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Howard Scott Warshaw's latest interview on NPR's All Things Considered - "Total Failure: The World's Worst Video Game"


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Atari Game Designer Howard Scott Warshaw appeared on NPR's All Things Considered today. The topic: Epic Failures! Can you guess which one of his games is featured?  :Howard_Scott_Warshaw:

 

https://ondemand.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/atc/2017/05/20170531_atc_total_failure_the_worlds_worst_video_game.mp3

20170531_atc_total_failure_the_worlds_worst_video_game.mp3

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Thanks for posting the audio version.  I saw the web/print version yesterday.  I really don't think ET is a total failure as a video game, but I guess I am in the minority.  I liked it back in the 80s and after I found out it was coded from concept to release in 5 weeks, I was even more impressed with the game.  Though I agree the pits are problematic. 

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To be fair, HSW himself admits the faults of the game and seems to have embraced E.T.'s notoriety. It was a stunning technical achievement given his constraints but it's a bad game. While it may not be objectively the worst, it's better to be remembered and talked about than forgotten on the scrap heap of shovelware. Plus, it exposes people to Yars', Indiana Jones and Atari generally.

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Also, having read and listened to the peice, there isn't a lot factually wrong with it. Other than calling Atari Inc. "Atari Corporation", most of it is factually correct. The descriptions of E.T. are either in HSW's words or couched with phrases like "many believe" or "widely held." What's interesting here is how HSW's life turned out after the fact. It's really a great read/listen.

Edited by atarilbc
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To be fair, HSW himself admits the faults of the game and seems to have embraced E.T.'s notoriety. It was a stunning technical achievement given his constraints but it's a bad game. While it may not be objectively the worst, it's better to be remembered and talked about than forgotten on the scrap heap of shovelware. Plus, it exposes people to Yars', Indiana Jones and Atari generally.

 

 

Also, having read and listened to the peice, there isn't a lot factually wrong with it. Other than calling Atari Inc. "Atari Corporation", most of it is factually correct. The descriptions of E.T. are either in HSW's words or couched with phrases like "many believe" or "widely held." What's interesting here is how HSW's life turned out after the fact. It's really a great read/listen.

 

 

atarilbc, those are well-thought points and I agree with where you’re coming from. I appreciate that they allowed Howard to tell his story as he wanted, and I thought the interview was worth sharing with everybody.

 

What I don’t appreciate is that the radio segment and news article ran under the banner of “Total Failure: The World’s Worst Video Game“ and contributes to the false narrative of ET as the worst game ever being largely responsible for Atari's demise.

 

Had the segment drawn the same conclusions that Atari: Game Over did, or had turned the accusation into a question a la “Was Atari’s ET Really The World’s Worst Video Game?” I don’t think the general audience out there would come away from having listened to this segment, say a month from now, only remembering “Atari ET Failure”.

 

I do find value in the segment, and HSW liked it, so I thought it was worth sharing with all of you in the forums. 

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Arggh!

 

Ok, allow me to point out three errors, imho

 

1) Describing E.T. as "Horrible, Horrible"  - No. Not even close. I could name 50-100 games on the 2600 alone that are worse. And while some reviews when it came out gave it poor scores, it also got good reviews too. If they would have prefaced this statement "many believe", I'd be ok with that, but they stated it as fact.

 

2) Calling the game a retail "Flop" - It was a TOP TEN SELLER on a system with hundreds of game. That is not a flop. The decision to overproduce the game was a very foolish decision. If they decided to start out only producing a million copies to begin with (which would have been a lot at the time), it would've sold out and been considered a huge hit.

 

3) Atari programmers making bad games helped cause the decline of Atari - Really. Name five. E.T. was one of the earliest silver box games and a lot of those games are some of the best of the system. Yes, third parties were making bad game, but don't blame them or the programmers at Atari for Atari nosediving as far as business goes. Blame the business decisions they made, including overpaying for the E.T. licenses and over producing games beyond realistic expectations.

 

With that being said, I recall HSW becoming a counselor, but I didn't realize he lost all of his ET money and was able to use his high/low life experiences to help others. Good stuff.

 

Also, I think HSW knows it isn't as bad as it's reputation, but enjoys the notoriety that ET being  labeled the worst game of all time brings. It gives him a ton of opportunities to talk about the past, which without ET, he may never have today. How many other Atari programmers do you know still get mainstream coverage like this?

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Arggh!

 

Ok, allow me to point out three errors, imho

 

1) Describing E.T. as "Horrible, Horrible"  - No. Not even close. I could name 50-100 games on the 2600 alone that are worse. And while some reviews when it came out gave it poor scores, it also got good reviews too. If they would have prefaced this statement "many believe", I'd be ok with that, but they stated it as fact.

 

2) Calling the game a retail "Flop" - It was a TOP TEN SELLER on a system with hundreds of game. That is not a flop. The decision to overproduce the game was a very foolish decision. If they decided to start out only producing a million copies to begin with (which would have been a lot at the time), it would've sold out and been considered a huge hit.

 

3) Atari programmers making bad games helped cause the decline of Atari - Really. Name five. E.T. was one of the earliest silver box games and a lot of those games are some of the best of the system. Yes, third parties were making bad game, but don't blame them or the programmers at Atari for Atari nosediving as far as business goes. Blame the business decisions they made, including overpaying for the E.T. licenses and over producing games beyond realistic expectations.

 

With that being said, I recall HSW becoming a counselor, but I didn't realize he lost all of his ET money and was able to use his high/low life experiences to help others. Good stuff.

 

Also, I think HSW knows it isn't as bad as it's reputation, but enjoys the notoriety that ET being  labeled the worst game of all time brings. It gives him a ton of opportunities to talk about the past, which without ET, he may never have today. How many other Atari programmers do you know still get mainstream coverage like this?

 

Spot on.  :Howard_Scott_Warshaw:

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I'm trying to think of the opinion of E.T from back in the day.  My memory tells me it got mostly "ok, but not great" reviews, which is fair.  It was a little over-hyped by Atari.  And most reviewers pointed out how important it was to read the manual on the game or it won't make much sense. 

 

Me personally -- I remember buying it on clearance at Kay-Bee toys for under $5, and I had a lot of fun with it, especially given the price paid.  I remember being blown away by the opening screen.  That alone made me really give the game a chance.  It was fun to try and complete the game, and it was cool to have another game that had an ending.  I sure did like E.T. a lot more than "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (which I also liked). 

 

It's mostly a case of Atari paying way too much for the license, giving the developer too little time, and then finally overproducing and over-hyping the game.  Are these part of the thought process when saying "Worst game of all time"?  Probably not.  But maybe they should be.

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2) Calling the game a retail "Flop" - It was a TOP TEN SELLER on a system with hundreds of game. That is not a flop. The decision to overproduce the game was a very foolish decision. If they decided to start out only producing a million copies to begin with (which would have been a lot at the time), it would've sold out and been considered a huge hit.

 

Pac-Man is a similar case.  Most people think it's not a great game....but it was the all-time best selling game on the system!  Pac-Man was more disappointing than terrible. 

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I know this is an old thread, but I wanted to say a few words in defence of E.T. -While not probably the best game in the system, it is IMO very good, and considering it's five-week programming schedule, almost a masterpiece in comparison to other games on that schedule. I am glad I was but eleven when it came out, when I still had the patience to overcome it's learning curve. As far as the pits are concerned, They are of no concern to me. I played it enough that I know where they are. And if one does catch me by surprise I have mastered the art of pressing the button to stop E.T. in mid air so he doesn't expend the energy of falling to the bottom of the pit. and at the top of the pit I *never* exit it upwards with any part of the pit below E.T.'s feet, so I virtually never fall back in. Problem solved. Playing this game on game 1 is always a thrill to me. In order to win the game you have to rush back and forth in the woods between the landing area symbol and the symbol that sends the FBI agent and the scientist back home when they come around, and you never know if you can prevent the humans from being on the screen when your ship comes, since only you can be there when it appears. When you are also running low on energy, this is always a nail-biting experience for me, something I *never* experienced playing 2600 Pac-Man. 

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Welcome to the forums @Happenstance_Man!! :Howard_Scott_Warshaw:

On 9/13/2021 at 12:41 PM, Happenstance_Man said:

I know this is an old thread, but I wanted to say a few words in defence of E.T.

Bumping "old" threads is absolutely welcome in our forums if you have an interesting thought to add! I've never understood the distain to bumping "old" threads if somebody has something worthwhile to say. I prefer having one definitive thread for a topic. There's only so many times we can open a new "ET" topic or "Asteroids" topic etc.

 

On 9/13/2021 at 12:41 PM, Happenstance_Man said:

While not probably the best game in the system, it is IMO very good, and considering it's five-week programming schedule, almost a masterpiece in comparison to other games on that schedule.

I enjoyed reading this. E.T. holds a special place in my heart, and although I don't contend that it's the best 2600 game made, it's certainly not the worst and after reading the instructions a few times I really enjoyed playing it when I was young. :et_elliott_bicycle:

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