Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Reserved for classic gaming discussions.
MarioMan762
Posts: 3
Joined: May 4th, 2016, 5:38 pm

Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Postby MarioMan762 » May 31st, 2016, 4:03 pm

People have always said that E.T. on Atari 2600 is the worst game ever made but come on is it really? Yes its bad its not the worst,.

User avatar
Rev
Posts: 1291
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:31 pm

Re: Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Postby Rev » May 31st, 2016, 6:13 pm

I think that if you call E.T. one of the worst games of all time then you're not really being objective as there are many games that are technically worst. However, if you change that to E.T. is one of the most disappointing games of all time the comment becomes much more accurate. I think a lot of people had really high hopes for the game and then it came out, disappointed tons of gamers, and ended up in a landfill. Honestly... I don't know what people expected out of an E.T. game however they definitely didn't want the game that was sent out.

Luigi & Peach
Posts: 167
Joined: August 19th, 2015, 9:30 pm

Re: Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Postby Luigi & Peach » May 31st, 2016, 6:39 pm

A lot of people claim that the worst part was trying to get out of the pits. I always thought the lack of clear objectives was frustrating. If it wasn't for a friend's older brother I would have never figured out what you were actually supposed to do.

User avatar
VideoGameCritic
Site Admin
Posts: 11019
Joined: April 1st, 2015, 7:23 pm

Re: Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Postby VideoGameCritic » June 1st, 2016, 4:48 pm

If someone said it was "bad" I don't think I would argue with them. The worst game ever? Not by the long shot. The most disappointing ever? Maybe!

The game was poorly designed. Constantly falling into pits and struggling to get out was no fun. But what I really hate is how you can walk into a pit immediately when you enter a screen. Cheap!

User avatar
Rookie1
Posts: 697
Joined: August 6th, 2015, 7:42 am

Re: Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Postby Rookie1 » June 1st, 2016, 7:18 pm

I dont think its that bad, considering that it was made in 5 weeks by one guy. There really arent a lot of 2600 games I would consider amazing. This game falls in with the rest of the shovelware that was pumped out for this system. If it werent associated with E.T. noone would even care about it. That, and the fact that its inaccurately associated with destroying the videogame industry is what makes it so infamous.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 1864
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Postby scotland » June 1st, 2016, 9:31 pm

There is a reason this game is infamous - its lack of success played a vital role in the US home console crash. Its lessabout whether the game is bad, and more about it being disappointing and what the impact of that was.

That the game took less than 6 weeks is not an excuse. Atarti / Warner acted stupidly in the entire enterprise, from paying the high price rights, to the rush to get it out to get a return on that gamble, to the work falling on one programmer, to overproducing instead of having a test market, etc. At the time, Atari's fortunes were the bell weather of the industry, and those fortunes were falling fast. E.T. and Pac Man were highly anticipated titles that disappointed an easily impressed audience who loved simple games like Adventure where your player is a dot. The bar was not set high.

I can be synpathetic about Pac Man since the home version had to get close to a more advanced arcade game that just seemed simple, but was still a challenge to the VCS and the bag of tricks they had at the time. Also buying the rights to the single biggest arcade hit ever known was worthwhile, and had paid off already with Space Invaders. It is a shame it was not better, but Pac Mans failings are understandable.

E.T's failings are not understandable. The game could have anything - imagine just modifying an existing game like Haunted House maybe, or a game from another system. E.T was a smash movie, but there was no real history a smash movie would be a big video game hit at all. Even now, people play the game knowing what kind of game it is, and its flaws. In 1982, people put down coin not really knowing what to expect except fun - and got frustration.

Consumers learned about games from magazines like Atari Age, owned by Atari. The cover of the November 1982 magazine is E.T, and also mentions Raiders of the Lost Ark on the cover. Just silly that Atari published two similar Warshaw games in the same quarter without knowing how the public wohld react to puzzle games like that. The magazine only has one screen shot of E.T., and its not a pit. It describes the game in a few paragraphs, but so generally it could apply to a platformer. No wonder kids were disappointed. The game sold for $40 that holiday season of 1982, and that was a lot of money.

We probably all have games in our 2600 libraries we think are worse, even much wors, than E.T. Many games stink, but Atari's own highly anticipated E.T's stink matters. It made such a resounding financial thud in the 4th quarter of 1982 that it played a significant role in causing lack of confidence in Atari and home video games by extension. The Crash began on December 8th 1982 with Warner stock being devalued by a third on a single day. Thats serious.

Gleebergloben123
Posts: 138
Joined: April 8th, 2015, 12:06 am

Re: Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Postby Gleebergloben123 » June 2nd, 2016, 11:17 am

scotland wrote:There is a reason this game is infamous - its lack of success played a vital role in the US home console crash. Its lessabout whether the game is bad, and more about it being disappointing and what the impact of that was.

That the game took less than 6 weeks is not an excuse. Atarti / Warner acted stupidly in the entire enterprise, from paying the high price rights, to the rush to get it out to get a return on that gamble, to the work falling on one programmer, to overproducing instead of having a test market, etc. At the time, Atari's fortunes were the bell weather of the industry, and those fortunes were falling fast. E.T. and Pac Man were highly anticipated titles that disappointed an easily impressed audience who loved simple games like Adventure where your player is a dot. The bar was not set high.
.


Scotland my friend, I respectfully disagree with most of the above. I think having 5 and a half weeks is a darn good excuse if you the game's creator and designer, Howard Warshaw. Game developers at the time usually had 9 months to a year to make a game (40 to 52 weeks). Warshaw was given 5.5 weeks, about 1/10th the time. He was given a Herculean task just to get the game out on time. The fact that he was able to do that is quite mind-boggling.

And Atari was not pleased with Warner's decision to pay an astounding $21 million to Spielberg for the rights to E.T. Atari President Ray Kassar thought the idea to make a game in under 6 weeks was impossible, and told Steve Ross, the President of parent company Warner Communications, just that. But Steve Ross didn't want to hear any of that. Ross desperately wanted to get Spielberg to make films for Warner, and this was his way of getting the foot in the door. Warner forced the E.T. game on Atari, and Atari prez Kassar knew that he had no choice but to find someone to make the game.

Back in 1982, developers worked solo on pretty much every game. Warshaw did ask colleague and friend Jerome Domurat to help with the graphics, but Warshaw did almost all the work. Whether or not that was a good idea, I'm not sure. But one developer was how it was done back then.

Regarding test-marketing, there simply wasn't enough time. The game, according to Warner, had to come out for Christmas Holiday 1982. The game had to be completed by September 1st to put the game into manufacturing (which took about 2 months), so test-marketing simply wasn't an option. Atari was in a bind.

Warshaw could have made a game that was more like Haunted House, Asteroids, etc., but he wanted to avoid derivative gameplay. And in the early 80's, unoriginal games were often slammed by critics. Even Spielberg wanted a more Pacman type game, but Warshaw wanted to try something unique. Whether he accomplished that is up for debate, but I give him credit for the limited time he had.

There were a lot of negative factors facing E.T. from the start:

1. 5.5 week development period, as opposed to 40-52 weeks.
2. An insane $21 million deal by Warner (not Atari) to Spielberg.
3. Not enough time for test-marketing, and no time for editing, enhancing gameplay, etc.
4. The idea that great marketing was key (shared by Atari and Warner), the game did not really matter.
5. In late 1982, video-game shelf space was becoming scarce with tons of start-up companies making crap games.

E.T. was not the worst game for the 2600, not even close. But as the VGC and Scotland said, it was probably the most disappointing. There was so much hype, that only an amazing, one of a kind game could have met expectations.

I think E.T. was just a symbolic game for the downfall of gaming in the 80's due to the reasons I listed above. It was just the perfect storm.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 1864
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Postby scotland » June 2nd, 2016, 12:48 pm

We really do not disagree all that much. I always enjoy your opinions, even in dissent.

The short development time was Ataris choice. Warshaw had 2 games (E.T and Raiders) both coming out November 1982. Even if 1 programmer per game was the standard, he should not have been the one selected. Also, any rushed project gets resources - thats not new. Not having time to playtest or test market was also Atari / Warners choice.

Atari did market E.T, but not all that aggressively. Check print ads of the day to verify. Atari might have been upset at Warner for setting it up, but it still does not excuse the choices Atari and Warshaw made. Derivative gameplay was not an issue - no one chastised Activisions summer of 1982 game Star Master for derivative play, but instead praised it for being well done.

It was a disaster of Atari and Warners making. There are worse games, but being made in just 6 weeks by a single overworked programmer is not an excuse - it was the result of choices. It was bad decisions that resulted in a disappointing, often returned, sometimes buried in New Mexico infamous game that soured the public and investors alike.

Gleebergloben123
Posts: 138
Joined: April 8th, 2015, 12:06 am

Re: Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Postby Gleebergloben123 » June 2nd, 2016, 3:11 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful reply as always Scotland, my brutah from anothah mothah. From what I have read, none of the Atari programmers wanted anything to do with E.T. due to the ridiculous time constraint. It is also my understanding that Spielberg himself had requested Warshaw to design the game (due to Warshaw's previous works, including the 2600's Raiders of the Lost Ark). And considering Warner boss Steve Ross just paid $21 million for the game rights, throwing Warshaw into the mix seemed like a given.

Should Warshaw have respectfully declined? Maybe. But he made Yars Revenge and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I'm sure hubris and money had something to do with it. Activision was created because Atari was paying its programmers very little money, so 4 Atari peeps decided to make their own company. This is just speculation because I don't know how much Warshaw got paid, but I'm sure he did quite well. He may have thought "I have Atari by the you-know-whats, and I'm going to get as much cash as I can".

Warner did state that the game had to be ready by Christmas holiday 1982. Atari was given an offer it couldn't refuse, as Warner was the parent company. Atari prez Kassar thought the whole idea was nuts, but he couldn't say "No way" to the big bosses at Warner.

As for not having derivative gameplay, that was more of an Atari thing started by Atari coin. Arcade games under Bushnell's watch could not make a similar game, and they maintained that unwritten rule until Asteroids Deluxe.

Regarding the lack of marketing and advertising, I can't speak on this because I don't know much about this aspect of E.T. But if I were to guess, I think Warner probably thought, "E.T.: Highest grossing movie ever (at the time). Mega-popular 2600 video game. There's your marketing."

There was blame to go around, but I think it was on Warner president Steve Ross. His blind thirst to get Spielberg to make movies for Warner imposed impossible demands on the making of E.T. Should Kassar have pushed back? Yes. But as we all know in the job world, when the higher-ups demand something be done, you can gripe and complain all you want, but eventually you have to do it, or you'll be out of a job.

I think Atari and Warshaw did the best they could under the circumstances, but it wasn't enough.

User avatar
scotland
Posts: 1864
Joined: April 7th, 2015, 7:33 pm

Re: Is E.T. on Atari 2600 really that bad?

Postby scotland » June 2nd, 2016, 8:38 pm

More good points. Its a solid perspective that Kassar and Warshaw were making lemonaide, but I think they also helped make the lemons too.

However, Kassar was an executive, and he was still responsible for how well Atari worked within Warner. It was Kassar who undervalued the programmers that led to Activision, and so when it came time to make E.T, the bench was no longer very deep. Did Warshaw allow others to play it? Communal playtesting was also an Atari tradition, at least under Bushnell, but that may have not happened here. Even with the rushed timeline, Warshaw and Kassar could have made a simple 4k E.T game, and maybe put it on the same cart with Earthquest that was also released that holiday season. That way two puzzle games could have cross promoted and supported each other. Maybe they could even have reskinned or reworked a simple arcade game like Berzerk.

You make good points, and I learned some things. Thanks. There is at least one book out there on my to read list.

While we have discussed why the game was like it was, there have been threads on how good or bad the game is. I think Atarifever was one of the games supporters. There is a small 1982 Consumers Guide How to Win at E.T. Book, which is easily found on the web. Those type of guides that focused on just one game were fairly uncommon - (there were lots on Pac Man, but very few other games could carry a whole book). Its a nice little guide, that leaves me feeling better about the game.


Return to “Classic Gaming”