Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Game: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Atari 2600)

Welcome to what is widely considered one of the worst video games of all time. A game designed and programmed in five weeks to come out in time for Christmas 1982. A game with such high expectations by Atari, and so thoroughly killed by word of mouth, that reportedly millions of unsold copies now lie crushed and entombed in concrete in a landfill in Alamagordo, NM. A game widely blamed, along with its fellow huge disappointment, Pac-Man for the Atari 2600, for causing the great video game crash of 1983.

And, you know... it's not all that bad. I think its main problem is its skill levels. The basic level, in which you (as E.T.) collect pieces of the "phone" unopposed, is pretty much impossible to lose, except deliberately. And the other levels, in which a scientist drags you out of your way, and/or an FBI agent takes pieces of the "phone" from you, are frustratingly difficult. Nonetheless, I've found myself returning to E.T. many times over the years, playing the easy version as a sort of soothing repetitive task.

But that's not what I came here to talk about. I got E.T. for Christmas in 1982, and played it for most of the day. At one point, I accidentally fell into a pit (this happens a lot when you're first learning the game, which didn't help its reputation) and found a wilted flower. I pressed the trigger to activate my site-specific E.T. power. And the thing turned into a Yar from Yars' Revenge and flew away!

I was stunned. What the hell was that about? Every subsequent time I found the wilted flower, all that happened when I pressed the trigger was that it straightened up. Over the next fifteen years or so, I'd occasionally go look for the flower, but no Yar. How was it that I'd done this incredibly odd thing the very first day I had the cartridge, and then never again?

Then came the Internet, and I found out I'd accidentally stumbled upon the first part of a three-part easter egg. What had done it was that I'd called Elliott when I had seven Reese's Pieces. The problem I had in repeating it was that once I learned that E.T. could hold nine Pieces, I only called Elliott to take them away when I had that number, or when I was about to call the mothership and end the level.

And so now, more than 27 years after first seeing that flower/Yar fly away, I present to you a walkthrough of the easy level, complete with how to activate the easter eggs. And as a bonus, I show how to have E.T.'s feet stick out the bottom of the mothership and generate a loud buzzing noise.

When I made the video, I forgot one other thing you can do. If you die right when the mothership arrives, the game crashes.

But now, Atari and the Alamagordo Municipal Landfill proudly present E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

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