Thursday, December 1, 2011

Goin' Underground: The Dig Dug Diary

My time spent hanging out with Mario and Donkey Kong has decreased considerably in the past couple years, but I still have kept a notebook of high scores handy. Among the tallies are a listing for the Plug 'N' Play version of Frogger (33,880), the just-missed-six-figures count for Galaga on PS2 (98,940), the block-building result for NES' Tetris (90,040) and an odometer reading for the Pac-Manesque Rally-X on the first PlayStation console (41,410). The entry that catches my eye the most? 106,600 points attached to the Dig Dug notation. From the first quarter drop in an upright inside a Portsmouth, VA, 7-Eleven circa 1983, Dig Dug instantly panned into one of the shiniest nuggets in a gold-filled river of arcade classics. Creating underground tunnels with each squeaky step (love the soundtrack!), your character (Dig Dug) is armed with a pump that's used to destroy red Pookas and fire-breathing dragons all sharing the first name of Fygar. You can also make kills by dropping positioned rocks on one or more pursuers. (It's quite a rush when four of them are crushed at once!) When two rocks are set free, a fruit/vegetable appears at the screen's center. Bonus lives are granted at 20,000 and 60,000 points. Over the next five contested days, I will attempt to achieve a new Dig Dug PR by surrendering ten "quarters" per session. Gather 'round the machine with your popcorn bag and favorite Pepsi product. It's time to frizzle some Fygars!

With a minuscule score of 15,810, the challenge kicked off inauspiciously. Factors to blame for the anemic total were a loose PS2 controller that had trouble centering, the inconsistencies in game volume and a humid room temperature. I was able to remedy the warmth by turning on a Patton Air Circulator to the highest setting and grabbing a towel from the hall closet. The faulty Toshiba television, however, still suffered from sound problems and began to show a flickering screen. Nonetheless, I nearly tripled my count with the follow-up credit (44,060) and took note of the once-familiar patterns employed by the Pookas and Fygars. After two pissers in the twenty-thousand range, I made the most of my fifth "quarter" by posting 44,940 points -- nearly 33,000 of them were amassed on the first life. Greediness in the seventh game (trying to drop four enemies with one rock) cost me a man early in Round 1, but conservative playing led to a nice recovery and a 36,620 final mark. Strong showings in the eighth (46,870) and tenth (51,210) tilts boosted my overall average for the session to 35,326. I'm not close to playoff-ready, but today was a decent training camp.

Last night, I inadvertently had the screen scroll function turned on. Flipping it off this evening made no immediate difference in my scores, as I continued to dig, pump and drop at a 40-thou clip. The fourteenth game, however, proved to be anything but routine. Shattering the challenge's top effort by almost 30,000 points, I tunneled all the way to Round 15 (bettering last night's peak by five) and tapped out at 80,330. Additional runs of 64,930 and 52,820 pushed tonight's average to 48,332. Still, the number could've been greater. Much like past Galaga behaviors, I found myself repeatedly trapped in the lower right corner. Once again, greed accounted for needlessly losing many lives. That said, I completed four 6,000-point rock drops and damn near had one for eight thousand. Lastly, the taste of a high-level vegetable was worth the deadly dragon breath. Come join me under a rock tomorrow, Fygar!

Right out of the chute, I dropped enough Pookas and Fygars to land on 56,000 points. A portend for great scores to come? Not exactly. Subsequent marks of 46,680 and 53,280 were in line with my current average, but a low count of 23,260 in the twenty-fourth game was the key representation of a mistake-filled night. Flattening three Pookas with one rock on the first board has increasingly become like clockwork, but I took a few cheap hits by digging an incorrect path adjacent to the powerful boulder. Missteps were also made on the fairly forgiving Round 6, as I thrice felt the flames of Fygar due to forming a tunnel a pixel or two too far. Positives included quickly pumping four clustered enemies with a speedy trigger thumb on several occasions and collecting a higher percentage of fruits/vegetables. The mean of 44,755 was a bit under last night's number, but what's a cucumber or four amongst friends? I'm guessing that's what the green reward is on an early screen. A plantain or pickle, perhaps?

A weekend filled with live rock 'n' roll was the primary reason for an extended break from the challenge. When on solid ground, Mr. Dig Dug often spins the soundtrack from one of his favorite movies ("PCU"). His pick-to-click from the set: Mudhoney's take of Elvis Costello's oxygen-filled franchise ("Pump It Up"). Dig Dug, ahem, digs the grunge gods' version more than the angry young man's original, because it falls in line with Mark Arm and friends' predilection for offbeat covers (Roxy Music, Bette Midler, Spacemen 3, etc.). My arcade acumen suffered nary an ill effect from the prolonged siesta, as I entered initial figures of 77,080 and 59,740 into the ledger. Like David Klinger's eleven-touchdown day and Kobe's 81 versus a modern defense, the thirty-third "quarter" popped eyes and dropped jaws: I SCORED 143,850 POINTS!!! Bettering my previous high game by roughly 34%, I garnered over 70,000 of the total on the first life. The count was also fueled by several samples of 7,000-level fruits and vegetables. Rather than being rock-happy per usual, my strategy throughout the record-setting turn was to quickly create a board-width tunnel at the bottom. Luring the Pookas and Fygars into the trap, I inflated them to capacity from a safe distance and left two enemies on the screen. This gave me the freedom to release two boulders in speedy succession and gobble the central nourishment. Had it not been for palpitations and gaming sweats (Where was that gosh-darned towel?), I could've gone for 15,000-20,000 more without a hitch. Still, the quest was conquered with seventeen chances to spare. What should I do with these final ten coins?

Experimentation was why I only registered 3,160 points in the forty-first game. I tried to erase every dirt particle on the screen, but the two remaining Pookas chased me down with the velocity of Pac-Man's red ghost. Careful examination of the tutorial on YouTube should help form a black board on future attempts. More tomfoolery led to famished figures of 16,160 and 19,400, as I attempted to group five or more enemies under rocks for maximum mathematical madness. As for the other "quarters," #48 was the only token that redeemed an over-60,000 turn (83,980). 50,097 was the net of the leftover change, which would've been higher had it not contended with the persistence of annoying phone calls and the pablum of formatted classic rock. This challenge was a blast to undertake, for it reminded me why I love '80s coin-ops where the objective is to get the highest score. It's time to draw a line thru the 106,600 number in my notebook. What should I tackle next? Q*Bert? Bubble Bobble? Joust? Popeye? Root Beer Tapper? Check back in the game room soon. Happy button-mashing!


  1. Dig Dug! Now there's a game I can get into! Think I'm gonna download an iPhone app for Q Bert or Frogger. My video game tastes are like my musical tastes - stuck 30 years in the past.

  2. I'm gonna try to go for 200,000 points at Dig Dug. I'll probably need to clear 12-14 boards with one life. The fruits/veggies really add up on the higher levels. Perhaps Q*Bert is ripe for the next challenge. We'll see.

  3. I don't think I've cleared 14 boards of any video game ever.

  4. What about Ms. Pac-Man on turbo mode?

  5. I'm thinking I did 7 or 8 boards tops on Frogger and Pac-Man.

  6. Gunny. I really enjoyed this article. Im verily confident in your claims of 200k points. I believe in you!

  7. I'm having trouble clearing Round 7 consistently. Once I find the right pattern, 200,000 should be in sight. Today's high was in the 95,000 range.