News Article

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.

[via theguardian.com]

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User Comments (103)

somari

#2

somari said:

Well look at that, It was true all along. Anyway did this remind us about the AVGN movie coming up.

PvtOttobot

#4

PvtOttobot said:

Is it just me or do these settings remind anyone of breaking bad? -(El Paso, New Mexico)

BakaKnight

#6

BakaKnight said:

That documentary is gonna be first archeology discover in gaming history!

We finally know the truth about one of the greatest mystery of the ancient times (of gaming) ^o^

KTT

#9

KTT said:

So... this WAS true after all. And like few said before me, it reminds me about the AVGN movie.

2Sang

#12

2Sang said:

It's funny how a game that was almost solely to blame for the 1983 video game crash has sought so much desire to find the millions of copies buried.
Also I feel bad for AVGN now that his movie will be overlapped with this.

@PvtOttobot You have an amazing icon

HopeNForever

#13

HopeNForever said:

I'm more surprised that this bit of news, regardless of how significant it is, is eligible to be posted on Nintendo Life.

Anyway, I'm personally really interested where it will go from here, as I do actually still own a copy of the game myself. It really plagued my childhood by how unplayable it was!

Smooching

#14

Smooching said:

These kinds of urban legends are awesome, especially if they happen to be true after all...

3dcaleb

#16

3dcaleb said:

i collect old atari 2600 games and i have over 350 not counting duplicates, and ive played them all. and i have to say, E.T. has got to be the worst one ever. it is completely unplayable. i cant think of a worse game.

Lunapplebloom

#18

Lunapplebloom said:

Fascinating... So the legend was true... I'd love to be there digging in the dirt, It's the equivalent of Indiana Jones finding old relics, but video game relics. :P

MuchoMochi

#23

MuchoMochi said:

At this point, I'm now willing to believe any weird conspiracy theory about a company. Such a weird call on Atari's part to do this.

Tender_Cutlet

#24

Tender_Cutlet said:

Got hoax written all over it. I could buy three squashed copies of the game for tuppence on eBay and claim I unearthed them in my back yard. The games so bad you'd have trouble disproving it! Now a photo of a heap of them or a container full would be more conclusive. It's not as though judging by the condition of these so called finds that the game could have biodegraded over these 30 years - which brings me on to another rant entirely, if there really is a landfill site full of ET carts, Atari should be made to get over there and clean up their mess - that type of poopoodoodoocacapoopledoople might have been ok in the 80s but with evidence that their dumping is still polluting the environment they should be forced to clean up and incinerate their corporate excrement!

MAB

#25

MAB said:

Yeah, these covers and carts wouldn't be eligible if this was real... 30 years of dirt and water would take its toll so I'm calling BS on this expedition ;)

whodatninja

#26

whodatninja said:

Yeah the AVGN movie is already outdated lol. Serves him right for taking his time, making a good product!!!

evildevil97

#27

evildevil97 said:

I'm speechless. I always just assumed it wasn't real. I'm going to have to look more into this to make sure it isn't an elaborate hoax.

wombatkidd

#28

wombatkidd said:

@Tender_Cutlet

A few things.

1. This was open to the public. People were watching this. So photos aren't the only evidence.

2. Atari cartridges don't have ANYTHING in them that bio degrades. They're made of metal and plastic. Even the manuals are covered in plastic.

3. Dirt won't make manuals look worse but water might... If they weren't in an incredibly dry place. The average yearly rainfall is only 13 inches, far too little to actually reach things buried more than a few feet down.

4. Modern atari isn't responsible for this. Modern atari is a different company that happens to be called atari and bought the original Atari's trademarks. The article we're commenting on even mentions this.

5. They dumped this in the city's landfill. You do know what a landfill is, right? I'll give you a hint: it's a place put aside specifically for dumping garbage.

6. You should DEFINITELY NOT burn atari cartridges. Leaving them where they are is far less destructive to the environment than burning them would be.

MikeLove

#29

MikeLove said:

For those calling "hoax", these carts were buried in a desert under several feet of soil and perhaps even a layer of cement that was poured on top.

If they could find the Dead Sea Scrolls, I don't doubt that some 30 year old plastic video games would also be able to survive in a similar climate.

Bobobiwan

#31

Bobobiwan said:

We should never had retrieved those cartridges... Now, who knows which kind of EVIL will be unleashed on us ?

MAB

#32

MAB said:

It looks like they just arrived through the post direct from ebay ;)

Spoony_Tech

#33

Spoony_Tech said:

@ajcismo If only!? They would've had to disturb the burial site to lay them next to the E.T. cartridges. I would've helped them though!

Obito_Tennyson

#38

Obito_Tennyson said:

Umm... AVGN? I know that they're still making the movie. He just recently said that he hopes to finish the movie by the end of this year, but no later than next year. It sucks how Microsoft always says "flick that" to everything and always gets in there just to be better. They try making operating systems, consoles, phones, tablets, and productions like others, but try to make it better and release it about the same time or earlier just so their competitors won't get all the money. Microsoft is evil.

MayhemStaff

#40

Mayhem said:

There hasn't been a lot of doubt that something was buried there for quite a while... we're talking years here. The question was "what". They didn't even break through the stuff buried under the concrete either, just the first dumping portion back from 1983 that was stopped when kids started to raid the dump. That's why the rest was buried under concrete, to stop anyone getting at what was there. Whether they carry on to break the seal remains to be seen.

RaylaxStaff

#41

Raylax said:

The ancient evil has been exhumed from the depths of the earth, and now it will consume us all!

Porky

#42

Porky said:

Keep it buried! Jeez, those who knew this rumor before are oldies lol.

retro_player_22

#43

retro_player_22 said:

WTF Centipede for the Atari 2600 was a good game, whoever buried that one must had been an idiot. Stupid Atari, should had sold me a copy.

joey302

#44

joey302 said:

I wish Nintendo would pursue the Atari classics so they may live again thru wii U and/or 3ds. Or they should spend some of their billions and buy Atari altogether. Thank god I have my ps3 that runs ps2 games cause I like to pop in Atari Anthology here n there! Also have vol 1&2 classics on DS which of course can run on 3DS along with the 2600/7800 and my collection of 300+ originals!! Atari games like Asteroids, Centipede,Millipede, Tempest and many others still hold up very well today and every time I play one brings back childhood memories!!

HandheldGuru97

#45

HandheldGuru97 said:

Pretty cool, wish I had been there though...looks like I could've gotten some playable games and decent ones at that to not just E.T!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

retro_player_22

#48

retro_player_22 said:

@Spoony_Tech

And Daikatana, Sonic 2006, Street Combat, Ballz, Rise of the Robots, Cheetahmen II, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Zelda CD-i games, Hotel Mario, Sword of Sodan, Mortal Kombat: Special Force, Aliens: Colonial Marine, SimCity (EA Edition), Sonic Genesis (GBA), all them Game.com games (except Lights Out), all them Virtual Boy games (except Wario Land), War Gods, Dark Rift, Awesome Possum, Sewer Shark, Karate Champ, Action 52, etc.

Lobster

#50

Lobster said:

Anyone wondering why this should be on NintendoLife... Nintendo DID pull the US out of the Atari (and ET) caused crash with the NES. The public was so spooked by video games that they had to market it as the Nintendo Entertainment System, remember? And bundle it with ROB. Good times, good times.

Seriously though, I think this is just about the greatest gaming news ever. :D

ReigningSemtex

#51

ReigningSemtex said:

I'd like to own one of those copies of E.T because it's gaming history. So cool the story turned out true

MikeLove

#52

MikeLove said:

Once the hole is completely dug out, they will begin filling it with Wii-U stuff

Knuckles

#53

Knuckles said:

I knew it to be true!
Wait a moment, I've been lied to! A pawn shop owner said that his copy of ET wasn't for the same atari system that had the massive landfill. Well, look at the pictures!
Untitled

I'm running to that pawn shop now! Have to add it to my collection with Sonic 06 and Superman 64.

SavoirFaire

#54

SavoirFaire said:

I need to make the drive out there. I've got an Atari 2600 and maybe 20-30 games in the garage (including ET!) that I'd like to throw in that hole :)

I wouldn't be surprised if these stupid cartridges turn up as some "collectors item" on ebay!

"Back in my day we payed $40+ for what are now bad browser games, get off my lawn you whippersnappers!"

Angelic_Lapras_King

#55

Angelic_Lapras_King said:

@HopeNForever Well if Atari didnt screw up so bad, who knows how the videogame industry would look today? Atari might even still be making consoles, and who knows what Nintendo would be doing different?

B3ND3R

#56

B3ND3R said:

Yep, I knew it was true! We have a documentary on Video Game History around here somewhere that showed them loading up the cartridges and showing how horrid the game was. I don't think anyone even knew what was going on in the game... Just like Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde on the NES, things just happen.

TheRealThanos

#59

TheRealThanos said:

So, Al Capone's safe was empty but this was true? Well waddaya know...
Although as far as I can remember the actual story was always that it was a hole in a landfill that was filled ONLY with E.T. cartridges, NOT with hardware and other games as well. This just shows that it is not all that black and white, but a little more nuanced. Atari was already doing bad and E.T. being a horrible game gave them another (possibly the last) big kick in the tender parts, and they were left with a lot of stuff that they couldn't even sell to save their lives anymore. Hence not only E.T. cartridges were found, but also other games AND hardware.

sinalefa

#60

sinalefa said:

Even as a videogame fan all my life, and being old enough to hear this story hundreds of times and to have played the game a couple of years after release, I find it hard to care about this "milestone".

Although there is a good part: if this indeed "ruins" the Nerd's movie, he will have an excuse to dump a truckload of obscenities at Microsoft, and that sounds good to me.

unrandomsam

#61

unrandomsam said:

@Spoony_Tech Shaq Fu wasn't that bad. Lots of far more broken games in its genre on the SNES.

@retro_player_22 Rise of the Robots wouldn't have been too bad if it was remotely close to the Arcade version. The Virtual Boy Mario Tennis was ok. Daikatana - Did it need to happen in order for Deus Ex to work ? Sonic 06 - Never played it but I think Crisis City is probably my favourite level in Generations. (If it had never been made I would never of played what I think is the best part of that game).

accc

#62

accc said:

You're a sucker if you think this story is true. What actually happened: The director found a few old Atari cartridges, re-shrinkwrapped them, buried them, and dug them up. Voila, instant hype for his documentary.

A1234

#63

A1234 said:

I don't care about the E.T. carts since those are common. what I want to know is what other games were found, hardware and accessories. maybe Atlantis 2 was in there?

AG_Awesome

#64

AG_Awesome said:

Who was the popular video game columnist who said the story of them being buried was fake? I wish I could remember so I could bombard him with LOLz.

Why are people bringing up AVGN btw? Is he doing a movie on the game too?

Tasuki

#65

Tasuki said:

@AG_Awesome: The James has been working on an AVGN movie for a few years now and is centered on the Atari Landfill. People are just interested on what he has to say about this and if it will effect his movie.

Kirk

#69

Kirk said:

Very cool to see this long running urban myth actually verified as real.

G3ry

#71

G3ry said:

@MAB ALL HAIL THE VIRTUAL BOY!!!
As the AVGN Movie is still in develpoment...i bet he could work something out (Though changing the script must be hard). Maybe they dont have to even change anything!

Zombie_Barioth

#72

Zombie_Barioth said:

@accc
Yea, and also hired construction workers, rented excavation equipment, and invited the press and public out to see it. Seriously, do you know how much backlash there would be if people found out they staged a hoax like that?

CliveWinston

#73

CliveWinston said:

The only thing lamer than finding a bunch of old crap games buried would be staging a hoax about finding a bunch of old crap games buried...

JebbyDeringer

#75

JebbyDeringer said:

@Tender_Cutlet You realize this is New Mexico which is a desert, you know the same kind of conditions where they find THOUSAND YEAR OLD MUMMIES?

The digging up of this curse can only mean one thing...Another video game crash!

Guitardude7

#76

Guitardude7 said:

Now the question is: do they still work? What do the excavators plan to do with all of these catridges?

DinoFett

#80

DinoFett said:

What do you think best's represents Atari today?
1.Vampire
2. Zombie
3.Frankenstein (Because the company is now made of pieces/parts.)

DinoFett

#81

DinoFett said:

Nintendo should just buy Sega,Atari,Intellivision and Commodore and put all that software on the 3DS.

NES_64

#82

NES_64 said:

I brought a copy of ET a couple of weeks ago for £3. Now along side my copy of Superman 64, and the only reasons I have those games because of the culture that's formed around them. I look forward to seeing the documentary if I still have my Xbox 360 still by then.

Zombie_Barioth

#84

Zombie_Barioth said:

@Tasuki
Thats true, though creating a fake persona isn't quite the same as staging a live event. I'm sure plenty of people went down just to see it and Microsoft really doesn't need the bad publicity if news of it being a hoax were to get out. They're the only one who stands to gain anything from this, being a gaming-related event.

ogo79

#86

ogo79 said:

they are just digging them up to refill the holes with n64 games.

RupeeClock

#87

RupeeClock said:

I know that everyone's been thinking about AVGN on this subject matter, but has anyone stopped to think about Steven Spielberg?

Caryslan

#88

Caryslan said:

@RupeeClock Why would he care? He signed off on the game and got his check years ago. I would be surprised he even remembered signing off on an ET game.

JimLad

#91

JimLad said:

1982: Atari release E.T. to lukewarm reception
1983: Video game industry crashes, Atari bury thousands of unsold copies
2014: Activision release Call of Duty Black Ops 3 to lukewarm reception
2015: Video game industry crashes, Activision bury thousands of unsold copies

Vader_MIB

#92

Vader_MIB said:

I still also have difficulties to trust this with 3 cartridges and not more. I will when i will see a bunch, but 3... Could be anything...

Dark-Link73

#94

Dark-Link73 said:

I'm going to be devil's advocate here but, doesn't anybody else find it rather peculiar that, after 30 years of private parties looking for this site, these people who are making a documentary for xbox (funded by Microsoft) happen to find a handful of cartridges?

If they don't find the rest of the lot, my money says they planted these few cartridges.

Dauntless

#95

Dauntless said:

Does the desert sand preserve cartridges? Those look like they are in very good shape after being buried for 30 years.

Henmii

#101

Henmii said:

On one hand its very cool that the mystery has been solved, but on the other hand: There goes the mystery! One thing less to speculate about!

I wonder about the AVGN though! It seems they have beat him!

legend_of_Shawn

#102

legend_of_Shawn said:

Always believed this was true. I think I still have my copy which I got for Christmas when I was 3 and I remember even at that age playing this crapterpiece, running around until you run out of energy and die over and over...(shudder) the memory haunts me!

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