By: Wesley Rogers; TOWER Staff Writer
Dark Memories of 1980’s Gaming Resurfaces in New Mexico
People make mistakes, sometimes when mistakes are made we try and hide them so that we are not laughed out of town from embarrassment. Even huge corporations make these mistakes and some even try to bury their mistakes out in the dessert so as to bury the past behind them. This is the case with the gaming company Atari.
On April 26 an excavation team from Fuel Industries set out to the Alamogordo desert and found a mistake that Atari hoped to be gone and buried for years. Copies of the 1983 licensed video game E.T. The Extra Terrestrial Video Game, along with other memorabilia from Atari’s business failures in the 1980’s. The dig was done as a documentary on video games and the business of the industry. To many gamers and nerds out there this discovery is a big deal. To the people who do not know the story well I guess now is as good a time as ever.
Back in the radical year of 1982, Atari received the rights to create a game based off of Stephen Spielberg’s newest blockbuster, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, the thought of releasing a game based of the past summer’s biggest grossing film was a dream come true for Atari business executives. It was a nightmare for the game’s development team. Howard Scott Warshaw the games head developer was given a mere six weeks to develop a complete game for market distribution. This discussion was made so that the game would be able to be put on store shelves by the holiday season of ’83. To put this in perspective a normal development cycle for a game would roughly be around six months or even a couple years. Even still the game was finished and with high hopes of making a profit the company created and shipped out 4 million copies, 1.5 million were sold.
With a rushed deadline a decent game could not be made. With a convoluted plot a buggy enemy AI system and controls that where nearly un-responsive the game sold far below predicted sales. Many people were outraged and disappointed many copies of the games where returned to the stores and many of the unsold games went for a dime in the bargain bin. The abysmal sales and financial loss of over $125 million tarnished the name of Atari. The only relief the company found was that of a landfill in New Mexico.
In 1983 a convoy of eighteen-wheeler trucks filled with the failed game along with other failed attempts such as a badly ported Pac-man game, set out from El Paso Texas with one goal in mind; hide the incriminating stench of fiscal failure, and what better place than a landfill a state away. On a muggy afternoon in September the deed was done and a few months later the New York Times even published a story on the act, however the title of games was left out of the interview.
For many years the story of Atari’s failure became less known and soon became being conspiracy. Many people found the story false, others believed in the failure of the company but found the idea of the company throwing away their mistakes a little hard to swallow. Now those days of doubt and uncertainty come to an end now that the resurgence of not just a bad video game resurfaces, but the cautionary tale that goes along with it. When it comes to creative medium like film, literature or even the creativity of video games, a hastily made game so that it can hit the most financial prosperity is not always the best choice. Art takes time and when that art is also a business well that’s when the line blurs.