The Dig:

A game designed by Spielberg and reviewed by Garry Booth your friendly neighbourhood IT editor.



System requirements

'The Dig' is by the LucasArts Entertainment Company and is distributed in Europe by Virgin Interactive Entertainment (Europe) Limited.

It retails while stocks last at 29.99.

Introduction

Once upon a time, way back in the distant past a young chap by the name of Steven Spielberg had an idea for a movie: The Dig. This was to be a Spielberg Sci-Fi film in his greatest tradition, where astronauts would be whipped away to a distant galaxy and would have to find their way home, by understanding the culture of the alien planet they had been unexpectedly deposited on. The film never got off the ground..... so what is an archaeological journal doing discussing this piece of nearly-history?

Although the cost proved too prohibitive for a film, Spielberg thought the idea had a lot of mileage and decided to turn it into a computer game. Fantasy became virtual reality and the release of 'The Dig' was eagerly anticipated by many an editor of assemblage. The reason for the excitement was fairly obvious - what more could we ask for than extra-terrestrial archaeology? And besides, the game would include an archaeologist as one of its main characters and so one of the points of this review is to take a look at how this character is portrayed.

Our Heroes

Aside from our intrepid archaeologist Dr Ludger Brink (an eminent academic with a shock of blond hair and a German accent, who appears to have PhD's in everything ranging from Archaeology to Xenobiology), our brave team comprise of the ships commander; Boston Low; very much in the gun-toting Captain Kirk mode ("Science be damned, we need to get home") with flashes of grey to his hair (Low has been coaxed out of retirement for one last mission), and Maggie Robbins the go-getting, independent minded female reporter with an uncanny knack for languages. There are two other bit players who appear at the start: Ken Borden the shuttle pilot, and Cora Miles the payload specialist, but they are not intrinsic to the way the game plays out.

The Plot

Initially, the Earth is under threat from a meteor named Atilla; this has to be diverted by nuclear charges to save our planet (if you can remember Sean Connery in Meteor, you will have the basic idea). To this aim, NASA sends the Space Shuttle ('on a mission it was never designed for!'), with a team of specialists to sort out this little problem. The team are required to place nuclear warheads strategically around Atilla to divert its course to a more stable orbit. After the explosion, a chasm in the meteor surface is revealed. Our team examine the chasm and find a series of metal plates which on inspection reveal an entrance into the meteor ('So Atilla is hollow!'), which of course the astronauts go through (the game would end very quickly otherwise) and piece together a puzzle, whereupon Atilla whisks them away to a distant galaxy.

The alien race (or maybe races) who built Atilla has been wiped out, and it appears that the only way to get home is to solve a series of puzzles and use life-giving crystals to resurrect the aliens who will then send you home. Personally I'd like to leave the aliens as they are, as even the most mundane tasks in their lives seemed to involve solving complex geometric puzzles (they must have had an extremely limited social life, but may have been whizzes with Rubik's Cubes).

Interactivity and ease of play

If you have ever played one of the many Star Trek role-playing games available, then you will easily pick up how to control events in 'The Dig'. The game could quite easily run without motion graphics, but as in the Star Trek games they help to add atmosphere and move the game along. Each character is independently controllable and can interact with all the other characters as well as any inanimate object on the screen that is highlighted. Under the event screen, there is a tool kit, with various objects that can be activated to interact in the game play. You don't need to know how they work as anything that can be done with them will appear on screen as you move the object about. (If in doubt, pick up everything you find.) Game designers like to include a few red herrings, but in this case most objects do ultimately have a use. Some items work by themselves whereas others fit together or can be used in conjunction with features on screen. Events of major importance are accompanied in many cases by excellent smooth motion movie-style graphics, which give you a definite feeling of achievement, as does the solving of each puzzle. The game is aimed at the player who enjoys solving puzzles, rather than the mass-scale slaughter that come with 'shoot em ups' - definitely a plus point for the maker's philosophy.

But what of our archaeologist?

Early on in the game, you can easily get irritated by Dr Ludger Brink, as he clashes with Commander Low over the best way to proceed. Almost from the beginning you get the feeling that the Brink is not that fussed about getting home (the point of the game!) and is more interested in the wonderful new technologies he can find on the alien planet; I rapidly built up a dislike for the good doctor. However Brink quickly dies whilst examining a hole which turns out to be the entrance to the chambers the aliens used to live in. It is therefore left to Low and Robbins (who seem to be developing a 'will they, won't they' scenario), to understand the material and social culture of the mysterious alien race. All seems fine, and you feel you and your on screen characters are progressing towards the beginnings of a solution to your problems, until you discover the life-giving crystals and subsequently perform a Lazarus-style resurrection of Brink. My dislike of Brink increased after his resurrection as his character changes to become a bad caricature of a Hammer Horror bad guy, with an exceptionally over-inflated, know-it-all ego, claiming the crystals have done more than simply bring him back to life. He is now more than human and understands so much more than anyone could with an 'ordinary mind and body'. He goes on to take more crystals in an attempt to achieve immortality, whereas our heroes want to take them back to earth so they can be studied for the benefit of mankind. Brink becomes ostracised from the pair, who will not share their knowledge of the aliens with him and he in effect becomes the bad guy, and one of your worst obstacles to your final goal.

There are now a number of representations of the public face of an archaeologist: Captain Picard, the keen amateur; Indiana Jones, the swashbuckling hero, and Tony Robinson, the ever excitable frontman of the British television show 'Time Team'. To these the computer world has now added Dr Ludger Brink. In the end I very much doubt he is much of a role model for the archaeological community -an egotistical scientist, bad guy, and/or the aloof academic detached from the rest of society (just as he becomes rapidly detached from the rest of the team.)

Overall I enjoyed the game. Like most adventure games, I find it is best played in a group where ideas can be thrown back and forth. There is an ease of game play to it and enough originality that could definitely lead you to devoting a week of your life just to finish it. I just wish the archaeologist could be the good guy and save the world, just like in the movies!

Garry Booth occasionally attempts to finish his PhD: 'Inter-tidal Taphonomy: (he is still after a witty quote to go after the colon)', at Sheffield University. He is available for weddings and parties at the Research School of Archaeology & Archaeological Science, West Court, 2 Mappin Street, Sheffield S1 4DT, U.K.


'The Dig' Quiz!

As the game was originally designed to be a film, I think it would be a good idea to see who the readership of this journal would like to see in the leading roles had this ever made it to the silver screen:

E-mail all your proposals to the assemblage!

Garry Booth 1997




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