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'E.T. The Extraterrestrial' retrospective: The worst game of all time?

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E.T. The Extraterrestrial

E.T. The Extraterrestrial


First Released: 1982 (Atari 2600)
Now Available On: N/A

Video games have been accused of a lot of things over the years, from poisoning the world's youth to inspiring crime sprees, but few have taken anywhere near as much flack as Atari's reviled E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

Not only is the notorious movie adaptation widely regarded as one of the worst console releases of all time, its commercial failure is often cited as one of the contributing factors to the video game crash of 1983.

Securing the E.T. license was quite a coup for Atari back in 1982. The studio had established itself as market leader in the gaming sector thanks to the strength of its Atari 2600 console, and with the movie of the same name becoming a global phenomenon, what could possibly go wrong?

There was one small problem - time was not on Atari's side. Negotiations wrapped up in July of that year, giving designer Howard Scott Warshaw a matter of months to deliver a finished product in time for the Christmas season.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial

E.T. The Extraterrestrial



Expectations among fans and retailers were high, but the quality of the resulting game was anything but.

Warshaw intended to produce an innovative adaptation of the Steven Spielberg movie, but with such a limited time frame, the end result was never going to be anything other than rushed.

E.T. cast players as the endearing alien - not that you would recognise that green chunk of pixels as the iconic character - and tasked them with gathering the components of his intergalactic telephone so he could phone home; hardly a reflection of the heart-warming tale told in its on-screen counterpart.

The phone pieces were located at the bottom of pits that were scattered around the game's playing field, and E.T. was pursued by a scientist and FBI agent throughout his quest.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial

E.T. The Extraterrestrial



Players spent much of the game plunging to the bottom of these pits, which were encountered at random, and had to use a levitation ability to rise from their depths.

Unfortunately, this ate away at your energy bar - as did every other solitary command it was possible to carry out, including walking. That's right, walking around the game actually hurt you.

E.T. looks like an ugly, crude mess of pixels by today's standards, but blocky visuals were always the least of its problems.

From a gameplay standpoint, it was about as much fun as having a hole drilled in your head - glitch-ridden to the point of broken, disjointed, repetitive and downright frustrating.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial

E.T. The Extraterrestrial



You couldn't take more than a few steps without plummeting into a pit, and there was no way to escape without consuming health.

The experience was not unlike throwing yourself down a well. Climbing back out again, then repeating the process a hundred times over, except doing this in real life would probably be less painful.

Atari, along with the rest of the entertainment industry, believed that its E.T. license was the start of a fruitful relationship between video games and movies. Millions of cartridges were produced to ensure retailers' supplies were plentiful in the run-up to Christmas.

The game's release was met with initial success, debuting in the upper reaches of the software chart and going on to move 1.5 million units, but word of its poor quality quickly spread.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial

E.T. The Extraterrestrial



Between 2.5 and 3.5 million E.T. cartridges are said to have remained unsold, and the excess inventory ended up back on Atari's doorstep.

The firm is estimated to have made around $25 million on E.T., but lost an estimated $100 million due to the volume of unsold copies and the expense of securing the film license.

Rumour has it that Atari buried truckloads of the unsold copies in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Some claim that is merely an urban legend, but we are about to find out the truth.

Canadian studio Fuel Industries has been granted permission to excavate the so-called 'Atari Graveyard' and film the proceedings, with the resulting footage to be turning into a documentary.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial

E.T. The Extraterrestrial



E.T. may be considered one of the worst console titles ever made - worthy of its place at the bottom of a landfill - and a contributing factor to the near-undoing of the industry itself, but it is a piece of video gaming history nonetheless.

Contemporary video game studios working on movie licenses can draw lessons from Atari's financial black eye back in 1982 - if you don't have the time or resources to do justice to the property in question, leave it alone.

> Atari retrospective - The rise and fall of a gaming giant

Do you have any memories of E.T. The Extraterrestrial? Post a comment below!

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