Filmmakers Unearth Legendary Atari 'E.T.' Trove

Thousands of copies of the notoriously bad game were buried in a New Mexico landfill

Film Director Zak Penn, atari, ET, E.T., The Extra- Terrestrial, landfill, buried, new mexico
AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca
Film Director Zak Penn shows a box of a decades-old Atari 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial' game found in a dumpsite Saturday, April 26, 2014 in Alamogordo, N.M.
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A legendary trove of Atari's E.T. The Extraterrestrial video game has at long last been unearthed. The Associated Press reports that a documentary film production company dug the huge stash of game cartridges out of a landfill in Alamagordo, New Mexico on Saturday, confirming rumors that had circulated for decades regarding the fate of the notoriously terrible game.

The tale of E.T., often hailed as the worst video game ever made, has long fascinated dedicated gamers and pop culture historians. Atari had released the game in 1982 after buying the rights to E.T. from director Steven Spielberg for $22 million. After it proved a failure in sales, reports emerged that the company had quietly dumped millions of unsold copies of the game into a city landfill somewhere and encased them in concrete. Two years later, Atari was out of business and the American video game industry had fallen on hard times.

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Although a few people, including the game's designer, Howard Scott Warsaw, insisted that the mass burial was just an urban legend, director Zak Penn decided to find out for sure. The writer of The Avengers and X-Men 2 is helming a documentary on the story for Fuel Entertainment and Xbox Entertainment Studios as part of a series of original programming to be released on Microsoft's Xbox game consoles. To help with the excavation, he enlisted University of North Dakota archaeologist Bill Caraher, a specialist in medieval Christian architecture and former Atari 2600 owner.

A crowd of local residents and gamers gathered at the excavation site on Saturday morning as backhoes and bulldozers ripped through the landfill's concrete covering. To entertain the spectators as they waited, a 1980s game console was hooked up to a TV in the back of a van and a life-size E.T. doll had been arranged inside a DeLorean.

Just before 1 p.m. on Saturday, the crew hit their target, unearthing hundreds of the E.T. game cartridges, along with boxes, other games and Atari hardware. "For anybody who doubted," Penn told the crowd, according to CNET, "there's a whole heck of a lot of games down there. We just saw them."