E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a video game based on the popular movie of the same name, released for Atari 2600 in 1982. It was designed by Howard Scott Warshaw (who also made Yars' Revenge), who accepted the absolutely ridiculous job of making the entire game in just five and a half weeks (the fact that he was paid $200,000 (equivalent to half a million in modern money) and received an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii probably had something to do with him accepting this). Because of its large part in the North American Video Game Crash of 1983, it is often considered one of the worst games of all time.
Before the time of the game's release, expectations for the game were high and it was on many children's Christmas lists. However, Atari produced far too many cartridges: while 1.5 million were sold, total production was 4-5 million, resulting in retailers returning 2.5-3.5 million unsold copies of the game to Atari; as with the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man (which Atari famously made more copies of than they sold Atari 2600s), the game was a commercial success but a financial disaster. In addition, several retailers, desperate to get rid of their inventory of E.T. lowered their price several times, with one instance where a copy of a game was lowered from about $50 all the way down to a dollar. These events would eventually be a contributing factor to the North American Video Game Crash of 1983.
While the game did not single-handedly cause the crash, it has an enormous hand in the downfall of Atari, who spent between $20 million and $25 million ($52-65 million in modern money) on just the licence; some estimates of the game's budget, in modern money, would be enough to buy a pair of F-22 fighter jets and still have change. In total, the unsold copies of ET and the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man returned due to Atari's overly generous return policy numbered around 8.5 million (equivalent to eighteen 40-foot shipping containers, all but the last stacked floor-to-ceiling with nothing but unboxed cartridges), filling their warehouses with unsaleable stock and devastating their balance sheets.
It was widely accepted that all of the unsold cartridges were buried in a landfill in New Mexico, though some decried this as a mere urban myth with Warshaw claiming the cartridges would have been "recycled" (how one would recycle 8.5 million cartridges in any reasonable period of time is unclear, particularly when Atari had just shut down the main 2600 cartridge production line: if one imagines it takes a mere 20 seconds to recycle a cartridge it would still take over 5 years of 24/7 work to get through them all). This was proven partially true in 2014 when the landfill was excavated. However, while the landfill was proven to be real and copies of ET found within it, it was not millions of cartridges, but rather some cartridges and a lot of other random distressed inventory related to the 2600 such as console parts and peripherals. The remaining cartridges were presumably scrapped in some other way.
The object of the game is to find three pieces of an interplanetary telephone. The pieces are found inside several random pits which E.T. had to fall down inside to find out if a piece was there. After entering a pit, players have to levitate E.T. out of them. There are six locations in the game, with several having pits to enter. Every action E.T. takes drains him of energy which can be restored by collecting Reese's Pieces. If nine Reese's Pieces are collected, Elliot gives E.T. a piece of the telephone. Once all pieces are found, E.T. contacts his home planet and E.T. is given a limited amount of time to reach his ship. If E.T. reaches the ship, the game starts over, with the score carrying over. In Games 1 and 2, E.T. is chased by human antagonists, an F.B.I. agent and a scientist. If the F.B.I. agent catches E.T., he will take the phone pieces and the scientist will take Reese's Pieces (and may even bring E.T. to the laboratory).
Why It Sucks
- It killed Atari's reputation as a well-respected company.
- Because there are so many wells in the game, it's tedious guesswork to find all the components for the phone.
- Once you fall into the well, it's difficult to get out. You have to press the red button and hold the joystick up to float out, but E.T. must be in a specific area.
- If even a single pixel of E.T. touches a well, you fall back into it.
- There are power zones that assist E.T. When you press the button when they appear at the top of the screen, but without the manual or a game guide, it's difficult to know what the icon does.
- The power zones are also invisible and randomize with each game, making it a chore to locate them.
- Not to mention that the entire game has mostly a low-quality green color scheme that makes the game boring to look at.
- Atari limited this game to be worked on for 5 and a half weeks (38 days), whereas other Atari games took 3 to 4 months to work on.
- It has an ending; it was one of only three Atari 2600 games with an ending, the other being Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pitfall II.
- Decent graphics for an Atari 2600 game.
- Had Atari given Howard Scott Warshaw more time and some support. According to James Rolfe, its randomization of item placement is innovative for its time.
- The whole game is made by single person within five and a half weeks, which is very impressive for its time.
New York magazine's Nicholas Pileggi described it as a loser when compared to other games Atari could have released like Donkey Kong and Frogger. Kevin Bowen of GameSpy's Classic Gaming called the gameplay "convoluted and insane", also criticizing its story for departing from the serious tone of the film. Author Steven Kent described the game as "infamous" within the industry, citing primitive graphics, dull gameplay, and a disappointing story.
The Angry Video Game Nerd reviewed the game, after years of refusing to do so, as the basis for the AVGN movie. He concluded that he doesn't consider the game to be the worst game ever made, saying it was ahead of its time for its use of randomized item placement, though he still said it sucked.
In Pop Culture
As anyone might expect, E.T. has been talked about in many TV series and documentaries. In the documentary Video Games: The Movie, the narrator talks on this legendary bomb. In the episode of Adam Ruins Everything "Adam Ruins Summer Fun" , he talks about this alongside I Want My Mommy and Lost Luggage.
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is one of the many games that was buried in Alamogordo, New Mexico following Atari's bankruptcy. Copies of the game were unearthed in 2014.