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Salvaging E.T. In Software, Instead of New Mexico

timothy posted about a year ago | from the dust-to-dust dept.

Sci-Fi 146

Yesterday, we mentioned a just-approved effort to uncover the remains of goods dumped by Atari in New Mexico decades ago. New submitter Essellion writes "Among the games that legend has it are there is the Atari 2600 E.T. game, infamous for how bad it was. However, an excavator of another kind has cast doubts on how bad it was by exploring in depth the E.T. ROM, how it played and why, and designing some bug fixes for it."

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My friend had that game. (5, Interesting)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#43891613)

It sucked. With or without any bugs that I have forgotten in the mists of time, the gameplay was horrible, the field of play was idiotic, and it lacked any immersion into the movie storyline. It sucked.

Re:My friend had that game. (3, Insightful)

BitterOak (537666) | about a year ago | (#43891689)

It sucked. With or without any bugs that I have forgotten in the mists of time, the gameplay was horrible, the field of play was idiotic, and it lacked any immersion into the movie storyline. It sucked.

I think you hit onto its key problem, which was immersion into the movie storyline, or any storyline for that matter. Contrast that game to Adventure for the Atari 2600. I really felt I was wandering mazes and entering castles with that one. (Okay, not like a modern first person RPG, obviously, but this was a 2600, after all.)

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43891723)

You're both spoiled. Obviously, you've never played The Fabulous Wanda.

Re:My friend had that game. (5, Funny)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#43891779)

Well, you are right on the second point. I have no idea what that game was.

As for being spoiled, notice I said my friend owned the game. At that time (late 70s to early 80s), my games included climbing trees, running through the fields, and splashing in the crick (that's a creek that is too small to actually swim in) then pouring salt on the bloodsuckers to get them off our legs.

Re:My friend had that game. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43891959)

The Fabulous Wanda, by design, cannot be beat. You lose in every possible scenario, BY DESIGN! You get punished for playing.

Re:My friend had that game. (3)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43892053)

Well, yes. Sort of. I'd argue that claiming that the game has scenarios, let alone multiple ones, amounts to feeling disproportionately generous. Unless this is some strange use of the word "scenario" that I wasn't previously aware of.

Re:My friend had that game. (2)

hairyfeet (841228) | about a year ago | (#43892877)

So it was the inspiration for Dark Souls then?

Re:My friend had that game. (5, Funny)

evilviper (135110) | about a year ago | (#43893463)

my games included climbing trees, running through the fields, and splashing in the crick (that's a creek that is too small to actually swim in) then pouring salt on the bloodsuckers to get them off our legs.

Hey kid. Wanna go see a dead body?

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892555)

Meh, that game isn't awful.
Try Plattermania if you want a life of sorrow.

Re:My friend had that game. (3, Interesting)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#43891747)

I think you hit onto its key problem, which was immersion into the movie storyline, or any storyline for that matter. Contrast that game to Adventure for the Atari 2600. I really felt I was wandering mazes and entering castles with that one. (Okay, not like a modern first person RPG, obviously, but this was a 2600, after all.)

Exactly. Just because it was low-graphics, didn't mean it was impossible to have an immersive experience. Many games were very likable for their gameplay, but were just blips and blocks moving around. ET was a spinning cement block, with rat shit falling out onto you.

And if you were a balrog, I would certainly mod you up. For me, I'm just wondering how my first post was deemed to be redundant. Maybe someone doesn't know the meaning of the word. ;^)

Re:My friend had that game. (5, Informative)

radiumsoup (741987) | about a year ago | (#43891751)

yeah, but for what I had as a kid, it was the most complex game available (to me) at the time, and was a sink for MANY hours at a time (until I would inevitably hit into one of the bugs that caused you to be unable to continue). I can't recall if I ever finished it or not, but I doubt it. It's still in my parent's garage somewhere, probably right behind my C64 stuff.

Re:My friend had that game. (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#43892035)

I finished E.T. repeatedly. I thought it was a pretty snazzy game. I could read, though, and I read the manual.

My favorite 2600 game was Star Raiders. I got it when it went on sale at Kay-Bee toys because nobody wanted to pay extra to get a keypad they'd probably never be able to use again (and they were right about that.)

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

Nimey (114278) | about a year ago | (#43892969)

I was able to finish ET as well, but not every time. I used to be able to hack Haunted House too, but I can't do either of them anymore.

My current favorite 2600 game is Seaquest.

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

steveha (103154) | about a year ago | (#43893673)

My favorite 2600 game was Star Raiders.

Hmm. Did you ever try Activision's game Starmaster? I thought Starmaster was a much better Star Raiders game than the official Star Raiders cartridge. (We had both.)

The original Atari 800 Star Raiders was a classic. I need to get an emulator and play that again.

I also played the Atari ST version of Star Raiders and it wasn't as good as the original. Better-looking, though. I did love the fact that there was a button that did something dangerous, and you had to hit a key twice to activate it; on the first keypress a protective cover was shown retracting and a warning tone played, and if you didn't hit the key again right away the protective cover was shown sliding down over the button. I think it activated an emergency hyperjump that sometimes saved you and sometimes killed you, but I don't remember for sure.

Has anyone done a Star Raiders sort of game for Android or Linux? I love the combination of a strategic map and arcade-style dogfighting.

P.S. I hated Activision's 2600 game Robot Tank. It was basically the same game as Starmaster except you had no way to repair damage, so it just got less and less fun until you died.

Re:My friend had that game. (3, Interesting)

Cinder6 (894572) | about a year ago | (#43893815)

Hating of ET has become popular in recent years. Honestly, though, it's neither the worst game ever, nor even the worst game on the 2600.* It was even one of the best-selling 2600 games at 1.5 million copies--unfortunately, Atari produced somewhere around 5 million copies. That, combined with the high cost of licensing it, made for significant losses.

*I actually enjoy it somewhat.

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43893453)

Dear freaking lord... you're telling me the reason I never understood a freaking level, and how to pass it, was... possibly due to a bug? That, well, sucked balls! What a waste of my youth! :-(

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43891761)

It sucked. With or without any bugs that I have forgotten in the mists of time, the gameplay was horrible, the field of play was idiotic, and it lacked any immersion into the movie storyline. It sucked.

Which it is called Extreme.Trash. Rotting On Mound

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Belial6 (794905) | about a year ago | (#43892081)

E.T. was better than 80% of the other Atari games. The problem with E.T. wasn't that the game was bad. It was that it came out just as people were switching to C64 and Apple II for their gaming fix. It was an end of lifecycle game for the 2600, yet was manufactured as if it were an anchor launch title.

Re:My friend had that game. (2)

hairyfeet (841228) | about a year ago | (#43892911)

Are you fucking stoned? Seriously? Better than 80%? Sorry I have to throw a flag, bullshit on the field. Fuck all the Pacman and Galaga knockoff were better than that boring as hell POS, even the game designer apologized for making it! It doesn't deserve to even be named in the same breath as Star Raiders, Haunted House, Night Driver, Yar's Revenge, Pitfall!, Space Invaders, hell I could go on all day with the amount of truly great games there was for the 2600 while ET was nothing but a quickly thrown together cash grab, which again even the guy who wrote it admitted that and said they gave him less than 5 weeks to go from nothing to RTM.

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

Pubstar (2525396) | about a year ago | (#43892987)

If memory serves me right, wasn't it Nolan Bushnell that wrote the game? Anyways, if you haven't seen the Code Monkeys episode on E.T., you should. It's on Netflix.

Re:My friend had that game. (2)

narcc (412956) | about a year ago | (#43893067)

No, it was Howard Scott Warshaw. The same guy who made Raiders of the Lost Ark and Yar's Revenge. Spielberg specifically requested Warshaw for the project after the success of Raiders.

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

nman64 (912054) | about a year ago | (#43892333)

I still have the game. I know exactly where it is, along with my Atari consoles and controllers. I played it not too long ago - I pull it out from time to time to demonstrate it and other Atari games to those who missed out. I thought the game sucked when it was new, and I still think it sucks now. The game was horrible. Its contribution to Atari's downfall may be overstated, but the game really was terrible. It was one of my least favorite Atari titles, and that's saying a lot.

Re:My friend had that game. (5, Interesting)

hairyfeet (841228) | about a year ago | (#43892997)

As somebody who was actually there and who was friends with many of the store owners in my area at the time? I can tell you what caused the crash and it was NOT ET, ET was just a really famous flop, like how they made more Pacman carts than there were 2600 consoles and ended up having to give away Pacman carts with just about every promo.

No what REALLY caused the crash was how business was done back then which very few people know about. I am about to tell you how retail worked when it came to games, i bet you'll spot the fatal flaw before I'm even done explaining it, ready? Here goes....

The way retail for games worked was a store would buy X number of carts from a company or distributor and then when Y number of carts didn't sell they would RETURN those carts to the company who would then give them new product or a refund and then recycle the carts. This way the retail channel wasn't overloaded with old product driving down the price, even small stores could have a nice selection (since they knew they'd get replacements or cash for all unsold product) and a lot of the cart could be recycled thus lowering production cost for the company, so a win/win for them and retailers.

By now I'm sure everybody sees the fatal flaw in this little arrangement, Atari lost a couple of high profile cases which made it so ANYBODY could make a 2600 cart and the next thing you know an assload of fly by night companies are cranking out such "gems" as Chase The Chuckwagon and a ton of really lame one trick games. Well naturally all these lame half assed games didn't sell but when the retailers went to send the product back to get new products or a refund most of the companies just cashed out and folded.

And THIS is what caused the crash! You see the retailers didn't want to have warehouses and shelves filled with shit nobody wanted, and they couldn't send it back, so by the middle of 83 instead of paying $20+ a game I was buying games at a buck a pop or 12 for $10...now why would I pay $20 for a single game when I was getting 5 Coleco games for $5, or a dozen Atari games for $10? Not to mention the same thing happened to the handhelds so I was getting cool handhelds like Football and Pool for a couple of bucks a pop, so why would I pay $20 for one game?

The answer is I wouldn't and neither would anybody else which is why the price went into a freefall, due to the high price of chips back then even if you made a truly great game thanks to how low the prices hit you often wouldn't even be able to make back what you paid to have the cart made, much less make a nickel in profit, and THAT is why so many companies folded. Being buddies with the kids of the retailers I got to hear how many of them ended up losing tens of thousands because of how much they had paid for product VS what it would sell for (which was a shitload of money back then) so naturally most of them dumped every bit of product they had and didn't want a damned thing to do with anything video game related for quite a long time. I know that in my area the NES didn't even show up until late '88 simply because all the retailers feared another pocket raping which considering how many of them were left in bad shape after the crash you really can't blame them.

So yes ET sucked and was a badly made POS, but honestly no single game had jack shit to do with the crash, it was a badly set up business practice that gave retailers a false sense of security which caused them to buy more stock than they could really afford to lose money on that caused the crash.

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

chrismcb (983081) | about a year ago | (#43893177)

next thing you know an assload of fly by night companies are cranking out such "gems" as Chase The Chuckwagon and a ton of really lame one trick games.

It is common knowledge that the plethora of horrible games led to the crash, and ET is just used as a poster child.

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892357)

Completely agreed. All these years I thought it was me who didn't understand it, but thanks to the Internet I know the game really *did* suck. Hehe.

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

tibit (1762298) | about a year ago | (#43892617)

RTFM?

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

mypalmike (454265) | about a year ago | (#43893205)

It's true. The game was unplayable without the manual, but actually an OK game with it. It was not great by any means, but it was playable and there was some challenge to finishing in the time allotted.

I got the game on cartridge when it came out. The copy I got came in a box without the manual for some reason. My friend and I tried to play by guessing what you were supposed to do. It seemed a lot like the old Superman cartridge which we liked (and which could be played with no manual). But after falling into pits for about 1/2 hour, we abandoned it since it seemed totally random.

Not long ago, I revisited it just to see if it was as bad as I remembered. And it was just as bad and random... until I downloaded and read the manual. The goals of the game and even some "tactics" might have been deduced by experimentation. But if you couldn't decipher the cryptic mode icon in the corner of the screen that changed as you moved around, you had no chance of understanding what you were doing. Once you could decipher it, the game actually made sense.

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43893409)

I got my Atari 2nd hand. My parents couldn't afford a NES, but they somehow got someone to give me an Atari. It didn't come with any manuals. I couldn't figure ET out, just got stuck in the holes, and stopped playing it. There was no internet, couldn't just look up the manual. I don't remember anything about that Atari, except my horrible experience with ET.

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about a year ago | (#43892423)

All of those games sucked that had the movie genre however kids still wanted them and with the novelty (yes novelty) of the 2600 people would buy something new just to show it off. Game Stop hadn't been invented yet but I'm sure that after you paid $20 for ET in their store, they'd charge you a disposal fee if you tried to return it.

What's even funnier about all of this is now I have this vision of a bunch of archaeologists out in the middle of the desert trying to find the ancient runs of the lost city of Atari. Better yet, why somebody would go into that old game and try to figure out why it was so bad. I guess some people have way too much spare time on their hands these days.

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892435)

It sucked. With or without any bugs that I have forgotten in the mists of time, the gameplay was horrible, the field of play was idiotic, and it lacked any immersion into the movie storyline. It sucked.

You are being *very* generous. There was no gameplay at all, no storyline. There was absolutely nothing in that "game" that would have made it, in fact, a "game".

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892513)

I had that game too when it first came out. It wasn't that bad. Granted, it wasn't good, but it's not nearly as bad as all of the bandwagon haters who weren't even alive at the time of release say it is.

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892655)

But I have to admit that I can still remember the excitement when my friend showed how you could crash the game by moving ET under the spaceship that was supposed to pick him up.

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

AmazingRuss (555076) | about a year ago | (#43892693)

That was pretty much ALL 2600 games. I don't remember ET being all that much worse.

Re:My friend had that game. (4, Interesting)

hairyfeet (841228) | about a year ago | (#43892863)

Dude I also had that game, when the big crash happened i bought it and like a dozen more for $5 at my local Magic Mart (man i miss that store) and the one thing this all ignores is this....it wasn't fun. I don't mean like it had some bad bits you just had to plow through, I mean the whole thing was not fun at all. The pits were unpredictable and if you fell in you had to do this sloooow as hell neck stretch to get out, the entire game felt pointless and random, it really wasn't a fun game.

The simple fact is while everybody talks about how the market was flooded (which caused the crash) what they ignore how many truly good and even great games there were. Sure many of them were knockoffs of the hits, Ladybug for Coleco is a good example as it was a Pacman clone but in level designs and excitement I thought it was a better game than the original, but when you had so much competition you can't just throw together some shitty levels, slap a movie license on them, and not expect it to bomb. hell that is why movie license games have such a bad rap after all,a trend that continues to this day with the likes of Iron Man and Battleship the movie game.

Atari was already in REALLY bad shape thanks to corporate mismanagement, such as losing most of their best devs by refusing to give them credit for their work, but ET is the perfect example of what being bought by WB did to that company. Once WB bought it it was no longer about making fun games people would buy, it was all about product marketing and timetables and who gives a shit about whether its even playable, much less fun.

So I'm sorry but this guy is full of shit, it WAS that bad. You couldn't even enjoy it in a "so bad its good" sense like you could a bad movie or a bad game like "You Are Empty" (if you haven't tried it? Plot makes ZERO sense and one level you are attacked by 30 foot tall mutant attack chickens, I swear to God, you are chased around a farm by old coots with double barrels and 30 foot chickens, now THAT is good cheese!) because everything about it was just boring and unpleasant. If it hadn't had the ET movie license and been pushed so hard nobody would even remember this thing ever existed,its THAT boring and bad.

Re:My friend had that game. (1)

evilviper (135110) | about a year ago | (#43893455)

The pits were unpredictable and if you fell in you had to do this sloooow as hell neck stretch to get out, the entire game felt pointless and random, it really wasn't a fun game.

And then after the tedious neck-stretching levitation, you'd get back to the surface, and inexplicably fall back in, maybe a couple times in a row. And on the third exit, you've run out of energy, and ET just anticlimactically dies in the pit, and nobody cares.

Yes, the game had no logic and no point. Why are ET's radio parts spread around giant pits in the ground? Was Eliot in some forgotten mining town we didn't hear about in the film? There was no rhyme, and no reason to any of it.

Sadly, I don't think ET was actually the worst game on the 2600, but it was near the top.

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43893599)

"The pits were unpredictable and if you fell in you had to do this sloooow as hell neck stretch to get out, the entire game felt pointless and random, it really wasn't a fun game."

Pits unpredictable? Say wha? There's 4 screens of pits. They are always linked together in the exact same order.

How is that unpredictable?

I had the game growing up as well, and have it now. It's seriously not worth the hate it gets even if it isn't the awesome bundle of fun it was hyped up to be back in the day.

You want a horrible game, try trying one of the many games that came out in 83 that flooded the stores in the me-too rush that stuffed the stores full of horrible games that were literally unplayable. Seriously, many of them had trouble reliably reading the freaking joystick properly and others had no gameplay value whatsoever.

Nobody bought them once it was realized how horrible the games were, and the original companies wouldn't buy them back. "all sales final". That kinda shit is what really led to the crash in north america. (Which didn't happen elsewhere in the world.)

Re:My friend had that game. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43893751)

Atari was already in REALLY bad shape thanks to corporate mismanagement, such as losing most of their best devs by refusing to give them credit for their work, but ET is the perfect example of what being bought by WB did to that company. Once WB bought it it was no longer about making fun games people would buy, it was all about product marketing and timetables and who gives a shit about whether its even playable, much less fun.

Yikes... nothing new at all to see here... move along folks...

related Pac-Man hacks (5, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#43891693)

If you like this kind of investigation, you might be interested in hacks of the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man. The port from the arcade was notoriously bad, because the hardware of the Atari basically didn't map well onto the graphics needed for the game. As a result, everything is basically wrong: the pills are fat dashes, the elegant outline graphics of the original are blocky opaque colors, etc. But worst of all, since the Atari's two sprite registers are used to draw both Pac-Man and the ghosts, whenever there are more than 2 ghosts+PacMan on a horizonal scanline, they start flickering because the porters resorted to the horrible hack of round-robin rotating which sprites got to be drawn in the 2 sprite registers. (This looks slightly less horrible on a CRT with phosphor decay, but it still looks bad.) Anyway, if you want more on the details of why this port sucked, and how it can be traced to hardware mismatches, it's covered in detail in ch. 4 of the book Racing the Beam [amzn.to] .

But on to the hacks: Rob Kudla discussed and did some work [kudla.org] towards a better Atari 2600 port in the late 1990s, and there are now a number of attempts [strategywiki.org] , though many of them do cheat by doing things like using an 8K ROM rather than the original 4K.

Re:related Pac-Man hacks (1)

gmhowell (26755) | about a year ago | (#43892025)

And yet Ms. Pac Man on the same system displayed nowhere near the same amount of suckitude.

Re:related Pac-Man hacks (1)

TJamieson (218336) | about a year ago | (#43892041)

My understanding is the original developer claimed to be able to not use the goofy scanline hack if he'd been on a larger ROM. Maybe Ms. Pac Man was a 16K ROM rather than 8K?

Re:related Pac-Man hacks (4, Informative)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about a year ago | (#43892127)

Pac Man wasn't 8K. It was 4K, which is one reason it sucked so badly. Tod Frye begged for 8K but Atari wouldn't let him have it. Ms Pac Man got an 8K ROM.

Re:related Pac-Man hacks (1)

Stormwatch (703920) | about a year ago | (#43892107)

No, the problem was not the hardware, as the ports of Ms. Pac Man and Jr. Pac Man for the 2600 were pretty decent. The problem was bad management. Tod Frye was given an unreasonable deadline and only 4K, despite repeatedly requesting 8K (which is not "cheating", mind you). Atari's CEO even dismissed warnings that the game was not up to par. So what they released was pretty much a prototype.

Wasn't so bad (2)

spire3661 (1038968) | about a year ago | (#43891727)

I was young, maybe 8 or 10. I had games for a long time but i had no way of judging good from bad games. In the atari days i could only afford a few games and they were all 'good' to me. E.T. wasn't the worst thing ever, im pretty sure i beat it a bunch of times. I never really thought about it until everyone talked about it years later.

Re:Wasn't so bad (4, Interesting)

Creepy (93888) | about a year ago | (#43891845)

I'm in your boat - while I never owned ET, I did rent it for a couple of weeks, and I'm pretty sure I beat it a couple of times. I did read the manual, mainly because I had a lot of time between renting the game and getting home (we lived 10 miles out of town and a good half of that was city). While I didn't have fond memories of it, I didn't abhor it like some people. Now 2600 Pac Man was abhorrent, especially after playing it on a ColecoVision and Intellivision first.

Re:Wasn't so bad (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | about a year ago | (#43893779)

I liked the 2600 Pac-Man. Not a patch on the other versions, but if someone wanted to play Pac-Man in our house, it was fun, it worked, and had a decent pace.

And then after we ran it for a few hours the vitamin would sometimes split into two pieces placed randomly that couldn't be picked up. And then there was time my mom got the score to roll over and was annoyed that there was no victory message or kill screen. Good times.

Re:Wasn't so bad (1)

Tempest_2084 (605915) | about a year ago | (#43892225)

Exactly. I had it as a kid and thought it was 'alright'. It wasn't good, but it wasn't bad either. I had a lot of fun playing around with it and even beat it a few times (looking back on it, it really isn't that hard). The 'worst game ever made' thing didn't start until the 90's and even then it's not a title the game deserved. There are a ton of worse games out there, but E.T. is so high profile that it's easy to pick on. Bottom line: Not a good game, but not a bad game either. Quite frankly I think Raiders of the Lost Ark (another Howard Scott Warshaw game) is worse than E.T. and it gets near universal praise. Go figure.

Re:Wasn't so bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892393)

Yes it was. I suggest you try it and compare it to other 2600 games. ET was by far the worst game of all time. It truly is shocking what a steaming pile of shit this crap actually was. Unlike most, I still have it and can fire it up to prove the "it wasn't so bad" brigade how pathetic it is on my modified 2600.

ET's big failure... (5, Interesting)

Bieeanda (961632) | about a year ago | (#43891767)

...was forced multimedia. You could pick up and plug in virtually any other Atari game (Star Raiders and its keypad accessory aside), and understand what you were doing inside of a minute. ET required you to read the manual, a feat for some players, doubly so if it had fallen behind the TV, in order to decipher the pictograms that appeared at the top of the screen and the behavior of the 'enemies'.

Its integration with the actual story was pretty lackluster too, like a five year old relating the film to a distracted parent, who went on to explain it to a coder in a foreign language.

Re:ET's big failure... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43891897)

I don't agree. Adventure was pretty highly regarded, and I dare you to find someone who can pick that one up in a minute without the manual.

Re:ET's big failure... (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | about a year ago | (#43892133)

I don't agree. Adventure was pretty highly regarded, and I dare you to find someone who can pick that one up in a minute without the manual.

How about this refinement, then?

Adventure did need some reading of the manual to figure out the mechanics, gameplay, etc. But, and this is the crucial difference: playing the game was rewarding after doing do. And things actually made a degree of sense. Some things were attracted to the magnet, some weren't. Different dragons behaved differently. Objects had specific purposes. And so on. And then there were the undocumented things which one had to discover the old-fashioned way: word of mouth, luck, or just lots of playtime.

E.T., on the other hand, when you read the manual was both difficult and boring. (Which I believe is how Niles Crane described dancing -- sadly I have to agree with him.)

Re:ET's big failure... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892411)

Why would you need a manual for Adventure? You can complete all three levels in less than 20 minutes without knowing anything about the game. All you need to do is collect the keys, drag them to the gates, fight the dragon/ducks, collect gold reward. Game ends, that's it.

Re:ET's big failure... (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | about a year ago | (#43892627)

Actually, I think Adventure was BETTER without the manual(never had it, still love that game to this day). That game's mechanics were complex enough that you couldn't figure it out completely in a few minutes, but simple enough that you could basically figure the whole game out in an afternoon of trial and error. It was that sense of well....adventure that made that game so great.

Re:ET's big failure... (1)

willith (218835) | about a year ago | (#43892203)

I'd very much have to disagree. Atari games were often quite opaque—Yar's Revenge is a good example of a game that didn't make a lick of sense unless you'd read the manual. There wasn't room on the ROM for any handholding. Plus, most games had dozens of different modes of play available through the game select switch (like Combat, or Space Invaders), and figuring out the differences between them absolutely required a manual.

Too much time... (0, Troll)

mendax (114116) | about a year ago | (#43891787)

The guy who did the analysis and bug fixes is someone who has way too much time on his hands. Fixing bugs in a thirty-year-old game that was a commercial failure which ran on a game system that was crude even by the standards written in 6502 assembly that nearly no one uses anymore seems to be the folly of a fellow who is either not working or needs to get a life. Still.... it was interesting to read what he did. Perhaps I have to much time on my hands!

It's relative (5, Insightful)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year ago | (#43891867)

There are millions of people who have spent as much time watching TV game shows. YMMV.

Re:It's relative (2)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#43892093)

or being on slashdot

Re:Too much time... (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | about a year ago | (#43892063)

ran on a game system that was crude even by the standards

Just to clarify: crude by the standards of 1982, when the E.T. game was released, not by the standards of 1977 when the console was released.

6502 still around, huge (4, Insightful)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#43892141)

the CMOS version of the 6502, the 65C02 and the static core version (clock can be slowed down or stopped without data loss) are still made and still used for embedded applications. We're talking annual volume in the hundreds of millions of units!
http://www.westerndesigncenter.com/wdc/ [westerndesigncenter.com]

Re:6502 still around, huge (1)

shoor (33382) | about a year ago | (#43892287)

I wonder if I still have my 6502 manual anywhere. My brother and I had an Ohio Scientific Superboard 2 and I programmed the game of life on it in assembly. Saved the code off to an audio cassette using Kansas City Standard (that part was my brother's doing, he was the hardware guy). That pre and post indexed addressing through page zero was pretty cool, but the 8 bit stack pointer... Well, it meant you had to be careful.

You dont understand. (2)

Arker (91948) | about a year ago | (#43892773)

That man is a hacker. (Using that word properly.)

Re:Too much time... (2)

chrismcb (983081) | about a year ago | (#43893187)

Why is it, whenever someone does something they enjoy doing. Someone else complains that person has too much time on their hands? Are you just jealous that he had the time?
Do you complain about fisherman, who sit for hours. People who lay at the beach to tan? Perhaps anyone that goes to a movie, sits in a hot tub. Plays a game. Sits around chatting with friends. What does one have to do, in your eyes, to not be wasting their time?

I can't imagine this is worth it (0)

mysidia (191772) | about a year ago | (#43891795)

Atari video game burial: [wikipedia.org] The goods disposed of through the burial are generally believed to have been several million copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a game which had become one of the biggest commercial failures in video gaming and is often cited as one of the worst video games released; and the Atari 2600 port of Pac-Man, which had been commercially successful but critically maligned.

E.T. was a commercial failure -- do you really think it would be worth recovering a few million reproductions of a piece of trash?

What would copyright law say about restoring and reselling boards with a copy of a copyright work that was not sold, and the author ordered destroyed?

One or two copies of E.T. might be worth a lot. As soon as you have millions though, the value is negligible...

Their only real value is to collectors as a historical memento; there are only so many collectors, and millions of copies is plenty enough for all of the collectors, without competing -- I see no way the dig could recover its costs, even if they find them..

The copies of Pacman may be worth a little more, because hey: people still want to play that.

Re:I can't imagine this is worth it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892047)

got better odds of winning the lottery than finding any functional electronics out in that land fill, the odds are it was crushed by heavy equipment and was buried in concrete, add to the fact its been 30 years, they arnt going to find a single readable label on those carts let alone one that plays.

Re:I can't imagine this is worth it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892083)

The only reason they're even considering it is that they're hoping the collector market will snap them up...and they won't. They might sell a handful of E.T. just for the sake of people who like to buy awful things for a laugh... Pacman they'd probably sell more of for the same reason, with the added bonus of it being a classic title, even if the Atari port was awful.

I can't imagine the price they'd get for either would be even close to what it'll cost them to dig up and then clean up the site, though. Seems like a wasted effort as you said, but who knows. Maybe they'll sell seven million copies of E.T. for the Atari 2600, covered in human waste and for a dollar each, proving us all wrong and freezing hell solid.

Re:I can't imagine this is worth it (1)

mysidia (191772) | about a year ago | (#43892925)

Maybe they'll sell seven million copies of E.T. for the Atari 2600, covered in human waste and for a dollar each, proving us all wrong and freezing hell solid.

Yup.

I see plenty of E.T. available on Ebay with box and manual, doubtlessly taken better care of, and in better original condition for ~$8 to ~$10.

The best use of digging it up would probably be to recycle the components; unless they intend to collaborate to make a magic cartridge modification to fix all the issues with the game, and sell an altered version.

I suppose a big chunk of them could sell as a novelty... collector value, just because of the fact that it came from Atari's game burial.

Maybe the 3 thousand or less copies they are likely to recover (assuming there are any packed in the middle of the 'stack' that have not decayed/been damaged beyond recognition), will sell for $10 or $20 based on that.

It still won't recover the hundreds of thousands that a dig operation like this costs to perform :)

Re:I can't imagine this is worth it (1)

narcc (412956) | about a year ago | (#43893487)

I figure they intend to profit on the documentary, not whatever they manage to unearth. Prices are up right now (thanks to the AVGN movie and the documentary project) but you used to be able to pick-up a pristine copy of E.T. (with box and manual) for less than $5. They'd have to be crazy if they thought they could profit from that.

There may be a small market for E.T. carts actually unearthed from the legendary landfill. The history would make the piece much more interesting.

Re:I can't imagine this is worth it (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about a year ago | (#43892341)

The copies of Pacman may be worth a little more, because hey: people still want to play that.

Not really. I had it and at the time it was fine as the expectations of 2600 games was pretty low for most of us. But I've read that years later people were returning pacman due to it being so unlike the original arcade version. They made 12 million units, so there are plenty out there. My daughter has one of those Jaks Pacman games that can be plugged into the TV and looks and sounds just like the original.

Re:I can't imagine this is worth it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892803)

You said the word expectations, and that probably says as much as anything about why ET was hated; expectations mismatch. Because of the tittle players were expecting probably more than the near obsolete platform could deliver. The actual game was worse, with obvious bugs and mediocre game play that didn't match the movies story line. And that boils down to management problems at Atari. Competent management would have spent the time and effort on the game to meet players expectation and used it to launch a second generation game platform. Instead whey cemented consumers impression that the 2600 was obsolete and further that the company didn't care.

Re:I can't imagine this is worth it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892377)

Neither one is worth much, excavation or not. Both carts (especially Pac-man) are very common. In fact, it's hard to buy a lot of carts that *doesn't* include Pac-man.

Re:I can't imagine this is worth it (1)

chrismcb (983081) | about a year ago | (#43893195)

What would copyright law say about restoring and reselling boards with a copy of a copyright work that was not sold, and the author ordered destroyed?

Absolutely nothing. As copyright law has nothing to say about boards. About the software in the ROM? Again nothing, if you manage to salvage the ROMS, then you aren't making copies of the ROMS.

Re:I can't imagine this is worth it (1)

mysidia (191772) | about a year ago | (#43893569)

Absolutely nothing. As copyright law has nothing to say about boards. About the software in the ROM?

The point is copyright restricts performance, distribution, and modification, not just copying.

The first sale doctrine has been used to establish a precedent that allows you to re-sell copyright works you have purchased. The right of the copyright holder to make the copy exercised by the first sale, flows; that is: this allows you to resell the work, the first sale permits it.

But there's a problem here.... what happens when you have an unpublished copy that was never sold to anyone; there is no 'first sale'; therefore, the first sale doctrine does not apply to this ROM you have recovered.

And there is no first abandonment doctrine I know of, that says the copy of the work of an author who abandoned a copy of the work, or accidentally misplaced a copy, or who accidentally leaked a copy due to employee misbehavior, or subcontractor misbehavior -- enjoys a right to be redistributed.

Therefore.... there is no right to distribute the work that is flowing to you.

In other words: salvaging the ROM, and reselling it without copying, might be infringement. There is no precedent I know of which says that is allowed, and it encroaches on an exclusive right protected by the copyright statute, that would tend to suggest that redistributing it would be illegal (even though you haven't made the copy -- and the copy may have been legal to make, it was never "infused with a right" to be redistributed, since there was never a first sale).

Not a troll - no pun intended (1)

maxrate (886773) | about a year ago | (#43891799)

I really don't understand why people are even discussing this anymore. I have this game, it sucked, it was 20 something years ago - no one should care. Moon Patrol was the shit.

Re:Not a troll - no pun intended (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | about a year ago | (#43892011)

I really don't understand why people are even discussing this anymore. I have this game, it sucked, it was 20 something years ago - no one should care. Moon Patrol was the shit.

Indeed, that is why the previously linked arstechnica.com [arstechnica.com] story includes:

reports suggest the dump may also contain unsold consoles, PCs, and even prototypes of the Atari Mindlink controller

The "oh we'll find 3.5 million copies of E.T." is just the satire -- that they'll have to dig through waist-deep crap to get to the gems.

Re:Not a troll - no pun intended (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892417)

that they'll have to dig through waist-deep crap to get to the other crap.

FTFY

Re:Not a troll - no pun intended (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | about a year ago | (#43892157)

I really don't understand why people are even discussing this anymore. I have this game, it sucked, it was 20 something years ago - no one should care. Moon Patrol was the shit.

There's often more to learn from failure than from success.

Also, the failure was spectacular. It's become sort of a legend, as spectacular events will.

Re:Not a troll - no pun intended (1)

pinkushun (1467193) | about a year ago | (#43893783)

Apparently E.T's second name was "Cetera"

Not -that- bad (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | about a year ago | (#43891865)

E.T. Wasn't that bad of a game, it was just a terrible, terrible, terrible financial decision on Atari's part, neither was Pac-Man. But Atari paid a stupidly-high licensing fee for E.T. then rushed the production and then produced far more inventory than was needed for demand, mix that with the fact that Pac-Man was produced with 2 million more cartridges than Atari had sold consoles leads to a poor outcome.

The 2600 had a bunch of trash released for it (along with a handful of great gems) its just that Atari's bad business practices turned what could have been a minor setback to an industry crash.

Re:Not -that- bad (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | about a year ago | (#43892209)

E.T. Wasn't that bad of a game, it was just a terrible, terrible, terrible financial decision on Atari's part, neither was Pac-Man. But Atari paid a stupidly-high licensing fee for E.T. then rushed the production and then produced far more inventory than was needed for demand . . .

E.T. may not have been the worst 2600 game ever. I played some no-name cartridges picked up in a sale basket at the drug store that were worse. "Sneak and Peek" comes to mind. It was hide-and-seek. On TV. Seriously, one player looks away while another hides in one of the oh, four, available low-res hiding places. If you had a TV and a room for it, you'd have more fun just playing actual physical hide-and-seek in that room.

But dollar for dollar, E.T. was amazingly awful, and set back movie-inspired video games by decades. I can only assume the decision not to release "Amadeus" on the 7800 was due to the E.T. fiasco.

Re:Not -that- bad (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | about a year ago | (#43892907)

I think ET just showed that licensed games are nearly uniformly terrible. I mean, its an exception that a game based off of a movie, TV show or book turns out to be good. Film and video games are two separate mediums and rarely can you turn a good movie into a good game (and you certainly can't turn a good video game into a good movie http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Mario_Bros._(film) [wikipedia.org] ). Indeed with the exception of Goldeneye, Capcom's Disney games (Duck Tales, etc.), some of the Star Wars games and some of the LoTR games I don't think there's really been any great games based off of licensed properties in a different medium.

What a bewildering game (1)

Bambi Dee (611786) | about a year ago | (#43891923)

...I've never known how to play it. Had the module, but no manual. It was almost as bewildering as Raiders of the Lost Ark. Didn't help that I hadn't, and still haven't, seen either movie (honestly...). Sadly my favourite 2600 games are rarely mentioned any more (most are by Imagic and Activision, not Atari).

Re:What a bewildering game (1)

gmhowell (26755) | about a year ago | (#43892379)

...I've never known how to play it. Had the module, but no manual. It was almost as bewildering as Raiders of the Lost Ark. Didn't help that I hadn't, and still haven't, seen either movie (honestly...). Sadly my favourite 2600 games are rarely mentioned any more (most are by Imagic and Activision, not Atari).

Dragon's Lair and Kaboom FTW!

The ET movie had essentially nothing to do with the game. Seeing or not seeing it would in no way change your understanding of the game.

Re: What a bewildering game (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892775)

Loved kaboom!!

Re:What a bewildering game (1)

Bambi Dee (611786) | about a year ago | (#43893729)

I'm stil extraordinarily fond of Moonsweeper, Pitfall II, and HERO... I'd go so far as to say that Moonsweeper looks good :o (the swooping and swaying of the little orange UFOs across the "3D" "landscape", especially)

Still one of the best games (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43891935)

River Raid. still one of the most immersive games ever.

Re:Still one of the best games (1)

SupplyMission (1005737) | about a year ago | (#43891977)

Agreed.

Just because your comment reminded me, I think later on I'll pull out my old Atari 2600 and hook it up to the CRT TV in the basement, and play for a couple of hours.

Re:Still one of the best games (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#43892243)

That was our favorite one, for that same reason.

Now fix raiders (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#43891941)

I beat ET repeatedly back in the day as a kid. I guess being able to read was what did it. But even though I literally have seen someone do it, I've never been able to get into the cave while parachuting.

Re:Now fix raiders (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892967)

That's similar to the problem I had with ET. I read the manual; it was weirdly complicated for the time, but not hard to figure out. But I could not levitate out of the fucking pits. I would always fall back in. Maybe 1 in 10 times I would somehow make it out. It was some sort of timing thing I just could not get. So the game got returned (you could do that, in those days), and I got something else that I don't even remember now.

Why are people trying to "experience" this? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43891969)

I mean I can understand the appeal of retro systems to a certain extent...at this point, for me, it's easier to run the ROM in an emulator on whatever given system I'm using (including my cell phone with RetroArch). E.T. was piled into a landfill for a reason, it's a terrible game, but if you really want to experience it that badly, fire it up in an emulator and give it a try. It's a lot faster than waiting for some folks looking for their 15 minutes of fame and few million dollars in retro collector's money. But really, you don't want to bother with either. It just sucks. You'll know all you need to from one Youtube search I'm sure.

Re:Why are people trying to "experience" this? (1)

Hamsterdan (815291) | about a year ago | (#43892331)

An emulator isn't the same thing. When I turn on my NES, I use the original controllers and gun with a device those games were designed for, a CRT TV. Same goes for my C64. It's about the experience, the ritual, like pulling out a record from its sleeve, put it on the platter and gently lower the needle.

Re: Why are people trying to "experience" this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892807)

I could tell you're a hipster from that reply. Anyone who breaks out the vinyl analogy to justify their weird hoarding habits is bound to be carrying an iPad in one hand and an "appletini" in the other...

Re:Why are people trying to "experience" this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43893813)

Sometimes emulation is total and complete shit.

Example: Amstrad/Centuri/Taito Phoenix. Oh, they got the graphics right, and the opening background music for the start of each new loop. However, the force field has a longer delay than the arcade, and they totally fucked up the shot, flying birds, flying bird explosion, and flying saucer boss sounds.

Apparently, a similar emulation was used on Taito Legends so many will play Phoenix as a mediocre game with terribly annoying sounds, when it really was a great game with fitting sounds for the space themed bird-centric shooter for the time.

AVGN Movie? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892237)

Anyone else find it strange that the AVGN movie based on the E.T. game is coming out shortly?

Did everyone suck at this game? (2)

jennatalia (2684459) | about a year ago | (#43892359)

I had no problems read the manual to figure it out. We didn't have the fandangled interwebs of today back then. You were lucky if you had friends who had it at school or maybe someone's older brother that talked about it at the arcade. At least E.T. had an end. Pitfall, on the other hand, just kept going. There was always that one guy that claimed he went back to the beginning, but no, he lied. It just keeps going...

Re:Did everyone suck at this game? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892619)

. At least E.T. had an end. Pitfall, on the other hand, just kept going. There was always that one guy that claimed he went back to the beginning, but no, he lied. It just keeps going...

Pitfall does have an "end" in the sense that there are only 256 screens, you will wrap around to the beginning if you can make it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitfall!

ET was terribad. (1)

DarkProphet (114727) | about a year ago | (#43892601)

I inherited a 2600 and a ton of games from my cousins when I was 5 or 6 years old, back in 1986-ish. No manuals, just the console, an assload of games, and a few different controllers (joysticks, paddles, etc). It was AWESOME!

ET was superbly bad. Loved the movie back then, was amped to play the Atari game, and it was all a total clusterfuck of terrible, and a complete waste of time to even my fledgling mind at the time. Combat, PacMan, Pitfall, Keystone Kops, Tapper, Pole Position, Missle Command, Defender, Asteroids, and a few others I can't remember the names of... well they were so much better when it comes to actual fun and replay value. Especially if you are a little kid, and quickly grok how to play.

ET was just inexplicably bad in comparison. There was absolutely no way to intuitively pick up on what the hell was going on and what you were supposed to do.

Sadly, over the years it has seemly been the case that any videogame based off a movie will predictably suck balls. As much as I'd like to blame the Atari ET game for setting that precident, I also had the Tron game and that also sucked ass, and I don't know which was published first.

Re:ET was terribad. (1)

greg1104 (461138) | about a year ago | (#43892743)

The Tron arcade game was great though, also released in 1982. And after the terrible ET game, the early arcade games based on Star Wars and Star Trek from 1983 are all great fun to play. Not all of the home games based on movies are bad either. The Atari 2600 "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" was decent.

Re:ET was terribad. (1)

jaminJay (1198469) | about a year ago | (#43892999)

Just look up the number of times a 'Batman' title has won 'Game of the Year' or similar (not always based on a movie, but they're in there).

Now for the real challenge (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43892767)

Fix all the game bugs in the Action 52 cartridge for Nintendo.

There were worse games out there (1)

linebackn (131821) | about a year ago | (#43892909)

I've still got my ET cartridge somewhere. I played it back in the day, an I don't recall it being all that horrible. Like most games of the time you HAD to read the manual to know what each little pixelated object was supposed to be and what to do with it. There was one really nasty "bug" or perhaps mis-feature where trying to get out of a pit involved immediately changing directions right as you reached the top. Not obvious, no visible indication it was needed, and not mentioned in the manual - but most Windows 8 users should be used to that sort of things these days.

Anyway once you got past that, the game was rather easy.

If you want to talk about stupid games, I remember an arcade game called "Firetruck" where you drive a fire truck... and that is it. No score, no fire... just driving. Nice scrolling random monochrome graphics... to just drive through. It is emulated in MAME if you want to gawk at that.

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