I 'Dig' This Community Game - Hey Oh!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I long thought of removing the pun in the title of this article, so just go ahead and ignore it. And if Melech sees me at PAX this year--and that's very likely--he has permission to punch me in the arm and call me a "pun-happy-sonofabitch." If little-Melech is there, he can call me something more Disney, and I'll accept that, too.

Miner Dig Deep is possibly the strongest title on Xbox Live's Community Game scene. It's definitely one of the most unique. Taking the roll of a lonely miner, your quest is to dig--yep--as deep as you possibly can, into the earth, seeking riches to sell like Iron Ore, Small Gold Nuggets, and Diamonds. Sell those for money and buy some better equipment so you can dig deeper and get more expensive minerals. The concept is deceptively simple, but the game is incredibly addictive.

The way you get down into the earth is largely up to you, but the game offers a few specific tools at your fingertips. At the beginning of the game you have a rudimentary pick-axe, which you'll be able to replace with a better one once you find enough "Blueprints"--arbitrarily placed artifacts deep in the earth. You can jump and climb out two blocks deep, but if you get yourself stuck too far in the ground, you'll have to call for assistance to the surface, losing your haul of jewels in the process. Ladders and, later on, elevator shafts allow you easy access to the darker recesses of the earth.

You start with a small lantern, which illuminates the dense dirt around you and lets you see where falling rocks, minerals, or other things are. Your job is to find enough minerals to make each trip worth it, to make your yeild initially pay off the cost of refilling your lantern, which is constantly using oil when you're below the surface.

The weirdest thing is, as far as I can tell, there's no bottom. You dig and dig and sell and sell. I've found some interesting things down there. I've found a couple teleporters. Some falling rocks. Some abandoned mine-shafts. Some icy precipices. And yet I keep on digging and the game keeps on going and going.

My wife thought that she had the game figured out, so she started making checkerboard-like digs where she'd dig laterally until she reached the side, then she'd go down two levels and do it again. She would mine every mineral that way, get everything on her way down. Her mine would be neat, partitioned, orderly.

But when she made it about ten levels down, her mine became unstable. Her controller shook madly, and the screen kept warning her "Cave in imminent!" The earth began to fill in her overly ambitious project. Her mine was collapsing.

All this from a game that costs 200 MS points.

Miner Dig Deep
is easily one of my favorite Xbox 360 games, not just Community games. It's pure gameplay, pure lonesome digging, and pure fun. The alienation I feel while going down into more unstable and foreign territory has only been matched by Dead Space; even though Miner Dig Deep is cartoony, even though it's just a game, there's always as you play this widening detatchment from civilization--symbolized by a single shop and a tent which you've pitched at the surface--there's the feeling that time, in the form of your always shrinking light supply, is always against you.

There's an interview at this location for your reading pleasure--if you're into the indy scene and like hearing from low-budget devs talking about how they came about making their title.

Here's the XNA Roundup of Miner Dig Deep, so you can see some videos of it. Just remember that watching the game is not a good way to decide whether you're going to like it. You have to play it for a while.