Released by Rare in 1990, Digger T. Rock: The Legend of the Lost City is a lesser known game that certainly upholds Rare's reputation for difficulty in the 8-bit era. The title tells you all you need to know about the plot. You control a guy named Digger, who likes to dig, even through rocks (his name fits him to a T). He's looking for a lost city, and he plans to find it by digging, because that's what he does.
Best time with warps: 0:03:41 by Wes 'Arrow' Fathauer on 2011-02-24.
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It's a short run, but I actually have a lot to say about it. Don't be surprised if it takes longer to read my comments than to watch the run itself =P
Digger: The Legend of the Lost City starring Digger T. Rock, better known as Digger T. Rock (or sometimes just Digger), was a rather random game for me to decide to run. In the wake of the 2011 AGDQ marathon, I was eager to get back into running, but with my X-Box 360 out of commission, I had to put the run I was previously making on hold. So, I looked through my game library for something short I could run in the meantime, and Digger caught my eye. It's not a game I have particularly fond memories of, as I was never even able to complete it as a child. In fact, it's one of the only games I've owned but had never completed, which is why I thought it might be an interesting challenge for a speed run. It's not a well known or popular game, but fortunately there were already a few TAS videos of it which were invaluable in my completion of this run.
For those who aren't familiar with Digger (which I imagine is the majority of people watching my run), I'll give a brief rundown of the game. It was developed by Rare and actually shares a lot in common with one of Rare's more popular NES titles: Battletoads. Besides from its high difficulty curve, Digger also features hidden warps on the first few levels, and a soundtrack by David Wise - the music on Cavern 6 should sound especially familiar to fans of his work. The object of the game is to guide the titular hero to the stone door in each cavern, which is easy in the first couple levels, but quickly becomes quite the challenge. Before you can enter the door, you must find and stand on a pillar which opens it and starts a timer, at which point you must rush to the door before it shuts again. Many enemies try to impede your progress, and the caverns themselves are mazes that can take hours to understand. Many of the levels feature hidden items that don't appear unless you hit the walls in specific spots, and teleporters that require walking into seeming dead-ends. At Digger's disposal is his trusty shovel, which can be used to whack enemies and dig through dirt. You will later find rock ammo which turns his shovel into a slightly more formidable weapon that can fire projectiles. Other items you'll find include rope ladders and dynamite, which are stored in your inventory and are required to progress through certain levels. Additionally, you'll find gems which can be traded for additional items in shops, or used to distract certain enemies. Finally, there are mushrooms hidden in some of the walls which grant Digger invincibility and turn him...pink. After completing each stage, you enter a bonus level which mainly serves as a way to earn points.
The game's controls, while not bad per se, take a little getting used to. Digger tends to like to attempt climbing every little ledge he gets near, even when you don't want him to. The jumping can be particularly frustrating, as the game forces your landings to gravitate towards specific pixel positions, and frequently stops your forward momentum. I can assure you that any point in my run where it looks like I'm not jumping as far as I could be is completely outside of my control - this is the game's physics at work.
Planning my run actually proved to be a bit more involved than I anticipated, as some of the tricks in the TAS are very difficult to perform in real time, leading me to experiment with alternate routes. The biggest decision was whether to use the shop in Cavern 4 to buy dynamite, or try to pick up what I need in Cavern 5. You need an absolute minimum of three dynamite to complete Cavern 8. The shop allows you to trade one gem (which you'll have plenty of, as you get two for each level warp) for eight dynamite - more than enough to complete the game. However, doing so requires a five second detour. This isn't a lot, but the current TAS record found an alternative: it's possible to acquire three dynamite on Cavern 5 without wasting any time, as you have to wait for the elevator to progress in the level anyway. However, this posed two problems for my run. First, the locations where the dynamite appears is semi- random, spawning in one of four different patterns. Second, and more importantly, even with the correct spawn pattern, I was unable to successfully recreate the TAS strategy. If the elevator gets too far off screen, it will change direction, wasting time. This is avoided in the TAS, but the timing to do so requires frame precision.
As disappointing as this was, I was actually a bit relieved; I wasn't looking forward to having to restart my runs over and over until I got lucky dynamite placement on Cavern 5. And yet, for some reason I still didn't feel ready to rely on the shop until I had fully mapped out all of the dynamite patterns for Cavern 5, just to see if there were any alternative routes I could take that might be faster than the shop. And it turned out that my meticulousness paid off, as I discovered that the same pattern the TAS used also yielded a dynamite very close to the ladder on Cavern 5 which only required a three second detour to pick up - two seconds faster than the shop. Reluctantly, I decided that this would be the fastest possible route for my run. I would have to do battle with the dreaded RNG after all.
Individual level notes:
Cavern 1 - Activating the warp on this level requires hitting the very first enemy (it's supposed to be a mole, apparently) before the second enemy is able to spawn. It sounds simple, but it's actually a very small window of opportunity. Still, once you've practiced it a few times, it's relatively easy to pull of consistently. I use a neat trick at the very beginning of the level. Digger usually has a second-long landing animation when you start the stage before you can begin digging. However, you can skip this delay by pressing left or right just as you land before you start your dig. If I perform all of my movements and jumps perfectly, as I did on this attempt, I'll actually reach the mole's spawn point a split second before he appears. This resulted in a silly number of failed attempts, as I would frequently end up swinging too early, causing my second, connecting hit to be delayed. However, I timed my hit perfectly in this attempt. This level is just about frame-perfect.
Cavern 2 - The warp on this level is the easiest to perform, and up until the game started being TASed, was the only one widely known. To activate it, you simply pick up the ladder item without walking over any of the disappearing rocks. The game gives you a short amount of time in which to do this, but it's hard to mess up if you know what you're doing. Picking up the rock ammo is not required for the warp, but it's needed for later levels and doesn't waste any time, so it would be silly not to grab it. This level can be completed slightly faster with perfect jump execution.
Cavern 3 - By far the most difficult warp, this one requires killing one of the ooze enemies while under the effects of the mushroom power-up. Again, you have a small amount of time in which to do this, and taking any damage will void the attempt. There's a few ways you can pull this one off. The fastest TAS method is extremely risky for real time. I experimented with an alternate method where I would lure the first ooze to the right, jump over him, hit the mushroom to the left instead of the right, and then kill him, but this ended up being extremely inconsistent and, ultimately, not as fast as the method I settled on. It may look like I waste time before hitting the second ooze, but they're invulnerable until they become fully formed.
Cavern 4 - No more warps, unfortunately. But this level is nice and short, so it doesn't make much of a difference here. This is the first shopping stage, but as I already explained, my route ignores the potential detour. I would definitely use the shop if I were ever to run this game in a marathon setting, as it boosts my attempt completion ratio from 10% to 95%, and at the cost of a mere two seconds. The level goes flawlessly. A very small amount of time could be saved by precision jumping. At the end of the level, I enter the mandatory bonus stage. The fastest way to continue is to let yourself get crushed - this doesn't count against your life total, and can be done reliably, as the rocks always fall in the same order.
Cavern 5 - This is where at least 80% of my resets occurred. The level itself is fairly easy, but I'm at the mercy of RNG for correct dynamite placement. Fortunately, I can tell which pattern is being used immediately upon starting the level, based on the positions of the dynamite on screen right at the beginning. Although my odds for the correct pattern should have been 1 in 4, I definitely had to restart more than 75% of the time. When luck does go my way, I pick up the hidden mushroom here before dropping onto the elevator. If you fall with lethal velocity, you'll pass through the elevator, but since the mushroom makes you invulnerable to fall damage, the game doesn't count falling as lethal in this case. Precise execution isn't necessary in the first half of the level, as you'll still have to wait for the elevator after reaching the timer pillar. I could have saved a small amount of time if I waited a split second longer before jumping off the elevator near the end of the level, and another split second if the skeleton doesn't spawn on that platform (random, happens very rarely).
Cavern 6 - This level was much easier than I expected it to be. It turned out that the TAS route was perfectly viable for real time, save one small glitch at the timer pillar. Usually the hardest part of the level is the final jump through the spinning, spiked thingy - it requires fairly precise timing to avoid taking damage. However, I experienced a completely unexpected mistake on this attempt. As I jumped down to the ice just before the timer pillar, Digger starts sliding to the right, despite me having held left. I've never had this happen before, although I sort of understand what caused it. The ice has slightly unusual properties, sometimes storing directional momentum when you fall, even if you change directions. Regardless of the cause, the mistake doesn't cost more than a second, but it looks really ugly. Aside from that unfortunate blemish, the level goes perfectly.
Cavern 7 - A relatively straight forward level, but surprisingly frustrating to speed run, as Digger's controls can really work against you with the platforming demands here. It's not obvious to the untrained eye, but at least two seconds could be saved with tighter execution in the ladder section. Another half second could have been saved by jumping, rather than falling, down the ledge after the first caveman, but this is extremely risky, as sometimes the second caveman spawns closer to the ledge than he did here. I only have a split second to try to determine the caveman's location while playing, and if I guess incorrectly and jump too short or too far, it will result in me being smacked in the face. The long jump off the cliff here is a nice short cut, and perfectly safe. Fall damage is capped at fifteen no matter how long the drop, so you'll always survive any plummet as long as you start with full health.
Cavern 8 - In the rare attempts where the RNG gods decided to smile on me (or at least turn a blind eye towards my insolence), this level was the death of most of my runs. Cavern 8 is genuinely difficult, with a number of tricky maneuvers and things that can go wrong. The hardest part is right at the beginning of the stage, what I refer to as the leap of faith. The jump timing to not only clear the egg, but also land exactly on the pillar is extremely tight. If I manage to make the jump, I always wait for the next egg before making my next move, as its trajectory can be unpredictable. Getting hit in midair would be the end of the run, as the eggs stun you and cause you to drop to the ground. For the T-Rex here, the TAS found that using gems to pacify them was faster than using dynamite to stun them. The rest of the level goes very smoothly. It may look like I'm overly cautious around the dynamite I place, but the explosion hit-box is larger than it looks, and getting hit would also be the end of the run, as it causes you to be stunned. The second T-Rex can be avoided simply by crawling under his legs, while I use another gem to distract the final one.
Overall, I'm extremely pleased with this attempt. The only glaring mistake (which wasn't even my fault), is the slide on Cavern 6, which doesn't cost more than a second. Barring any major route changes (such as someone managing to grab all three dynamite on Cavern 5 without my detour), I doubt I could manage more than three seconds faster than this time. The first few levels would require TAS-like jump precision to shave any time off. A few seconds can be saved on Caverns 5-7 with better control, and a few more could be saved on Cavern 8 with more aggressive tactics. However, managing all of this while also getting lucky on Cavern 5 and 8 is something that could take thousands of attempts, so I'm satisfied with my results for now.
Big thanks to PotatoHandle, nitrogenesis, Kyman, and SilentSlayers, whose various TAS videos were instrumental in planning my run. Also, thanks to Mike Uyama, nate, Breakdown, Flip, and the rest of the SDA staff who are responsible for making the magic happen. And last but not least, thank YOU for watching my run and reading my comments.
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