In a bit of news that should only interest the most hardcore of video game historians — or Spielberg fans — a dig was conducted this morning in an Almagordo, New Mexico desert to determine whether one of the more famous urban legends of gaming was actually true or not.
The premise of the dig, launched by Microsoft's Xbox Entertainment Studios as part of an Xbox One-exclusive documentary the group is working on — was to find out whether Atari actually dumped a reported 14 truckloads or so of game cartridges and other equipment at the site back in 1983. Chief among these were rumored to be up to one million or so copies of the company's famed "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" video game, whose overproduction and lack of sales back in 1982 is said to have greatly contributed to Atari's reported $500+ million loss in 1983 and the ultimate death of the Atari 2600 console itself.
Yep, E.T. was just that bad. What more can you expect from a game that is reported to have been developed in the relatively insane timespan of five and a half weeks. To this day, E.T. is often cited as one of the worst video games ever developed in the entire history of video gaming — that's impressive, given that we're all of 30+ years out from E.T.'s launch.
Though various Atari employees have disputed the fact that this "massive dump" of cartridges and hardware ever went down, they might want to check their personal narratives a bit. According to a number of reports, excavators officially discovered various cartridges in the big dig today — copies of E.T. were present in addition to various other Atari games that the company seems to have dumped (including some still shrink-wrapped. We wonder if they're playable!)
Various members of the media and geek/gaming history were present for today's dig, including E.T. designer Howard Scott Warshaw and science fiction writer (and huge fan of the E.T. game) Ernest Cline. Cline previously spoke of his fondness for the loveable alien and the history of the Atari burial in a fairly comprehensive blog post he wrote prior to driving out to the site in, what else, his DeLorean.
"ET was one of the most complex and innovative 2600 games ever made. Years later, when I saw online articles and forum posts declaring ET to be 'the worst video game of all time,' I immediately called bullshit. ET wasn't even the worst Atari game – not by a long shot," Cline wrote.
"ET also contains several of the first video game Easter eggs, and all three of the games Howard Scott Warshaw programmed for the Atari (Yars' Revenge, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and ET) played a role in inspiring my novel Ready Player One. So in a weird way, getting invited to be there for the dig feels like destiny. (Or density.) I haven't been this excited about a road trip in many moons."
Those involved in Microsoft's documentary have been given clearance to take 250 cartridges or 10 percent of whatever they happen to dig up — whichever figure is ultimately greater at the end of the seemingly windy, digging-filled day.