back to article Film crew plans dig to find lost burial ground of Atari's E.T.

Did Atari really bury millions of unsold videogame cartridges in the New Mexico desert in 1983? A documentary film crew aims to find out. When the home videogames market went bust in 1982, the story goes, Atari was left saddled with millions of dollars in unsold Atari 2600 game consoles and cartridges. Legend has it that …


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  1. LinkOfHyrule
    Paris Hilton

    They should send Channel Four's Time Team to go dig it up. They would even get one of those beardie blokes to do a recreation of a genuine early 1980s living room complete with wood-grain Atari and black, red and grey wallpaper as was the fashion at the time! Meanwhile Tony Robinson will be down on his hands and knees scrubbing soil off of old ROM memory chips and talking to another beardie bloke about old things! you do!

    1. Idocrase

      They would find the carts on day three, after two and a half days of Neolithic and Roman finds, and one anomalous Victorian coal cellar, despite being in the USA.

      1. frank ly


        That would prove that recent Americans were a trading people who imported lots of stuff - surely?

        1. Mephistro Silver badge

          Re: @Idocrase

          "That would prove that recent Americans were a trading people who imported lots of stuff - surely?"

          In the case of the Roman findings, it would indicate either commerce through a time machine or an American predatory stance on Archaeology.

          Either that or the documentary crew making stuff up. :0)

          1. jake Silver badge

            @Mephistro (was: Re: @Idocrase)

            "American predatory stance on Archaeology"? You think us Yanks have a monopoly on that? Hell, we didn't even INVENT it!

            Have you ever been to the British Museum? It's absolutely chock full of stolen bits of ancient kit.

            1. Mephistro Silver badge

              Re: @Mephistro (was: @Idocrase)(@ jake)

              Totally agreed, jake. But I'd say that plundering ancient artefacts from another continent and then dumping them in a landfill is even worse than the British method. :^)

              1. jake Silver badge

                Mea culpa. (was: Re: @Mephistro (was: @Idocrase)(@ jake))

                Either I was reading to fast over a quick bite of lunch, or my parser was trying to grok the tractor's engine problem & not the post. Or both :-)

                May I offer you a real ale in compensation?

                1. Mephistro Silver badge

                  Re: Mea culpa. (was: @Mephistro (was: @Idocrase)(@ jake))

                  The next one is on me. :-)

            2. My Alter Ego

              Re: @Mephistro (was: @Idocrase)

              When my dad was visiting me a few years ago, I took him to the Ashmolean in Oxford - I introduced it to him as the museum of plunder. I was mortified when he proceeded to tell his 90 year old aunt this, luckily she'd seen more of the world than I ever will (through a father in the army) and said it was a perfect description of the museum.

              The British museum is much the same, but in their defence, they both do an excellent job preserving and displaying the plunder - it's free entry for the public and in some cases the originating countries are still so corrupt that most of the items would have been sold to private collections and never seen again (I'm not sure if Greece is included in that group!)

      2. Fibbles
        Thumb Up

        Phil Harding excitedly brushing dirt off a long lost Atari game cartridge as he enthuses to Tony Robinson about the wonders he might find if only he could dig another dozen trenches sounds like ideal Sunday afternoon viewing.

        Is there a kickstarter?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re Time Team RIP and "Is there a kickstarter?"

          That may or may not be a serious question.

          But those who are actually interested in the idea might like to look up DigVentures ...

      3. keithpeter


        "...and black, red and grey wallpaper..."

        What, exactly, is your problem with black, red and grey wallpaper?

        Mine matches the curtains really well.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fixing ET..

    There was a very interesting read posted back in February about how ET could have been a much better game with some very minor changes. Search for "Fixing ET" on Google.

    Maybe they can dig them all up, reprogram them and sell them to today's Retro market

    1. Kevin Fields
      Thumb Up

      Re: Fixing ET.. (It is fixed)

      Yep, somebody posted some code to fix the game.

  3. Captain DaFt

    Next stop: Logan, Utah!

    And do a special about excavating the Apple Lisas entombed at that landfill.... er, maybe not.

    Like the man said, some things are best left buried.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Next stop: Logan, Utah!

      Yes. Was just trying to use an iBook from 2004. While still working and a nice bit of kit, it was just too old to actually do anything other than sit there with it's screen glowing saying "please, please don't turn me off..."

      1. Mike 16 Silver badge

        Re: Next stop: Logan, Utah!

        One word: "TenFourFox ". Google/Bing/Blekko it. There's life in that old iBook.

        Not to mention that, unlike newer Mac's you can plug a USB serial or parallel port into it and bang about with attached hardware, without finding the manufacturer's site to download a driver. And it is unlikely to "walk away" unless your neighborhood is filled with very un-tech-savvy yoof.

  4. Herby

    Parking lots are full of things!

    I've heard of ICs (programmed ROMs) being ground up and used as asphalt filler. After all it is just a bit of refined sand and some Aluminum bonding wires. The plastic makes pretty good glue after being melted.

    Yes, there are some things like this. I have heard of examples about Panasonic, Motorola, and Signetics just to name a few.

    It seems that revenue people what the objects destroyed in order to claim a total loss. Either that, or they sell them off to surplus stores for pennies and claim the loss that way. Amazing what you can get a surplus stores these days. Some in "reasonable" shape, suitable for re-purposing at low cost!

    1. Martin 71 Silver badge

      Re: Parking lots are full of things!

      My version was AC series transistors that failed QA.

      I'm not sure whether that says 'yes it happened' or 'yup that makes it an urban legend'.

      Either way I want to find out :)

    2. Don Jefe

      Re: Parking lots are full of things!

      Repurposing/reverse logistics is an entire industry to itself and it is a weird place. I worked at a brokerage that specialized in it, they had specialists for everything: Consumer tech, raw SMT & thru-hole components, metals, glass, car, plane and train parts, even building materials, everything. The warehouses were great fun to explore and pilfer in.

      The point to this is that all that stuff ended up going to the oddest places and the most unexpected people. Sometimes the people that bought the stuff actually made money by adding it to bulk disposals of other materials as a way to reach volume discount price breaks; It was weird. It wouldn't surprise me if roads are full of IC's and a landfill somewhere is full of Atari gear.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Parking lots are full of things!

      I forget which electronics company it was, but I remember being told back in the late 70's - during a school trip to the London Science Museum - that their UK headquarters carpark used tonnes of duff, encapsulated microchips as hardcore.

      They were also giving away credit card sized souvenirs, each of which had a duff microchip embedded in clear plastic - It was fascinating peering at the things with a good magnifying glass, I really wish I still had mine - they might be worth something by now.

      Old Timer reminiscing about Mark Sense cards over a can of real ale.

      1. ridley

        Re: Parking lots are full of things!

        "can of real ale"


    4. paulll

      Re: Parking lots are full of things!

      Not to mention the amount of gold that's very likely in there ....

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Parking lots are full of things!

        Parking lots may also contain missing English monarchs.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Yeah, but ... (was: Re: Parking lots are full of things!)

          Tin of real ale?

    5. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Parking lots are full of things!

      AOL headquarters had a bunch of conference room table tops made from crushed up AOL installation discs.

  5. ElectricFox

    Perhaps, like homebrew, the content of these games will mature with age and we will all be pleasantly surprised....

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why dislike E.T.?

    E.T. was in no way worse than many, many games of its time. Quite a few times I gathered the parts and went home. In fact, the animation of the ship leaving seemed quite unique for that time. People who claim E.T. is the worst game, never played E.T., but they do play follow the leader.

    I wonder how this film crew believes there is some sentiment behind the game worthy enough of spending money on trash, literally spending money on trash.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Why dislike E.T.?

      What? You poor, poor person. I am honestly sorry you never had any better games than E.T. The best I can do is upvote you out of sympathy.

    2. NP-Hardass

      Re: Why dislike E.T.?

      I own a rather large collection of Atari 2600 games, and I must disagree. All of my games are quite playable with the exception of E.T. The game should have been called "Spend time in a ditch" because the game mechanics are so bad, that you fall into a ditch, and then spend about two minutes getting out (if you are lucky), only to walk to the adjacent screen, and fall into another ditch the instant you enter the screen, and spend another two minutes trying to get out. And let's say you manage to avoid falling in a ditch for a screen or two, some NPC comes and locks you in jail, and the instant you get out, you fall into another ditch and can't get out easily yet again. The process repeats until you either give up, or time runs out.

      It's an atrocious game, which was largely unplayable in my opinion. I have no issue playing any of my other games (~50).

      1. David Schmidt
        Thumb Up

        Spend time in a ditch

        Sir, I did not soil my keyboard with coffee - I cleansed my tear ducts with laughter at your description of the game. Bravo. If I respected the Register less, I'd create another account and upvote you again.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why dislike E.T.?


        All of you really thought it was that bad when you were a kid, when it was a new title? Funnily enough the part about the ditches is true, but it was the only real learning curve to it, almost literally, because if you got caged, then you really sucked (In fact I thought when you got caged you lost the parts and had to regather???). I must admit, I haven't played it for about 30 years, but I remember as a kid I loved the "Hide & Seek" element of gathering the parts. The only other similar one I remember was Indiana Jones, where you had to fly the parachute past the tree into the cave, to only get past a snake or something....loved it!

        While I'm surely alone here on this E.T. thing, I think some of you have to agree there wasn't many games for the 2600 that had Hide & Seek elements to it. Almost all of them were about timing and quick reflex. Think about all the large popular titles: Frogger, Bartender, TANK, Congo Bongo, Donkey Kong, Burger Time, Q-Bert, PAC-MAN....all of them were about timing and reflex. In fact, I can't think of 1 popular title from the 2600 that wasn't about timing or reflex, outside of E.T. that is, which obviously isn't a crowd favorite.

        All in all, out of the 100 or so I had as a kid, I would of put E.T. in the top 40. Oddly enough, I can't remember the titles of any of the really shitty games, I barely remember images from most of the games. Strange to remember the amazement I had when I was kid over these games. Looking back I don't miss the graphics of any of them, but I sure do miss the difficulty of them. Games today seemed to be designed for you to beat in about a week, just so you have to go out and buy another one to make companies more money.

    3. P Saunders

      Re: Why dislike E.T.?

      I remember watching (in my far distant youth) a sales drone demo ET once. He tried desperately to look like he was enjoying the game but he wasn't fooling anyone.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Why dislike E.T.?

      I admit my brother and I got quite a bit of entertainment out of E.T., though mostly through laughing at its dreadful mechanics and gameplay. We played it a Colecovision with the 2600 adapter - a bit of '80s video gaming history in itself.

      We also had Indiana Jones, which as MBD mentions was similarly endowed with tricky, ill-conceived mechanics; and the Superman game that could be played two-player, with one person controlling Superman's horizontal movement and the other controlling his vertical movement. Strange that control scheme never caught on for other games...

      I recall we managed to win Indiana Jones several times, but don't remember if we ever completed E.T. successfully. Probably not; the amusement value of the "levitate out of a pit" maneuver was limited.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I quite liked Pacman on the 2600. That and The Empire Strikes Back were both great for a quick, casual game.

    1. mickey mouse the fith

      Re: Hey!

      "I quite liked Pacman on the 2600. That and The Empire Strikes Back were both great for a quick, casual game."

      The sound effects on 2600 pac man were good enough for the supercomputer targeting system in superman 3. It was a dreadful conversion though, flickery, malformed sprites and the aforementioned sfx that sounded nothing like the arcade version.

  8. Suricou Raven

    I'll tell you why it was bad.

    The game starts, and you get to control ET. As with most 2600 games, a leaflet in the cartridge box tells you your objective: Collect three parts of a transmitter, call for rescue. Seems simple enough.

    So you waddle ET over to the nearest pit. You may or may not find a part down that pit: It's entirely luck based. Either way, you have to use some very fiddly timing-based controls on what seems a rather arbitrary challenge (Extend ET's neck to a precise height) to escape the pit. This is our first problem: The game is luck based. There's no skill involved at all. You just try a pit, hope it has a part, repeat until you have all three.

    It's about as satisfying to play as snakes-and-ladders.

    It gets worse, though. The game comes with a sort of 'timer' - it actually ticks down only when ET is on the move, so is effectively a distance limit. That's how you lose. You can only check so many pits in the allowed distance. If you don't happen to pick the three with the parts in, you lose. And here comes the real pain that is ET. It's intensely frustrating, because it gives the illusion of success each time: You'll usually find the first part of the transmitter, and sometimes the second - making it seem like victory is close. One down, two to go! Yet the distance limit is so short, and the laws of probability against you: Even if you find the first two parts in the first two pits you check, it remains highly unlikely you'll grab the third before time runs out.

    The game taunts you. It holds the prospect of victory just in front of your face, but pulls it away whenever you think you finally can grab for it. Potentially hours of frustration before, by pure luck, the random number generator rolls in your favor.

    This psychological torment is only perfected by the addition of some poorly-designed touches. Of the two 'enemy' pieces moving, one of them confiscates your parts on contact, effectively forcing you to start over - yet with the time/distance limit already lowered, at that point there is no reason you might want to continue that attempt rather than restart the game and so get your timer reset too. A stealthy, implicit death.

    If, by chance, you collect all three pieces then the game is not over. You must go to a certain screen, and press fire. There's no hint in the game of this, and at no other point is the fire button used - so you'd better have read that leaflet closely, or else your 'victory' will be cruely snatched away by the timer as you try to work out why you haven't yet won.

    1. Cliff

      Re: I'll tell you why it was bad.

      Never played it, but that was a super review

    2. Robin

      Re: I'll tell you why it was bad.

      That's one of the best game reviews I've ever read. Bravo.

    3. Adam 1

      Re: I'll tell you why it was bad.

      WOW! The only way that would get worse is if EA bought the franchise.

    4. Annihilator Silver badge

      Re: I'll tell you why it was bad.

      So you get to control E.T.? I'd prefer to control the Bertie Bassett character in the lower left of that screenshot

    5. FrankAlphaXII
      Thumb Up

      Re: I'll tell you why it was bad.

      Thats the best review for E.T. that I've ever read, and I've read a few given that its usually included in lists of the worst video games of all time. Superb.

    6. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: I'll tell you why it was bad.

      So I shouldn't buy the ET cart that's currently listed on ebay for $6?


  9. graeme leggett

    Document search first surely

    While I understand that archaeology looks better on film, as this allegedly occured within fairly recent memory wouldn't it be better to start with a search for documentation and/or interviewing former employees or the firm that carried out the exercise.

    Or has this already been tried?

    1. Pookietoo

      Re: interviewing former employees

      Well apparently Joe Lewandowski says he was there when it happened ...

      1. graeme leggett

        Re: interviewing former employees

        I must have skimmed over that part.

        Bodes better than spitfire hunting in Burma.

        1. TeeCee Gold badge

          Re: interviewing former employees

          Bodes better than spitfire hunting in Burma.

          Why? They too had people who were there when it happened and who could say with confidence exactly where the things were buried. Unfortunately, a hole dug in that spot didn't have any Spitfires in it.

          There probably are some somewhere around there, the RAF has form for digging a hole and sticking unwanted stuff in it. I remember one bloke telling me that they were doing an audit of an RAF base and found a Norton motorcycle/sidecar combination, still in its crate, that didn't appear on the books. The solution adopted was to dig a hole, as that was rather simpler than sorting out the paperwork.

  10. Pookietoo

    Here's a playthrough

    All-time worst? Maybe.

    1. Moonshine

      Re: Here's a playthrough

      Ok, it not actually as bad as I thought I would be (if you can ignore the negative commentary). How much were A2600 games in those days? I'm guessing too much to justify this level of 8-bit bleepware.

      I guess you have to remember the A2600 was no arcade board.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Here's a playthrough

        These cartridges were fracking expensive. Especially if you were a kid on an 80's allowance.

        1. Moonshine
          Thumb Down

          Re: Here's a playthrough

          OK, here's a US receipt for 1981:

          So the answer is between about $20 to $30 which would have been (guessing) £15 to £25. A retail price index calculator ( tells me that in today's money that would have been £52 to £87.

          That's not good value. No wonder only my "rich kid" friends had A2600. The rest of us had ping pong selector consoles playing on our Grundigs.

    2. Toastan Buttar

      Re: Here's a playthrough

      That actually seemed fairly entertaining. $20-$30 's worth of entertaining at 1982 prices? Not so much...

  11. SpitefulGOD


    I thought AVGN was already doing this?

  12. GaryDMN

    One question


  13. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


    At eleven a. m. the next day I commenced digging. It was sunny weather, and I was glad of that. I was still alone, for as much as I feared the unknown horror I sought, there was more fear in the thought of telling anybody. Later I told commentards only through sheer necessity, and because they had heard odd tales about cartridges being buried in the desert from old people which disposed them ever so little toward belief. As I turned up the stinking dusty earth in front of the ripped-up concrete slab, my spade causing a viscous greenish ichor to ooze from the ground and disperse in bizzaredly patterned streams resembling so many pieces of horribly phosphorescent telex ticker tape, I trembled at the dubious thoughts of what I might uncover. Some secrets of old code are not good for mankind, and this seemed to me one of them.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If they wait a year or two, they'll find them next to some windows phones.

    1. Moonshine

      Yes, they'll be next to the Facebook phones.

  15. harmjschoonhoven

    Don't dig in the desert

    " \"I hope more people find out about Alamogordo through this opportunity that we have to unearth the Atari games in the landfill,\" Alamogordo mayor Susie Galea said."

    I thought Alamogordo was already worldfamous/notorious by the Pu239 from the Trinity test burried there.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Don't dig in the desert

      Oh absolutely. Who hasn't heard of Alamogordo (additionally, trivia lover will know that there is Holloman Air Force Base nearby, which got visited by a few UFOs - some say they actually put to ground - back in the time of Ike, soon after Kenneth Arnold coined the term "Flying Saucer")

      But then, this is the era of people who think the Chernobyl Accident has been invented as backdrop for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game.

  16. DaddyHoggy

    somewhere in my parent's loft..

    ...Is my A2600 along with a selection of cartridges including the disappointing ET, disappointing Pac Man, quite disappointing Miss Pac Man...

    I remember Parker Bros made some excellent if expensive games. Jedi Arena and one based on some kids toy soldiers/cartoon that had a giant snake soldier vaporising snake...

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