A Myth No More: E.T. Video Game Cartridges Dug Up in New Mexico
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.27.2014
The urban legend was true...
It's one of the most enduring urban legends in video game history, and now we know it to be true. There has been a long-standing claim that Atari buried thousands (and possibly more) copies of the Atari 2600 game adaptation of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in a New Mexico landfill. The veracity of the claim has been hotly debated for some time, but now a documentary crew working with Microsoft has gotten to the truth.
The story goes like this: during the early 1980s, the video game industry was going through its first great boom. Chief among that boom was Atari's 2600 system, where games like Pac-Man, Berserk, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Burger Time and more became household names--emphasis on household. In 1982, video game designer Howard Scott Warshaw was put in charge of the video game version of Steven Spielberg's blockbuster film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Working with a very rushed schedule of just five and a half weeks due to extended negotiations, Warshaw was unable to put together a decent game. And that's putting it lightly; I can tell you from personal experience that E.T. was flat-out one of the worst and buggiest games of all-time.
The game sold well initially but the legendarily poor reception led to consumers returning the game en masse and the losses were a major contributor to the first video game industry crash in 1983. Atari had millions of E.T. cartridges just gathering dust. It was long believed that they were taken out to a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico and buried there, but it had never been proven until now. The impetus was a documentary by Fuel Industries about the game and its burial, and with Microsoft helping out they began the excavation over the weekend. Remnants of E.T. and other Atari games were discovered in the early hours of the excavation, which you can see in the posts below courtesy of Microsoft's Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb.
The documentary, Dumping the Alien: Unearthing the Atari, will be released on Xbox Video.