Some Afterthoughts on ET...




If there was one single, solitary eureka moment for a blog on retro gaming, it was while watching the documentary "Atari: Game Over" on Netflix. One of the most fascinating stories in video gaming involved a fabled landfill and the spectacular failure of Atari's business practices in 1983, compounded by the folly that was ET.

Something we covered in our inaugural podcast was this incident in general, but there was a few things that we noticed the movie took a few liberties with.

For one, while it is true the internet contributed to the popularity of the "ET Landfill," Atari burying their unused merchandise in a New Mexico landfill was common knowledge among anyone that followed gaming in the 80s and 90s. Picture this; you're a kid at a lunch table at school. You're not carrying what's basically a portable computer with the internet and phone connected to it. You have to actually talk to other kids. The one kid in class heard from his cousin who heard it from the kid down the street that has a brand new Sega Master System that read somewhere that... you get the picture. Anyway, they read about the ET game being buried in a magazine. And that if you jump in a certain spot in Super Mario Bros. for an hour you'll find a hidden Chocolate Factory. There was definitely some truth in the landfill story. A legend did come from somewhere.

Turns out the people behind the top video game magazines heard the stories too (and actually covered the video game industry in 1983 when the whole thing came crashing down). They printed all this information in "Did You Know" type columns in 1989-1993. But yes, it was never confirmed by anyone until 2013, when the movie picks up the search and acquiring all the permits to excavate a landfill and potentially flood the small New Mexico town with old school gamers and even some of the programmers responsible for some of those unsold games.

The other thing we discuss is the game industry collapse in 1983. It claimed the life of a lot of potential gaming systems and development companies. But only in America (and to a lesser extent Europe). The movie only covers Atari's rise and fall, but the company did in fact persevere for about 15 years after 1983, putting out the Atari 5200, 7800, Lynx, and Jaguar. Also the computer industry was practically unaffected by the collapse, as seen by the Commodore 64 and Amiga computers (and the Apple Macintosh in 1984). Not to mention the Atari brand is still iconic enough to sell t-shirts, plug and play consoles, and other retro merchandise (a quick Wikipedia search reveals the 2016 Atari, Inc. is owned by a French company that claims to employ less then 10 people).

As for ET... well, if you want to know the story behind that game, watch the documentary and see for yourself. Just be prepared, despite what you may have heard, it's not the worst game ever released by a longshot, but it's not quality by any means. We'll probably do a twitch of it sometime. And of course, try to track down a copy and play it if you're able to. It's...educational.

-Metallic Joe-


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