Myth Becomes Reality As Atari's E.T. Cartridges Are Unearthed In New Mexico Landfill
Posted by Damien McFerran
We can finally phone home
Back in the '80s Atari sent the home gaming industry into freefall by flooding the market with low-quality product, such as the infamously bad E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial video game. Legend has it that so many copies went unsold that the company drove millions of cartridges into the New Mexico desert and dumped them in landfill — and last year, it was confirmed that a documentary team would attempt to find these games to see if the rumours were true.
It has just been revealed that the team has successfully recovered copies of E.T., which means that one of gaming's most enduring myths is actually true. Film director Zak Penn has stated that "hundreds" of cartridges have been discovered so far. Xbox Entertainment Studios is one of the companies funding the production of the documentary, which should to be released later this year via Microsoft's Xbox game consoles. It's not known at this stage if a widespread release will follow on other formats.
Atari produced millions of E.T. cartridges for the market-leading 2600 console — more than it could reasonably sell — and while the game was a commercial success initially, many players returned it to stores after finding that it was buggy and frustrating to play. Creator Howard Scott Warshaw — who also made Yars' Revenge while at Atari — has since revealed that he was given just five and a half weeks to program the game in time for the lucrative Christmas season. While its failure wasn't the sole reason for the video game crash of 1983, it is held up as an example of just how badly Atari managed its business.
It was reported back in 1983 that 14 truckloads of cartridges and equipment — from Atari's plant in El Paso, Texas — were dumped on the site, which lies about 80 miles south of Alamogordo, New Mexico. Amazingly, no one at Atari today has any knowledge of the event. Spokeswoman Kristen Keller stated that "nobody here has any idea what that's about," and that "we're just watching like everybody else." The Atari of today is a totally different firm, as the company has changed hands, died and been resurrected several times over since the '80s.