Namco’s Dig Dug: An arcade classic remains so after all these years

So, a bunch of people read the Moonwalker article, and I was riding high. It had been several years since I actually got paid for writing something, and though money wasn’t (and still isn’t, for I love the craft itself) a motivating factor, it felt good to think that finally my talents would be recognized in a more…material way for a change. Unfortunately, little clown Ben Shapiro is right about one thing at least: Facts don’t care about feelings, and the fact was that many people read the article–but not enough for Examiner to right a check. So, upon discovering this, I decided to stop holding back and just be as wacky as I wanted to be. And that is how I chose Dig Dug as my next subject.

Of all games, why Dig Dug?  Because of a high school memory.

Way back when I was in high school, a Catholic theology teacher and moderator of the Sci-Fi Club I was a part of had a Dig Dug cabinet in his room.  If the room was empty and you had the quarters, you could play for as long as you liked.  Well, someone did, and someone got the high score.  That someone also named themselves “ASS”.  So, every time the attract mode flipped over to the high scores, ASS was very plainly displayed at the top.  Every teenage student thought it was hilarious, and it took weeks (and increasing bribery from said theology teacher) to replace the high score with a more PG name. I personally tried several times, with the intention of replacing ASS with “FUK”, but to no avail. Alas…the missed opportunities of youth.

Of course, the thing the teacher didn’t know was that there’s a switch inside the cabinet that clears the scores…and we didn’t tell him until after ASS’s score was beaten.

Regarding the article itself: Cy Brown’s site is no longer operational–which is a shame.  He pretty much built a bunker in his backyard and chronicled the entire process.  Unfortunately, Wayback Machine wasn’t quick enough to capture Cy’s site before it went down, so the link below is really just for archival purposes.


Originally published at Examiner.com on July 14, 2009.

Ah, Dig Dug. You are so awesome a game that Namco could not possibly think of a better title than one which combines both the present and past tenses of the word “dig”. But you don’t just break grammar rules, Dig Dug. No, no. Not you. You also spit on Einstein and his theory of the cosmological constant by having absolutely no end. Indeed, you go on forever, eating quarter after quarter for round upon round. And story? Who needs that? Not you, Dig Dug. Oh, sure, in Japan there’s a whole epic saga concerning your main character and his quest to rid the land of monsters or something. Here in the good ol‘ U.S. of A., though, you’re just a game where some guy digs holes under someone else’s garden and uses a bicycle pump to blow up dragons and bespectacled spheres. I have no idea from whence the bicycle pump comes or into which orifice the bicycle pump finds itself, nor do I have any concept of which law of physics is broken when a non-elastic creature is popped like a balloon. All I know is that you, Dig Dug, are fun and addictive and, unlike drugs, most will never be able to quit you.

Title screen from the NES version of Dig Dug which is, in truth, like every other version.

Yes, folks, Dig Dug is a slice of fun from long ago (1982 to be precise). But what, pray tell, was the inspiration for such a game? Why, digging holes, of course! You see, in real life, a person can dig holes and, once the person has done so, the holes themselves will have been dug. How does one go about digging a hole? A shovel and loads of strenuous work. Don’t ask me anymore than that as digging is manual labor and, due to a manual labor allergy I have, I avoid digging like the plague. But holes themselves (the aftermath of digging) certainly have their usefulness. Holes dug in a cemetery (more commonly known as “graves”) keep the dead from rising and assaulting the living at night. Historically, Austrian dictators have used holes called “bunkers” to escape justice. Long holes often called “tunnels” aid in the transportation of goods and employees. And not one of these uses apply to Dig Dug in any capacity whatsoever.

Picture courtesy of Cy Brown, a master hole-smith.  This is pictorial proof that holes exist.

As has been said, Dig Dug is a game about digging holes and popping monsters. The holes themselves are seemingly dug for the purpose of popping monsters (with popping monsters not being a secondary concern to digging holes). Skilled players can use rocks to aid them in their monster-killing and, occasionally, vegetables that the player can pick up for extra points will appear, but the above stated is generally the main object of the game. Even though this is a simple concept (as is common for early arcade games), the game has stood the test of time and remains a popular arcade classic to this day. Classic gamers searching for a touch of old time can find Dig Dug on virtually any Namco compilation disk (most recently on Namco Museum Virtual Arcade for the Xbox 360), the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, and literally billions of flash-based game sites on the internet.

Tactical digging action.

If you haven’t played this game yet, you’re the only one on earth and I highly suggest you play it immediately. It certainly beats digging.

-LINKS-

For more info on DigDug and digging in general: Dig Dug on the Wii Virtual Console, Dig Dug on XBox Live Arcade, Ed’s Dig Dug Page, Dig Dug by Hadre de Jager, Cy Brown’s “The Hole”: The story of a man digging a hole


So, the great thing about Namco is that you can spit in any direction and hit one of their classic arcade collections. They are excellent at keeping their retro library in circulation–specifically, their greatest hits (of which Dig Dug is, of course, one).

But that’s also the bad thing about Namco.

While Namco should be praised for being in love with their masterpieces, their good-but-not-great games are largely overlooked when it comes to making them commercially available in modern times. Feel like checking out Gee Bee, Namco’s very first arcade release? Better track down an arcade that carries it. Want to see if you can claim the high score in a game of Phozon? Too bad it hasn’t been released since the days of Namco Museum on the Sony PlayStation (Volume 3, to be exact)–except on an iOS app that’s no longer available, so that’s absolutely no help. Think that Starblade might be a game you want to try? Tough shit, asshole: Learn to time travel to 1996 and buy it for the Playstation, or head back to 2009 when the Nintendo Virtual Console was still operational (but Starblade was a Japan-only Virtual Console exclusive, so learn Japanese while you’re at it). Unless you want Pac-Man, Dig Dug, or Galaga, you’re likely fucked anymore.

Things could be much worse with Namco, admittedly; if they were like Konami, it would have taken them literal decades to re-release even their flagship classics (Castlevania, Contra). Yes, they could be worse–but they have been better. And that’s the frustrating part.

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