Category Archives: Warner Communications

Run, E.T., Run!

Oscar Week at TDE: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Tonight’s the big night!  Overly primped celebrities engage in vapid self-congratulatory masturbation.  Still… we’re excited! Wrapping up this series of articles covering games based on movies either nominated for or winners of Best Picture, we have perhaps the most infamous: Atari’s adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Released in 1982, the movie concerned itself about the story of a young boy who befriends a lost space alien and attempts to return him home.  It was an immediate hit, and through various re-releases the movie ended up taking around $435 million over its box-office lifetime. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1983, but lost to Richard Attenborough’s epic biopic Gandhi.

Atari saw E.T. as a natural video game hit. Steve Ross, head of Atari owners Warner Communications, negotiated a 21 million dollar deal for the home video game rights to the movie. The problem was that negotiations took so long that Atari game designer Howard Scott Warshaw was left with only six weeks to get a game for the VCS/2600 out the door in time for Christmas 1982. Within that crushing deadline he attempted to create an involved adventure game featuring the lovable little alien, but the result is confusing and endlessly frustrating.  Players strive to guide E.T. around an abstract landscape, searching for the three pieces of the interplanetary telephone that he can use to phone home. With only a certain amount of energy to complete this task, E.T. is chased by government agents and scientists, who will delay his progress. Also on hand is young Elliott to lend assistance during the mission.

The game is at least interesting, with invisible power zones positioned around the different screens giving E.T. special powers, such as teleportation and the ability to scatter his pursuers. The real problems are the holes that are scattered about, into which the alien falls over and over and over and over and over again. My gosh, the holes. Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote “When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” Atari’s E.T. cartridge has so many, many eyes to gaze so very, very long into you.

For more information on the E.T. game and its role in the great video game crash of ’83 – ’84, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

 

Atari Is Born, 40 Years Ago Today

Early Atari Logo

Out of the ashes of Computer Space, an unpopular first attempt at an arcade video game which was  released by Nutting Associates in 1971, 27-year-old Nolan Bushnell, along with partner Ted Dabney, incorporated Atari, Inc. today in 1972.  Their next attempt, the first game released by the new company, would be a slightly bigger success: PONG.

Bushnell and Dabney had created Computer Space under the auspices of an informal company they dubbed Syzygy, pronounced siz-eh-jee, a term meaning the Earth, Moon and Sun in perfect alignment.  Thankfully a candle-making commune had already registered that name, so Bushnell took a term from the Japanese game Go he liked to play, and Atari was born.

Dabney, Bushnell, Unknown and Alcorn

PONG was an instant success, a quicky paddle-ball video game hammered out by Atari employee Al Alcorn, the immense profits of which would carry the company for years.  Five years later Atari would create the Video Computer System (later renamed the 2600) home console, which initially struggled but would eventually come to define home video games after the licensing of the Taito/Midway hit arcade game Space Invaders for the games machine.  Bushnell eventually sold Atari to Warner Communications, and was muscled out by management in 1978.  The name Atari became synonymous with home video games, with the company ruling the roost until the great video-game crash of 1983-1984 would utterly destroy the entire industry.

Atari was eventually split into two companies: industry stalwart Jack Tramiel, fresh off his departure from Commodore, would pick up the consumer division of Atari in 1984 to form Atari Corporation, with Warner continuing the arcade division separately as Atari Games, Inc..  They would eventually sell to Namco in 1985.  The Tramiel-led Atari would move more deeply into computers with the Atari ST line, while Atari Games made such arcade games as Marble Madness (1984), Super Sprint (1986) and Hard Drivin’ (1989).

Bushnell relaxing, 1999

Tramiel eventually merged Atari Corp with hard drive manufacturer JTS, who in turn sold remaining assets to Hasbro in 1998 for a paltry 5 million dollars.  French software maker Infogrames would end up purchasing Hasbro in 2000, and rebrand the entire company using the Atari, Inc. name in 2001.  Coming around in a neat circle, Nolan Bushnell eventually joined the board of Atari in 2010.

So raise a glass to the company that created the video game industry, 40 years young today.  As always, for more history of Atari and the games that helped define it and the rest of the video game landscape, consult your local The Dot Eaters article.