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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 being a hard science fiction.

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 the whole asteroid is an artifact manufactured by intelligent beings, and inadvertently activate a device that transforms it into a starship, which whisks 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 (Robert Patrick), Omnidisciplinary Scientist Dr. Ludger Brink (Steve Blum) and Investigative Journalist Maggie Robbins (Mari Weiss) - find themselves on an alien planet, littered with the ruins of an ancient civilization (and a few previous abductees), 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 and (though the Gog version at least 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 novelization.


  • Actor Allusion: "Have you seen this boy?" Delivered absolutely perfectly by Robert Patrick, who played the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
  • Alien Geometries: Judging from their architecture and machinery design, the Cocytans are very fond of the five Platonic solids. The buildings and devices are full of triangles and pentagons, and have shockingly few right angles. See also Sinister Geometry below.
  • Alien Sky: The planet's two suns and two moons. One puzzle requires Low to manipulate the moons' positions to create an eclipse. To be clear, changing their positions in a "planetarium" room moves the actual moons.
  • Aliens Speaking English: First averted, later Translation Convention is used when Maggie deciphers the alien language 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.
  • Bait-and-Switch Silhouette: Boston Low walks through a tunnel. The walk is shown from his point of view and at one point, he sees what appears to be a man's shadow. Then he rounds the corner and sees that the shadow was of a pair of rocks that happened to form a man's silhouette.
  • Beautiful Void: The six-dimensional space is described as this: beautiful, but empty of life.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Depending on the choices you make. The best ending baits the player with this before flipping it over to Happily Ever After... allegedly. However, the fact that the player does NOT have any life crystals to spare is a pretty major plot point, and the game is coded to prevent you from yanking the two crystals that you DO have out of the machine after Maggie's death, so accessing this alternate ending requires a bit of extra effort. The trick is to get two extra crystals right after Brink dies by reactivating the machine.
  • 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. Collecting these parts in the first place is a maddening case of pixel hunt.
  • Break the Cutie: Maggie is pretty enthusiastic about exploring an alien planet at first. After Brink dies, she just wants to be alone, and she's pretty blunt about saying goodbye to Boston. Low's commentary gets much more pessimistic at the same time.
    Maggie: (before) This is the greatest story of my life. The only trouble is, I have no way of telling it to anybody.
    (after) Adios, ciao, sayonara, auf Wiedersehen.
  • Broken Aesop: The story emphasizes the importance of death and how it can’t be abolished. 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 through Space Time Six. Downplayed as the Cocytan experiences regret over creating the life crystals, and Brink is visibly much older when he's brought back.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": We have "rats", "turtles", "guard dogs", "bats", a giant "spider", a giant "eel", and so on. Low even lampshades it by remarking how the bats on Cocytus have evolved to be just as "weird and disgusting" as the bats on Earth. The turtles, by contrast, have six legs and two shells.
  • 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.
    • Brink is a dude is distress... twice. And he dies both times.
  • 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...
  • Developer's Foresight: There's nearly always some response for using the life crystals on various bones and even electronic equipment, even if it doesn't impact 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 crust on top 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 far shore. 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.
  • Earn Your Bad Ending: The fact that the player does NOT have any life crystals to spare at the end is a pretty major plot point, and the game is coded to prevent you from yanking the two crystals that you DO have out of the machine after Maggie's death, so accessing this alternate ending requires foreknowledge of the event so you know to make two extra crystals after Brink's second death.
  • Fantastic Drug: The life crystals, in a sense. They make you feel so good that you become addicted to them.
  • Fan Remake: Not really a complete remake, but YouTube user, rickonami, made a 1080p 60fps remake of the intro.
  • 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 need 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.
  • Ghost Planet: The entire planet is deserted of intelligent life, aside from a few mysterious ghostly apparitions.
  • Gone Horribly Right: What happened to the Cocytans. They succeeded in creating a portal to another dimension, only to become lost and trapped forever, unable to find their way back.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The camera cuts away right when Low starts to saw off Brink's trapped wrist. Subverted when the end of the scene shows the bloody stump being pressed into a life crystal.
  • Green Rocks: The "life" crystals.
  • Hand in the Hole: Yeah right. Like I'm going to stick my hand in some crack in the rock on an alien planet. ...Brink, you dope!!!
  • Guide Dang It!: The planetarium, among a few other spots.
  • Hard Light: The "light" bridges. Lampshaded amid a Hurricane of Puns by Low and Maggie.
  • His Name Is...: Subverted. When Maggie is captured, she is about to reveal what it is that she's reading. However, if you ask her about it after you rescue her, she states that it wasn't actually important.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Played with. The Cocytans invite humans to come visit and study. Maggie warns the Cocytans that not all humans are as nice as them. The Cocytans just laugh it off, saying all young species are like that and if any human tries to pick a fight they can just squash them like bugs.
  • Humans Are Special: Apparently, "not getting distracted by infinite shinies in heaven, and just staying put instead so everyone can find you" is humanity's superpower.
  • Human Popsicle: Not human but the Cocytan scientist, when "dead" is kept in stasis in a pyramid under the tomb.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: As told in the novelization, "Cocytus" is the deepest circle of Hell in The Divine Comedy.
  • Informed Ability: Despite being a military officer and thus the most physically proficient member of the team, Commander Low is twice bested in a fight by Brink, a scientist who probably hasn't been in a fight since kindergarten. The second time is even more inexplicable as Brink manages to blindside Low immediately after declaring that he is going to kill him. Twice.
    • Low specifically states that he's choosing not to fight back: "And if I ever actually decide to fight you, I don't care how strong and healthy you are."
  • Informing the Fourth Wall: The main character continually talks to himself about various objects and locations, which is only aimed at the player.
  • Insane Equals Violent: In addition to being more violent, Brink becomes a more capable fighter as he becomes more paranoid.
  • Insufferable Genius: Brink, even before he goes crazy, but afterwards gets delusions of superiority to his fellow humans.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Maggie Robbins, who is said to be the greatest reporter on the planet.
  • 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 judging 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.
  • Mini-Game: The PDA has a very simple orbital lander minigame. Low even comments as you play, such as claiming "the button was stuck" if you screw up.
  • Mr. Exposition: The Cocytan scientist, whose main role is to provide the backstory.
  • 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. However, the fact that the player does not have any life crystals to spare at the end is a pretty major plot point, and the game is coded to prevent you from yanking the two crystals that you do have out of the machine after Maggie's death, so accessing this alternate ending requires a bit of extra effort and foreknowledge.
  • 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 both Terran and Cocytan biology.
    • 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 given they're the first humans to ever set foot on Cocytus.
  • 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, although the inventor in question is running dangerously close to that limit, since he can only stay alive for a couple of minutes each time you use a crystal on him.
  • 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, or which parts were areas that you could visit.
  • Plotline Death: Brink (twice), later Maggie. Their deaths all happen in cutscenes, and there is no way for the player to prevent them.
  • Punny Name: Brink, as he is driven to the brink of insanity, then over it.
  • 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.
    • Most of the time, though, Low says the opposite: that after millions of years, the machinery has been pretty badly degraded. At the very least, repairing broken alien machinery is a pretty big part of both the plot and the gameplay.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Pretty much the plot. The astronauts found something inside the asteroid they just pushed away from Earth, but activating it sent them to an alien planet, and now they must get home. Also the reason they were brought there: The Cocytans sent the asteroid in hopes that someone smart enough would decypher its secret, be sent to Cocytus, and in their attempt to get home they would hopefully figure out a way to bring the rest of the Cocytans back from Space Time 6.
  • Shown Their Work: You might think that all the Spacetime Six stuff is pulled straight out of the writer's ass. You'd be wrong.
  • Sinister Geometry: The starship that takes the astronauts to Cocytus is shaped as a crystal dodecahedron.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Cocytans are as inhuman-looking as possible (a griffin is perhaps the closest reference for their appearance), yet they have their own well-developed language, a long history, rich culture, and impressive technological prowess.
  • The Stoic: Boston Low. Lampshaded several times by the other characters.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: The Cocytans, capable of constructing light bridges, near-instantaneous interstellar travel, and opening portals to other dimensions (specifically, a dimension with three space and three time dimensions).
  • They Called Me Mad!: How Mad Scientist Brink deflects the accusation.
  • Time Travel: How Brink and Maggie are eventually saved.
  • Trapped in Another World: The astronauts ...and the Cocytans.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: After seeing the effects of the life crystals, Maggie tells Low not to use one on her if she dies. After she's killed reactivating the Eye, you can use one to bring her back to life, but she commits suicide by throwing herself off a cliff to stay dead. Later, when the Cocytans bring her back properly, she slaps Low in the face.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Cocytans, especially the ancient scientist, who now only longs for permanent death, and does not even want his name to be remembered.