E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (video game)

Infobox VG
title = E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

developer = Atari, Inc
publisher = Atari Inc.
distributor = Atari Inc.
designer = Howard Scott Warshaw
released = vgrelease|United States of America|USA|1982
genre = Adventure
modes = Single player
platforms = Atari 2600
media = 16Kb ROM cartridge
input = Atari joystick

"E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" is a video game that is based on the film of the same name developed by Howard Scott Warshaw and released by Atari Inc. for the Atari 2600 video game system in 1982. The goal of the game is to fall into holes in order to find phone pieces to assemble so that E.T. can return home. With few exceptions, critics and gamers alike feel that it was a poorly produced and rushed game that Atari thought would sell purely based on brand loyalty to the names of Atari and "E.T."cite web
last = Parish
first = Jeremy
url = http://1up.com/do/feature?cId=3124081&did=1
title = The Most Important Games Ever Made: #13: E.T.
publisher = 1UP.com
accessdate = 2006-07-01

"E.T." is seen as marking the beginning of Atari's downfall and is often viewed as one of the biggest commercial failures in video gaming history, as well as the worst video game ever made. "E.T." was a contributing factor to Atari's massive financial losses during 1983 and 1984 , and a glut of unsold copies of the game helped contribute to the video game crash of 1983. As a result of overproduction, hundreds of thousands of unsold cartridges were reportedly buried in a New Mexican landfill.


The gameplay of "E.T." consists of maneuvering the eponymous alien character through various screens to obtain three pieces of a device that, when assembled, allows him to phone home. The pieces are obtained by finding them scattered randomly throughout various pits, which are called wells. Alternatively, the player can collect up to nine Reese's Pieces at a time, a healing item, which allows for a call-Elliot option that makes his friend deliver one of the device pieces. Once the player has collected all three pieces, the player can call E.T.'s spaceship from a specific zone, after which there is a limited amount of time to return to the landing zone. Once these conditions are fulfilled, the game starts over at the same difficulty level, with the player's score left intact.

The game consists of six screens representing different settings from the movie. The game starts in a forest, which is also where the ship picks up E.T.; includes a Washington, DC, city area; and has four screens full of wells of various sizes. The player can cause E.T. to fall into wells, which may contain phone pieces or extra lives; and to escape from a well, the player must cause E.T. to levitate out. An icon at the top of each screen represents the current zone, and each zone enables the player to perform certain actions. These actions include detecting items, warping to other zones, and sending the enemies back to their starting places. Some zones can only be accessed when E.T. possesses certain items (for instance, E.T. must have at least one Reese's Piece to eat candy).

As the player moves E.T. and performs actions throughout the game, his energy supply steadily drains. The player can restore some of E.T.'s energy by eating Reese's Pieces. Extra lives are represented by Elliot merging with E.T. after his energy is depleted, thus reviving him, and letting the player continue until they are spent. Additionally, the player must avoid a scientist who takes E.T. to Washington D.C., and an FBI agent who confiscates E.T.'s collected items. The game offers several difficulty settings that affect the number and speed of humans present and/or the conditions needed to win the game.


Following the record-breaking success of "E.T." at the box office in June 1982, Steve Ross, CEO of Atari's parent company Warner Communications, entered talks with Steven Spielberg and Universal Pictures to obtain rights to produce a video game based on the film. In late July, Warner announced that it had acquired the exclusive worldwide rights to market coin-operated and console games based on "E.T. the Extraterrestrial.""Atari Gets 'E.T.' Rights"] Although the exact details of the transaction were not disclosed in the announcement, it was widely reported that Atari had paid US$20–25 million for the rights—an abnormally high figure for video game licensing at the time.cite web
last = Keith
first = Phipps
date = 2005-02-02
url = http://www.avclub.com/content/node/24900/1/2
title = Interview: video-game creators - Howard Scott Warshaw
publisher = A.V. Club
accessdate = 2006-07-01
] Kent, "The Ultimate History of Video Games", p. 237.] When asked by Ross what he thought about making an "E.T."-based video game, Atari CEO Ray Kassar replied, "I think it's a dumb idea. We've never really made an action game out of a movie." Ultimately though, the decision was not Kassar's to make, and the deal went through.

The task of designing and programming of the game was then offered to Howard Scott Warshaw, whom Spielberg requested due to his previous work on the video game adaptation of the film "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Due to the considerable amount of time that had been spent in negotiations securing the rights to make the game, less than six weeks remained in order to meet the September 1 deadline necessary to ship in time for Christmas shopping season. By comparison, Warshaw's "Yars' Revenge" took four to five months to complete, and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" six to seven months. An arcade game based on the "E.T." property had also been planned, but this was deemed to be impossible given the short deadline. Warshaw accepted the assignment, and was reportedly offered US$200,000 and an all-expenses-paid vacation to Hawaii in compensation."Many Video Games Designers Travel Rags-to-Riches-to-Rags Journey"]

Instead of making "E.T." into a "Pac-Man"-type game, Warshaw tried a more original idea. He had favored a design that was more story-based in hopes of creating a game that would capture some of the sentimentality he saw in the original film, but eventually ended up scrapping some of his own ideas due to time limitations. Ultimately, Warshaw designed a game based on what he believed could be reasonably programmed in the amount of time he had available to him. The basic design was worked out in two days, at the conclusion of which Warshaw presented the idea to Kassar before proceeding to spend the balance of the allotted five weeks writing, debugging, and documenting about 6.5KB of original code.

. Howard Scott Warshaw also had his initials hidden as an Easter egg. [ [http://www.abscape.org/legeek/f_et.htm le geek [et easter egg ] ]


Even with a rushed game in hand, Atari anticipated enormous sales based on the popularity of the film, as well as the enormous boom the video game industry was experiencing in 1982. By the time the game was complete, so little time was left before the game's desired ship-date that Atari skipped audience testing for the cartridge altogether.Cummings, "How I Got Here"] Emanual Gerard, who served as co-chief operating officer of Warner at the time, later suggested that the company had been lulled into a false sense of security by the success of its previous releases, particularly its console version of "Pac-Man", which sold extremely well despite poor critical reaction.Pollack, "The Game Turns Serious at Atari"]

Additionally, Atari had expected the game would perform well simply because, the previous October, it had demanded its retailers place orders in advance for the entire year. At that time, Atari had dominated the software and hardware market, and was routinely unable to fill orders. At first, retailers responded by placing orders for more supplies than they actually expected to sell, but gradually, as new competitors began to enter the market, Atari started receiving an increasing number of order cancellations, for which the company was not prepared.Cohen, "Zap! The Rise and Fall of Atari"]

While the game did sell well (it ranks as the eighth-best selling Atari cartridge of all time), only 1.5 million of the 4 million cartridges produced were sold. It is a myth however, that more copies of "E.T." were produced than Atari 2600 consoles owned, though that is exactly what happened with their earlier Pac-Man port. [Kent, "The Ultimate History of Video Games", p. 236.] Also many of the copies were sent back to the company, though the number is unknown. Despite reasonable sales figures, the quantity of unsold merchandise coupled with the expensive movie license, and the large amount of returns, caused "E.T." to be a massive financial failure for Atari.

This game was one of many decisions that led to Atari posting a $536 million loss in 1983 and led to the company being divided and sold in 1984. [cite web
url = http://www.snopes.com/business/market/atari.asp
title = Five Million E.T. Pieces
publisher = Snopes
accessdate = 2006-07-01

Critical response

thumb|"E.T." is considered such a bad game that the title screen has been described as being the "best part of the game".">cite web
last =Fragmaster
url = http://classicgaming.gamespy.com/View.php?view=GameMuseum.Detail&id=290
title = Game of the Week: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
publisher = Classic Gaming
accessdate = 2006-06-29
] Although it was based on the critically well-received movie, the game version of "E.T." has been almost universally panned by critics, and is one of the most commonly chosen candidates for worst video game of all time. Seanbaby ranked it #1 in a list of the 20 worst games of all time in "Electronic Gaming Monthly's" 150th issue.cite web
last =Reiley
first =Sean
url = http://www.seanbaby.com/nes/egm01.htm
title = Seanbaby's EGM's Crapstravaganza: The 20 Worst Video Games of All Time. - #1: ET, The Extra Terrestrial (2600)
publisher = EGM
accessdate = 2006-08-12
] Michael Dolan, deputy editor of "FHM" magazine, has also ranked it as his pick for the #1 worst video game of all time. [cite web
url = http://www.pbs.org/kcts/videogamerevolution/history/best-n-worst.html
title = History of Gaming: The Best and Worst Video Games of All Time
publisher = PBS
accessdate = 2006-06-29
] "PC World" also placed "E.T." at the top of its list of worst video games of all time, with writer Emru Townsend noting that, "About a third of the people I quizzed came up with this title almost instantly, and it's not hard to see why."cite web
last =Townsend
first =Emru
date = 2006-10-23
url = http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,127579-page,2-c,games/article.html
title = The 10 Worst Games of All Time
publisher = "PC World"
accessdate = 2007-01-24

Townsend discussed the game with a group, and found that they all criticized "the pits that the player, as E.T., fell into and would then have to slowly levitate out of," which "led to horrendously monotonous game play." Seanbaby also criticized the pits, claiming that they are time-consuming and difficult to leave without falling back in. "Fragmaster" of Classic Gaming called the gameplay "convoluted and inane," also criticizing its story for departing from the serious tone of the film. The game's graphics were considered sub-par compared to other games of the time.cite web
last =Reiley
first =Sean
url = http://www.seanbaby.com/nes/egm01.htm
title = Seanbaby's EGM's Crapstravaganza: The 20 Worst Video Games of All Time. - #1: ET, The Extra Terrestrial (2600)
publisher = EGM
accessdate = 2007-08-12
] Among communities that have played a wide variety of Atari 2600 games, other titles are more often chosen as being the worst game for the Atari 2600, sometimes with "E.T." not even making such Worst of the Atari 2600 lists. However, there is a minority of people who still genuinely enjoy playing the game to this date. [cite web
last =Bean
first =Bryan
url = http://www.classicgaming.com/features/articles/ido_et/
title = In Defense Of... E.T.
publisher = Classic Gaming
accessdate = 2006-07-01
] Howard Scott Warshaw does not show any regrets for "E.T." and feels he created a good game given the time available to him.cite web
last = Gray
first = Charles F.
date = 2004-10-25
url = http://beepbopboop.heavysixer.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=47&Itemid=67
title = Howard Scott Warshaw Interview
publisher = BeepBopBoop
accessdate = 2006-06-29

Atari landfill

In September 1983, the "Alamogordo Daily News" of Alamogordo, New Mexico, reported in a series of articles that between ten and twenty [Quote:"The number of actual trucks which have dumped locally was not known. Local BFI officials put it at 10. However, corporate spokesmen in Houston say it was closer to 20; and city officials say it is actually 14."
McQuiddy, "City cementing ban on dumping."
] semi-trailer truckloads of Atari boxes, cartridges, and systems from an Atari storehouse in El Paso, Texas were crushed and buried at the landfill within the city. It was Atari's first dealings with the landfill, which was chosen because no scavenging was allowed and its garbage was crushed and buried nightly. Atari officials and others gave differing reports of what was buried, [McQuiddy, "Dump here utilized."] [McQuiddy, "City cementing ban on dumping."] McQuiddy, "City to Atari."] "Atari Parts Are Dumped"] but it is widely speculated that most of Atari's millions of unsold copies of "E.T." ultimately ended up in this landfill, crushed and encased in cement.Smith, "Raising Alamogordo's legendary Atari 'Titanic'"]

The story of the buried cartridges has become a popular urban legend, which in turn has led some people to believe that the story is not true. As recently as October 2004, Warshaw himself expressed doubts that the destruction of millions of copies of "E.T." ever took place, citing his belief that Atari would have recycled the parts instead in order to save money.

ee also

*E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in video games
*List of commercial failures in video gaming
*Video games notable for negative reception




*cite book
last = Cohen
first = Scott
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1984
title = Zap! The Rise and Fall of Atari
publisher = McGraw Hill Book Company
id = ISBN 0-07-011543-5

*cite book
last = Kent
first = Steven L.
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 2001
title = The Ultimate History of Video Games
publisher = Prima
location = Roseville, California
id = ISBN 0-7615-3643-4

*cite book
year = 1982
title = E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" game manual
publisher = Atari
( [http://www.atariage.com/manual_html_page.html?SoftwareLabelID=157 Online reproduction] )

Newspapers and journals

*cite journal
last = Cummings
first = Betsy
year = 2003
month = December
title = How I got here
journal = Sales and Marketing Management
volume =
issue =
pages =

*cite paper
author=McQuiddy, Marian
title=Dump here utilized
publisher="Alamogordo Daily News"

*cite paper
author=McQuiddy, Marian
title=City to Atari: 'E.T.' trash go home
publisher="Alamogordo Daily News"

*cite paper
author=McQuiddy, Marian
title=City cementing ban on dumping: Landfill won't house anymore 'Atari rejects'
publisher="Alamogordo Daily News"

*cite paper
author=Pollack, Andrew
title=The Game Turns Serious at Atari
publisher="The New York Times"

*cite paper
author=Smith, Shelley
title=Raising Alamogordo's legendary Atari "Titanic"
publisher="Alamogordo Daily News"
( [http://www.atariage.com/forums/index.php?act=Attach&type=post&id=32166 Scans] )
*cite paper
title=Atari Gets 'E.T.' Rights
publisher="The New York Times"

*cite paper
title=Atari Parts Are Dumped
publisher="The New York Times"

*cite paper
title=Many Video Games Designers Travel Rags-to-Riches-to-Rags Journey
publisher="Los Angeles Times"


External links

* [http://www.snopes.com/business/market/atari.asp Discussion of the Atari landfill] from Snopes.com
*moby game|id=/atari-2600/et-the-extra-terrestrial_|name="E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial"
* [http://www.atariage.com/software_page.html?SoftwareLabelID=157 Page at AtariAge]
* [http://atari.digital-madman.com The Atari Landfill Revealed, a complete research article detailing the landfill legend]
* [http://www.randomterrain.com/atari-2600-memories-et.html To What Degree Do You Love E.T.? (Tips, manual, and map)]
* [http://www.thedoteaters.com/p3_stage6.php Article at The Dot Eaters: Videogame History 101] detailing the Great Videogame Crash and the E.T. game's part in it.
* [http://www.fortunecity.co.uk/cinerama/western/129/et.htm "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" entry] from the Movie Game Database
* [http://keithschofield.com/et/ "Wintergreen Music Video for "When I Wake Up" Featuring ET Video Game"]

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