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LucasArts' Secret History: The Dig: Bills Tiller and Eakin10 Mar, 2009
Since you seem to have been involved in some way with The Dig throughout nearly its entire development, could you possibly attempt to give some kind of overview of its history in terms of the amount of versions there were (which there still seems to be some confusion about amongst fans)? For example, there's a story that after the Moriarty version was shelved, there was a short-lived version where Hal Barwood attempted to salvage that design before Sean Clark took over.
Hmm, Hal may have taken over for a "minute," but I vaguely remember being told he never wanted it. I think they were forcing it on him, but he had his own game he wanted to work on. So he may have shortly been involved, but not in a meaningful way.
Noah was kind of floundering on the project, but I can't remember why. I think there was a pizza party at one point and it was clear to everyone he was way behind. Management, actually all of us I think, felt he was focusing on certain things too much and not moving along. The whole project suffered from that probably because of the Spielberg connection. Everyone got stars in their eyes and wanted to impress Spielberg, so it would get overwhelming for them. That's my explanation, anyway. That's certainly what happened to Brian.
Brian Moriarty was working on a young Indy game that a lot of people didn't like very much (I never saw it myself, but I heard horror stories). When Noah was taken off the project, Brian was the next natural guy to ask. His last project had been Loom, which was pretty darn good. Brian didn't really want to work on it at first, as I recall, but eventually signed on. He told them he would only do it if he got total control, which meant throwing out everything Noah had done. We all thought that was a ridiculous mistake for management to agree to. The lack of accountability is the root of all evil. Look what it's done to our economy recently. Actually, the whole company suffered from a lack of accountability in those days.
Brian asked me to art direct his version of The Dig since we were just finishing up Fate of Atlantis. I walked off the project a year-and-half later when his version was completely out of control and management wouldn't listen to me about it. What happened after that is all stuff I heard from friends. Hal may have taken over briefly, I think I remember Sean Clark really wanted it and fought to get it. He tried to use as much from Brian's version as possible. Most of my art was used, although Bill Tiller, who took over the art direction role when I left, reworked a lot of it, and did some new stuff as well. That's about as much as I know of its history.
To what degree were you involved with original Noah Falstein incarnation of the game?
When I first arrived at Lucasland Noah was writing The Dig. No art had been done yet. In fact, I was one of the first to do some concept art for it while still working on Fate of Atlantis. That was pretty early on. Noah came in to the artists and asked if anyone was interested in spending 20 hours coming up with design ideas. Iain McCaig (now of Stars Wars fame) was working with our department back then and he and I said yes. I'm not sure how she got involved, but Terryl Witlatch (also of Star Wars fame) was the third artist. Noah had a story, but didn't know what sort of creatures, or world look, he was after. So he was relying on the artists to do their job and see what we could come up with. Terryl's stuff was very intriguing and detailed, and drawn extremely well, but looked mostly like rearranged Earth animals. Iain's was at the opposite end of the spectrum; very imaginative, like things that might live on the bottom of the ocean. Mine was the Baby Bear right in the middle. It looked like animals, but certainly not from Earth. Everything had six appendages, rather than four, including birds, which had four wings like a dragonfly. I did one arboreal thing that, in retrospect, looked a little like a Pokemon, though less cartoony. But Noah liked my approach the best so that's the way it went. He even had me animate the arboreal creature walking and dying. Have you ever animated six legs walking? Lots of fun, as I remember. I guess someone else did the animation of an astronaut shooting it. Ken Macklin was the background designer and artist, and I was looking very forward to working with Ken doing backgrounds as soon as I finished work on Fate of Atlantis. He was one of my heroes from high school. I used to collect his Dr. Watchstop work in Epic magazine. But that never happened because Noah's version got shelved when Brian took over. At that point Ken no longer wanted to be involved and that was that. At first I didn't want to be involved either, for the same reason.
By the way, I made the creature spew blood all over the ground when it died and Spielberg loved it. George didn't approve, though, and told us to keep down the violence. Later, Spielberg wanted to sneak blood splattering on the "camera lens" when you cut the lens out of the eel's eye. He must love Gears of War. Anyway, that's all I remember doing for Noah.
The game was originally based off an idea by Steven Spielberg. Do you know what Spielberg's initial concept was and how much of it survived the final product?
No. I never saw the script that was supposedly made for a Twilight Zone episode, or something like that. And I'm not sure much of it made it to the final game. Spielberg only insisted, again and again, that it be called "The Dig," and that it involved digging through the remains of an alien civilization. At one point someone (Spielberg or Lucas, don't remember who) even said "Indiana Jones in space." It seems like Brian told me that Spielberg said the script would be too expensive to do as a TV episode, and wasn't quite right for a full movie, but would make a neat game. And because he is such a game fan he called his friend George Lucas, who owned a game company, and asked if we'd be interested in making it into a game. That's sort of what I was told. I don't know how much of it is true.
Was there any difference in terms of pressure in working on a game that would have Spielberg's name slapped on it as opposed to something like Monkey Island? Did Spielberg make any specific requests or contributions to the game beyond the initial idea?
He didn't have a lot of demands, but he still had final say. So everything we did he wanted to personally see. Partially because he is such a game fan himself, and it was kind of a pet project of his, though a very minor one. He wanted to be surprised and entertained by it, and not so much be in charge. He had his movies that counted, so we were unimportant, though it was something he enjoyed and that made it fun for us. He did offer input from time to time, and have ideas of his own that he thought would be neat. I can't remember anything specific, though. It's just been too long. As I mentioned above, the real pressure came because everyone thought "the Berg," as I called him, was going to give us all jobs when he saw the final game. I think Brian thought he would offer him a writing and directing job. Nuts! I was painting some concept art for Spielberg at one point and we were going down to show it to him in a week. Someone asked me if I was nervous while working on them, and I hadn't even thought about it. It was just another project to me, like any other. You do your best, given the time restraints and stupid feedback from management. The person who asked me that said she'd be paralyzed if it was her, and I think that sentiment is what caused a lot of unnecessary stress on the project from time to time.
What were some of your inspirations for the design of Cocytus and the planet's inhabitants?
Initially I sketched it to look more like Monument Valley in Arizona, but with water. I love to paint rocks, and I really wanted to use color cycling to make animated water. But Brian came up with the idea of five pillars and one dodecahedron crater at the center. I still like the earlier sketches, though the final concept is sort of interesting. I actually took some of the 6-legged designs I did for Noah's Dig and changed the number of appendages. I think Brian only wanted flying things, though. No animals scampering about, except maybe things in the water. He wanted to get so far away from Noah's idea that he refused to allow 6 legged critters! That's just plain silly. Noah had it so you had to find food, too. There were plants of all sorts and you had to figure out which was edible. You had to keep finding them or your food supply would run out. He wanted it a little more like a role playing game in that sense, or a strategy game. But because Brian wanted to totally abandon everything Noah did he wouldn't even let me put plants in the artwork. He thought someone might try to eat them. I never tried to eat any of the plants in any other game, but that's how Brian's mind works. I guess when Spielberg recognized his genius he wanted it to be HIS genius, and not anything he copied from Noah. The twilight sky idea came because I'd originally done some art like that, only because it looked cool, and Brian decided it was always twilight. I did like that idea, because I love the colors. And maybe there was a bit of poetry in that the planet was always in twilight: the twilight zone, as it were.
Did the game's art style shift in any way as project leaders were replaced?
Yes. I wanted to use Ken Macklin's art, but that was completely out. Incidentally, some of us tried to talk management into using everything that had been done for Noah's version of the Dig to make a bounty hunter game with Boba Fett. It would have been pretty easy, since so much art and animation was already done. But management said no one really knew who Boba Fett was, so it would be a flop. I saw the movie, "The Transporter," the other day for the first time. There's a line in it where he says, "I'm tired of my best work being ruined by the very people who pay me to do it." Or something like that. You get the idea.
In terms of style change, Ken had all kinds of buildings and remnants of civilization everywhere, including a museum where you could learn things about the long-gone inhabitants of the planet. Brian wanted none of that and instead wanted everything to be sparse and organic, and dead. Any buildings or machines had to be either organic looking, as if built into the natural structure, or so alien you didn't really know for sure. It's a good idea, but we still should have had plants! Did Sean Clark's version have plants put back in? I don't even remember anymore. Personally, I thought we should have used the Ken Macklin art. Now no one will ever see it and it was awesome.
What sort of working relationship did you have with each of the game's project leaders, and how did they compare with each other?
I only worked shortly for Noah because I was still on Fate of Atlantis, but he was easygoing and fun to work with. Smart guy who loves to talk. Brian was also enjoyable at first, but tended to be a shy kind of loner. At first he wanted just himself and me to design everything, so we would sit in his office with the door closed and talk all day, making tons of notes and sketches. There are a lot of ideas I came up with that he would then take and organize into his own vision. It worked out well for a while and was a lot of fun. But as more people came on he started working just with the programmers and pushing the artists out. That's how Lucasland was back then. We still say it's because the programmers saw the artists as a threat. Back in the day, when games were only text-based, and a little later when the art was so primitive anyone could do it, they had total control. As it evolved the programmers saw the leveling of the playing field and tried to hold back the tide. Brian was very good to work with in the beginning, though. He relied a lot on my creative input and I enjoyed it. I never worked with Sean Clark, although I always got along well with him. I did design a logo for his wife's business, once.
When Brian Moriarty left The Dig, he also left the company. Is there a story there?
The only parts I can share with it are negative, and I've already been too negative above. The programming was a complete disaster. I had been working for several years at Lucas at that time and had a very good feel for the programming. I taught programming in college, and though I wasn't a programmer on any games, I understood programming enough to know something was amiss on The Dig. I went to one of my friends at the company who was a great programmer and told him my concerns. He went and tried to chat with the programmers about this or that to get a look at their code, but whenever he walked into the room they would shut off their monitors, things like that. What he could see confirmed my worries: the code was way too long, and mostly not working. I went to management and they patted me on the head and I think they just figured I was a trouble-maker. I left the company and shortly afterwards heard that they had a pizza party and the disaster became obvious. Bill Tiller told me the general manager said that he should have listened to me. Brian was shamed and I think it was mutual agreement that he step down and quietly disappear.
What sorts of story, gameplay, and tonal changes can you cite across the different versions? For example, there are claims that the game was originally darker/more violent, that it in its earliest stages featured RPG-like elements, and that the storyline in the final version of the game was vastly simplified by comparison to the Brian Moriarty version. Any truth to those things?
It's been too long to remember if the early version was darker, or not. Brian's version was a little dark, but I don't remember how it compares to Sean's. There was a part where a guy gets his hand stuck in a crack and has to cut it off in order to survive. And I cannot remember if Sean left it in. And the character Sean cut out went crazy in Brian's version. I think he kind of based him on Dobbs, the Humphrey Bogart character in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Things like that. And, as I said before, Noah's version was much more like an RPG in that you had to keep finding provisions. But that was also kind of a problem. It was an adventure game and players don't want to spend a lot of their puzzle-solving time looking for edible plants, etc. every time their hunger level increased. That could be interesting if it's done right. But I think it's a lot more fun to solve puzzles in the old point-and-click style of gaming.
As for the story line from Brian's to Sean's, I don't know. I know Sean changed a lot of things, but also tried to keep as much as possible in order to speed things along. He did remove the one character; a Japanese guy named Toshi. So I'm sure there was a lot of simplifying in order to get it completed in a timely manner. Brian's asteroid interior, at one point, was a maze. I think there were something like 20 crystal rooms in it! And it would be different each time you played. As I recall, that wasn't in Sean's version. Thank goodness.
Describe the process of creating a piece of background art for The Dig.
I always do a thumbnail to get a feel for the layout. Then I draw a larger rough version, actual size for scanning. After getting final approval, and making any needed changes, I usually do a tighter version. But the Dig backgrounds were so organic that I usually jumped right in. I would first do a color study in Deluxe Paint. Then I painted everything with black and white poster paint and colorized them in the computer. I mapped the black and white scans to the color study palette in DPaint. It sounds a little complicated, but pretty easy once I got a system down.
Ken painted with gouache and casein paints because they are opaque and make the process much quicker. It gives a nice crisp look, too, that scanned better. But in those early days when all the scanned art had to be reduced to less than 200 colors (more like 150, I think) nothing looked very good to my eye. It was pixilated and filled with "artifacts" that I hated. A lot of retouching had to be done in DPaint. Photoshop wasn't quite there yet, even though we played around with it some. In the end I figured out how to scan black and white paintings and colorize them. It totally eliminated the artifacts and actually made it go quicker. I was painting three backgrounds a day! I was very proud of the final result, given that no one out there had anything that looked as good at the time. And when they showed it at game conventions people didn't know how I did it. They either thought it was high resolution or millions of colors. But it was in fact something like 250 by 300 pixels and 150 colors. But by the time the game finally came out a lot of the technical problems had been resolved, games were using higher resolution, and so on, and my neat little innovation was completely lost. Bill Tiller made all of his changes and additions in Photoshop, which had evolved enough by then. Those were the days.
This is a big adventure game, and as such it has a ton of backgrounds. Do you know how many of the paintings in the final game are your own? Was there a particular area of the alien planet that you especially enjoyed stylistically?
I painted a total of 100 backgrounds, though I think maybe 60 made it in the final cut. And many of those were modified, sometimes a lot, by Bill Tiller. I know this will sound odd, but I love painting rocks. Don't know why, but I've always loved it. So anywhere on the planet where you see really stylistic, but realistic, rocks, that's when I was having the most fun.
How involved were you with story or puzzle-creation aspects of the game?
Initially quite a bit. All the mathematics and geometry was my idea, though Brian did it in a very different way than I would have. Perhaps his approach was simpler, easier to make puzzles from. I would have made it just as hard, or easy, but put things a little more radical than Pythagoras's theorem. Brian continued to change a lot even after I finished all the pre-production design and started painting backgrounds, so in the end I probably only had a few things in the final version, though I know I had a lot of influence early on.
What sort of challenges did the artists face in creating and animating the characters? For example, there are stories that the character animations were redone at the last minute, and that during the Moriarty version a story point called for characters to switch from right to left-handed (and thus had to be animated twice).
Haha! I forgot about that. I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot of things, dang it. There was a 4-dimensional Kline bottle in the game. One of the mathematical puzzles. When the characters passed through it they were reversed. I can't remember how that worked as a puzzle but it's still an interesting idea. I think there was something like a key, or geometric shape, but it didn't fit something. But if you remembered the Kline bottle, and took it through, it would flip like a mirror image and fit the lock. The animations didn't have to be redone for it from scratch, but someone had to take each frame of art, flip it, and rewire it. Crazy! Also, Brian wanted realistic walking animations so we borrowed George treadmill from his office and video-taped people walking. The animators had to rotoscope, or paint pixels, over the video. It was a disaster. The resolution was way too low to really make it work. So in the end everything was redone because of that. Boy, the animators really hated that whole fiasco.
It's said that the game actually at one point ran not on the SCUMM engine, but rather a new engine called StoryDroid. Do you remember anything about this engine, the specifics of the interface, and why it was created/scrapped?
I think Story Droid was the name of George's digital film editing stuff at Skywalker Ranch. I could be wrong about that…it's been a while. The program we were using on The Dig was Landrou (I can't remember how it was spelled, pronounced like land-drew), named after the evil computer on one of the old Star Trek episodes. The SCUMM programmers fought it, tooth and nail, which is why when I realized something was wrong with the programming, and some of the SCUMM people agreed with me, management figured it was just part of that rivalry. SCUMM was a game engine from the early days of computer technology, and although it evolved, it hadn't evolved quite enough graphically. The main power of Landrou was that it could animate stuff really well compared to SCUMM. The problem was that it was an animation engine and not a game engine, so it had to be built into a game engine first, which meant a lot of time and money spent on just that. The SCUMMers kept saying if they had the same time and money they could make SCUMM animate just as well. And it was already a mature game engine. So they had a good point. You know, the more I think about it, maybe Story Droid was what they were calling it as it evolved into a game engine. Edit Droid was the editing system. It's just been so long.
I was for Landrou only because I wanted to do fantastic animations that we take for granted nowadays. ILM even did some cool animations for us that SCUMM couldn't possibly have handled. (Remember, this was just before all the neat 3D modeling software, so only ILM could do that stuff at the time.) I used to go over to the ILM viewing room and look at the dailies of the animations they were working on for us, and right next to me, on a different screen, would be the early stuff for Jurassic Park. But, like I said, by the time the game finally came out it was no big deal; everyone else was already doing stuff like that. But it would have been something if we'd gotten it out on time. Landrou got scrapped when everyone blamed the programming problems on it. And, for the most part, they were probably right.
It's my understanding that over the course of the game's particularly long production, the method of creating artwork switched from hand drawn illustration that would be subsequently scanned, to "pixel painting." Could you elaborate a bit on this?
Bill Tiller did everything in Photoshop. They didn't even have Photoshop on PCs back during my time on The Dig. I would have used it if they did. Everything got better, including, if not especially, Wacom tablets. But back then everything was in transition.
Although you've remained an artist, you've also become involved more in the design aspect of video games than you perhaps were in 1995. From the perspective of a designer, what do you think The Dig's strengths and weaknesses were?
I've always thought it was too "pedestrian." We could have blown it out of the water with amazing designs of an alien world. Ken Macklin's art was more like that. I had concept drawing that I still think were much cooler than the final game. But Brian liked that very sparse, flat, "boring" look. I think he liked the surrealism of it. In reality, I think he was just rebelling against the lush, ornate designs on Noah's version. I tried to change his mind. It could have been just as surreal, but with a lot more visual elements in the design.
What's your take on the reason for the game's extremely lengthy and troubled development, and its immense success upon finally getting released?
Its success I don't know. Maybe it was fun, after all. And maybe everyone was so tired of waiting maybe they just couldn't resist to see what all the fuss was about. And, as I said before, the project was cursed because everyone working on it, the project leaders anyway, had "stars in their eyes." Just tell me how much money you have to spend, and what you're game engine can do, and I'll blow your mind within those parameters. But what often happens is people sit around thinking about it, and the idea that looked really cool yesterday starts to look old-fashioned today and you start meddling with it. But, at some point, you know an idea is good and you live with it and move on to the next problem to solve. You may wake up in the middle of the night with a better idea, and, if there's time, you may go "enhance" it. But usually there isn't a lot of time and you smile sheepishly, lament at a lost opportunity for perfection, and move on. It comes with the creative life. That is NOT what happened on The Dig. That's what happened on Fate of Atlantis, too.
Does it surprise you that so many people continue to remember these old adventure games as fondly and passionately as they do?
Yes! Naturally, I think they were great. But my experience was from the other side making them. I guess I missed out on the thrill of playing them. I've played other games by other companies, and had fun. But it was always with an eye for checking out, and usually laughing at, the competition. But even if I didn't work on games like Monkey Island 2, I watched it grow up right next to me while working on Fate of Atlantis and The Dig, so even when I got to play it there was very little that surprised and delighted. Maybe the games are just like toys. And we never forget the joy they gave us. Or the movies we loved. I have DVDs of most the neat movies from my childhood. Maybe it's the same sort of thing. But I'll be honest, when I was working on them I used to say that in 50 years people will remember, and even own, their favorite childhood movies, and no one will remember any of the crap we were doing. Maybe I was wrong. I bet you I wasn't, though. In 50 years even Halo will be only a vague memory, but the original King Kong will live forever!
At some point the game starred four astronauts instead of three, and a version of the game's cover that made it to a magazine preview even has all four protagonists on it. Do you have any idea if the airbrushed character's feet still being visible on the final box art was an intentional "flub?"
Is it really? I never noticed. I'll take a look next chance I have. I actually reworked the image in PS when they removed the character, but I'm not sure that was the version they ended up using. I don't remember why I think that, but there was something went wrong and they had to hire someone else to redo it. Maybe he left the feet in!
Considering the circumstances, there's got to be a lot of unseen artwork for this game. Is it all stored away in a closet somewhere at LucasArts, or what?
Yep. Lots and lots of cool stuff sitting in drawers, completely unloved and ignored. I would just love to see it again, after all these years. There was a web page with a bunch of unfinished, and early versions, of artwork from Fate of Atlantis. I have no idea how people got a hold of that stuff! But seeing it again caused me a flood of memories because it was just Avril, James, and me creating it. I would love to have some of that stuff because it jogs the memories. It's like a time machine where you get to go back to earlier moments in life. I love that. Makes you wonder how much you've forgotten. Whenever I talk to others from back then they always remember things I said or did that I can't. But when I see the artwork it first seems like deja vu, then it starts to come back.
Any interesting anecdotes or war stories about the production you're up to sharing?
People always laugh about this story. One time when we were going down to L. A. to see Spielberg our plane arrived early and we decided to hang out at the Universal Studio theme park for a few hours before our meeting. It was before laptops so Brian had this big, ugly "portable" computer that was the size of a suitcase. As we were leaving the theme park we asked a taxi driver to take us to the front of Universal Studios. He refused, saying the studio doesn't allow it. Here was Brian with this idiotic suitcase so you know the driver thought we were a bunch of fans hoping to glimpse a movie star. We kept telling him that it would be okay so he finally agreed. We didn't help matters by laughing about the glow-in-the dark ETs stamped on the back of our hands when we exited the park. We were afraid Spielberg would see them. Not sure why, but it seemed embarrassing at the time.
When we got to the front gate the taxi driver sunk down in his seat, expecting the worst. The "cops" came to the back window, where the three of us were seated, and asked what our business was. Lucy Bradshaw said, "Brian Moriarty and Bill Eaken from Lucasfilm here to see Steven Spielberg." The taxi driver looked at me in his rearview mirror with a look of shock. He said, "You guys just said the magic words," as he sat back up in his seat grinning. They found us on a list of expected arrivals and sent us in. Our driver followed a colored line painted on the streets, as we passed movie sets and all kinds of neat stuff like that. Even the driver was having fun. He'd never been on the back lot before. I was trying to see everything without looking like such a rooky.
After meeting with Spielberg (where he loved the concept art I brought, and asked to keep them) we said we had a few more hours to kill before catching our plane. We jokingly asked if he had any suggestions for rides back at the park. He said the ET ride. His assistants said he was very proud of that ride, since he helped design it. So they loaded us on an Amblin golf cart (of course, he's dissolved Amblin nowadays and has DreamWorks) and took us through another part of the Universal Studios back lot, through a secret door, and right to the ET ride. The assistants in Amblin uniforms, or whatever you'd call them, took us right to the head of the line and let us on. Everyone in the line was looking at us, trying to figure out who we were and why we were taking that big stupid suitcase on the ride. It must have been a funny sight and we were laughing our heads off about it during the ride. Incidentally, about a year later a package arrived from Amblin addressed to me, care of Lucas Arts. It was the concept art I left. I didn't know it at the time, but as Amblin was getting ready to close up and Spielberg was moving from the back lot of Universal to start DreamWorks, someone found the art (actually, just copies). There was a sticker on the back that said, "Return to," and my name with the Lucas Arts address. The people who found it probably didn't have a clue what it was and instead of filing it away just did what the sticker said. They are terrible color copies, but are the only images I have left from the early days of the game. I think one of them even shows Toshi.
Thanks for your time, Bill.
Thank you! It's always fun. Helps me to keep remembering.
It's my understanding that you came onto The Dig under Brian Moriarty. How/when did you get involved with project?
I got lured to Lucas Arts by Collette Michaud, head of the art department. She wooed me there with beautiful screen shots from the Fate of Atlantis. So I said, "Sure, being a big Star Wars fan, I'd love to work for George Lucas." And then she said it was a Spielberg game and I was even more excited. When I got there I learned that the game had already been done once by a previous team but was cancelled and then restarted. And I was to be part of the restart. I wasn't actually part of the beginning of the restart either. Design and animation had already begun, so it was a bit odd. This was the summer of 1992. Brian was a quirky energetic nerdish programmer type who loved to talk about a lot of interspersing topics and was really passionate about what he was doing.
The Dig was one of your earlier credits. Tell us a little bit about what it was like to be an employee of the George Lucas studio in the era that you joined it.
Exciting and kind of scary too. I arrived at this kind of boring looking building in a not so great part of San Raphael. But once I got inside it was cool. There were lots of TV screens with unreleased games on them, there were lots of people moving around getting work done, and cool art work everywhere. It was a great environment. It was an old office ILM and the Lucas Amusement park attractions company used to use, so there were a lot of Star Wars props and Star Wars matte paintings all over the place, and a huge model of a roller coaster sitting on a drafting table. The office space was not all close up and stuffy, the lighting was dim, and everybody had cool gadgets and messy desks. It was wonderful. I was worried I wouldn't fit in. I was right to be worried, because I didn't. I had just come from four years of hanging out with traditional animators, who liked bright offices, animation tables and only used paper and pencil. Now it was all computer screens, dev kits and video monitors- very high tech. It took some getting used to for sure. But life calmed down and I got the hang of it. It was a bit like a geeky sci-fi version of the comic strip Dilbert - I even got the proverbial water hose blast in the face for a proposing a new idea my first week, just like in Dilbert!
Was there any sort of pressure in working on a game that had Spielberg's name on it? Do you know if he was happy with the final product?
Yeah I thought it was fun because I loved both movies he was talking about: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Forbidden Planet. And it was fun talking with Bill Eaken and Brian Moriarty about the game and what Spielberg had said - they actually got to meet with him and brainstorm. So I was just out of school and thinking to myself: Spielberg's going to see this animation I am doing and then give me a job directing his next film! I'd better make this animation good.
Well that motivation seemed to work because pretty quickly I got the reputation of being a really good and fast animator, who sometimes screwed up his anatomy- not my strong suite to be sure. I don't think Spielberg was completely happy with the final product because it took so long (three and a half versions, and six years I think) and the game looked about two years old by the time it had come out. But I think he thought it was good overall. I'm sure George Lucas was annoyed.
Your were involved across multiple incarnations of the game. What sorts of changes were made between the game's "reboots?"
Well the dumb thing we did between Brian's and Sean's Dig is keep the characters too small. They looked old compared to Full Throttle even though those games use the same SCUMM engine and the same 256 colors and 320x200 resolution, but because our characters were small - about 40 pixels tall - and not as big as Full Throttle characters at 60-80 pixels tall- they looked out dated. That little change had a big effect on the look of the game, like the game was shot in long shot the whole time, with no close ups and intimacy. The game was just not as dramatic because of that. So to make up for their dinky size we did a lot of FMV cut scenes to make the story more dramatic, because it worked so well in Full Throttle. But we should have just dumped all the old art and started form scratch to make the game look more modern.
What was the technique used to create the backgrounds for Brian's version of The Dig?
Bill Eaken started doing the backgrounds on The Dig by painting on white poster board in black and white. Bill likes real paint and the digital paint programs weren't that great at the time, and only on Macs. So he would scan the painting into the computer and using Debablelizer to make two palettes for the image, one on the left side of the palette display, and one on the other. Then he'd tint one image a warm hue and then tint another copy of that same hue a cool, and then place them on top of each other in Dpaint and paint the bottom layer through. This way he could quickly adjust the colors of the image without having to repaint it at all. It was quite ingenious, really, and sped the painting process up by quite a bit. I added a twist to this technique when I took over by painting the black and white version digitally in, then using his same technique. And after that I would adjust the colors in Photoshop rather than in Dpaint because Photoshop had better features for color adjustment.
Do you have any knowledge or theory as to why Moriarty departed the company once he left the project?
Yeah, I think he got fed up with all the responsibility of the project and felt he wouldn't be able to live up to all these unrealistic expectations. And at the same time he got lured away by big money at Rocket Science. I think Lucas Management just put too much pressure on him, and he put a lot on himself, and the name Spielberg carries even more. It was just too much for one guy to carry alone. I didn't envy his position, though at the time I was disappointed in his leaving- all that work I had done was going to be trashed and the game might be canceled! But now I don't blame him at all- I totally sympathize with him.
From an art standpoint, did The Dig introduce any technical innovations that allowed you to do effects that you weren't able to previously?
We stole some old ideas from ILM. They used to animate black pencil and pen on paper and then reverse it in the film to make beams of light and bolds, and laser beams. So we did that but used the palette to turn it negative. And then we used the palette manipulation program DK to blend the affects together. Then we used a shading technique used in Roger Rabbit to shade the flat characters in the game. So we tried using some old techniques in a new way for the game. Some of it looked great and some of it looked so-so.
How much input did you have on the game's art direction and visual style? Was it already determined by the time you were brought on board, or did you have room to contribute?
Yeah, it was already determined before I was hired, but after Bill left and I took over I adjusted it quite a bit, but also wanted to make sure the changes I made still fit in with the game. The biggest change was the design of the characters between the Moriarty version and the Sean Clark version. I wasn't a character designer so I didn't have much to do with the characters.
You and Bill Eaken are known to continue to collaborate together to this day. What sort of working relationship did the two of you have during production on The Dig?
Well I hung around him a lot to see how he did his stuff, so he sort of mentored me and I learned a lot from him. It was cool. Really, that is one of the best ways to get to be a better artist - to hang out with and be taught by great artists and illustrators. I also learned a lot form Paul Mica, Peter Chan, Larry Ahern and Steve Purcell. Lucas arts had more of their fair share of good artists.
Us fans have always had a bit of a challenge piecing together The Dig's long and complex history based on as many accounts as we can get a hold of. Is it true that one of the causes of the cancellation of the Moriarty version was the time and budget-consuming hand painted backgrounds that his version mandated, and that "computer drawn" backgrounds were part of the reason Clark's version met its deadlines?
Brian's version was cancelled because he had too much stuff on his plate and not enough time. They wanted him to get the game assets done on time which we just about did, and get the brand new adventure game engine (not SCUMM) done, and to get this complex game fully written and designed. It was too much for one guy. And that really got to Brian. He wanted to do as much of the game by himself as possible so that it was truly his vision, but I think he felt overwhelmed by the vastness of game, which required so much graphics programming and asset creation. He was used to low-res graphics and a small intimate team of maybe four people or less. Twelve people was four times what he was used to. Then there is the pressure of doing the first Spielberg/Lucas game. I mean, come on! That is a tough, tough position for one guy to be in. No one wanted to take his place after he left and be under that much pressure. I don't blame them. I think given enough time he could have pulled it off just fine. But PR and marketing wanted to start ramping up and sales people wanted it for Christmas. It was all a bit crazy.
Why do you think the company was so insistent on continuing to make the game after all of the failed attempts, instead of just outright canceling it?
Three words -Spielberg, Spielberg, and Spielberg. They thought that the game was so hyped it would have to be a big hit. To not release Spielberg's first game, especially when Spielberg's close friend's company was doing it…. Lets just say George Lucas would have been very annoyed. So the company felt it was best to get it done rather than cancel it. Sean, Gary and I made sure the final version got out the door. All three of us were determined, through thick of thin, to get the game done and get it done well. We willed that game over the finish line. I am sure we all lost years off our lives because of that project.
Have Lucas and Spielberg ever played the final game from start to finish as far as you know?
Spielberg did for sure. I don't think George did. George isn't much of game player, but Spielberg is very much.
What are your feelings on it as a gamer?
It is a good long adventure game with a good story and a lot of tough and varied puzzles. I think the cut scenes and dialogue could have been better. But we needed to get it done, so when we made a few mistakes like that we were forced to live with it and move on.
What are your feelings on it as someone who has since worked in design and directorial aspects of games (such as on AVS)?
My feelings are that the game needed a bit more playtesting from fans earlier on so we could have adjusted the game more to their liking, and I think we should have redesigned the characters and made them bigger, and probably had a better character designer do them. And the dialogue needed to be more entertaining. Other than that it is a good looking, well animated, well designed game that had great music, art, animation and sound. I think it really excelled in creating the sense of being on a haunted alien world. It wasn't great, but it was pretty good game and a lot of hard work went into it and I think that shows. I give it 8.5 out of ten.
Any production anecdote/war story you want to share?
Artists who had worked on the first Dig - Noah Falstien's - after it was cancelled tried to pitch it as a Boba Fett adventure game using the same art and design. They wanted to save all their hard work and use it in a game somewhere. I think Marketing said "Nobody knows who Boba Fett is" and that he wasn't a popular enough character. That was hard to believe and a bit disappointing. I think it would have been a great way to recoup their investment.