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Video Game: E.T. the Extraterrestrial

"E.T. certainly isn't the worst game or even the least polished, but I actually like having the distinction of it being the worst game. Between that and Yars Revenge, I have the greatest range of anyone ever on the machine."
Howard Scott Warshaw, designer and programmer of E.T.

An adaptation of the movie for the Atari 2600, that became infamous as the Trope Maker for The Problem with Licensed Games. Considered one of the worst games of all time, and one of the events that led to The Great Video Game Crash of 1983.

Following the success of the movie, in July 1982 Warner Communications, Atari's parent company, paid $20-25 million for the rights to do a video game adaptation. Programmer Howard Scott Warshaw was given just six weeks to write it, in order to meet the Christmas deadline. In comparison, Warshaw's previous 2600 games, Yars Revenge and Raiders of the Lost Ark, both highly regarded, took seven months and six months respectively.

The game itself is a Three-Quarters View Action Adventure game. You play E.T., and at the beginning, you are dropped off by the phonebooth-looking spaceship. You then have to find three pieces of an intergalactic telephone so E.T. can "phone home." You wander around six screens, and perform various actions by pressing the fire button; different actions are available depending on where E.T. is standing. The most important screens are the ones with pits; the phone pieces are in the pits. You can try falling into pit after pit to check them, or you can find the part of the screen where you can use an action that shows which pit has a phone piece. Once you assemble all the phone pieces, you head to one spot on one screen where the available action is phoning home. Phone home, then head to the landing site for a pick-up before a timer runs out.

Standing in your way are an FBI agent who steals your phone pieces if he touches you and puts them back in the pits, and a scientist who drags you off to study you. Also, every time you move or do an action, you use energy. Run out of energy, and E.T. dies, though Elliott will revive him.

The screens with pits also have Reese's Pieces, represented by green dots, lying on the ground. Pick them up, and a part of the screen will let you eat them for more energy. The FBI agent will steal these too. Another part of the screen will let you call Elliott, and if you have nine Reese's, he will take them, and in return, chase away the FBI agent and scientist, and return a moment later with a phone piece. If you have less than nine Reese's, Elliott will take them and go home.

If you succeed in getting home, you will see Elliott walking around his house, and you'll see the number of Reese's you've given him. These will add to your score. The game then restarts, with the phone pieces once again in random pits.

So, does this sound like one of the worst games of all time?

The game is at least complete, and not buggy. This isn't Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing. But the gameplay is boring, confusing, and repetitive. It's also very easy to fall into a pit, and once you levitate back out, you often fall right back in again. Watching the movie doesn't in any way help you understand what you are supposed to do in the game; of course, reading the manual helps a lot, but who would do that anyway? Atari also published a Hints Sheet later, but the damage was already done. If this had been just another 2600 game, it would have been considered below average and quickly forgotten. But Atari's big bet on it is what made it infamous. Atari produced four million units, expecting a massive hit. One and a half million sold, but most of these were sent back. Atari lost millions, Warner Communications' stock price took a 35% hit, and within a few months, The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 was underway.

Because the game sold so many copies, you can find E.T. cartridges with relative ease even today.

In September 1983, Atari buried a bunch of stuff in a New Mexico landfill. An excavation project (helmed by a documentary crew surrounding the old urban legend about the landfill) was approved in 2013 to find out what was dumped there; in 2014, the project hit paydirt. On April 26, 2014, NBC Nightly News and others reported that the crew had found the cartridges, and that the game is considered the worst video game ever made.


The E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial videogame contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Three-Quarters View: The surface. Similar to The Legend of Zelda.
  • Action Adventure
  • Context-Sensitive Button : Well, considering that the 2600 joystick had only one action button, this is probably a given.
  • Christmas Rushed: An infamous example. "Hey Scott, make something awesome! You've got six weeks."
    • He did at least try, and he did put a lot of detail into the game with little things like footsteps growing louder or softer as other characters got closer to or farther away from E.T. The game was playable, and there is an easy way to avoid falling into the pits: pull the joystick to the left or right after E.T. goes back to the surface. The game was likely meant to be a sort of 'Adventure Lite'.
  • Difficulty Levels: Three, getting easier as you go up. Level 1 has both enemies, level 2 removes the scientist, and level 3 removes the FBI agent.
  • Easter Egg: Doing certain things will make the flower turn into a Yar or Indiana Jones.
  • Empty Room Psych: Most of the pits.
  • Endless Game
  • Flip Screen Scrolling
  • Follow the Money: The Reese's Pieces.
  • The Golden Age of Video Games: Practically ended it, though that was due more to circumstances. See The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 below.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: The telephone pieces.
  • The Great Video Game Crash of 1983: Considered a cause of it. Even though it was one of the best-selling games on the 2600, Atari produced millions more cartridges than were sold, hoping it would drive additional console sales. It didn't.
    • It sold well because it was a hotly-anticipated E.T. video game and consumers hadn't been introduced to The Problem with Licensed Games yet; quality wasn't even part of the equation then. Asteroids and Pac-Man were the other titles to join E.T. in the landfill (even though Asteroids is considered one of the better titles, it was simply overproduced).
  • Hitbox Dissonance: E.T. actually has pixel-perfect hit detection. Unfortunately, in a Three-Quarters View game, that means his head can cause you to fall into a pit.
  • Instant 180 Degree Turn: Everybody.
    • If you're moving right, though, E.T. will flip back to face the left when you let go of the joystick - which can be a problem when getting out of the pits.
  • Kill Screen: Subverted. If you give Elliot at least 33 Reese's Pieces the score count will be glitched up, ET will turn black and the Scientist and the FBI Agent will never appear. You can still go on. It's just boring with no enemies around.
  • Level Goal
  • Non-Player Character: Elliott.
  • Obvious Beta: To a certain extent. It's complete and there are no major bugs, but it suffers from a lack of playtesting. A third-party patch released decades later fixes many of the problems.
  • Plot Coupon: The telephone.
  • Press X to Not Die: The natural reaction to ET falling into a pit is to scream in frustration. But if you can overcome that and maintain the presence of mind to hit the joystick button in mid-fall, you can trigger ET's levitation ability and avoid damage.
  • Product Placement: Reese's Pieces.
  • Roadrunner PC: Hold down the fire button to run away from the FBI agent and scientist.
  • Scoring Points
  • Side View: The pits.
  • Timed Mission: Getting back to your ship once you've called it.
  • Video Game Geography: Cube-shaped.


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