The video game tie-in for E.T. was an epic failure. Atari sent hundreds of thousands of unsold copies to the dump. Joshua Wheeler reports on their excavation in The Glitch in the Video-Game Graveyard
In Alamogordo, New Mexico, a documentary crew has descended on my hometown to dig up our old dump in hopes of resurrecting hundreds of thousands of copies of E.T. the Extraterrestrial video-game cartridges that in September of 1983 were reportedly hauled 90 miles from an Atari warehouse in El Paso, Texas, and left for dead thirty feet down.
And apparently punk archaeology is a thing.
Behind me some guys in hard hats are complaining about not getting to gather more data and complete more analysis of the Pit before the public arrives tomorrow. They’re a group of self-proclaimed “punk archaeologists” who bullied their way into participating in the dig by insisting that it has sufficient value as cultural heritage to deserve some measure of archaeological methodology. Even though I’m unclear about the exact nature of punk archaeology and what this crack team of scholars hopes to accomplish here, I dub them the Arch Punks and resolve to fall in with them the next morning.
I still don’t know whom I should have trusted, if anyone. All I know is that I felt stupid, stressed out, humiliated, and sad. I had several shouting matches with a few of these guys. Some of them got personal. And all I had to show for my loyalty to Brian Ecton and my righteous indignation toward the other players was nothing at all. I was physically exhausted and emotionally abused. I hated Brian, the other players all hated me, and I hated myself most of all. I had to purse my lips extra hard to fight the urge to cry.
Settlers of Catan, eat your goddamn heart out.
I want to play, but at the same time, it seems sort of terrifying.
Around 90 percent of the test participants were unable to complete the first level of Super Mario Brothers. We did not assist them in any way except by providing the exact same instruction manual we used back then. Many of them did not read it and the few that did stopped after the first page which did not cover any of the game mechanics.
We watched the replay videos of how the gamers performed and saw that many did not understand simple concepts like bottomless pits. Around 70 percent died to the first Goomba. Another 50 percent died twice. Many thought the coins were enemies and tried to avoid them. Also, most of them did not use the run button. There were many other depressing things we noted but I can not remember them at the moment.
Basically, most crane games are designed so the claw is randomly (and only once in many games) strong enough to let players win. Some even weaken in strength after a short time so players get close to victory only to see it slip from their grasp! Since the manuals for many skill games are available online, this is not hard to verify.
I never won anything from one of those games. Then again, I didn’t play them often because they always seemed rigged.
A key part of that appeal was the infamous Licence to Kill. GoldenEye was a first-person shooter of course, but the decision to recognise body-specific hits introduced a new subtlety to the genre. Shoot a guard in the leg and he reacts differently to if you blasted him in the chest.
I was never terrifically good at first person shooters. Goldeneye was no different, I routinely had my ass handed to me by my little brother. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun playing the game. I loved the proximity mines, one of my few ways to achieve victory; pepper a map and hide in a corner. And there was that ridiculous laser watch.
The developer behind Canabalt has written an article about tuning the game to achieve the feel that players expect. The post includes details about the selection of aspect ratio, the hitbox and the player’s motion. If you don’t own it already, the game is a fun one to have around on your iOS device when you need to kill a few minutes.
Salenâ€™s theory goes like this: building a game â€” even the kind of simple game a sixth grader might build â€” is equivalent to building a miniworld, a dynamic system governed by a set of rules, complete with challenges, obstacles and goals. At its best, game design can be an interdisciplinary exercise involving math, writing, art, computer programming, deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. If children can build, play and understand games that work, itâ€™s possible that someday they will understand and design systems that work. And the world is full of complicated systems.
For a generation growing up immersed in technology, it offers a great opportunity for cross-curricular learning. Implementing a broad program like that could be problematic with the compartmentalized subject structure found in most schools. There would also be issues in an educational system with standardized testing, where you pretty much have to teach to the test. Regardless, it’s an interesting approach that has a lot of potential.