April 28, 2014

Landfill archeology: The search for "E.T." — the video game so bad, Atari threw 728,000 copies into a dump and sealed them under concrete.

The badness of the game and the "Atari grave" had become the stuff of legend, and they're making a movie about the finding and opening the grave — a film to be released on Microsoft's Xbox.

The trash became a treasure precisely because it was trash from the start. It arrived on the market "practically broken," with "E.T. falling into traps that were almost impossible to escape and would appear constantly and unpredictably." The man who designed the game, Howard Scott Warshaw, says Atari only gave him 5 weeks, because it needed to be ready for Christmas shoppers, so it could be opened by kids who were, presumably, tormented by their ugly little hero's propensity to drop into unpredictable, unescapable traps.

Alamogordo, the location of the dump, gets to keep most of the games the film crew found. Not only does the city plan to sell the games, but the mayor expresses hope of attracting tourists to the town that is now the most significant archeological site in the history of video games.

I often wonder why people travel. It is a mystery that is little examined, perhaps because most people do not even see it as mystery. But I say it's a mystery. And within that mystery there are all the different reasons why people travel. One reason is to visit historical sites within a field of interest. For some, it seems, the field is video games. Alamogordo is on a list with... what else?

The video game travelers, arriving in Alamogordo, can interact with the Christian artifact replica travelers, who stop by The Shroud Exhibit And Museum, and the sand dune aficionados, come to gaze upon The White Sands National Monument. I like to think of these 3 sets of travelers, trekking the face of the earth and all converging one day in Alamogordo and experiencing a cosmic convergence.

The geeks who love their games and their creature from another world, the religious folk who want to get close to the corporeal form of Christ through what is reputed to be his burial sheet (even if it's only a replica, a replica of a fake), and the lovers of the beauty of Earth in its greatest extreme of dry desolation — in my mind's eye I see them out there, in a million separate rooms, packing suitcases, readying themselves for... A Voyage to Alamogordo.

21 comments:

richlb said...

As a classic video game officianado, let me say that this discovery ranks right up there with the Rosetta Stone and the neutrino.

Ron said...

Alamogordo was where the first nuke was tested, July 16 1945! A friend's child was born on July 16 1995, and I called him a "Alamogordo baby"...when he turns 50 he can celebrate the 100th anniversary of nuclear weapons! If we're still here...despite the nuclear weapons!

Original Mike said...

...and they're making a movie about the finding and opening the grave

They could get Geraldo to host it.

Amichel said...

I think you've missed Alamogordo's real claim to fame. The White Sands park that you mentioned is actually in the middle of the White Sands Missile Range (formerly the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range). This range is the largest military installation in the continental United States, and the site of the first successful test detonation of a nuclear weapon; the Trinity test on July 16th, 1945. It produced an explosion with the power of 20 kilotons of TNT, the flash of light and massive mushroom cloud produced would easily have been visible from Alamogordo, some 50 miles distant.

Original Mike said...

Alamogordo (I've always loved that name) is, of course, the site of humanities first nuclear explosion. That's worth the trip in and of itself.

Saint Croix said...

the religious folk who want to get close to the corporeal form of Christ through what is reputed to be his burial sheet (even if it's only a replica, a replica of a fake)

You know more about the shroud of Turin than I do! Although I have seen pictures of it. Cool fake if it is.

The Piltdown Man would be another example of prominent fakery. Here people are creating a fake to "help" Darwin and his acolytes. I feel like Darwin has been adopted by people to fight theological battles. (Hence why you see him sometimes on bumper stickers, Darwin fish swallowing the Jesus fish). You're certainly not helping science any when you commit intentional fraud (not talking to you specifically, Michael Mann, but you are kind of a disgrace, buddy, I mean your name just leaps to my mind, Michael Mann and hockey stick, Michael Mann and lawsuits, Michael Mann and joke, joke, joke).

Anyway, faith is great because it gives people hope, which we all need. I think cynicism is important but it's also overrated. If you're too cynical you can miss amazing or even miraculous things.

On the other hand, faith can make you gullible (not talking to you, Obama supporters, although somehow when I said "faith" and "gullible" I immediate thought of a bunch of liberals). The dangerous idea is that if we just get rid of religion, or denounce it, or disprove it, or ignore it as illogical, that faith will disappear.

No. As Althouse has argued (I think?), when faith is denied, that faith goes into secular places like science, or politics, and corrupts science or politics. Because whatever scientists or politicians are, they certainly are not God.

What we want to be true and what is true are often two different things. It's a form of pride that Christianity often warns us about.

Tarrou said...

This tale was told in a Wintergreen music video!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Rt_3_bQVJU

damikesc said...

Warshaw, legitimately, was the best programmer Atari had at the time, but there was no way he could make the game any good (it's not the worst game ever. Atari Pac Man was worse, for starters).

I don't get how they hope to make any money selling a game easily gotten for free online and for a game that was terrible. And I don't see gamers travelling there to see the site. The documentary will likely be heavily watched on the XBone when it launched, though.

Hagar said...

The first atomic bomb was exploded at the Trinity Site in Socorro County, which is quite a ways from Alamogordo, and anyway is on the White Sands Missile Range, so you can only get there by guided tours on the anniversary dates.

However, Alamogordo is central to Billy the Kid and Oliver Lee country, near the richest horse race in the US at Ruidoso Downs, the Mescalero Apache Inn of the Mountain Gods ski and recreation area, and sundry other attractions worth visiting.

Roger Sweeny said...

Alamo in Spanish means poplar or cottonwood tree. Gordo means fat. Much of the design work on the bomb was done at Los Alamos, about 250 miles north of Alamogordo.

Gahrie said...

1) I was actually born in Alamogordo. So there's that.

2) Alamogordo was also the site of the first atomic bomb explosion at White sands in 1945.

betamax3000 said...

I think a game where "E.T. falling into traps that were almost impossible to escape and would appear constantly and unpredictably" would be good for preparing children for the real world. Read "traps" as college debt and a job at Starbucks. Play the game over and over, kids.

Of course, in the real world ET doesn't go home but instead is sold on the black market to a mysterious Japanese businessman who will eat ET's internal organs as the rarest of delicacies, artfully prepared on a bed of seaweed.

In this version Drew Barrymore grows up to be a divorced mother of three who works in the strip clubs to put food on the table. Her eyes are dull and glassy, and she smells of menthol cigarettes.

One day Drew meets a kind stranger who promises to help her to a better life, together. Then he bangs one of the other strippers and makes off with Drew's purse. She also now has herpes.

Don't make me describe the scene with Harvey Keitel.





carrie said...

And White Sands was nominated to be a Unesco World Heritage site but the nomination was withdrawn because of its military significance. White Sands National Monument is amazing to see.

carrie said...

And we skied at Ski Apache (the Mescalero Apache's ski area)in March, which another poster mentioned, and we thought that the road to Ski Apache rivaled the Road to the Sun at Glacier National Park.

betamax3000 said...

@Althouse: sorry about the dead space after my comment. Not intentional - will be more careful.

firstHat said...

You should see how many folks still show up for the classic gaming expos and do indeed collect the original carts. However, I'm not sure of the analogies made here. Don't know if anyone would call it a spiritual journey, more likely a nostalgic one. However, one of Howard's games did find a place at the Museum of Modern Art, so there's that (for whatever it's worth).

Full disclosure: Howard and I have been friends for mostly forever (since 1972?). He's pretty proud that they are still talking about ET after all these years. For almost as many years he claimed that, if these carts were buried, he'd know about it and would have had his picture taken on top of the pile. I'm waiting to hear his take on it now.

southcentralpa said...

The true wonder, if I may so express it, is that there is someone so intellectually curious that doesn't like to travel ...

Steven said...

No, Atari Pac-Man was not worse than ET. Certainly, it wasn't a good version of Pac-Man, but however mangled it was still a playable incarnation of Pac-Man, and so vastly superior to the unplayable ET.

Darrell said...

Scientists from JPL say the Shroud isn't a fake. As they told the clown that made his career on it (and died), there is paint on the Shroud as everyone knows--in the early days painters used to hold up their canvases to the Shroud to check their work--but the image itself does not contain any paint or pigment. Carbon dating mistakes happen all the time--for example that case with the British Museum think they had a fake in their collection until they did further testing. More recent dust/mold spores/etc. confound the testing without multiple samples.

Trashhauler said...

This post seems a bit dismissive and pretentious. Were you feeling particularly superior this morning, professor?

Nichevo said...

No more so than always, I'm sure, Trash.