Saturday 19 February 2011


Dig Du-oh.. erm.. DIGGER from Windmill software, built for the IBM PC in the glorious year of 1983. A year later Thatcher took on the miner's strike, so digging was a big deal back in the day. It wasn't the fact mines were being closed and trade union laws were being altered like the media might claim - it was because the Conservative administration refused to tackle the threat of Nobbins and Gobbins.

On the surface, Digger looks like a Dig Dug clone, but before someone wrongly claims that this is a bad thing, it's also worth noting there's a twist! Your mission is no longer to eliminate all life forms with a can of compressed air, but rather, to collect all the green coloured gems without being killed.

As usual, this is no easy task. Enemies will hunt you down and show no mercy, and for the majority of the time, Digger is defenseless. By pressing F1 he (or she) can fire a projectile which can take out an enemy, but this comes paired with a charging time, so is more of a last resort than a weapon you can use on the fly.

Unlike Dig Dug, digging tunnels isn't a clean affair in Digger. As you can see from the screenshots on this page, Digger carves out a little more dirt when changing direction, making you open to attack from nearby tunnels. This means you can't use Dig Dug-style tactics in this game, and can often lead to entire maps being carved out before the level ends, and this makes the game far more tricky than it looks.

Furthermore unlike Dig Dug where the enemies can travel through walls at the expense of speed, the Gobbins in Digger are capable of burying through walls, making them a very dangerous threat. Similar to Dig Dug you can use the buried sacks of money as falling rocks, and as they only "break" after a long drop they're reusable. Furthermore they can be pushed left and right, by both you AND enemies, and after "breaking" the contents can be collected for extra points.

And for a 1983 IBM PC game, this means that Digger is a surprisingly deep game which can cultivate numerous types of playing style. It's more open than Dig Dug, less repetitive as the maps are always different and is more difficult to master than you might expect.

But it doesn't quite beat Dig Dug, prominently because although it was ahead of its time upon release, it did not take into account the idea of improved computers. Digger was designed for the 1981-spec IBM PC and it rejects most upgrades. It has to be run on a CGA graphics card and it has to be played on a machine with a 4.77MHz processor, otherwise things won't render correctly.

DOSBox is, of course, your logical option, and I have a slightly out of date guide for it. For those interested, you need to set your CPU cycles to about 300 for the best result.

But even when working, Digger clearly hasn't aged well. The 4-colour CGA graphics won't appeal to everyone and the sprite flicker that comes from turning down clock cycles to that level doesn't help matters. But if you can look past this there's a fantastic game here, and one that is cutting edge for 1983.

It has a soundtrack, and although this consists of the musical instrumental Popcorn and various classical public domain tunes, it's remarkable for a 1983 DOS game to have music. It took until the advent of Adlib sound cards (showing up in games around 1991) for this sort of thing to start sounding dated in the world of DOS.

Even the graphics look great considering the limitations. Compared to say, the official DOS port of Dig Dug, Digger looks excellent. It's only let down by the fact it was released for the IBM PC in 1983 - miles behind the technology seen in the arcades and constantly challenged by home consoles (and rival computer technologies).

1983 Digger isn't difficult to find on the net these days, but if you're not overly thrilled with the concept of DOSBox and oldness, there's also a updated 1998 version titled "Digger Remastered". This is more of a clean-up operation than an expansion, giving the game 640x480 VGA graphics (sort of) and making it run on both DOS and Windows.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Digger is its recently released "Digger HD", available for the PlayStation 3. As well as including the DOS original, there's a spiced up version with brand new levels and sounds, but predictably it's been ignored by the mainstream media because nobody knows the game is almost 28 years old.

Digger stands as one of the best games built for CGA graphics cards (not including the likes of Commander Keen and Jill of the Jungle that have CGA graphics support as a secondary option). It's top class stuff that shouldn't be missed.


  1. Oh damn, I remember playing this game before online. (No joke, I actually did)

  2. You might like this, then: