E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
ET-Atari.jpg
Even Elliot looks disappointed.
Protagonist(s): E.T.
Genre(s): Action
Platform(s): Atari 2600
Release date: NA: December 2, 1982
JP: 1983
Developer(s): Atari
Publisher(s): Atari
Made in: United States
Franchise: E.T.
Successor: E.T. Phone Home!

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 created Yars' Revenge), who accepted a job of making the entire game in only 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 as one of the worst games of all time.

History

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 E.T. 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 E.T. 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.

Gameplay

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 Should Phone Home

  1. The main reason the game is so pitifully executed is because E.T. was extremely rushed in development for Christmas. The entire development process took only five weeks, which was far too short to create a game at the time. Good games on this platform took at least four months to develop.
  2. Not only is this game a major reason of not only killing Atari's reputation altogether, it also caused bankruptcy of the company. It is often cited as "the cause" of the North American video game crash of 1983, although it was one of several factors. It was bad enough that many 3rd party developers were creating shovelware titles, but even worse when such a thing came from Atari itself.
  3. The gameplay is poor and very limited, even by the standards of early 1980s games, which may have been repetitive, but still fun, while E.T. is the opposite. Basically, your job is to find three pieces of an interplanetary telephone that lay the word "E.T.". After all, if the spaceship takes you, then the game is over.
  4. The graphics are primitive, featuring a few aspects that are poorly-done. The most noticeable is the design of E.T., which brings to mind a green dinosaur-shaped alien rather than a creature that E.T. actually was in the movie. Another problem is the repetitive backgrounds which are also ugly, with the worst offender being the hole, which only uses two colors. Generally, the backgrounds look as if they were drawn by a preschooler in Microsoft Paint.
  5. In terms of audio, there's poverty, mainly due to hardware limitations. For the entire game, there's only one short track, which is played after starting the console and inserting the cartridge of E.T., which is also looped once. In terms of sound effects, there is more poverty and they are weird, because they do not suit the activity, especially lifting the neck and falling into a hole.
  6. 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. Additionally, the power zones are also invisible and randomize with each game, making it a chore to locate them.
  7. The game has a completely illogical aspect of health and the E.T.'s resurrection itself. Your life is actually a number of points, which in the beginning reach 9999. After taking any step or climbing (to escape from the hole), you lose points, and if you lose all of them, E.T. passes out who has changed his skin color from green to white. When E.T. is dead, the little boy who accompanied E.T. in the movie comes to him, Elliot literally enters to his body, then E.T. suddenly becomes alive again.
  8. Artificial intelligence is so stupid that it can only describe itself as "artificial" without "intelligence". An opponent who, despite seeing you and trying to catch you at the moment, will often lose E.T., not having any more awareness of where he is, mainly due to a bug with getting stuck frequently (which is later mentioned on WIS#9), but also if you escape him so much that you don't stop running, also will lose E.T. this way.
  9. The game suffers from some technical issues, making the game unplayable on the one hand, and too easy on the other.
    • 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. Even if a single pixel of E.T. touches a well, you fall back into it.
    • Opponents often get stuck in random places, but it is most noticeable next to the hole and on the grass.
    • While you are arrested, meaning when you are caught by the enemy, you can get out of the cage without any reason. It looks as if the opponents have forgotten to lock a cage for E.T.

Redeeming Qualities

  1. It is one of only three Atari 2600 games with an ending, alongside with Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pitfall II. While all you see is Elliot walking around the house, it's still impressive that an ending was implemented for a second generation console.
  2. Even though there is only one track in the game, by the standards of Atari 2600, is surprisingly good.
  3. Items are randomly placed around the map with each play, providing for some replay value.
  4. Various objects, such as the phone pieces, Elliot, & the flower, use multiple colors. This was uncommon to see in many Atari 2600 games.
  5. It is one of the very few Atari 2600 games to feature a title-screen, this shows a pretty detailed (for the 2600) image of E.T.'s face.

Reception

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.

Trivia

  • 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.
  • Atari also created a game called E.T. Phone Home for their 400/800 computers in 1983. This which featured much improved graphics and some different gameplay as you played as Elliot instead of E.T., but it was fairly unknown since the 2600 version got all of the attention.
  • Atari had planned on releasing an E.T. themed pinball machine, but this was never released. Atari tried to save the layout for another unreleased pinball table that they called 4x4.
  • There is an easter egg in the game.You can make the fly Yar, from Howard Scott Warshaw's Yars' Revenge, appear in one of the pits with a flower.

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