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The Dig (filfre.net)
116 points by doppp 66 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments

I had no idea this game wasn't beloved. I played it at about the age of 9 and was obsessed. Above all I remember the strangeness of the alien world - for a kid it was incredible.

I think he's overstating the case. It's true that it wasn't a huge seller, and reviewers were kinda lukewarm, but my impression is that the reviewers were saying, "ho hum, another point-and-click adventure game, aren't these games over by now?"

I furthermore think he's taking that approach because he himself doesn't like the game, which, if you know his tastes, should come as no surprise.

The author's aesthetic for adventure games is that the puzzles have to be fair and solvable without hints. https://www.filfre.net/2015/07/the-14-deadly-sins-of-graphic...

I've argued with him in the past that this attitude closes him off from enjoying games that are pretty good but have a couple of unfair puzzles. (You can see the argument there in a comment thread on that 2015 article, and again recently on his Full Throttle article.)

Thus, the key paragraphs from this article are when he points out that the alien skeleton puzzle is unfair (and, isn't it??) and the "alien control panel" (where you move the lens to the light source by programming a little robot, but there's no hint/clue what you're "supposed" to make the robot do).

I think he's spot on that those puzzles are unfair, but, in his mind, that means the whole game sucks as a game.

His criticism of the acting and plot are a matter of personal aesthetic, but I think I agree with him that Dig's ending is not great, especially when you consider what happens to the NPC five minutes before the ending.

I really enjoy Maher's writing on video games, beyond his obvious talent as a writer I think he tries to evaluate the games he writes about in a time-period sensitive way. I also share his dislike for some of the more absurd puzzles from this era.

I mostly agree with you, but I would add that deeply illogical puzzles where a much much bigger issue in 1995 than today - when I played The Dig first time around I had no internet access and no means of obtaining help beyond me and a group of school friends trying everything we could think of. As such, I didn't finish The Dig until years later in ScummVM with a walkthrough.

The Dig, Full Throttle and especially Grim Fandango are adventure games I still love, but I can't honestly say I love them as "games". I love the atmosphere, setting and story telling in these LucasArts titles, but find the gameplay in Monkey Island, Day of The Tentacle etc to be much better personally. I'd love to read a Maher piece on Grim Fandango actually!

Well, I like Full Throttle better than he does, despite the demolition derby, but I completely agree with him on The Dig. I don't think you can chalk his attitude up solely to that handful of bad puzzles.

It seems to me like a lot of the people who liked it the best also had read the novelization, which makes sense -- my biggest problem with the game, and I think Jimmy's as well, is that the characters are mostly ciphers. I'm sure the supplementary material helped fill that in.

Yeah, almost all of the characterization that hit the cutting room floor wound up in the novel and the game is far richer having read the novel. The characters do actually make a lot more sense given the descriptions of their thought processes in the novel.

In some respects, The Digital Antiquarian's take here on The Dig actually is far weaker for mentioning the novel but not including it in the final review, especially when contrasted with the linked Loom review where the Audio Drama is lauded as being usefully central to the project and the understanding of it.

That said, I'm in the group that read the novel first and found the game worse because of it because you could directly see all the holes of "this thing the novel described is probably a puzzle that got dropped at the last minute" and "this scene in the novel of great importance probably was a cutscene that was cut for time" and so forth.

The Digital Antiquarian rightfully mocks OSC's somewhat hackneyed dialog and it is rare for anyone to wish the Alan Dean Foster dialog on a finished project that ADF did the novelization for (and I say that having loved many ADF novelizations nearly as much as the films), but The Dig is probably high on the list where the novel's dialog was far superior overall to the game's and it showed even beyond the internal monologues and characterization that couldn't make it into the game and/or were cut.

I think it's worth remembering that Maher is primarily writing with and only incidentally "reviews" anything. For that reason, I don't really think it's fair to expect him to go the extra mile to try to find a silver lining to games that he didn't think were successful. But treating the respective articles as reviews, the Loom audio drama was included in the box, directly supervised by the game's creator, while the Dig novelization was a separate product.

(It's also not exactly a surprise that Maher's coverage of The Dig is a little bit skewed toward the parts of it that an ex-Infocom Imp worked on.)

The Dig is one adventure game where these "unfair" puzzles make sense. As an explorer on an alien world, encountering and deciphering alien technology, isn't it completely expected that you have to do some trial and error to understand things. I don't remember the robot puzzle to be too demanding. The alien skeleton was a challenge though.

Agreed that the ending could have been a bit better, but overall the atmosphere and experience of the whole game from the shuttle and asteroid to the alien world were superb. I would love to see a remake of this in the vein of the Monkey Island remakes, perhaps with some tweaks to the ending if that didn't detract from the original.

I was just about to post the exact same thing. I played it a few years after release as a child, and was thrilled to find a single copy of the novelization tucked away in my local Borders. I liked Sam & Max Hit The Road and Day of the Tentacle more, because they were hilarious, but I thought The Dig was at the very least pretty great at conveying an utterly haunting sense of atmosphere, between the art and the soundtrack. this retrospective says the voice acting and character writing wasn't great, and I suppose it wasn't, but I wonder if it seems worse than it was specifically because, without basing the game around humor like all the other SCUMM games, the writers had to make A Serious SCUMM Game Script, and it's kind of hard to convey anything resembling serious drama in the SCUMM engine with VGA graphics. again, I was young when I played the game and read the book, but I liked Boston Low's characterization as the tough ex-military reluctant protagonist who spends most of his time on an alien planet alone, trying to figure out where to go next and what any of what he's seeing means, keeping a sense of sarcasm when talking to himself to mask his underlying feeling that he will probably never make it back home.

the strategy guide had a "making of The Dig" section at the end, and now I'm going to have to dig my copy out of storage and compare its portrayal of events with the likely more cohesive and truthful story told here.

found an online PDF of the guide, if anyone's interested: https://www.mocagh.org/lucasfilm/dig-cluebook.pdf

I too adored this game, it was magical as a kid and quite scary at times for an overactive imagination.

Not just for an overactive imagination. I was a young teen playing that game, and everything else I'd seen before was comic mischief, and suddenly people in my point and click game are gruesomely dying, coming back to life but maybe evil now, losing limbs. That was scary stuff for the genre.

I have no idea if the game holds up, but for who I was when I played it, it left a big impression. I thought the ending was really great, although maybe it'd have read as hokey if I'd've had another decade of Sci Fi under my belt.

Yeah I similarly have pretty fond memories of the whole atmosphere of the game, although in retrospect I've mostly forgotten the characters and what they were like. Unlike with many other adventure games, I can't even recall a single one-liner.

The fate of the alien civilization revealed at the end still has resonance to me in an age where people are talking about uploading their consciousness or living out the rest of eternity in some Ready Player Two digital-ethereal realm.

The book by Alan Foster was less of a companion to the game and more of a necessary crutch. Without it, the ending doesn’t quite make sense unless you really squint.

It is a neat game though, I agree. It deserves props for introducing me to the word “pulchritudinous”.

I also first heard "pulchritudinous" in a game, Sandy Petersen's 1991 space combat role-playing game Hyperspeed. As an adult of 36.

Jimmy Maher does a great job documenting the history behind these games, but I think he lets in a bit too much personal bias in the second half of his articles where he reviews the game from a modern perspective.

I first started noticing this with his review of Wing Commander III:

"if you ask me whether Wing Commander III is a good game in the abstract, my answer has to be no, it really is not. It’s best reserved today for those who come to it for nostalgia’s sake, or who are motivated by a deep — not to say morbid! — curiosity about the era which it so thoroughly embodies."

Yet his review of the first Wing Commander ends on a very positive note--despite the game's (numerous) flaws, he calls it a "hugely engaging, hugely fun" game that he still recommends to new players.

Being closely familiar with both games, that's a bit of a hard pill to swallow. The gameplay of WC1 (if you can get it to run at the correct speed) is just so much more rough than WC3 that I would never recommend it to any but the most diehard retro game masochists. I would say that WC3, in contast, is still very accessible and enjoyable (if not the most varied space sim ever).

I think what's happening--and this is all too common in these kinds of retro game reviews--is that he's showing bias for the games he preferred/played first when he was younger.

He really seems biased against the later, big production games of the mid-90s: Wing Commander 3, Myst, Full Throttle... and I suspect we'll see more of this bias as these later reviews increase.

https://www.filfre.net/2021/03/wing-commander-iii/ https://www.filfre.net/2017/04/from-wingleader-to-wing-comma...

> I would say that WC3, in contast, is still very accessible and enjoyable (if not the most varied space sim ever).

If you think WC3 is varied and you are into space sims, you should try out Freespace, its expansion and Freespace 2.

Better graphics, better missions, much better story, more involved mechanics.

And as the engine was made open source decades ago, it’s still being maintained by the community

What is open source, Freespace or WC3 ?

The two Freespaces

> I think what's happening--and this is all too common in these kinds of retro game reviews--is that he's showing bias for the games he preferred

Isn't that the entire concept of a review?

What do you mean? Why should the reviewer's experience playing the game as a kid influence their seemingly objective review of that game? Wouldn't it be a bit silly to say "I think the first Wing Commander is a better game than Wing Commander 3 because I played it as a kid"?

I'm claiming the reviewer is couching their review in objectivity but is (seemingly) biased towards games from a certain time.

There is no such thing as objectivity in art, and searching for this only leads to ridiculousness.

It’s clear that we’re not necessarily talking about true metaphysical objectivity here or whatever; we’re talking about reviews that approach the game on their own merits and are at least conscious of the author’s own biases. That’s absolutely attainable without a whiff of ridiculousness.

...the flip side: like all the best criticism, literally the least interesting thing about these essays are the final judgments the author lays down.

> played first when he was younger.

was kinda the operative part of that sentence.

Chiming in to say that I, too, loved The Dig when it came out.

At the time, I read the lukewarm reviews, and it wasn't hard to see that The Dig had suffered a bit from being so long in production. That said, while technology-wise it was perhaps a bit behind some other games at the time, as a LucasArts game, it definitely felt state of the art, from the lush music to the high-quality voice acting and the gorgeous pixel art. Only Full Throttle came close.

And while it wasn't a perfect game, its sense of place was superb. To a young adventure gamer seeking fantastic, alien worlds, it did feel immersive.

There was another adventure game that came out around the same time that's now largely forgotten: Heart of Darkness [1], by Éric Chahi, notable for making Another World (aka Out of This World). It had a similar troubled development process, and had a similarly pretentious marketing boasting of music performed by a real symphonic orchestra (the Sinfonia of London), and it met similarly lukewarm reviews. The game is actually beautiful (except for the horrifically outdated 3D cut scenes), but it's also not quite the classic that Another World was.

(Coincidentally, Chahi also worked on a sci-fi point-and-click for Delphine back in 1989 called Future Wars [2]. It's a beautiful game that has some parallels with The Dig, though modern players are going to be really put off by the horrible user interface.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_of_Darkness_(video_game)

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Wars

This is an all time favorite game from my childhood. It captured my imagination in a way that had a lasting impact. Like others have said, I was obsessed. While the Monkey Island games were my first adventure game loves, the serious subject matter and eerie otherworldliness of The Dig appealed to me at some primal level. The art, the incredible soundtrack, the sense of isolation, even the insane puzzles, all added up to a very different experience from other adventure games of the time.

I really loved The Dig, and filfre.net has disappointed me again after his review of Full Throttle. No, not because he disagrees with me about games I liked, but because I think he overstates his case and downplays the strengths of those games.

What I loved about The Dig: how cinematic it feels (unsurprisingly, I also liked this about Full Throttle, but The Dig feels like a movie at times). That the plot is "serious" scifi. That unlike most point-and-click adventures of its time, it takes itself (mostly) seriously: The Dig is a serious work of scifi, not an excuse to write gags.

That ending where you can choose to break a vow and do something you promised not to -- powerful!

The Dig is hard, true, but compared to one other "serious" adventure game I can think of it's a piece of cake: it's way easier than I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream (which I couldn't finish without a walkthrough).

What's wrong with this guy lately? I generally love his essays on old games, but last two entries?

First, he bashes Full Throttle, an absolute gem, and my favourite LucasArts adventure. Next, he is not happy with "The Dig", a game I deeply loved back then.

If he didn't write an essay on Star Control 2 earlier, at this point I would filly expect him to be unimpressed even by SC2.

For better or for worse, he puts a high, high premium on gameplay. He already gave non-enthusiastic reviews of many games that many consider "classics" (such as most Sierra adventures, or Myst, just to name a few examples).

It's an opinionated approach, sure, but at least he's open about it and seems to apply it consistently.

To be fair, backlash against games like Myst started as soon as they were released. I remember reading at least more than one games author from the Halcyon Days book (freely available online) complaining about "games like Myst don't appeal me, where is the gameplay?"

So your complaint is that he criticised games that you liked?

You can still like games that have serious objective flaws, dude. It's ok.

>objective flaws

opinions are not objective

He sets out a dispassionate approach to evaluating interactive gameplay as an art and craft over the first year or two of his blog while he's still dealing with the early Infocom games and such. He's drawing on the wisdom of Ron Gilbert, the Infocom inquisitors, and all the other interactive game designers who tried to get it right.

If you follow through the whole series it becomes clear that this system is actually objective. It's not about opinions.

When he says a game has puzzles that can't be solved using information in the game he's not expressing an opinion.

He plays the game, finds the answer, checks if any part of the game supports that solution, reaches out to any living members of the design staff to talk about how the game was developed, and eventually he says "Quest for Glory IV was released in a broken state, and later patches fixed it only because the patch notes told you which part of the game had broken and what to do to work around it now that it was patched."

He's objectively right. It doesn't matter that QFGIV is one of my favorite games of all time. The art, the music, the humor, the world-building, all are top notch and he gives those a nod. But the game is totally screwed up.

That's objective.

When he says Full Throttle has action sequences that have no clues as to correct behavior, where you have to figure out the correct actions and timing by extended trial-and-error, that's not an opinion. Full Throttle has those sequences, just like Dragon's Lair.

That's objective.

Just because you love something doesn't mean it's objectively well-made.

No, it is not objective. He just failed to get the clues. In the second action sequence the player is told what to do twice: first in the briefing, and then he is given clear voice instructions what to do during the event itself.

First action sequence is more difficult, but is solvable, too, once you understand that different weapons have different effect on enemies.

His criticisms of Full Throttle were completely unfair, this is a one game that doesn't have any flaws at all. Well, maybe it is too short, if you play it for the second time.

One such criticism is his bashing of the second arcade puzzle (the demolition derby) - he complained about the objective being "unclear". How can it be "unclear" after the player is given a briefing on what to do and is constantly bombarded by voice instructions during the whole event?!

It doesn't take much effort to find other dissenting opinions:

"The problem is that Full Throttle is still a SCUMM adventure game, but layered with bizarre action sequences that have aged like a tuna sandwich someone left in the back of the fridge for two decades. A few motorcycle fights mid-game are awkward but bearable, but a late-game demolition derby sequence is just about as obnoxious and unplayable today as it was 20 years ago." [0]

A guy I watch on twitch played Ocarina of Time for the first time a year or so ago. I love that game, having played it to death in my childhood.

He hated it.

I asked him why.

He then proceeded to enumerate all of the ways he hated it: Navi's interruptions, time-wasting animations and transitions, and of course the entire water temple [2], to name a few. I had to tell him that yeah, every single one of his criticisms was entirely valid. I love the game anyway. Is it nostalgia? Maybe in part [2], but I think it's also possible that the things I really enjoy about it outweigh the things I dislike. Either way, it doesn't make his criticisms any less valid.

It's possible Maher's criticisms aren't very fair, I don't know since I never played Full Throttle. But I will say that I highly doubt that's the case from having read his other work.

[0] https://www.pcworld.com/article/3190569/full-throttle-remast...

[1] If you played OoT and don't know why people hate the water temple, it's because you played on the 3DS, where they made some changes to make it less confusing and tedious.

[2] He also hated Outer Wilds, and once again I found no flaw with his criticism but love the game anyway.

In addition to the other comments in the thread, it is useful to point out that even the game's manual itself was critical of the action sequences, especially the demolition derby and went out of its way to point out the key sequence to just skip them.

(As a player, while I've grown more tolerant of the motorbike action sequences than I was as a kid who didn't play much in the way of action games, I can't say if I've ever completed the demolition derby "properly". Just can't find the interest in me.)

(Personally, I still think more games should have a "I'm bored with this action sequence / boss fight, please just skip it" button and hold up this aspect of Full Throttle as one of the best parts of its design, even if it was offered mostly as an apology that they didn't quite get what they wanted from the aging SCUMM engine in terms of action.)

I'm a huge Lucasarts fan and I played FT for the first time last year. I found it to be the weakest adventure title and found his criticisms mirrored a lot of my experience. I found a lot of the puzzles and gameplay (particularly the action-y ones) not very fun as well. So, YMMV.

I grew up with Full Throttle and like it more than he does (mostly because I really enjoy its aesthetic and humor), but I didn't see a single criticism in his article that wasn't spot on.

Having played both, I must say I was more intrigued by The Dig than SC2. Granted, Star Control had a pretty great story arc, but the feel was just very comic-arcade-like. I also played it because it was so hyped and maybe my expectations were just sky high because of that.

Then again, I played The Dig much younger as a pre-teen and can still distinctly remember that intro. It was one of the few games that pulled you in just like a movie. The atmosphere was really dense and it felt way more like a movie you could interact with than a game.

I didn't care about the shallow, less coherent story back then and I also don't remember it as a game that was so great I wasted months on like XCOM, but it was definitely pretty good.

The Dig and SC2 are very different games, but they share one key theme: the touch of unknown, a great mystery that lies beyond. And I loved them for it.

taneq 66 days ago [flagged] [–]

How dare people not like what I liked?!

Outstanding adventure game with an immersive world - and with the protagonist voiced by The [other] Terminator!

I'd argue it's the most atmospherically-memorable of the LucasArts adventures, and am surprised at the article-author's conclusion.

I didn't realize game was such a production mess. I love(d) the game.. but in retrospect, I loved how it captured my imagination more than the game itself.

I love The Dig. When my father bought it to me, he said it was supposed to be a movie, but it was cancelled, so they turned it into a game. Don't know if that's true, but this is a great game. I don't have that kind time to finish it again now a days, but I did watched a YouTube video of someone playing it to the end. Again, great game.

Fun fact: this was one of the first games I ever played that had Portuguese subtitles.

I enjoyed reading the backstory to what I had always assumed had been a troubled production. Overall, I think the article’s assessment is fair. But for all its flaws, it’s not a terrible game. It just unfortunately stands deep in the shadow of half a dozen great LucasArts predecessors.

The hype in gaming in 1995 was fully focused on 3D and FPS titles, and I distinctly recall thinking how dated the pre-rendered sequences of The Dig looked.

Still, just because a game isn’t an instant classic doesn’t make it a failure either, as long as you judge it for what it is, not what the hype made you think.

Never played the game, but I loved the book as a kid. Along with his novelizations of the Alien movies, Alan Dean Foster was right up there with Stephen King as far as I was concerned.

The dig came a bit after Myst(a game I absolutely loved) and I felt like it was going after those players who wanted "more" after beating myst. The graphics were ok, but my biggest complaint was some of the puzzles being really really hard(I remember the skeleton part and was like "what am I supposed to do here?"). a little QA would have gone along way to fix that but I don't remember it being horrible like the author states.

For me, the skeleton puzzle was so hard because you were required to turn the bones and the manual (at least on the Mac version) didn’t include the key command for turning things. I ended up going online to find a hint, and once I knew you could turn the bones, it was super easy to solve.

Weirdly the turtle skeleton puzzle and the ending are the only two parts I can really remember of The Dig.

I think I wound up using a walkthrough to finish the puzzle. It was a bizarre thing to include and probably a sign that nobody had bothered play-testing that part of the game although at the time I didn't really care.

Yeah it would be easier if they had put the skeleton "as it anatomically should". That was tricky

I think the laser machine puzzle was in a sense "easier" because it gave a better idea of what it was supposed to do

The puzzles definitely needed more "in-game handholding" and if you see, for example in the Thimbleweed park blog they paid attention to some of those aspects.

I remember the ending. I remember you had to make a sort of moral decision on behalf of one of the other characters. It was an interesting question posed to the player, but I remember watching a clip of what happens if you do the "bad" thing and found it played out a little goofy. (Sorry, no spoilers here, but you can look it up.)

Never finished this as kids. Got stuck on the part where you're supposed to hold a crystal up to some light with no explanation.

I spent a bunch of my parents' money calling the LucasArts 1-900 number to get past obstacles like that one!

By the way, I stumbled at a gorgeous HD intro [1] for the Dig, apparently made by some talented guy.

Now I badly want a real HD remake of the actual game.

[1]: https://youtu.be/xHJlIhpNS2I

Wow, that's amazing! I wonder if this was NN upscaling, re-animated or a technique mix

I really wish this would get a remaster like Monkey Island did. It's technically playable on modern PCs but it's very clunky and crashes a lot.

It works great in ScummVM https://www.scummvm.org/

I've posted it above, but it deserves one more: a gorgeous HD intro for "The Dig"


I played a demo of this game that came with a CD inside of a magazine. It was very atmospheric but I had no clue of what I was doing and got stuck.

I loved this. Amazing atmosphere.

The art direction of this game is incredible, puzzles were tough though.

For me too. I just bought that game on humblestore and tried playing it with my kids. We all were fascinated by the thrilling atmosphere. Well, children lost their interest after an hour, because the puzzles have been too hard. And I agree, you have to have lots of interest and endurance to make it. But it is worth it. I really enjoyed playing it.

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