Video Game / E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

"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 an unprecedented $21 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 3/4 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, note  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.

The game is considered by the mainstream the worst video game ever made, though that's up for debate by actual Atari 2600 fans. (It remains one of the biggest financial disasters in video game history, though, and definitely helped to sink Atari)

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

  • 3/4 View: The surface. Gameplay is Top-Down View, and the pits are seen from above, but the characters are shown in Side View. The buildings are also in side view, even though gameplay there is still in top view.
  • Action Adventure: Collect phone pieces while avoiding the FBI agent and scientist. Once you've called home, get back to the landing site, again while avoiding capture.
  • Anti-Frustration Feature: Attempted. If you stand in the right spot, you can send the scientist and FBI agent back to their starting points, or check if any of the pits have a telephone part. The frustration comes back when you're frantically searching for either spot on the screen, since both are randomized.
  • Context-Sensitive Button : Pressing the fire button will do different things depending on where you're standing. Symbols at the top of the screen tell you what will happen.
  • 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 as well.
  • Easter Egg: Doing certain things will make the flower turn into a Yar or Indiana Jones, and eventually reveals the initials "HSW 3" (for Howard Scott Warshaw, and "3" because it was his third game). A stylized "JD" (for Jerome M. Domurat, the graphic designer) are also hidden in the game.
  • Empty Room Psych: Most of the pits are empty. However, activating the "?" symbol at the top of the screen reveals whether there are any phone pieces in any pits.
  • Endless Game: Make it back to your ship and the game starts over.
  • Flip-Screen Scrolling: when you move off the edge of the screen in the overworld, it flips to the next screen.
  • Follow the Money: The Reese's Pieces lying around for you to pick up.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: The telephone pieces. They're randomly scattered, and even if you manage to find them, a "Phone Home" zone (also randomized) spawns elsewhere on the map.
    The Angry Video Game Nerd: Even if you find the pieces, it's Jack and Shit — and Jack left town.
  • Hitbox Dissonance: E.T. actually has pixel perfect hit detection. Unfortunately, in a 3/4 View game, that means his head can cause you to fall into a pit.
  • Instant 180 Degree Turn: You, the FBI agent, and the scientist reverse direction instantly. If you're moving right, though, E.T. will flip back to face 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.
  • Non-Player Character: Elliott helps you out, chasing the bad guys away and finding a phone piece for you.
  • Pixel Hunt: You have to wander all over the map to find small areas of certain screens where important things will happen when you press fire, such as calling Elliot or calling your ship.
  • Plot Coupon: The telephone. You need to find its shattered remains so you can call home.
  • 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 are scattered around the game world, and come in handy. However, they're depicted as a single green pixel, instead of the brown, orange, or yellow of real Pieces.
  • Roadrunner PC: Hold down the fire button to run away from the FBI agent and scientist.
  • Scoring Points: Once you go home, you'll see Elliot running around his house and your score, which will rise for each Reese's Piece you've collected.
  • Side View: Graphics and gameplay down in the pits is from the side.
  • Timed Mission: Getting back to your ship once you've called it.
  • Video Game Geography: A cube-shaped world, with the landing zone at the top, the pits along the sides, and the buildings (Elliott's house, the Institute of Science, and the FBI building) at the bottom.