Stuff You Should Know - Selects: E.T.: Is It Really the Worst Video Game of All Time?Episode Date: November 18, 2023
If you play video games you probably have an easy answer to worst game of all time: ET. But it turns out there are no easy answers, especially when you’re talking about a game so terrible it’s blamed for bringing the entire video game industry with it. Find out more in this classic episode. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
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Well, I was just like, I kind of wanted to do this one always is a long stuff. Mm-hmm. We don't have a show called medium stuff yet. No. We have a so-so stuff called stuff you should know. Yeah. But yeah, I saw that documentary Atari game over a few years ago. It's a good one.
And I also guested on tech stuff and did a two-part episode on the history of Atari. It's a good one. With Strickland. He's great too. And we could probably do Atari on its own at some point too. I agree, I think we definitely should. But this is, I mean, I was about to say of Strickland and I could get two episodes out of it, but you know how that guy goes on.
Oh my God. He's the hardest working man in podcast business. I'll tell you that. Just ask. So we're talking today about what is widely believed to be the worst video game of all time. Except that it's not. Except that it's not, yes.
It's true, I love stories like this where it's like everything you thought you knew was wrong. And really stop and ask yourself, how did you even know that this truth that you knew before? Love that, man. Yeah, ET, the Atari video game. A lot of people, it's that whole internet van wagon thing, I think. Yes. Worst game of all time. They tried to bury it in the desert, it's that whole internet van wagon thing, I think.
Yes. Worst game of all time. They tried to bury it in the desert. It was so bad. Kill the Atari, kill the whole stinking industry. Right, but it was just that bad of a game. You've played it? No.
Yeah. I will say this, it may be one of the most disappointing games of all time. It could be, yes. Because if you were a kid back then, like me and you, and you played Atari like I did, it was a disappointment. It was greatly anticipated, I'm sure. A lot of anticipation, that was part, you know,
that was probably the biggest reason why it gets all the attention, it's because it was ET, it wasn't, I set, dumb game, sorter. Yeah, or fast food. There were so many bad video games for Atari. Yeah, there were a lot. It was awful. So we'll just come out and say, no, ET is not the worst video game of all time. There were a lot of far, far worse video games than ET.
But like you were saying, as far as the anticipation went, as far as the let down went, as far as the loss of money, you can understand how people would say, this is the worst of all time, but also the timing of its failure was so utterly, amazingly perfect that it just took it from worst video game of all time to worst video game of all time.
Yeah, it's like here atari in video home console game industry, you're not doing well. And I noticed you're sinking. Let me tie this anvil around your ankle that shaped like ET. Yep, that's right. It's just really bad timing. So let's get into the story because it's one of the more interesting ones and it features a great guy named Howard Scott Warshaw who if you've seen the movie game over, you have probably come to really like an admire.
Good dude. Good dude. Brilliant designer. And like just a genuinely great guy, the story begins back in 1982, I believe. Yeah, it was 1982. He was a designer at Atari. He apparently started out writing code at Hewlett Packard and was very unhappy. So he made the move over to Atari, even though he had zero experience with game design,
but he was really an exciting game designer because he came up with some really innovative ideas. Yes, he, Yars Ravange is one of the best Atari, 2600 games of all time. Did you have that one? Oh yeah. I never played it. It's great.
It's still great. It's kind of space invaderies or something. It's like a shooter thing kind of. Yeah. Single screen shooter. Well, you're a, I guess you were a yard and you're this sort of bug-like creature. And instead of shooting at something to chip away at it,
you do it so with your body. So you just fly into this. Oh, I think I have. It goes, it went, you would fly into this. I Oh, I think I have to leave it. You would fly into this. I mean, of course, all this stuff was supposed to represent like a spaceship or a planet. Okay. But it was made up of, you know, blocks and tubes. So I don't even know what it was.
But your whole point was to make it smaller. Gotcha. And you would fly into it. I know you'd tell me. Yeah, shooting you would fly into it. For my money, that kind of game, the best of all time was synopeed. Synopeed is great. It was great.
I mean a lot of those games I played at A when I happened upon an arcade, Gallagher and Frogger and Synopeed and Defender like those are still really good challenging Jowls. Sure, Ms. Backman. All right, fun games, yeah Ms. Backman. They just stand up still.
For sure. It's not like you go to Gallagher or Jowls now and you're like, this isman. Yeah. They just stand up still. For sure. It's not like you go to Galaga or Jals now and you're like, this is easy. What was I thinking? I was such a stupid kid. Yeah. They're still hard challenging games. And I think that's sort of the key to a good video game is it's got to be winnable, but it's got to be hard. Because a kid doesn't want to, you know, a pushover. Right, but a kid also wants to win. So Howard Scott Warsaw knew this, like he was a game designer. He wasn't like a code monkey or anything like that.
He was a game designer, an artist, I'm sure he considered himself especially at the time, and he should have. One of the other things he was known for was he was the guy who realized that you could make a game way more enjoyable if you created a backstory for it. So rather than like drive this car there, you're actually running away from this gang of, you know, international mafia guys who are trying to kidnap your girlfriend or whatever. Yeah. You make up a backstory for it. the player reads this backstory and then plays. They care that much more about the person because their imagination is now kicked in. They're not just doing a mindless task.
They're imagining what's going on in computer world. He did that for games. He was one of the first, if not the first designer, to create backstories and biographies for his characters and games. Yeah. You know what? Just now is sort of hitting me that part of the appeal was the imagination of the kid.
So like, when you got the game adventure or asteroids, and asteroids, you were a pencil drawn triangle, right? Shooting it pencil drawn shapes. Shooting pencils at pencil drawn shapes. Shooting dots at pencil drawn shapes, shooting pencils at pencil drawn shapes. Shooting dots at pencil drawn shapes. And adventure, you are a cube that flew around with an arrow attached to you that was supposed to be your sword. But when you look at the actual cartridge
or the box that it came in, they had this great artwork of this night on a horse with his sword drawn or in asteroids, this Han Solo like pilot, like cruising through an asteroid field. And that would kick start, that kick starts the imagination of a ten-year-old. And then they forget they're a cube, or an arrow. Yeah, it makes it that much more real. Yeah, it was really, really cool. Because the imagination can do some pretty amazing stuff with 8 bytes of graphic. Yeah. Yeah. You know? Sure. So, Warsaw figured this out. Yeah, designing worlds. He would design Easter eggs into his games too. Yeah, he wasn't the first, but yes. No, but he was an early person to do that. Yeah, adventure was the first, I think. And in addition to Yars Rivench,
he also already had a hit in the Raiders of the Lost Ark game. He had designed that. Yeah, adventure was the first, I think. And in addition to Yars revenge, he also already had a hit in the Raiders of the Lost Ark game. He had designed that. And it's still played that so much. I read you did. Oh, yeah. So from what I never played that one, from what I understand, you it was extremely difficult. You it required both joysticks. Yeah, there was, I think I read somewhere that there were 33 screens, which is unheard of. I could buy that.
And that like people still have trouble beating it today. Well, it was really hard. I remember very specifically, there was one part where you were to parachute, parachute from one screen. And it would all of a sudden, you went to the bottom and it would pop up and you're on the next screen going down. And there's a tree on the left and you had to start that jump
early going hard left and hook onto that tree with your parachute. If you hit it the wrong angle, it burst your parachute and you would die. And if you didn't, you would hook onto it and slide perfectly. And it was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in a video game. I know you could say in your life. No, as far as video game play though, it was very, very challenging, but it was possible. So when you tried it 27 times and you nailed it on that 28, like you would run around the neighborhood telling all your friends that you nailed the parachute jump. Very cool.
Really, really hard. But it was so hard that it was like, you would get frustrated or you kept you sucked in. No, no, no, you're like, I know I can get it. There's the key. And that's where ET messed up. But we'll get to that. Okay. So, on June, it's funny, he remembers this, the date.
On June 27, 1982, Howard's funny. He remembers us, the date on June 27th, 1982, Howard's got war shells hanging around our tary. And he gets a phone call. He gets a phone call from the CEO, Ray Kassar himself. That was a big deal back then. Oh, sure. And Ray Kassar says, Hey, kid, we know you, we love you. We've got something going on with Steven Spielberg.
He remembers that you made the Raiders of the Lost Ark game for him. He thinks you're a certifiable genius, but we have a special assignment for you. We want you to make the ET video game. Can you do it? Wait, don't answer yet. Can you do it in five weeks?
Then he went, sure. Yeah, he said, yeah, which, I mean, even today, you're like five weeks that doesn he went, sure. Yeah, he said, yeah, which I mean, even today, you're like five weeks that doesn't sound like very long, that was less than a tenth of the time that it would normally take. Yeah. And he had a little secret is that he had already called some other people in the company and said, the CEO, yes, is this like, is this even possible? Or am I just crazy for asking this guy to do this in five weeks? Because it takes five or six months. And they all said, no, it's not possible.
And he said, well, I'm gonna ask him anyway. Right. And Howard Scott Warsaw didn't realize that they'd already told him, like, no, they can't be done. When he said yes. But he was locked in the punch and he was 24 years old and full of exuberance and hubris and all sorts of stuff and said, I can do this.
So he did. And the reason we should say the reason why the schedule was so shortened, usually took five to six months for a game to be developed. And he had five weeks to do it. And the reason why is because the haggling, the deal, to get the rights for the ET game, the Atari to purchase them, which they bought for $21 million.
Took way longer than expected. And they really wanted this game out in time for Christmas. That was the whole deal. So because the deal had worked all the way up into the summer and Christmas was on the other edge, they needed also several weeks to manufacture the actual cartridges and get them into stores. If you laid all this timeline out, they left five weeks to develop a game from scratch. So they knew just the guy to do it and it was Howard's got war saw and Howard said, I'll give it a shot. I'm going to do it.
Yeah. And I should point out that when you say five or six months is the usual time, five or six months was fast. The usual time was more than that. Well, you also probably had a team working on it. Like five or six months was the rush version. Right. Anyway, I mean, I think readers, I think, read that the pretty delightful progrock version. Did that have a, they should add their own video game.
I'm surprised they didn't. They were like right there. They did. In that wheelhouse. Would it surprise me? We would know. Like the 2112 game or something? We would know. Yeah. There's no way we would know about the rush 2112 Atari game.
So, Warsaw gets to meet with Steven Spielberg in the LA and was not given direction or a brief. He meets with Spielberg. He says, here's what I propose, this adventure game that follows the plot of the film somewhat where the kid is ET playing the game. You are ET. Right. And you got to go around and collect all these pieces to build a phone so you can phone home and the government's after you and these bad doctors are after you. It's just like your movie. Right. And
Spielberg was like, well, can't you just have them like running around eating Reese's pieces like Pac-Man? Yeah. And he went, oh. There's this great, there's this great quote where he's like, here's one of my idols, Steven Spielberg, There's this great quote where he's like, here's one of my idols, Stephen Spielberg, asking me to knock off Pac-Man for the ET game. And I thought, well, gee, Stephen, can you make something more like the day the Earth's to still burn? Right, burn. So he apparently had to do a little fancy footwork to talk Spielberg into going with his vision rather than a Pac-Man knockoff of ET, which who knows may have
sold a lot better, but he got him to agree to his vision for this game. He said, no, this is a groundbreaking movie. We need to make a groundbreaking game. And so Spielberg agreed to it and Warshall started to get to work. So we should probably take a break before Scott Howard Scott really jumps in. Let's do it. Hello, I'm Chelsea Paredi. Do you feel chronic existential dread but love talking about delicious snacks?
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Those are words I hope I'd never have to say. Listen to Toss Show in the I Heart Radio app, Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Alright Chuck, so it's basically the beginning of July 1982. And Howard Scott Warshall is the sole programmer for an ET video game. Atari's biggest bet that they spent $21 million on the rights to, that they're going to spend an additional $5 million on the advertising budget for the most anyone's ever spent on a video game up to that point
He's the only programmer who's going to make this game and he has five weeks to do it Which from what I understand no one had ever done before Yeah, and this was Atari was a giant at the time If video if the video game industry was beginning to slip it wasn't Like the public didn't really realize that yet. The industry may have, but Atari held about 80% of the market. They wrote about 2 billion in annual sales, about 3-quarters of billion in profit, which is just unheard of. About 2 billion in profit in today's money. Yeah, so a ton of money, but they saw the writing on the wall. They knew that the personal computer, like the Commodore 64,
that could play games, but also do a lot more, was a real genuine threat to the home console. So I read a contemporary article in the New York Times in from 1983 talking about this. And Atari said they did not see the writing on the wall. Well, one of them said the first six months of 1983 was one way, the second six months, it was like we were in a totally different business.
Yeah, but if you read interviews with them now, I think that might have been. Oh, the guy covering is, well, yeah, I don't think you want to go out in the press in the moment and say, hey, everyone, we're super scared investors. Don't freak out. Don't panic. You're right, Chuck. I feel a little foolish. So what they did was they set War Shaw up with everything he would have at work. They set him up at home. So the only time he could not be working
on this game was his very short drive over to the office. And he worked on it almost nonstop for five weeks. He had a manager that was assigned to him to make sure that he ate, that was I'm sure not the manager's only duty, but it was one of the manager's new jobs, was to make sure that Warsaw ate every day. How about a waffle?
Sure, whatever. Stop bothering me. He tees in the pit again. So for five weeks, he worked almost like you said 24 hours a day. He said it's the hardest he's ever worked in his entire life. And when five weeks came and went, he handed off his, he handed off the game. He finished it. He completed it in time. And it wasn't done in his opinion, or it would turn out in anybody's opinion, but it was done.
It was a complete game that he finished in five weeks, the ET video game. And it wasn't just something like a Pac-Man knockoff. He'd given real thoughts to it and created a world that was much different from a lot of the other games at the time. At the time, it was a world, like it was a cube shaped world with six screens. And so if you walk to the left, you knew you were going to end up on the other screen.
If you walked up, you would end up on the other screen. It was a world that you were navigating rather than say like Yars Revenge, which is just one screen and everything's happening on the one screen, and it may imply motion or something like this with the ET game you are moving from one area of this world to the next. Yeah, which is, it wasn't new. It wasn't new, but it wasn't standard to have six screens, especially if you had five weeks to do it. Give me a guy a break.
Yeah, yeah. No, I'm not saying it should, what I'm saying is that it wasn't like some big revolutionary thing. Like the Raiders game was pre this and it had 30 something screen. Okay, all right. Fine. And adventure, like kids were used to this by this point. Okay.
So it wasn't like, oh wait, oh, they get a load of six screens, like leaving the screen. I see. But I think it's got, Howard's got Warsaw should have gone everybody's house and been like, here's your copy of ETU game. Well, you know, I made this in five weeks. Well, he designed Easter eggs in there too, and I kind of wondered like,
how much time did he spend doing that with his own initials and like the little yards revenge flower? I hadn't really thought about that. I don't know. So he says... At this time was of the essence though, I just maybe put that last on the list. He says today that he had one more week to just troubleshoot, he could have worked out all the kinks.
He could have worked out the kinks and one more he's dragged. But he handed it out. He handed it off to Atari and Atari. He said, genius, they gave it to Steven Spielberg to play. Spielberg apparently liked it. And in the game, it wasn't just some dumb clunky game. It was a mediocre game, but it was a game and it was done and it was out the door.
And they got it out in time for Christmas, the cartridges shipped. If you go back on onto YouTube and search ET game ad or commercial, it brings up some extraordinarily nostalgic ads of ET dressed to Santa Claus playing his own video game of a kid like receiving the ET video game from ET out in the shed. Yeah, yeah, I remember that. It's amazing stuff. So not only is it like Christmas time feeling, but like Christmas time 1982 feeling. Christmas plus ET.
Whoa. Over the top. It's nice. It's just like the taste of ice sugar cookie swells from the inside of your mouth. You almost gag on it. It's so overpowering. So they produce, well, we don't know for sure how many, maybe as many as 12 million copies of this, at least four million. That's part of the urban legend. Yeah, I mean, I don't think there's an exact number, but millions of copies of these were produced. $21 million invested in the licensing.
Plus five. $5 million in advertising and marketing. Right. Not just, I mean mean who knows what they paid Worshaw or for the actual production right? I mean a doubt if it was millions of dollars, but it's probably salaried They they sunk a whole lot of money into this thing right and sold okay first They sold about a half a million copies and then and I remember You know you do oh, yeah, oh nice word got around. And this was obviously
long before the internet. Uh-huh. Like, you could still sell some stuff back then before everyone realized it stuck. Right. But, and that's what was going on. But literally kid to kid to kid and cul-de-sacs in classrooms got the word that the ET game stuck. And it killed it. It did it. Little kids killed it. They sold like a half a million copies right out of the gate almost. And then it peeks right there very quickly right around the Christmas season, right?
Yeah, I mean, just think about that though. It was children led to the demise. It's not like kids read an article in the newspaper even a review on the ET game. It was kids going, man, that game stinks. Yeah. What? You bought that? Oh, don't buy it, it stinks. Yeah, it's terrible.
And that happened like a game of telephone all around the country. That's really cool. Simultaneously. Kids get things done. They do, man. So like you said, it happened pretty fast. They appealed to a half a million copies.
And over time, it managed to sell another million on top of that. So a million and a half copies. That's success. I think it's like actually in Atari's top 10 of best sellers. But the problem is, if this story is a story of everything or anything, it's not the story of a over confident game designer making a terrible game. It's a very confident game designer
making a middleing game. If it's a story of anything, it is of executives being drunk with confidence and hubris that no matter what they put out, if it's tied to a hot property of like a movie or something, it's going to sell. Doesn't matter what the game is, it's going to sell. Problem one, problem two was they forecasted based on that hubris, too.
So not only did they say it's going to sell no matter what we put out, it's going to sell bigger than anything we've ever put out before and they ordered four million cartridges. Well, again, it sold a million and a half and two and a half million cartridges were sitting in warehouses. Not to mention ones that were starting to be taken back because not only did the kids go, I don't want this game, I want to take it back and take it to the stores, the stores started taking their games back to Atari. Yeah.
So Atari's like, wait, wait a minute, everybody. This is ET the game. What are you doing? Put this in your 2600 and shut up and people didn't listen. Yeah, and you can hardly blame the executives. I mean, they were like Warshall plus Spielberg is going to be another hit because we had it in Raiders. So I sort of get it, but it was just, it was that timeline. Right. Like, that was, that was the big problem. It was all the timeline. He could have created a
game as good as Raiders. Right. Yeah, I've given five, six months, I'm sure. Yeah. Even given two months, he probably, probably could have made an even better game, but it was kind of a boring game. It wasn't that fun. There's a very famous quote from a New York Times article in 1982 where a little 10 year old said, it wasn't that fun. Yeah. Which was kind of it.
Yeah, that's all you need to say. And it wasn't, and not only was it not fun, but I don't know, I guess you could call it a bug. It was a bug. It seems more like bad design than just a mistake. But what would happen as ETA would fall into these pits? And then he could levitate back out, but depending on which way you were or even how you're holding the joystick, the slightest little move would cause ET to fall back into that pit. No matter what direction you went sometimes.
Yeah, but it wasn't like all the time. It happened enough though to where as a kid, remember you asked me earlier if it was frustrating trying to pair a shoot, is Indy. It was not because you knew you could do it. This was frustrating. I got you. Kids got frustrated because ET was falling in the pit and you would get out and you would fall in the pit. And then you do that enough times and you're like, I'm going to play yards revenge or any
of my other games. Do you have fast food? And kids put it down. Yeah. You know, they put down, well, they didn't put down the joystick and go outside and play, that would be like the movie ending. They just popped it out and put in the game that they liked.
Exactly. So this was a big deal for Atari because it came at the worst possible time. And speaking of the worst possible time, let's take a break and do an ad break and we'll come right back. All right. Hello, I'm Chelsea Paredi. Do you feel chronic existential dread but love talking about delicious snacks? Call me! My podcast is relaunching! Subscribe and treat yourself to sound effects like this. And this! Have you ever been attacked by a bear? Yeah.
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Hold on, I got to open some peanut butter pretzels. Listen to Call Chelsea Paradeon, Will Ferrell's Big Money Players Network on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. My name is Payne Lindsay, and just like pretty much everyone else on the internet, I make podcasts. Throughout my career, I've had the chance to travel all over the place, investigating true crimes, researching the unexplained, I've been able to meet some of the most truly interesting people, and I've decided to sit down with them and pick their brains. We're going to talk about life, death, unsolved crimes, and Bob wrote the cadaver note in his own words, he had murdered Susan Farman.
Why do they were so obsessed with dark people like that? It's maybe part of human nature. The supernatural, there's something here, truly something going on. Our biggest fears, mental health, pop culture. Just a adrenaline being on a film set is incredible. And honestly just whatever the hell is on our minds. Wait a minute, you should be very happy once. This is talking to death. New episodes of Talking to Death are available now. Listen on the iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
I am Daniel Tosh, host of new podcast called Tosh Show, brought to you by I Hard Podcasts. Why am I getting into the podcast game now? Well, it seemed like the best way to let my family know what I'm up to instead of visiting or being part of their incessant group text. I'll be interviewing people that I find interesting, so not celebrities, and certainly not comedians. I'll be interviewing my plumber, my stylist, my wife's gynecologist. We'll be covering topics like religion, travel,
sports, gambling, but mostly it will be about being a working mother. If you're looking for a podcast that will educate and inspire, or one that will really make you think, this isn't the one for you, but it will be entertaining to a very select few because you don't make it to your mid-40s with IBS without having a story or two to tell. Join me as I take my place among podcast royalty like Joel Olstein and Lance Bass.
Those are words I hope I'd never have to say. Listen to Toss Show on the I Heart Radio app, Apple Podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. All right, Chuck. So like I was saying, this came at a really terrible time for a tarry. You kind of talked about how the personal computer industry was starting to eat into their profits big time. And they really needed this ET bet to pay off. And not only did it not pay off, they lost tens of millions of dollars on this. It was a huge catastrophic bet for Atari. And the numbers are just stunning.
In, like you said, in 1982, Atari's profits were $2 billion. Well, in today's money. No, that was, yeah, the profits, I'm sorry, in today's money. Their gross was $2 billion. In the second quarter of 1983, they posted a loss of $310 million. $536 million lost for the whole year. By 1984, the company had been sold.
So it went from $2 billion in profits to a loss of $536 million over the course of a year. Yes, and it was not because of ET. But this is the thing. Okay, so it gets even worse. Hold on, we're not there yet. I'm getting excited. The whole video game industry actually went down. Oh, yeah. So there's something called the North American video game crash of 1983
where not only did the did Atari go under basically the industry did. So the whole the whole industry in 1983 had a 3.2 billion dollars sales. By 1985, two years later, they had $100 million in sales. It was a crash. That is a catastrophic crash. Like you're saying, no, it wasn't because of ET, but imagine this. Think about this. All of that has been laid ever since then at the feet of ET the video game and Howard Scott War Shaw.
People look at him and say you ruined the video game industry single handedly. That's how he's thought of. I think that was the case up until like 2014 or 15, right? Yeah, I mean, I think people in the know knew that that was not the case. But the popular pop culture opinion of him. Yeah, maybe. Yeah. But let's say ET was a big hit, it would not have saved Atari.
No, it might have like, saved the bleeding a little bit, but it would have been a drop in the bucket, basically. Yeah. I mean, I certainly feel bad for Warsaw, but he has a good ending, so stick around for that. Don't go anywhere. After ET, he took some time off. He said that he just needed to sort of recover, I believe was the words he used. He went into real estate and did not enjoy that at all.
And eventually, he became a psychotherapist, and that's what he does today. He's labeled the Silicon Valley Psychotherapist and sort of specializes in talking. He jokes that he's fluent in English and nerd. So I think kind of specializes in talking to Silicon Valley types about their work problems. Yeah.
Certainly a man can identify. Right. You know? Yeah, yeah. I bet he's a great psychotherapist. It seems like he definitely would be. Yeah. So he definitely made peace with the whole thing, and I think he very frequently jokes,
I've seen it in more than one article that he says, he kind of enjoys it when people say that he tees the worst video game of all time. Right. Because people also say that Yars Revenge is one of the best video games of all time. So he has the greatest range of any video designer ever. So he definitely has like a, I think it took him a little while. That's the impression I have to make peace with it.
But he made peace with it. I think one of the reasons he was able to make peace with it, and I'm just armchair, psychologizing here. But he came to realize, I've used it before. And you said the exact same thing, I think, too. Yeah. He realized that it wasn't the worst video game of all time and that a lot of the people who were saying
it was the worst video game of all time didn't know what they were talking about, which has to be super liberating. Sure. And the whole world's like, you ruined everything and then you realize like they don't even know what they're saying. You can just kind of let it roll off your back a little more easily. So the cherry on top of this story,
we mentioned this documentary Atari Game Over. It is about the legend of the story of the ET game, which continued after its demise with this urban legend, that Atari was so distraught and embarrassed by this game that they had all the remaining boxes shipped out and buried in the desert under cement. Initially, you're like, that doesn't make any sense. Why would Atari spend all this money to do this when they could just burn them? Solomon the dollar been do anything other than this weird plan right to bury them out in the desert of New Mexico Yeah, and a lot of people took it when it was kind of an initial rumor that like Atari was trying to bury their shame
That's how it just went that much further to point out how bad the eG game was. Atari was trying to bury it and forget about it. Right. So, in 2011, there was a party where there was an Atari former Atari person there. And a guy named Mike Burns was talking to him and said something about, yeah, this urban legend that you guys did this. And apparently the answer was just sheepish enough to where he was like, wait a minute, was that true? Right.
So, did he fund this documentary? Is that how that worked? I think he's a guy who makes things happen. He brings people together. Okay. I think, yes, he definitely put some of his own money into it, but I think he also got others to put money into it as well. Okay, I didn't know if he was involved in the doc itself.
Yes, yes, he was. Or just financing the dig. Both. But Zach Penn made this documentary, Zach Penn, great, great writer. Ironically wrote the movie Ready Player One, which talks about adventure and Easter eggs and all that fun stuff. So he's written a bunch of movies, a bunch of the Marvel movies and stuff. And it was clearly a labor of love, this documentary, if you've seen it. You know, Zach Ben is like super excited about all this stuff.
So the old Alamagordo landfill in New Mexico has 300 acres and then 100 cells, which are these, well it says holes, but they're just these big square, deep pits where you know if you listen to our landfills episode, then you know what goes on there. They just dump stuff in there and cover it up. And the legend was that the ET is in one of these cells. And these days, they chart it and it's mapped out so they know what's where generally. And if a cop comes and says, hey, there's some evidence from four years ago,
they could say, oh, well, that's gonna be in this cell. It was from this area of town where it was picked up. And we buried it here. Back then, they didn't have anything like that. No, it was like they just dug a hole, put garbage in it, covered it up and went home according to a guy named Joe Lee Wendowski. And Mike Burns lucked out that a guy named Joe Lee Wendowski worked at the Alamagordo City Waste Department because he is basically the institutional memory of Alamagordo's Waste. And he worked at the dump for so long that he had a pretty good chance of remembering where the stuff was put. But he was kind of like, no,
we don't, we didn't document it. I have no idea. Leave me alone. And apparently Mike Burns is not the type to just be like, oh, okay, thanks. Didn't mean to bother you. He'll keep pestering you until you do what he wants from what I understand. And so he finally got Joly Wendowski on board. And in just an astounding turn of good luck, Joly Wendowski's wife had made a scrapbook
of Jo's time working for Alamagordo's waste department that included pictures of the dump from around this time. So they were able to narrow down these 100 cells over 300 acres to two, to just two, which narrowed the search enough that they could actually start taking samples to try to. Yeah, that was a very big breakthrough. And if you watch this documentary
when they're taking these samples, and they come across like newspaper clippings from that year and that month, where these cartridges were supposedly buried, it's really exciting. It is. It's like, oh my gosh, like it's like finding buried treasure. Right.
So they narrowed it down. All of these people showed up. Fans, what's his name? Ernest Klein, who wrote the book Ready Player One. He showed up in his, back to the future delorean. And it was a very big deal. They Howard Worshaw came in and he was there. And people were just like embracing the sky instead of like, it's not like he showed up and people are like, there he is, get him. He's like this beloved cherished dude.
And I get the sense that this was a very big deal for his closure, which is interesting because bearing something is usually the closure. In this case, digging it up was the closure. Yeah, good point. And they did find 1300 game cartridges. Yeah. Which it makes you wonder how they got there,
how the rumor got started to begin with. Well, the fact that there is some truth to it. Yeah, they feel like it definitely confirms that urban legend. Like Atari definitely did cover up. They did dump these cartridges, but it wasn't just ET cartridges, and it wasn't like the millions that they supposedly dumped,
but they probably buried some elsewhere in either California or Texas or both, but it confirmed that yes, this actually did happen. The urban legend was real, and at the very least it gave Howard Scott Warshall that closure you were talking about. He got to see, you know, 30 something years on, people were still, you know, vibing out on his creation, although in ways he could not have possibly predicted when he was spending that five
weeks programming this game. Yeah, he said he was full of gratitude. That's really cool. That's a very cool way to go through life, my friends. Oh, man. If you can remember to have gratitude, it truly does make you happy. It's insane. It's just remembering to be grateful as the trick. So they ended up a lot of these went on eBay, auctioned off.
I think they sold about $100,000 worth of these things that went to the city of El Magordo. Of course, they owned them. It's not like they just gave them out to everyone that was there. As a party gift? They should have. They should have given everyone one copy. I think some of the like Mike Burns and some of his crew got some in El Magordo kept some.
But I think the ones that were auctioned were auctioned by El Magordo to go to a fun museum. I would love a copy assigned cartridge from Warsaw. I mean, the most I think one went for was 1,500 bucks. So you don't want to that bad, but I'm saying like, that's the most. That's the highest any of them went for. So you could probably give them for a couple hundred bucks if you tried. I wonder if he listens to the show. I hope so.
You never know. I hope so. I hope we cleared it up for you, War Shaw. Your legend, sir. Yes, hats off to you. Send me a signed cartridge. Send to Josh Needswell. And thank you, buddy. You got anything else? No, it did. ET was not the worst game. There were there were games that were so bad that you don't they were just in the dustbin of history. They were so bad. Yeah, like Sorcerer, like you said, Monge is apparently pretty bad.
Yeah, they were terrible. All these, not knockoff companies, but Atari opened it up to where anyone could design a game that fit their console. And some people say that that was one of the reasons why Atari lost market shares, because there's so much crud on the shelves. People were tired of buying cruddy games for 25 bucks.
Yeah. And they just oversaturated the market themselves, but they oversaturated with terrible stuff. Oversaturated. Well at any rate, that's E.T. the game, not the worst video game of all time, but a heck of a story I'll tell you what. Good one. And hopefully it gave you a little of a story I'll tell you what. Good one. And hopefully it gave you a little bit of nostalgia this holiday season. Yeah, great.
Feel that warm tingling? That's the song. It's either a bladder infection or nostalgia. Let's see, since I said bladder infection, everybody, it's time for listening to me. This is about bird poop. Hey guys, listen to the olive oil podcast and love it very much. Living in Italy, I use it every day. That's my wonderful complexion and youthful looks.
I want to tell you about a problem though that we have an roam every year and directly caused by olives. Every winter the city center is home to millions of migrating starlings who spend their days out on the local countryside eating olives and having a great time. In the evening they come back to our warmer city center, the sleep in the city center trees for the night. Great news for bird watchers, but bad news if you like to avoid being pooed on. The city gets covered in the stuff.
And he sent me a video of these cars parked on the street. And it literally looks like it was painted with bird poop. Gross. Completely solid. Every square inch. That's got to be bad for the paint. And yeah, it's really bad. He said, what does this guy do with olive oil?
Well, the olive stones may not come out of the Starling Birds bottoms, but the olive oil and few squeeze greasy poo does, and it makes driving along the roads almost impossible. I've fallen off my scooter twice in the past few years. Oh my gosh. Because of this. So I guess it's slippery oily poop.
Oh my gosh. And that is from James in Rome. Wow, thanks, James. That email's kind of peedered out at the end there. Yeah, I was expecting a big finish. Just oily poop. All right, well, thanks. Yeah, I was expecting a big finish. Just oily poop. All right, well thanks. Regardless, and stay safe on your scooter there, James.
He said people use umbrellas. And hats off to you living in Rome. Have you been in Rome? Sure. When I went, I was like, I could live here. Pretty great. I told you, me, she's like, oh, maybe. It's lovely city.
It really is. Old world charm, cats, what else? Wine, food, beautiful people. Yeah. Man, I remember seeing men and women at every turn that look like runway models. Sure. And they were just regular newspaper boys.
Oh, the fact that they do like a little twirl. Everyone's like, sure, they are walking really kind of so old at two. Yeah, and go chow. Chow bell. Chow bell. Wow, and go chau. Chau bel. Chau bel. Wow, let's turn out weird. If you want to get in touch with us,
you can go on to stuffyshino.com and hit us up through our social links, or you can just send us a good old fashion email to stuffpodcast.housestuffworks.com. Stuffyshino is a production of I Heart Radio. For more podcasts, my heart radio, visit the I Heart Radio app. Apple podcasts are wherever you listen to your favorite shows. Hi, I'm Daniel Tosh, host of a new podcast called Tosh Show. I'll be interviewing people that I find interesting, so not celebrities, and certainly not comedians.
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