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Some of you (OK, probably most of you) know that I’ve been blathering away about this idea on Twitter for a long time now. But I figure it’s probably time to put my thoughts down all in one place so that a bigger overall picture might emerge.

 

The thesis of this argument is:

 

1) that starting some time not too long after the 1977 release of Star Wars, Lucasfilm and other companies began work on a time-capsule archive of sorts;

2) with a purpose of fostering up-and-coming creative talents, and also providing a wellspring of ideas for them to draw on;

3) while also tapping into the zeitgeist of meta-game treasure hunts that were very popular in the 1980s;

4) which eventually included computer games from both LucasArts and Sierra, as well as probably other companies – and came to house several of LucasArts’ most notorious unreleased games.

 

But for me, at least, it’s best to begin the story with The DIG.

 

Part 1 – “When You Eliminate The Impossible…”

 

Why did Brian Moriarty’s The DIG fail?

 

Or, more accurately, why wasn’t a good-enough, cheap-and-cheerful version of it kicked out the door after Moriarty left LucasArts in 1993, at a point when the company had already been working on the game for nearly half a decade?

 

The answer certainly isn’t that LucasArts didn’t have talented people who could do just that. Quite the opposite.

 

Several interviews at old Mojo hosted site The Dig Museum suggest Dave Grossman (who previously worked on Noah Falstein’s DIG) took over the project after Moriarty left, intending to revise it and potentially get it out the door.

 

On the other hand, LucasArts’ Adventurer #7 magazine tells a similar story, but suggests it was Hal Barwood who took over the project.

 

This theme of contradicting and overlapping stories will become a familiar one.

 

In any case – that wasn’t what happened. Sean Clark took over the project in mid-1994, and eventually gave the project a major graphical and structural overhaul that resulted in its being delayed by over a year.

 

Which is hardly what you’d expect if LucasArts just wanted to “get the damn thing done”.

 

Nor, come to think of it, is the timeframe leading up to Moriarty’s own takeover of the project all that logical.

 

Noah Falstein worked on The DIG in 1990-91 – contemporary with Monkey Island 2 and Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis – basing it on an idea from movie mogul Steven Spielberg, not the sort of thing LucasArts was going to take lightly.

 

But when Falstein’s project itself allegedly came to grief, what did LucasArts do with this hot project idea from Steven Spielberg?

 

They sat on it for a year and had nobody work on it. At least that’s what the official histories say.

 

But again, it’s not like there was a shortage of designers available. For instance, there was Aric Wilmunder, who would later head up Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix.

 

In fact, Wilmunder had been pitching game designs since the Last Crusade era. An undated game design document by Wilmunder, Kalani Streicher, and Mike Ebert – a SF game that could be described as “The A-Team in space” - includes a “What Is” verb among the suggested verb options, a relic of early SCUMM games that was discarded by the time of Monkey Island 1.

 

A 2015 retrospective about LucasArts featuring an interview with Dave Grossman suggests that game eventually took on the title of “Second Genesis.” But the initial pitch for it had a different title: “The Secret Project: Or, The Game Which Currently Has No Name.”

 

Which raises the question: how could a game titled “The Secret Project” not have a name?

 

Another contradiction.

 

And one that’s key to unraveling this whole mystery.

 

 

Part 2 – Lies, Damn Lies, and Secret Budgets

 

The designers of The Curse of Monkey Island preferred including a five-second kilt joke to a satisfying ending.

 

At least, that’s what they told Mojo.

 

To quote Jonathan Ackley:

 

“We had a big battle cutscene at the end planned, and we cut it for budget reasons. We knew we could do two big scenes, and we picked the shipwreck in the middle of the game. Probably not the best choice, but it had this great Kilt joke we wanted. Truth is, we probably could have done the ending. I think management expected us to go over budget as it was our first project as producers so I think they probably had some secret budget for overages hidden somewhere that would have allowed us to do the scene.”

 

So… given the choice between a somewhat lame joke about a Scotsman struggling to keep down his kilt and a proper ending cutscene, they opted to axe the ending cutscene?

 

Unlikely.

 

But what’s this about LucasArts having a “secret budget”?

 

That is very interesting.

 

 

In March 2003, Bill Tiller gave an interview to The Inventory magazine in which he talked at length about Brian Moriarty’s The DIG, and revealed for the first time the identity of fourth crewmember Toshi Olema.

 

In that interview – where he also mentioned the Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix project in public for the first time – Tiller had this to say:

 

“Brian's version, (The Dig 2.0), had four characters- Judith, Brink, Boston, and Toshi. Judith's name was later change to Maggie because Sean and I were big fans of the TV show Northern Exposure. There was an actress in it whose character was named Maggie.

 

"Toshi Olema was a Japanese businessman who financed the shuttle trip to the asteroid, because NASA's funding was at an all time low. I thought that was an odd idea, because if the Earth were in mortal danger wouldn't the entire world pony up the dough to pay for their salvation? Why would you need a Japanese businessman to cover the costs? I think there was a lot of fear of Japanese business might back then- they were buying up all the LA skyscrapers, Rockefeller center in New York, the Seattle Mariners baseball teamand like one of Brianís favorite writers, Michael (Rising Sun) Chriton, I think Brian too was trying to tap into that current feeling.

 

"On The Dig 3.0, Sean changed that make up of the main characters for a few reasons. First, the inspiration for the game was the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and that had a three-character dynamic, not four. So Sean, rightly I think, tossed out Toshi. Plus it also saved money on the animation. All in all a good move. I tip my hat to Sean for that one. I didn't care for the character much because I didnít think he was needed and I didn't care for his name. Olema just isn't a Japanese name. Brian said he had a funny background story for it, but I never heard it.”

 

Tiller makes much of Toshi’s non-Japanese surname being strange and baffling, but the reason behind it is a very simple one. It’s an homage to the similarly oddball surname of Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek.

 

Which is plain enough (especially to the sort of nerds who make computer games) that Tiller ought to have known that all along.

 

And it’s not as if he was unfamiliar with this sort of Trek reference. In other interviews he’s acknowledged that the initial name of the StoryDroid engine used by Moriarty’s DIG – LANDRU – was a nod to an evil computer in a TOS episode:

 

The program we were using on The Dig was Landrou […] named after the evil computer on one of the old Star Trek episodes.

 

So he knew what sort of classic Star Trek jokes the LucasArts teams were throwing around.

 

But why would Tiller want to make the story behind Toshi Olema’s name seem strange and odd and inexplicable?

 

It seems like an adventure game puzzle of sorts.

 

Perhaps even a meta-puzzle.

 

Something like what the 21st century might call an Alternate Reality Game.

 

Or a Secret Project.

 

 

Part 3 – The Masquerade

 

In a 2015 talk in Argentina (whose only available version on YouTube is unfortunately missing the original tail end of the segment), Brian Moriarty said that his The DIG involved a larger “meta-game”.

 

 

“It had to do with mathematics.”

 

Perhaps that’s just a fancy way of saying: “look at all this stuff that doesn’t add up.”

 

Toward the end of his talk, Moriarty declared, “I don’t have anything from The DIG at all that I can show, because that would be wrong.” And then, at the very end, he had everyone shut down their cameras while he showed them something related to that topic.

 

Writers are liars, after all.

 

Embedding meta-games within computer games, or other media, wasn’t a new idea in 1993.

 

In fact, a wild craze for just that sort of thing had happened ten years earlier.

 

The Digital Antiquarian blog already told the story far better than I can, but a short summary will suffice here:

 

A British publisher approached artist Kit Williams to create a children’s book which would have clues to a treasure hunt embedded in it: a treasure hunt whose prize was a real-life golden hare buried somewhere in Britain. The clues, which Williams derived entirely on his own, were a total mess, but that didn’t matter: Masquerade was a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

Its success led to a craze for meta-game treasure hunts, of all sorts, including in computer games. Some of them were virtual treasure hunts, where an item was notionally “buried” somewhere without actually requiring the players to visit their theorized locations and dig into the soil.

 

One could call this a 1980s Alternate Reality Game.

 

Buried treasure of that sort, real or theoretical, would be a time capsule of sorts.

 

And if done in secret, it could be called a Secret Project.

 

 

Part 4 – When Star Wars Wasn’t Disney

 

Remember “the Secret Project” game that became Second Genesis?

 

It initially “had no name” – despite bearing the “Secret Project” label.

 

Perhaps it was envisioned as being made expressly to be deposited in a larger Secret Project repository.

 

Which would mean that at some point the Secret Project participants went from putting early and alternate versions of movies/games/etc. to creating works of art specifically for that archive.

Not very profitable. But then again, George Lucas’ mandate to LucasArts was “Don’t lose money.” Not “Make as much money as you possibly can.”

 

Still…

 

Why would Lucasfilm sign on to such a project?

 

Keep in mind that it wouldn’t have begun with computer games: it would have begun with movies, books, and such that were made but unreleased.

 

So it would’ve been of paramount (har) importance to the movie side of Lucasfilm first of all to come up with a reason for such an effort.

 

Why then?

 

For one thing, it would result in creating a talent academy of sorts: a series of projects where up-and-coming actors, directors, writers, and creative artists could hone their talents without the pressure of having their products immediately come into the public eye.

 

For another, it could offer a common pool of ideas for other authors to draw on, one that wouldn’t be plagued by copyright lawsuits because the works within it weren’t publicly available.

 

I suspect the above reasons alone made it attractive to companies besides Lucasfilm. Just within the realm of video games, for example, Sierra On-Line seems like a very likely participant. (For example, although Space Quest IV was the first game in that series to give protagonist Roger Wilco blond hair instead of brown, variant builds of both Space Quest II and III exist with a blond Roger – not the sort of thing one would expect from happenstance.)

 

There might also be more personal artistic reasons.

 

Steven Spielberg, an avid gamer who did things like getting into mouse fights with Ron Gilbert on visits to the LucasArts offices, might want to do it just for the fun of making a treasure-hunt like Masquerade.

 

But what about George Lucas, who by all accounts has never been a gamer?

 

The history of Star Wars might explain that.

 

In the 1983 book Skywalking, Lucas told biographer Dale Pollock: “You can make this picture for teenagers, late teenagers, early twenties, or you play it for kids, and that’s what we’re going for, eight- and nine-year-olds. This is a Disney picture.”

 

The early drafts of the first Star Wars film bear out that Lucas was thinking of going another direction, one more teenager-oriented and with more of a Conan the Barbarian than Walt Disney flavor: there’s sex, nudity, and violence that would probably have garnered the film an R rating.

 

And if the SW prequels proved anything, it’s that George Lucas doesn’t like to let go of ideas, even the questionable ones.

 

Thus, an archive like the Secret Project would allow Lucas to make Star Wars movies of the more adult-oriented kind he’d originally envisioned, while maintaining his public reputation as a family-friendly media mogul.

 

After all, you could always pay for it with Ewok action figures.

 

And perhaps Lucas even had some sort of more fanciful mythic idea in mind, drawing on the influence of King Arthur on the original SW narrative.

 

Like Parsifal asking the Fisher King about the Grail and being adopted as his heir, perhaps George Lucas meant to give whoever unlocked the vaults of the Secret Project a Willy Wonka-style Golden Ticket.

 

In the early 1980s Lucas was thinking about expanding his family: he and his first wife Marcia adopted a child, then he adopted two more as a single parent after his divorce. Maybe he wanted to go further: to find budding kindred spirits who could think enough like him to have fun solving a crazy riddle he had fun creating.

 

This may be why the Secret Project was apparently at first under the aegis of the Lucas Learning division of Lucasfilm.

 

Publicly, Lucas Learning was dormant until 1998, when it released the game Star Wars: Droidworks.

 

But Brian Moriarty officially transferred to Lucas Learning in 1990, right after making LOOM, and right when one might reasonably have expected him to want to finish that series.

 

And on the Full Throttle Remastered commentary, Tim Schafer mentions “the Secret Library Archive Project” – SLAP for short, a fitting LucasArts-y acronym – which he says fell under the purview of Lucas Learning. (And, of all places, that particular bit of commentary shows up in the secret basement vault belonging to Melonweed’s junkyard owner Todd, voiced by Mark Hamill.)

 

Of course, Lucasfilm belongs to Disney now. Whatever Parsifal dreams George Lucas might have had turned out to be just pipe dreams.

 

But the Secret Project might not be dead.

 

After all, the last Disney Star Wars movie ended with a resounding thud, with the redeemed Ben Solo killed off anticlimactically and Rey left as half of a broken dyad.

 

Shamelessly cynical as that movie is, I could see it contributing an alternate ending with Ben Solo surviving to the Secret Project archives.

 

The lowest of low-hanging fruit, as it were.

 

And if the Project is alive?

 

Dum spiro, spero. While there’s life, there’s hope.

 

“In the dead of space, something is alive.”

 

 

Conclusion – whither Mixnmojo?

 

Assuming all this to be true – what do we do about it?That’s a riddle I’m still in the process of unraveling. But posting all this evidence here in one place seems like a good start.

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I’ve written a few posts in here saying the theory is bullshit - because it is - but deleted them because just saying that alone didn’t seem like it would be enough. I thought just saying “this is BS”

AT it’s just as likely that you are making up a read behind those photos as the author of that Twitter account is. Like in the Outlaws thread you basically made up that the document was for two separa

Since the development history of The Dig is undeniably a fun topic, I’d like to challenge a few assumptions you make in your original post, ATM. Let me start with this:       Peo

Posted Images

Below I’ll post things that appear to me to be likely evidence of Secret Project activity or other related material. I'll also answer as best I can any questions people have.

 

 

LOOM 2: Steampunk Boogaloo

 

It’s been said – most notably by Brian Moriarty himself - that the reason the LOOM sequels were never released is that nobody at LucasArts besides Moriarty wanted to work on them:

 

“The reason the sequels weren't made is because I decided I wanted to work on other things, and nobody else wanted to do them, either.”

 

And also: “nobody else felt strongly enough about the games to make a commitment.”

 

Even our own Jason has noted that “There seems to be some disparity, whether deliberately or not, in Moriarty's comments about how far from "just talk" the sequels got.”

 

But Aric Wilmunder published the first page of a design document for FORGE by Kalani Streicher and Mike Ebert – his partners on Secret Project game Second Genesis.

 

(Why post just the first page? Why not the whole thing, as he did with other design docs? Unless somebody was actually hoping to publish FORGE some day...)

 

And in 2015 Dave Grossman noted that lots of background art was created for FORGE:

 

“It was more about the making and breaking of things […] A bunch of art was done for it. It was all fiery and red and fun.”

 

So clearly the LOOM sequels had people willing to develop them, who did work on them for a time. Something else we can add to the web of contradictions and obfuscation spun by LucasArts developers.

 

So what happened?

 

The Secret Project, perhaps.

 

At the very least, the LOOM sequels were on LucasArts developers’ minds.

 

The opening notes of the Monkey Island 2 main theme are the Transcendence Draft.

 

 

The DIG’s gap year

 

lj1CjZa.png

 

The “Ghosts of Digs Past” credits in the published version of The DIG are mostly in alphabetical order – but Joe Pinney is listed under J rather than P.

 

And Ron Gilbert shows up also, though to my knowledge he never worked on The DIG at all.

 

It might make more sense if his name were replaced by his SCUMM co-creator, Aric Wilmunder.

 

But if so, why would Wilmunder and Pinney be both singled out by “corrupted credits” in such a fashion?

 

Perhaps they were working on The DIG during the “gap year” between Noah Falstein and Brian Moriarty’s designs. A hidden fourth The DIG design, rather like Moriarty’s hidden fourth astronaut.

 

And if so, that isn’t the only time their names would come up together.

 

Aric Wilmunder may have been project lead on Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix – but when I asked Bill Tiller about that game back in 2003, he told me that Joe Pinney had been project leader on it.

 

Which makes it quite unusual – not to say suspicious – that Wilmunder didn’t so much as mention Pinney’s name in the big Mojo featured article on Iron Phoenix.

 

So did Wilmunder and Pinney work on a “secret” version of The DIG, then go on to work on Indy Iron Phoenix – a game whose inclusion of Zombie Hitler made it unpublishable in Germany, and hence was itself perhaps a game made expressly for the Secret Project?

 

Food for thought.

 

 

Gabriel Knight, meet Gabriel Knight

 

Here’s a blatant example of the sort of thing that seems likely to be a Secret Project offering on Sierra’s end.

 

Gabriel Knight 2 stars Dean Erickson as the titular hero in the game’s FMV cutscenes.

 

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But early promotional articles – which I suspect were often used as a way of calling attention to potential Secret Project material – feature someone totally different as Gabriel, and in a completely different costume.

 

ydnZiRh.png

 

And nobody from Sierra has ever mentioned this in interviews. Frankly, recasting your lead sounds like the sort of traumatic thing that would definitely show up in anecdotes about the game. That is, if it weren’t done deliberately as some sort of bizarre time capsule project.

 

 

Jedi Knight: Ken Katarn

 

This advertisement for Jedi Knight (originally created in English, here shown in a French translation) depicts someone in Kyle Katarn’s FMV outfit who looks extraordinarily like Kenneth Branagh.

 

drYYRo8.jpg

 

Here's Ken (plus beard) as he looked in the mid-1990s, for reference:

 

PjH26RU.png

 

 

At the time Jedi Knight came out, Branagh was heavily rumored to be playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in the upcoming Star Wars prequels.

 

And the SW prequels used the same total-greenscreen set techniques that were also used to create Jedi Knight’s FMVs.

 

So did Ken Branagh play young Obi-Wan in unreleased Star Wars films for the Secret Project, and then pop over to LucasArts for a few days to play Kyle Katarn also? Perhaps so – similar to Sierra’s alternate Gabriel Knight above.

 

And all this is seriously making me wonder about the version of Back to the Future with Eric Stoltz. (Executive producer: Steven Spielberg.)

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I find this fascinating, but there's no hard evidence here. Having worked on a real video game at a real video game company (one that even collaborated with LucasArts) I can assure you that stupid, weird decisions happen constantly, and despite how interesting things get, you do forget a shitload of information. So I'll stay in the skeptic camp for now and I'll hope you can convince me I was wrong 😉

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Since the development history of The Dig is undeniably a fun topic, I’d like to challenge a few assumptions you make in your original post, ATM. Let me start with this:

 

Quote

 

Why did Brian Moriarty’s The DIG fail?

 

Or, more accurately, why wasn’t a good-enough, cheap-and-cheerful version of it kicked out the door after Moriarty left LucasArts in 1993, at a point when the company had already been working on the game for nearly half a decade?

 

 

 

People who hold an uncharitable view of the released game would tell you that’s just what happened. You suggest that it’s somehow suspicious or untoward that the company didn’t just rush the game out the door within months of Moriarty’s departure, but that strikes me as a drastic underestimation of the problems the project was facing. When he spoke to us for our retrospective on The Dig, Bill Eaken said bluntly of Moriarty’s version: “The programming was a complete disaster.”

 

To tell you what you already know, Moriarty ambitiously insisted on introducing a brand-new engine for his version of The Dig, rather than tried-and-true SCUMM. The idea was that the team wanted to raise the bar on animation with The Dig, and the SCUMM engine as it existed at that time simply wasn’t up to the task. Moriarty’s solution was to devise a new animation system, possibly called Landrou, which was then built into a game engine, possibly called StoryDroid. (I say possibly because there’s always been some confusion/debate about the names of the new systems.)

 

This bold decision was met with huge resistance from the team that maintained SCUMM (chief among them Aric Wilmunder, I have to assume), who felt it was foolhardy to develop a new engine from the ground-up when SCUMM was mature, demonstrated and stable, and what’s more could have been enhanced to meet the robust animation demands if the money and time being spent to establish unproven tech had been invested in SCUMM instead. Somehow, Moriarty got his way (with Eaken speculating that management just kind of shrugged and saw the debate as a rivalry between the art team, who were naturally dazzled by the opportunities of Landrou, and the programmers), but what happened in the end would seem to vindicate the dissenting view.

 

I’m sure there was more to the project’s troubles than that, of course. More than one person has made note of the huge amount of pressure Moriarty was under, and it’s been noted that he was used to working with a tiny team, and perhaps became overwhelmed with scale of The Dig. Still, the decision to replace SCUMM seemed to be the fateful one that spelled disaster for the project. The programming side of things just never came together, and at a certain point it became undeniable even to the managers that for the longest time had been (again, per Eaken) dismissing warnings people had been delivering about the project as developer politics. Finally, they stepped in and put an end to it.

 

So if anything, the fact that LucasArts went from that situation to shipping The Dig by the end of 1995 is a testament to the remarkable expedience of the team involved. You noted that Dave Grossman was briefly on the project between Moriarty and Clark; describing himself as a “hedge trimmer” who began the condensing of the design that Clark carried on with, he portrayed the project that Moriarty left as being in a “larval” stage. How are you going to ship a game that is in a “larval” stage in 1993, by the end of 1993? When you account for the fact that LEC didn’t find the replacement project leader right away, and that when they did he insisted (predictably) that he wanted to revert back to SCUMM, I would say it was a herculean task that they managed to release what they did, as quickly as they did. And this stubborn campaign to bring The Dig to a successful finish in spite of everything ("Three words -Spielberg, Spielberg, and Spielberg" is how Bill Tiller describes the motivation on the studio's part) might well have come at the cost of other, arguably more meritorious projects, like Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix.

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But was the programming on The DIG really so abysmal as is made out? Gary Brubaker remained in position as lead programmer on Noah Falstein, Brian Moriarty, AND Sean Clark's versions. You'd think that Clark at least would have cleaned house in that regard after two allegedly failed prior designs. And Falstein's DIG did, as far as I know, use the SCUMM engine.

 

Yet another contradiction.

 

Also, Landru/StoryDroid wasn't new: it had been developed by Ed Kilham for the X-Wing games.

 

The "stubborn campaign to bring The DIG to a successful finish" makes the alleged gap year between Falstein and Moriarty's designs even more puzzling. But if this thesis holds any water at all, then everything the LucasArts developers have said in public has to be taken with a large grain of salt.

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Jedi Knight: Behind the Veil

 

Sariss’ single-player model in Jedi Knight manages to have three different hairstyles at once.

 

ukZAgqT.png

 

On the back of her head, she wears a barrette (like Judy Robbins in Brian Moriarty’s The DIG).

 

But below that she has a chignon with hair that’s brown rather than blonde (as in some early concept art).

 

EboKhEL.png

 

And on the sides of her head, there’s a veil of sorts, of a design that rests on her ears and hangs down the back of her head. It can be glimpsed in Peter Chan’s storyboards for the game intro.

 

nrJZfNT.jpg

 

Having two clashing hair designs at once might be chalked up to a texture error. Three at once? That looks deliberate.

 

Sariss wearing three hairstyles is reminiscent of the three-faced Satan at the center of Hell in Dante’s Inferno – bringing to mind that perennial Secret Project game The DIG.

 

But more interestingly, it isn’t the only place that back-of-the-head veil design shows up.

 

It appears in various designs the X-Wing Rogue Squadron comics from 1995-89: it’s worn by pilot Plourr Ilo, who also happens to be Princess of the planet Eiattu.

 

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A version with beads even shows up on a minor character in Garth Ennis’ Preacher comics, from that same time period.

 

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I suspect it may show up as a royal crown of sorts in Secret Project Star Wars films. It’s the sort of thing that you might get if you married the male-pattern-baldness style of the samurai chonmage haircut with the lapis-lazuli beaded wigs or cloth hairdresses worn by Hollywood Egyptian pharaohs.

 

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A very Star Wars cultural fusion, that.

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28 minutes ago, ATMachine said:

But was the programming on The DIG really so abysmal as is made out? Gary Brubaker remained in position as lead programmer on Noah Falstein, Brian Moriarty, AND Sean Clark's versions. You'd think that Clark at least would have cleaned house in that regard after two allegedly failed prior designs.

 

That assumes the programmers were the indicted parties. I ascertain the blame fell on Brian because the decision to build a new engine along with a new game came from him. In essence, he bit off more than he could chew, and it had a cascading effect on production that included palsied momentum on the tech pipeline. You can have a programming disaster without having a programmer disaster.

 

The Falstein version isn't relevant in this regard because it was being made in SCUMM, and I don't think it got far along enough to even have the opportunity for major programming disasters. My impression is that full bore production was still on the horizon when the decision was made to shelve it.

  

28 minutes ago, ATMachine said:

Also, Landru/StoryDroid wasn't new: it had been developed by Ed Kilham for the X-Wing games.

  

I would like to hear more.

 

28 minutes ago, ATMachine said:

The "stubborn campaign to bring The DIG to a successful finish" makes the alleged gap year between Falstein and Moriarty's designs even more puzzling. But if this thesis holds any water at all, then everything the LucasArts developers have said in public has to be taken with a large grain of salt.

 

The year on the shelf is not puzzling when seen in the context Grossman provides of 1991ish LucasArts:

 

Quote

Unfortunately, the games division was a little overextended at that time and there was some pressure on us to make a profit (imagine that). It was decided to focus more people on fewer projects, and The Dig was more of a question mark than some of the others - it was somewhat experimental, there were technical hurdles involved with getting the SCUMM system (our game engine) to handle the action elements, and the game was still trying to find its identity. So The Dig was put on the shelf for about a year, until Brian Moriarty started work on a completely new version.

 

It doesn't sound so unreasonable to me, nor does it seem out of the question to me that the importance company ascribed to The Dig might have fluctuated over time. Heck, maybe George Lucas just woke up one day and asked the studio president, "Hey, where are we at with that game idea of Steve's?" and the next day management re-prioritized The Dig right then and there. The driving forces behind these things can be a lot more prosaic and arbitrary than you seem prepared to consider.

 

I would agree with you that we should take developer memories with a grain of salt, but not because of conspiratorial reasons, but simply because memories are unreliable or they themselves don't have the whole picture. People are perfectly capable of just being confused, or wrong, without there being some hidden agenda attached. If you're on the lookout for contradictions, you'll find plenty of them. But that doesn't mean there's a story.

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That's interesting that Landrou may have been pre-existing, but reading Eaken's comments again this doesn't really seem to contradict anything. He says Landrou was "an animation engine and not a game engine, so it had to be built into a game engine first, which meant a lot of time and money spent on just that." So the essential undertaking remains that they were building a new game engine to accommodate this animation system, as opposed to starting with a game engine (SCUMM) and beefing up its animating ability.

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10 hours ago, ATMachine said:

Aric Wilmunder may have been project lead on Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix – but when I asked Bill Tiller about that game back in 2003, he told me that Joe Pinney had been project leader on it.

 

Which makes it quite unusual – not to say suspicious – that Wilmunder didn’t so much as mention Pinney’s name in the big Mojo featured article on Iron Phoe

 

Both Joe Pinney and Aric Wilmunder were in fact project leads on Iron Phoenix. Wilmunder stepped in when Pinney abruptly left the studio. Wilmunder did in fact mention the original project lead in the article, when we quote him discussing how his first task was to elaborate on the design that Pinney left behind.

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Spiders. Why did it have to be spiders?

 

Everyone knows Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes. His herpetophobia is as famous as his hat and whip.

 

Except maybe to Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford.

 

There’s a deleted scene in Temple of Doom where Indy finds a snake statue in the underground Thuggee temple and touches it with reverence.

 

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The final cut replaced this with a more comprehensible scene where Indy just fearfully nods in its direction.

 

But why would they shoot a scene with Indy admiring a snake statue in the first place? After all, the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark had established that Indy was deathly afraid of snakes – but not at all of spiders.

 

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21QOUhX.jpg

 

Except… what if that phobia was the other way around?

 

Imagine a Secret Project alternate universe where Indiana Jones feared spiders but not snakes.

 

That would explain the Temple of Doom deleted scene – it’s from a parallel Secret Project cut of the film.

 

It would also explain a deleted scene in Last Crusade.

 

In the second Grail Trial, Indy steps on a wrong letter and it breaks under his feet, making him nearly fall to his death in a chasm beneath the floor.

 

But originally, the penalty for the mis-step was somewhat different: a giant spider landed on Indy instead, and he froze in fear.

 

QsI2RZr.jpg

 

Now, the spider doesn’t seem all that menacing, and it’s understandable why the original version of the scene might be changed.

 

But imagine how that scene would have played out if a snake fell on Indy instead and he had to master his phobia – the snake would be scary, because the audience understands Indy’s fear and sympathizes with it.

 

So this deleted scene from Last Crusade would work… in a parallel universe where Indy’s phobias were swapped.

 

And that’s not the only time this Indy with an alternate phobia has manifested.

 

In Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, at one point Indy fights the giant Aztec serpent god Quetzalcoatl.

 

EVg5TCX.jpg

 

He also takes on Communists, giant robots and ice demons, as mentioned in LucasArts’ Winter 1999/2000 Company Store catalog.

 

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But the Fall 1998 and Spring 1999 catalogs have a rather different entry.

 

There an additional boss fight is mentioned, one that didn’t make the published game: “the venomous Spider Idol.”

 

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Just the sort of thing that might replace the Quetzalcoatl fight if Indy was afraid of spiders. A special game build for the Secret Project, perhaps, like the special "Spiderverse Indy" film cuts above.

Edited by ATMachine
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Posted (edited)

My theory is that Lucas Learning was used by Lucasfilm in the early 1990s as the custodian for its Secret Project materials. As I said earlier, they didn't actually release any games until 1998.

 

In the FT commentary Tim Schafer says "You guys over at Lucas Learning were doing... Remember the Secret Project? The Secret Library Archive Project? There was a... you guys were doing one where the interface popped up near the cursor."

 

If "one" means "one game", then that suggests the possibility of multiple games being under the Secret Project aegis. Like Wilmunder, Streicher & Ebert's "nameless" "Secret Project" game, aka Second Genesis.

 

And of course Brian Moriarty officially transferred to Lucas Learning about the time one might expect him to work on the LOOM sequels.

Edited by ATMachine
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I must say none of the broader conspiracy stuff being peddled really holds my interest, but maybe I can shed some modest light onto the confusion with Loom/The Dig.

 

6 hours ago, ATMachine said:

And of course Brian Moriarty officially transferred to Lucas Learning about the time one might expect him to work on the LOOM sequels.

 

Moriarty has stated that while he had the basic ideas for two Loom sequels, he was too burnt out from the original game's production to actually pursue them. Following Loom he spent some time in the educational division working on an ill-fated Young Indiana Jones game(s). That division was in a physically separate office, or maybe even separate building, from the regular "games group," which is why Moriarty has no insight on the Forge designs that were kicked around -- he wasn't there to participate. And when he came back to the LucasArts building and took over The Dig, he apparently wasn't interested in digging them up.

 

Interestingly, there seems to have been no less than two versions of Forge proposed. There's the one already mentioned, headed by Mike Ebert and Kalani Streicher (a duo that in the end never got the opportunity to design a SCUMM game, but ended up being instrumental in some 16-bit console classics), but there was also, apparently, an outline put together by Jenny Sward, Sean Clark and Mike Stemmle toward the end of Fate of Atlantis. Sward pitched it to no success, and Clark and Stemmle moved to Sam & Max Hit the Road.


Moriarty not working on the Loom sequels was his own choice, though it's possibly one he came to regret in retrospect.

 

 

 

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The Games Group also had different buildings for the art and programming teams during Moriarty's The DIG. Not sure that's too significant.

 

Interesting that you bring up a FORGE outline by Jenny Sward and Clark & Stemmle, to contrast with that of Streicher & Ebert. I hadn't heard of that before, but this is exactly what happened after Moriarty left The DIG, too - Dave Grossman came on board to "fix" the game, but apparently Hal Barwood did also?

 

If I had to guess, I'd say that a major motif in Secret Project games was individuality - the way in which different authors' voices affect the game design. This likely led to creating groups of variant designs for the same game, whose differences in detail show how the individual artists' work shines through. EG, Wilmunder's vs. Pinney's work on Iron Phoenix.

 

In the case of the LOOM sequels, I'd guess the two different outlines likely reflect two different adaptations of Moriarty's own game design, similar to the LOOM revised talkie CD with Orson Scott Card dialogue. Likewise for both Grossman and Barwood revising The DIG after Moriarty left that project.

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25 minutes ago, ATMachine said:

The Games Group also had different buildings for the art and programming teams during Moriarty's The DIG. Not sure that's too significant.

 

I pointed that out only because it helps explain why Moriarty was, by his own admission, more or less oblivious to what was contained in the Forge designs.

 

Quote

Interesting that you bring up a FORGE outline by Jenny Sward and Clark & Stemmle, to contrast with that of Streicher & Ebert. I hadn't heard of that before, but this is exactly what happened after Moriarty left The DIG, too - Dave Grossman came on board to "fix" the game, but apparently Hal Barwood did also?

 

There could have simply been two independent pitches for Forge, rather than one being a reaction to another. It's not a huge cost on the management's part to tell 2-3 people, "Hey, spend a few weeks on a proposal and come pitch it to us." Both concepts for Forge seem to have been discarded before the project could achieve a real green light, which makes it wholly distinct from The Dig situation.

 

It's possible Hal did indeed serve a brief, interim role on that project as Grossman did, but it's also possible the magazine just got the facts wrong. Has there ever been a secondary source on that? I specifically brought Hal up to Bill Eaken in an attempt to clear this up. He responded "Hmm, Hal may have taken over for a 'minute,' but I vaguely remember being told he never wanted it." So, nothing conclusive there, and I don't think the trivia of whether Hal had a turn at the wheel matters much, except possibly to reinforce that management had some trouble finding Moriarty's replacement before they settled on Clark.

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On 8/14/2020 at 2:49 AM, Udvarnoky said:

Since the development history of The Dig is undeniably a fun topic, I’d like to challenge a few assumptions you make in your original post, ATM. Let me start with this:

 

 

 

People who hold an uncharitable view of the released game would tell you that’s just what happened. You suggest that it’s somehow suspicious or untoward that the company didn’t just rush the game out the door within months of Moriarty’s departure, but that strikes me as a drastic underestimation of the problems the project was facing. When he spoke to us for our retrospective on The Dig, Bill Eaken said bluntly of Moriarty’s version: “The programming was a complete disaster.”

 

To tell you what you already know, Moriarty ambitiously insisted on introducing a brand-new engine for his version of The Dig, rather than tried-and-true SCUMM. The idea was that the team wanted to raise the bar on animation with The Dig, and the SCUMM engine as it existed at that time simply wasn’t up to the task. Moriarty’s solution was to devise a new animation system, possibly called Landrou, which was then built into a game engine, possibly called StoryDroid. (I say possibly because there’s always been some confusion/debate about the names of the new systems.)

 

This bold decision was met with huge resistance from the team that maintained SCUMM (chief among them Aric Wilmunder, I have to assume), who felt it was foolhardy to develop a new engine from the ground-up when SCUMM was mature, demonstrated and stable, and what’s more could have been enhanced to meet the robust animation demands if the money and time being spent to establish unproven tech had been invested in SCUMM instead. Somehow, Moriarty got his way (with Eaken speculating that management just kind of shrugged and saw the debate as a rivalry between the art team, who were naturally dazzled by the opportunities of Landrou, and the programmers), but what happened in the end would seem to vindicate the dissenting view.

 

I’m sure there was more to the project’s troubles than that, of course. More than one person has made note of the huge amount of pressure Moriarty was under, and it’s been noted that he was used to working with a tiny team, and perhaps became overwhelmed with scale of The Dig. Still, the decision to replace SCUMM seemed to be the fateful one that spelled disaster for the project. The programming side of things just never came together, and at a certain point it became undeniable even to the managers that for the longest time had been (again, per Eaken) dismissing warnings people had been delivering about the project as developer politics. Finally, they stepped in and put an end to it.

 

So if anything, the fact that LucasArts went from that situation to shipping The Dig by the end of 1995 is a testament to the remarkable expedience of the team involved. You noted that Dave Grossman was briefly on the project between Moriarty and Clark; describing himself as a “hedge trimmer” who began the condensing of the design that Clark carried on with, he portrayed the project that Moriarty left as being in a “larval” stage. How are you going to ship a game that is in a “larval” stage in 1993, by the end of 1993? When you account for the fact that LEC didn’t find the replacement project leader right away, and that when they did he insisted (predictably) that he wanted to revert back to SCUMM, I would say it was a herculean task that they managed to release what they did, as quickly as they did. And this stubborn campaign to bring The Dig to a successful finish in spite of everything ("Three words -Spielberg, Spielberg, and Spielberg" is how Bill Tiller describes the motivation on the studio's part) might well have come at the cost of other, arguably more meritorious projects, like Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix.

 

I work in a creative company and I can absolutely see this happening exactly as you describe. The decisions that happen as a result of internal politics can be insane. 

 

I have no doubt that LucasArts would have happily killed The Dig as soon as it became clear it wasn't working (or any sensible CEO would have done), but Spielberg's involvement meant they probably couldn't. (Spielberg on the phone: "So... how's the game based on my idea coming along, guys?" CEO: "It's shaping right up, Steven... heh!" *gulp*) Trying to make a game to please Spielberg would have not been a fun job. Developer: "I've got this great idea!". Spielberg: "I don't like it, what else have you got?".

 

After some serious missteps in the development, leading to plans being aborted, I can imagine it would have been the project nobody wanted to touch, but which they were duty bound to deliver. 

 

I listened to that interview with Falstein I posted a while back, and he talks about how LucasArts fired a bunch of people around 1992 I think. (Falstein was one of them). He said he felt it was a cynical ploy for the powers that be to make the company financials look better after a series of bad decisions, before they moved on while riding the short-lived financial high.

 

I wouldn't be surprised if The Dig was connected. Spending the time and resources to develop a brand new engine was likely one of those bad decisions -- no fun to explain to your owner why you've scrapped all the work you've done. A decision like that smacks of hubris. (Just like the weird multimedia jaunt of Defenders of Dynatron City (Comic, TV show, and NES game -- just as the NES was dying). It always stuck out to me as a weird choice.)

 

You can imagine The Dig becoming an albatross in the company. More difficult meetings: CEO: "Don't worry Steven, we're back on track with the The Dig!" Spielberg: "Hmm. I don't like these ideas, maybe time to find a new voice?"

 

So yeah, all what you say adds up to me.

 

 

Edited by ThunderPeel2001
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On 8/14/2020 at 4:31 AM, ATMachine said:

But why would they shoot a scene with Indy admiring a snake statue in the first place? After all, the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark had established that Indy was deathly afraid of snakes – but not at all of spiders.

 

Not quite. The original Temple of Doom makes it very clear that Indy was very much afraid of snakes.

Screenshot 2020-08-17 at 01.41.52.png

 

The description of the deleted scene isn't really accurate, either. Indy was supposed to be unsure if the statue was real or not. 

 

 

Screenshot 2020-08-17 at 01.56.21.png

Edited by ThunderPeel2001
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