The Dig was originally based on an idea Steven Spielberg conceived for his Amazing Stories television series. He wanted to combine elements of two movies: Forbidden Planet (a science-fiction version of Shakespeare's The Tempest involving the ruins of a long-gone alien civilization) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (about three miners looking for a legendary treasure who gradually grow to fear and hate each other).

Because the script which was produced was too expensive to film, he proposed the basic concept to LucasArts in 1989. It went through three phases of development while in production, each with different project leaders.




The first phase was led by Noah Falstein (who went on to co-write Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis), with the help of Dave Grossman (better-known for his work on Monkey Island 1 and 2, and Day of the Tentacle). For loads of information on the history of his version, graciously provided by Falstein himself, visit The Dig Museum, which includes a copy of the original design document!




The second phase was led by Brian Moriarty (of Loom and the Infocom text adventures Wishbringer and Trinity). When he took over the project, he wanted to start afresh. So Moriarty tossed out all of the art and almost all of the story ideas from Noah Falstein's design. Actually, he discarded more things from Falstein's The Dig than Sean Clark would later do from his.

In this version there were four main characters: Boston Low, Dr. Ludger Brink, Judith Robbins, and Toshi Olema, a Japanese businessman who provided much of the funding and technology for the shuttle mission, since NASA was at an all-time budgetary low.

Because there was an extra astronaut, the box art showed four characters instead of three, as seen on the cover of Adventurer #6 and on the audio-book of the novel.

(Interestingly, Olema is not an actual Japanese last name. Brian Moriarty did not know this when he named the character, and when told, decided to invent a story to explain the oddity rather than merely correct it. The explanation he devised is unknown, though. Also, the idea of an executive from Japan funding an entire shuttle mission is based on the early 1990's fear in America of the rise of Japanese industry. One of the influences driving Moriarty to use the concept was Michael Crichton's novel Rising Sun.)

The aliens saw the multi-dimensional reality to which they had ascended as a paradise, since it allowed them to live forever (they weren't trapped in it, as in the final Dig). They wanted to share it with others, but only those who proved their worth. So when other races began to explore space, these aliens would send an asteroid to their planet. The beings who came to examine it were thus given the chance to begin the journey into this higher plane. But before they could enter the aliens' reality, these beings had to have their subatomic particles flipped.

Such flipping was accomplished by passing through a four-dimensional tubular shape, known as a "Klein bottle," which was apparently contained somewhere in the asteroid. The Klein bottle would cause all four crewmembers to become left-handed before they arrived on the alien planet, and the game's artists had to animate them in that manner.

The alien world had been intentionally designed to be dangerous; the whole place served as a test to find out whether new arrivals were clever enough to survive and find their way into the aliens' higher plane. Like in the final game, the aliens would occasionally show up in the form of "ghosts" to guide the crew. In Moriarty's The Dig they were orange in color, but in the actual release they're blue.

Some of the puzzles and plot ideas were much more violent than anything in Sean Clark's version. For example, Toshi Olema was killed after walking through a cave filled with falling acid drops, leaving behind a bloody, mutilated corpse. Also, Judith Robbins was attacked by a swarm of fierce bats.

One puzzle required Low to get rid of some bats who were blocking the entrance to a cave (perhaps so he could rescue Judith). An eel caught bats to eat by emitting a beam of green light from its eyes which stunned them, so they would fall to the water below. Low had to electrocute the eel, cut out the lens of its eye, put the lens on his flashlight, and shine the light at the bats; then the creatures would drop to the cave floor.

Life crystals apparently existed in Brian Moriarty's design for The Dig, and drove Brink insane, as in the final game. It was in this version that cutting off Brink's hand was first thought up; in the original idea, the tide was rising in the cave where he was stuck, and he had to be freed quickly to save him from drowning. While the basic puzzle remains in the released Dig, there's no water involved.

Moriarty's game was controlled by a 4-icon GUI which resembles the one in Sam and Max Hit the Road, with icons representing the actions Examine, Pick up, Use, and Move. The game wasn't being made with the usual SCUMM system, but was instead programmed using a new engine, called StoryDroid. StoryDroid included features that had not yet been hacked into SCUMM, such as vertical parallax scrolling.

This version of The Dig was to be released in 1993. Its story was set five years in the future from then, in 1998. There's no specific date mentioned in the final game.




The heavy emphasis on scientific details in The Dig's story worried LucasArts management, and the game was unpopular inside the company. It went through several delays, missing its projected release date. One factor in this was the use of fully hand-painted background art, instead of simple sketches that would be completed on a computer (the method later used to finish The Dig on time).

Eventually, when Brian Moriarty realized he couldn't finish writing the game's dialogue in time to meet a deadline, he left the company. Dave Grossman, who had worked on Noah Falstein's version, now came back on board and tried to salvage this design.

Among the changes Dave made, Toshi Olema the businessman became Dr. Toshi Olema, a physicist. In an article in Adventurer #7, Dr. Olema was described as being "brilliant but shy", which would have caused conflict between him and Commander Low.

Grossman's goal was to get the game released on floppy disk and on CD-ROM in 1994. Obviously, that didn't happen.




When Dave Grossman left the project, Sean Clark (of Sam and Max Hit the Road) took over. Clark was the person who finally managed to finish the game, in 1995.

He made some major changes, including removing Toshi Olema entirely. Not only would this save money on animation, it would also create a stronger parallel with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. At the same time, Judith's name was changed to Maggie (as a reference to a character on the TV series Northern Exposure).

The game engine was switched from StoryDroid back to SCUMM, LucasArts' standard. The character sprites also were redone. And the aliens' backstory was greatly simplified (to management's relief).

Although early beta versions of Clark's The Dig included a 5-icon GUI much like the one in Brian Moriarty's version (but with an extra Talk to icon added), it was later simplified to the final "one-click-does-it-all" interface, after the former was deemed too cumbersome by testers.

(Some team members experimented with a Full Throttle- and Curse of Monkey Island-style "verb coin" control method, using a sheer glass pentagon with the five icons arrayed around it. But Sean rejected the idea, due to his disdain for Full Throttle.)

During testing, the original space puzzle was simplified considerably. The player originally had to take the Pig to the asteroid surface; return to the shuttle and carry the explosives back to Attila; and then radio to the shuttle to have Ken and Cora scan the asteroid to locate the devices' proper positions.

The voices in The Dig's demo, quite different from those in the actual release, were once intended to be used in the final game. However, during production on Sean Clark's design, almost all of the dialogue was rewritten after being recorded. During the re-recording process, LucasArts decided to hire new, more professional voice actors.

The original lines were recorded at a time when the 5-icon interface was still being used. If you explore the demo's audio files, you can find references to the various commands (such as Low saying "I wouldn't want to be pushy" in response to the command Move Brink or Move Maggie).

Also, during the rewriting, some of the scientific details in dialogue were simplified. For example, in the demo, Low notes that a plant is respirating if you click on it. In the final game he worries that the plant might be something like poison ivy.




Here are some excerpts from interviews with former LucasArts employees that were once hosted at LucasFans. They explain some aspects of the early The Dig designs better than I could.

From an interview with Noah Falstein:

"The Dig went through three complete re-writes before the final product was born and you're credited as co-designer and project leader of the original version of the game. How much of the original ideas were transferred to the game we play? What was the version you worked on going to be like? And why was the production so troubled?

"The version I worked on was based on the same basic concept from Steven Spielberg - Forbidden Planet meets Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But my game was more of a blend of Adventure and RPG instead of the straight Adventure game that was finally made. We created a wonderful alien world, quite different from the one in the final game. The action took place mainly in the ruins of four ancient alien cities. One was by the shores of an ocean that had risen in the centuries the city was abandoned, and was now half-flooded. Another was in the desert, desolate and swept by sand. The third was high in the mountains, a mix of icy cold winds and hot volcanic vents. And the fourth city (and this idea came from Dave Grossman, one of the team members at that point and the 3rd project leader on the game later) was actually inside a gigantic genetically engineered creature, a city-beast. I still want to do a game based on that concept some day.

"The production was troubled in my opinion because of the status of working on a project with Steven Spielberg. The first few brainstorming sessions we had involved both Steven and George, a very exciting experience. Everyone felt this could be a very big project, and there was some company politics a level or two above me that caused a lot of shuffling and second-guessing of the project leaders. I enjoyed the chance to work on the project, and it helped me become one of the first employees at Dreamworks Interactive because of my relationship with Spielberg, but it was painful to have the vision I brought to it discarded. Pretty much nothing of that original concept made it to the final game."

From an interview with Bill Eaken, lead artist on Brian Moriarty's The Dig:

"The troublesome The Dig was another major project you worked on at LucasArts. What role did you play in the production of the game?

"Ken Macklin had already done a whole bunch of very cool conceptual artwork for The Dig, and I was looking forward to finishing Fate of Atlantis so I could get on that project and work under Ken. But then the game went to pieces and Brian Moriarty took over as the game designer, and decided to completely start over. Ken Macklin said he was no longer interested, he had other personal artistic projects to get on to. When I got off Atlantis, Brian asked me if I would work with him as a kind of assistant on the design. He wanted to have the artistic vision and game design work hand-in-hand, the way I described [the design of the Atlantean robot door puzzle in FoA]. I thought it was a great idea, although I was disappointed that Ken's original vision was scapped. So I spent the next many months doing lots of drawings and brainstorming with Brian. But as programmers started coming on I was less and less included in the design stuff, which is how things work, I guess.

"What ended up happening was that I'd do some drawings, landscapes let's say, Brian would see them and come back the next day with a whole set of ideas for the "world" based on his interpretation of my sketches. So in that sense it was actually kind of cool, especially early on. Naturally, there were a lot of cool things that never made it in. As an artist I'm supposed to moan and groan about that, by the way, the artistic temperament is part of the job. In general, I wanted something very dramatic in the use of light and atmosphere that would not be easily copied by other games. Based on that, I eventually did some concept paintings to show Spielberg that ultimately established the overall look of the place.

"As a little aside to that, Spielberg liked the paintings and wanted to keep them. Six months later someone in his office was cleaning out the files and found these odd paintings that no one knew anything about. I had placed "return" stickers on the back with the LucasFilm logo, and my name. They figured the paintings were for some movie, I guess, and sent them back to me. So I still have them in the big Amblin Entertainment envelope, sort of like mementos, I guess.

"The Dig was re-written after you left LucasArts. How much, if any, of your artwork and ideas ended up into the actual game?

"I think all the backgrounds I painted, which were close to a hundred, were used, maybe with some alterations here and there. But there were also a lot of new ones added by Bill Tiller, who took over as art lead. The game was completely re-written, but it still had many of the basic themes of Brian's version. I believe Sean Clark (the new game designer) felt that it was crazy to scrap everything again, since there were some good ideas that he could build on. I played the game a little bit and it looks like although a lot was changed, the skeleton is still there (get it?). I'm sure Bill Tiller or Sean Clark could correct me on this. (Are there still a bunch of geometry puzzles in there? You know, that was my idea, even though Brian did it very differently than I wanted to.)

"Any memories about The Dig project you'd like to share with us?

"My favorite story I always tell about The Dig is when we went to see Spielberg the first time. We had a bunch of concept drawings and paintings, and a storyboard all wired together, and it was time to let him see it, so Brian, Lucy (who was one of the business people), and I, headed for LA. The problem was that we had an early flight down and we still had a few hours to kill before our meeting at Amblin, on the grounds within Universal Studios. So we decided to go into the Universal Studio theme park right next to the working studios. I forget what we actually did there, but when we left we got these little E.T. stamps on our hands and we had a good laugh about walking into Speilberg's office with little glow-in-the-dark E.T.'s on the backs of our hands.

"When we got a taxi in front of the theme park and asked to go to the main entrance of the studios (it was a long walk), the driver told us we can't do that, that they don't let tourists into the studio grounds. We said that E.T. on the back of your hand does not automatically make you a tourist, and besides, we have an appointment with someone there. He saw Brian, who was sitting there with a large lap-top that looked like a suitcase, and the guy says, "yea, right," as politely as he could. Seriously, we kept telling him, we really do have an appointment with someone, still giggling about the damn E.T.'s. He reluctantly agreed, but made sure to inform us that they normally do not let taxis come up to the main gate. We told him to let us out as close as he could, and we'll just walk. He was shaking his head, thinking we'll learn soon enough, I guess.

"At the gate the driver was very embarrassed, kind of held his head down. As a guard walked up Lucy rolled down the back window and said, "It's Brian Moriarty and Bill Eaken from Lucasfilm, they have an appointment with Steven Spielberg at 11:00." I was sitting in the middle of the back seat, between the other two, and I saw the driver's eyes pop out of his head as he quickly glanced in his mirror back at us. I just showed him the stamp on the back of my hand. The guard confirmed our appointment and told the driver to follow one of the colored lines all the way to the back of the studios where Amblin was. The driver got a big grin and said, "I think you guys just said the magic words," and drove us through the studio, right to Spielberg's door. It was probably the first time he'd ever been in there.

"Spielberg is an interesting guy, or at least what we saw of him. Very eccentric in a whimsical way. But then, he is a computer game freak and his meeting with us was more like his hobby than like working. The coolest thing in his office was an original Norman Rockwell painting. One of the puzzles we had (back then) was where you had to cut the lens out of some monster's eye to use somewhere else. Spielberg dug the idea, but insisted that we have blood spew out and splatter all over the computer screen. All I remember is Brian sitting there laughing nervously saying, "That's cool, that's cool."

"After our meeting we asked Spielberg if he knew what rides at the theme park are the best, since we had only a few hours before our return flight. He said the E.T. ride, since he had helped design it and was very proud of it (it was brand new at that time). He was so excited about us checking it out that he asked one of his assistants to drive us to it in an Amblin golf cart. The guy took us through the back way of the theme park and right to the entrance of E.T. in the golf cart, with a crowd watching, and Brian still carrying that damn "suitcase." Iím just worried now that that was my fifteen minutes of fame."




A novelization of The Dig, based on Sean Clark's design, was written by science fiction author Alan Dean Foster. While it frequently deviates from the game's exact sequence of events, it offers an interesting glimpse of the aliens' discussions while trapped in Spacetime Six. Unfortunately, it is currently out of print.

LucasArts also released a CD soundtrack through Angel Records, containing 11 music pieces. The tracks are wonderful, but the CD is even harder to find now than the novel is.




Click here for screenshots, backgrounds, and other stuff from some of these early versions!

Media from Brian Moriarty's The Dig design

Media from Sean Clark's The Dig - Early Alphas




Click here for a series of images, created by me, showing how the interface worked in early designs.

For more neat The Dig stuff, visit The Dig Museum.

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