As a fan of documentaries, I am very much looking forward to this one. As I’m sure you all heard by now, director Zak Penn and the film crew for Atari: Game Over, proved earlier this year that the urban legend was right, and that all the unpurchased cartridges were buried in a New Mexico landfill. But of course, that’s just part of the story. Later this year, fans and curiosity seekers will relive the journey of the nascent days of video gaming, where the sky was the limit, programmers were rock stars, and a video game based on the most popular movie of all time nearly killed a billion dollar business while it was still in its crib.
While the fate of millions of unsold video games based on E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is a fascinating story in and of itself, director Penn goes back in time to put it all in context. The focus seems to be on Howard Scott Warshaw, the man who designed the game. Warshaw designed big hits for Atari like Yar’s Revenge and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and when they came to him in mid-1982 and asked him to design a game based on E.T. in five weeks he said, “No problem.”
Well, it became a big problem because the game sucked, and the incredibly profitable Atari was sold for parts and left a shell of its former, titanic self less than two years later. It’s a story of hubris ad extremum, maybe one only rivaled by the mythical Icarus (and I don’t mean Nintendo’s Kid Icarus). It’s nice that the film will look at the business and industry implications of the game rather than merely reveling in the fate of what’s been often called the worst video game ever made.
According to legend, between 10 and 20 semis left an Atari warehouse in El Paso, TX (under the cover of night, maybe?), and were sent to a landfill in Alamogordo, NM, where Atari’s disgrace was left to rot in the lands next to where the atomic bomb was first tested. Jeez, you can’t make this stuff up, can you?
As part of the film, Penn and Co. organized an excavation of the landfill in Alamogordo and they discovered that… Well, why don’t you take a look for yourself. Here’s the trailer for Atari: Game Over:
Atari: Game Over will be released on the Xbox network sometime later this fall.