenseful atmosphere. Young commented that the game takes itself too seriously to be as enjoyable as other, funnier LucasArts games such as Full Throttle, and said the dialogue was "deplorable". Roberts disagreed, calling it "excellent" and saying Low was a "likable" character.
Yee summarized his review by saying, "The Dig brings otherworldly adventure, a real sense of exploration, and a true cinematic style to your earthbound PC." Young said, "In almost every sense, The Dig represents a leap backwards from LucasArts' previous group of adventure games." Roberts concluded his review by saying, "The Dig is the kind of adventure we've all come to expect from LucasArts. With an imaginative story, an attractive visual backdrop and a wealth of intelligent puzzles, it belongs near the top of the adventure game class." Dickens recommended The Dig to science fiction fans more than average gamers.
In 2011, Adventure Gamers rated The Dig at No. 92 on its list of the 100 best adventure games of all time, noting that gamers did not know what to make of the game at the time of its release, but adding, "Strip away the preconceptions, however, and what’s left is a very good game in its own right".
|The Dig soundtrack|
|Studio album by Michael Land|
|Released||January 23, 1996|
Game director Clark said the music was crucial in "establishing the overall mood of the piece." LucasArts desired a soundtrack with a "Wagnerian" feeling. The music (composed by Michael Land) consisted of Land's original score performed on a Kurzweil K2000 synthesizer, enriched by hundreds of short chord samples from the works of Wagner. Land cited the music he personally composed for The Dig as the type closest to his own individual style. The music is relatively static during most of the game, used more as a backdrop than as a prominent aspect of gameplay, as is described as consisting mostly of "vague cadenzas, modulations and movements without much consequence for the material." When important sequences and cut scenes occur, however, the music comes to the forefront and becomes significantly more dynamic.
The Dig was the first LucasArts game to have its soundtrack also sold separately as an audio CD, adapted as a linear continuity of finite pieces. Land played the piano and synthesizer and produced the album. He was assisted by Hans Chistian Reumschüssel (cello), Emily Bezar (vocals), and Paul McCandless (woodwinds). The soundtrack was released bundled with a CD-ROM that included demos for five LucasArts games, and was intended as a first step in cross-promotional efforts.
Chris Greening of Square Enix Music Online gave the soundtrack 9 out of 10, calling it "accessible yet abstract, simple yet deep". About "Mission to the Asteroid", the opening song, he wrote, "Much of the composition conveys beauty and serenity, yet there is a certain tragic element created with the sweeping chord changes and sometimes elegaic motifs". He noted that while much of the album is quite ambient and subdued, it contains much subtle variation in themes. He concluded by saying the album is "surprisingly fulfilling even on a stand-alone basis" and "never fails to immerse and fascinate me".
|The Dig soundtrack (1996)|
|1.||"Mission to the Asteroid"||9:54|
|4.||"The Ancient City"||3:42|
|6.||"A River Canyon"||4:11|
|7.||"The Madness of the Crystals"||2:21|
|8.||"Tomb of the Past"||2:10|
|10.||"Dimensions in Time"||4:00|
|11.||"Cathedral of the Lost"||3:35|
Science fiction author Alan Dean Foster, famous for having written book versions of movies such as Star Wars (ghostwriter), Alien, Aliens and Alien³, wrote a novel based on The Dig. There was also an audiobook version of the novel released.
The novel is not completely consistent with the game, but presents the point of view of the indigenous civilization, something not seen in the game. The novel also provides some background detail (such as the reaction on Earth after the discovery of Attila), in addition to filling several plot holes and mysteries that cannot be explained in the game.
Publishers Weekly panned the novelization, saying it was severely restricted by the fact that it was based on a computer game, in which the hero merely collects objects and solves puzzles. The review also said it suffered from stereotypical characters and a "simplistic metaphysics", again stemming from its computer game origins.
On February 6, 2007, LucasArts filed a notice of opposition with the US Patent Office against Digg to uphold their trademark for the game, claiming that Digg was "identical or nearly identical to Opposer's mark The Dig." After settling out of court, LucasArts' notice of opposition was dropped on September 19, 2007.
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