Genre: Video Game, Documentary
Publisher: Microsoft X-Box
Release Date: November 20th 2014
Starting off with an epic feel, visions of mountains and canyons, its clear that Atari: Game Over is gearing up to tell this legendary “urban legend.” The movie quickly transitions into its main concept of finding the rumored legions of Atari 2600 E.T. games buried deep in the Alamogordo Landfill in New Mexico. Not to mention speculating between whether or not the event even happened in the first place. The crew spends the beginning of the film going after where exactly the games may have been dumped, and why they were buried there to begin with.
The team spent over 3 years researching as to where the games were dumped, if they even were. One of the largest concerns of the crew was the possibility of the games being at the very bottom, and had been covered in concrete, requiring large equipment to unearth them. They had to cut through a lot of thick red tape to get permission to do the dig. Originally the crew was met with hostility, but eventually the city found it to be a good idea and allowed them to do the dig.
Atari was the original system that everyone loved. It was a staple in millions of homes across america and was the gateway to the computer revolution. Most people forget that Atari not only made home gaming consoles but also home computer systems as well. So when I think of Atari to me its a computer company, because when it comes down to it, even game consoles are computers. They focus a fair amount on Atari as a company and how it began. From its original launch item, Pong, to the birth of the 2600 (1977) debuting with only 9 carts. An instant hit across the board, this was the first time people were able to bring the arcade into their living rooms and the 2600 grew widely in popularity. The movie eventually leads up to the point where Atari acquires the licensing for E.T. at 22 million dollars. Atari took some time to do this, so when they eventually were able to get permission to make the game, they only had 5 weeks to program it, in order to make it in time for the holiday season. Typical games at this time took 5 to 6 months to create, and with only 5 weeks before the holiday dead line they needed their best programmer, Howard Warshaw.
Howard Warshaw was the developer and programmer for the E.T. game. He also was responsible for several of Atari’s first big hits like Yars Revenge and Indiana Jones, each selling millions of copies. So its not like he was the worst programmer at Atari, to the contrary he was their best. E.T. for the 2600 itself was a really hard game. Hard to understand, and very unforgiving, most people didn’t give it the chance that it deserved. Even today, most people speak badly about a game that they truly never have played.
The movie eventually tells the story of how Atari saw a 500,000,000 dollar loss the same fiscal year as E.T.’s release for the 2600 in 1983. This caused over 8000 jobs to be dissolved and essentially the end of Atari. The E.T. game is largely credited for its demise… But remember what I said earlier about how when I think of Atari I think of computers? At the time, Atari had flooded the market with a line of home computers that had failed terribly. Yes of course a 22 million dollar investment in a game that sold horribly doesn’t help any, but when you take into account everything else Atari was dealing in, this as well effected the overall success of the company.
“You never go to a dump unless you’re throwing something away, we’re here looking for buried treasure.” – Dig Attendant
Atari: Game Over also documents several peoples “pilgrimage” to the dig site in Alamogordo, New Mexico. These people have not only an overall devotion to gaming but to the urban legend itself. When watching the movie I was surprised to see the large turnout at the dig, several thousand people surrounded the site waiting for the first glimpse at what may or may not be there. Most notable was the wind during the dig, kicking up the loose white sands of the desert, apparently record setting. The first thing found was an Atari 2600 joystick top by one of the many onlookers. Eventually they find a boxed copy of E.T. and then subsequently several copies after that. When it really comes down to it though, E.T. only made up 10% of the games found, most were popular games of the time like Adventure, Pac-Man and Asteroid.
In the end, it comes down to a “myth” that was actually already documented in the some cases. I guess since it was 30 years ago its hard to tell if its true or not is up for question. Because of its severity, dumping 100’s of thousands of video game merchandise seems drastic so therefore how could it be true? The movie even ends in some ominous way leaving you wondering what was to happen with all these games that were found. Were they to be boxed up in some hangar in the desert for another 30 years? No, nothing that epic, shady or conspiracy theory like. Other than the ones given out and donated to various different people involved with the dig and video game history, they were later sold by the town of Alamogordo via EBay for $1500 a pop.