Later this week, the asteroid YU55 will pass close to the Earth. How close? Like, between the moon and the Earth close. PC gamers may remember the last time this happened, in 1995.
Back then, it was the asteroid Attila, and unlike YU55 - which should pass by harmlessly - it was headed straight for us. And our only hope of salvation lay in the hands of Steven Spielberg, Orson Scott Card and the T-1000.
The game I'm talking about is of course The Dig, one of the strangest and most interesting games to ever come out of 1990's PC powerhouse Lucasarts. Arriving at the vanguard of the late-90s fascination with giant asteroids, seen in movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact, The Dig was a game that flaunted starpower and marketing like no other adventure game before or since.
The basic premise of The Dig, involving a team of astronauts exploring an alien planet, was conceived by Steven Spielberg, who had intended to first use it as the basis of an episode for his Amazing Stories TV series, and then later as a motion picture. He ended up doing neither, as the budget and technology required to do it justice simple weren't available at the time.
So instead, the story was handed off to his pal George Lucas, who in 1989 set Lucasarts to work turning Spielberg's story into an adventure game. Unlike most other adventure games to come out of the studio at the time, work on The Dig was a mess; it would take six years to get the game finished, during which time it went through four project leads and a number of complete re-writes.
By the time the game was released in 1995, its story went like this: a giant asteroid, Attila, is on a collission course with Earth. So a team of scientists and astronauts are sent to land on the thing and detonate explosives, which it's hoped will cause it to shift into orbit, thus saving the planet. Instead, they discover the asteroid is actually a starship, which whisks them off to a ruined, near-deserted alien planet.
You spend most of the game trying to get back home again, using decaying alien technology and exploring the unknown world. There's even time to meet some aliens.
While the final product bore little resemblance to Spielberg's original story, he is still credited as one of the game's writers, alongside sci-fi legend Orson Scott Card, who was brought in to write most of the game's dialogue. Adding to the starpower was the casting of Robert Patrick (best known as the T-1000 in Terminator 2) as the game's star, Commander Boston Low, a rare move for games in general at the time, let alone 2D adventure titles.
Owing to the big names and protracted development cycle, not to mention a promotional campaign that made the game look like a movie, The Dig attracted an unhealthy amount of pre-release hype, which the finished product - being an adventure game - was never going to meet. Nonetheless, by the time fans finally got their hands on The Dig, most people's reactions were positive, and while it failed to really win people's hearts like other Lucasarts titles, it's still seen as a solid adventure game. The game's sweeping soundtrack is particularly well-remembered.
If you'd like to check it out, the game is currently $5 on Steam. It's very much worth it; like many of its peers, time has been kind to The Dig, its sprites looking just as good today as they did at release.