Film crew digs up Atari's legendary, long-buried E.T. game cartridges

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Jul 2, 2015, 2:39 PM EDT (Updated)

If you've ever wondered if that story about the E.T. games buried in a landfill is true, you can stop wondering now.

If you've got even a passing interest in the history of videogames, you've very possibly heard the story of the Atari 2600 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial game, developed as a tie-in to the hit Steven Spielberg film in late 1982. Hoping to quickly cash in on the film's box-office success in time for the 1982 holiday season, Atari rushed the game's development process, limiting it to less than six weeks. The game -- which focused on the player collecting pieces of a telephone that E.T. could use to contact his home planet -- initially sold well on the strength of its movie tie-in marketing, but sales dropped off quickly when consumers realized that it was ... well, terrible. Thanks to a lack of storytelling depth, and problematic playability, the E.T. game was quickly declared a dud, and played a role in the larger decline of Atari as a company.

For three decades now, the story has been that Atari -- unable to sell all the E.T. cartridges it produced -- dumped thousands of copies of the game in a New Mexico landfill. Some believed the story to be absolutely true, while others were convinced it was little more than an urban legend. Now a film crew led by writer and producer Zak Penn (who's worked on everything from X2 to Alphas to The Avengers) -- working on an Atari documentary partially funded by Microsoft's XBox division -- has put all doubts to rest.

During a dig at New Mexico's Alamogordo landfill on Sunday, Penn (shown in the photo above holding an E.T. cartridge) and company confirmed that thousands of Atari cartridges -- including both E.T. and other games -- had been buried in the New Mexico desert more than three decades earlier.

"For anybody who doubted," Penn told a gathered crowd of fans, "there's a whole heck of a lot of games down there. We just saw them."

The Alamogordo landfill has been closed since 1986, but a few local residents have known the truth of the E.T. legend for decades, because they went digging there themselves when they were kids, in search of free videogames.

"We all heard what was going on," 43-year-old Armando Ortega said. "We came out one night in the complete darkness. They had just put a complete layer of concrete on it. It was still fresh....You could tell people had already been scavenging."

Ortega and his friends got somewhat crushed but still playable copies of E.T.Atari BaseballPac-Man and other Atari 2600 titles from the landfill. They gave the E.T. games away, though, because -- as Ortega put it -- the game "sucked."

So the truth is finally, definitively out on this long-gestating videogame legend. Atari really did dump leftover copies of its E.T. game out in the desert.

(Via CNET)

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