After over 30 years in a New Mexico landfill, potentially millions of cartridges of the often maligned Atari game, E.T., are being unearthed. A crowd has gathered at what was once the Alamogordo Landfill, eager to be present the moment the cartridges see the light of day. The director of X-Men 2, Zak Penn, is even making a film about the excavation.
This afternoon, the diggers announced that they have indeed found a cache of Atari refuse, including not only the unsuccessful E.T. game, but hardware and other games that perhaps brought the premier gaming developer shame. The story behind that shame is fairly well-known amongst Atari aficionados and others in the gaming community.
In a desperate attempt to capitalize on the film’s phenomenal success, Atari developed and marketed the game for the Atari 2600 in a scant six weeks. A task that should have taken five months. Released in December 1982, initial sales were substantial. However, once word got out that the game was visually appalling and lacked any real depth or challenge, sales plummeted. Left with millions of copies of the disastrous game, Atari essentially just made the cartridges disappear.
Though it is now being reported that the location of their disappearance was largely kept a secret, the Alamogordo Daily News printed a series of stories about the dumping in September, 1983. Apparently, Atari decided to dump their load at the Alamogordo Landfill because scavenging was prohibited. Workers at a warehouse belonging to the gaming company in El Paso, Texas loaded up approximately a dozen trucks with unsold copies of the unwanted game with other Atari rubbish. It was reported that the loads were buried and crushed as well as entombed in cement.
In 2013, an entertainment company, Fuel Industries, was granted access to the old landfill. Excavation and film crews were allotted six months to complete their quest. The Atari E.T. games being unearthed today in New Mexico serve to put to rest a long-standing “urban legend.”
The documentary being filmed is not the only movie that has been inspired by the legend. Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie revolves around a fellow who wants to learn for himself whether the tale of the E.T. game burial site is true. Ironically, the developer of the failed E.T. game, Howard Scott Warshaw, has been sent the script for the movie and even wrote an article about it. It seems that he is tickled by the idea. He writes that he is impressed with the new angle being taken regarding the “E.T.-carts-buried-in-the-desert” story. Happily, he will be appearing as himself in the film. Warshaw has certainly embraced his reputation as the maker of the worst video game in video game history.
All the hoopla and excitement about the recent discovery in the desert has brought not only some closure for the fans but a modicum of redemption for the developer. Though there is still a lot of work to be done in New Mexico, the unearthing of Atari’s E.T. game has been a long time coming.
by Stacy Lamy