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Video Game / The Dig

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This can't be good.
The Dig is a Science Fiction graphical Adventure Game developed by LucasArts, released in 1995 and based on an idea originally pitched by Steven Spielberg. Unlike other wackier adventure games by LucasArts, this one has a much more serious tone, in addition to fitting in the hard category of the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.

The game starts when an asteroid appears, seemingly out of nowhere, on a collision course with Earth. NASA sends a shuttle mission to the asteroid to plant nuclear charges in the hopes of deflecting it into a more stable orbit. The mission is an apparent success, but on a standard EVA to survey the "new moon", the astronauts discover that in reality, the asteroid is an artifact manufactured by intelligent beings, and inadvertently activate a device that transforms it into a starship, whisking them off to a distant star system in the blink of an eye.

The three astronauts who make the journey: The Stoic Commander Boston Low, Omnidisciplinary Scientist Dr. Ludger Brink and Investigative Journalist Maggie Robbins, find themselves on an alien planet, littered with the ruins of an ancient civilization, with no apparent way to get back home. They must find a way to survive both the hostile alien environment and their own interpersonal conflicts while searching for a clue to the fate of the planet's original inhabitants.


A novelization by Alan Dean Foster, was included in the box with some releases of the game. If you're getting the game these days, however, it's more likely that you'll be getting the game without a box of any kind, since today it is sold by LucasArts on Steam. (The DRM-free version, though, includes the manual.) The game, however, had dialogue written by well-known sf writer Orson Scott Card and by designer-director Sean Clark. Card also developed detailed backstories for the main characters, which appeared in Foster's novelizatoin.



  • Alien Geometries: Judging from their architecture and machinery design, the Cocytans are very fond of the five Platonic solids; see Sinister Geometry below.
  • Alien Sky: The planet's two suns and two moons. One puzzle requires to manipulate the moons' positions to create an eclipse.
  • Aliens Speaking English: First averted, later Translation Convention is used and then played straight.
  • All There in the Manual: The novelization provides a ton of background information, to the point where, despite minor inconsistencies, it's required reading to really understand everything that's going on in the game. One of the more obvious ones is Cocytus, the name that Brink gives to the planet, which is never mentioned in the game.
  • Almost Dead Guy: The Cocytan scientist is so ancient that the life crystals are losing effectiveness and he can only remain "alive" for minutes at a time before "dying" again. Until the crystals lose all effectiveness and he dies for real.
  • Already Undone for You: Averted at first with Maggie in the library, then later played straight with Brink.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: What happened to the original inhabitants of Cocytus. Subverted in that it is not a happy, fun place to spend eternity.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Depending on the choices you make. The best ending baits the player with this before flipping it over to Happily Ever After.
  • Box-and-Stick Trap: A somewhat infamous case, due to its frustrating difficulty, requires you to catch a scavenging creature so that you can find its nest, by constructing such a trap out of various bones and machine parts that are lying around.
  • Broken Aesop: The story clubs you over the head from two different angles with the message, "Abolishing death is a bad thing, m'kay?"... Then in the final minutes, your new Cocytan friend's idea of a thank-you gift is to bring your two dead friends back to life with no consequences by mucking around in the extra dimensions of time. You almost carried the baton all the way, game...
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": We have "rats", "turtles", "dogs", "birds", "bats", "spiders". Low even lampshades it by remarking how the bats on Cocytus have evolved to be just as disgusting as the bats on Earth.
  • Came Back Wrong: Anyone resurrected with the "life crystals", especially Brink.
  • Colony Drop: The threat of this provides the initial Call to Adventure for the story. The novelization gives more information about it but leaves unanswered the question of whether the asteroid really would have hit Earth if nobody had come up to stop it. One assumes it simply moves on to the next likely planet; otherwise the Cocytans are implied genocidal mass murderers on a galactic scale.
  • Cunning Linguist: In addition to being the mission's reporter, Robbins was chosen because of her exceptional language skills. She manages to translate the Cocytan language in a matter of hours, though she points out that it was designed to be easily translated.
  • Damsel in Distress: Robbins is abducted by the spider monster, and Low and Brink have to save her. Though she helps them out with her rescue.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Low, most of the time, except when his frustration boils over.
    • Robbins has her moments too, especially when feeling stressed.
      Low: Brink is still dead.
      Robbins: Thanks for the status report.
  • Death Is Cheap: Especially when you can be quickly and easily resurrected by "life crystals"... except...
  • Developers' Foresight: There's nearly always some response for using the life crystals on various bones and even electronic equipment, even if it doesn't affect the plot.
  • Disney Death:
    • Brink (twice) and Maggie before their revival.
    • One of the earlier versions that never got released averted this. Instead of the first death among the astronaut crew being Brink falling down a hole and bloodlessly breaking his neck, it happened when a Japanese astronaut tried to cross the hard, encrusted top layer of a suspiciously steaming lake. He broke through into the acid pool below, thrashed his way to the other side while literally melting to death, and ended up a bloody skeleton on the other side of the acid lake. In full view of the other three astronauts. Naturally, this was the version that introduced the Hand in the Hole puzzle.
  • Disney Villain Death: Brink (though he only technically became a villain as he became further insane) before his revival.
  • Driven to Suicide: Maggie, if you try to bring her back with a life crystal.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Ludger Brink and the life crystals, 'nuff said.
  • Foreshadowing: During the mission to the asteroid early in the game, Low can speak to the rest of his crew and hear things like "For all we know, Attila (the asteroid) could be a giant bubble." and "It could be a trap. Why? To catch some mice?"
    • Also subverted when Robbins asks the Cocytan scientist if there are more of the giant spider creatures around. He replies with the evasive "There are as many as there needs to be," which seems like it's implying that there are more, but the heroes never see any others.
  • For Science!: The reason Brink gives for wanting the crystals. He explicitly demands them from Low with these exact words.
  • Freudian Trio: Low, of course, is the leader archetype; Robbins is the id; and Brink is the superego. Played almost perfectly straight until Brink starts going nuts.
  • Insane Equals Violent: In addition to being more violent, Brink becomes a more capable fighter as he becomes more paranoid.
  • Kill It with Water: Not so much the water itself but Low's plan to get rid of the "spider" is to divert water into a strategically placed drain, thus knocking it off its perch and washing it away.
  • Late to the Tragedy: The Earth astronauts missed the Cocytans by a undefined length of time that's stated to be at least a few million years, and they are far from the first to judge by the collection of abandoned rusting spacecraft they encounter.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang
    • Justified by Maggie when she argues that since Brink died, sticking together isn't necessarily any safer, and that therefore logically they are twice as likely to find the answers they're looking for by splitting up. It seems to pay off at first, when Maggie discovers the Library through means which could have killed Boston had he followed along, but their separation eventually comes back to bite them in the ass when Maggie is captured by a giant spider.
  • Lost Technology: From the protagonists' point of view, certainly. Once the Cocytans come back, everything gets fixed up pretty quickly.
  • Multiple Endings: The game has a few extra scenes in the end depending on whether or not you choose to revive Maggie with a life crystal.
  • No Biochemical Barriers:
    • Averted with regards to food, as the humans debate and ultimately decide against trying to eat any of the plant or animal life they encounter. Fortunately (or not), starvation ends up being the least of their worries, although the game was originally supposed to have an additional survival mechanic where the player would have to keep searching for food to stay alive. The life crystals, on the other hand, are explicitly stated to work on almost any organic — and some inorganic — systems.
    • Also played straight with Cocytus' atmosphere, although the humans first use their suits to check if the atmosphere is breathable, concluding that it's "at least as breathable as the air in L.A." Low also mentions the possibility of airborne infectious agents, but Brink shrugs it off by assuming that they haven't evolved to take advantage of their cellular structures.
  • Not So Above It All: The normally straight-laced Low has an unexpected moment of pride after killing one of the guard animals.
    Low: That'll teach you guys not to mess with Boston Low, Space Commander!
  • Novelization: There are several differences between the game and the novelization, such as the state of the alien ship. In the game, it simply disappears after bringing the trio to Cocytus (which is also only named in the book). In the novel, the ship becomes inactive. When the Cocytans return, they build another ship in the game and reactivate the same one in the book. There is also considerably more going on between Low and Maggie in the book, which ends with them kissing. In the game, she either slaps or hugs Low (depending on player choices).
  • Omniglot: Maggie, with the assistance of an Upgrade Artifact (the library teaching device), manages to become passably fluent in Cocytan in a matter of hours. It's said in her Backstory that she's "good with languages", being an Intrepid Reporter. It's also justified in that the language was deliberately tailored to be easy for newcomers to learn. That Maggie learns to speak it perfectly by merely reading it for a few hours is still a stretch.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: They aren't even dead to begin with.
  • Out of Continues: Implied; the Alien Inventor exposits that the life crystals can't be used an infinite amount of times, and their effect wears off gradually with each use, until they fail to resurrect the target at all. This is never actually seen in the game proper, however.
  • Pixel Hunt: The programmers went out of their way to make the game pretty. They were decidedly lax on making it obvious which parts of the gorgeous landscapes were objects that can be interacted with.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: At one point, Low comments on how Cocytus is completely unpopulated, but all the machinery seems to be working fine. Brink agrees, saying it feels like the aliens just stepped out.
  • Redemption Equals Death: The Cocytan scientist claims that the only way he can atone for his mistakes is for the life crystals to lose effectiveness entirely and for true death to take him.
  • Saharan Shipwreck: Of the crashed-alien-starship kind.
  • Scenery Porn: And how! Entire gorgeous multi-screen rooms filled with... a door... or maybe that little stick that you have to pick up. And nothing else that you can even examine. But very pretty visuals nonetheless.
  • Science Is Bad: The Cocytan scientist is in self-imposed exile for his work, and tries to convince the heroes not to go messing with his inventions.
  • Seen It All: Low is a Type 2 in the novelization, explaining why he is The Stoic.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Brink when distracting the giant "spider". Lampshaded by Low, who is briefly distracted from the rescue by trying to figure out what Brink just said.