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E.T. Atari 2600 Is Not The Worst Game Ever, How To Play, & High Score Documentary


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:et_elliott_bicycle:E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for Atari 2600 is not the worst game ever made, that's just something people like to say. @GoldenGalaxiesGaming just posted a brilliant new video taking us on an Atari E.T. playthrough, showing:

  • HOW to play the game
  • What the symbols mean
  • How to get E.T. home
  • How to get a high score
  • and explaining why E.T. is NOT the worst game ever.

I'm such a strong believer in this, I'm considering pinning this topic to the top of the Atari 2600 Forum.

 

 

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It is not the worst game ever.  But given the price Atari paid for the license, it did hurt the company financially.  Let's just say it was a disappointment.  I remember everyone knowing the game was a dog -- it was common school-yard knowledge.  I bought it from the clearance rack at KB Toys.  I thought it was fun, and I loved the title screen.  "Read the manual" was the advice we all knew. 

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I think it needs to be pointed out that Atari had a whole string of "disappointing" games that contributed to their downfall.  Pac-Man, Defender, ET, Raiders.  That's a murderer's row of stinkers IMO.  By the time they righted the ship, I and many other gamers had moved on to a different system or computer. 

 

Edited by RickR
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I have to admit my first experience with E.T. on the 2600 did not go well at all.  It was included with a used 2600 and a bunch of carts and controllers.  No manuals.  I had no clue what I was suppose to do and no information to help guide me. 

A few years ago I watched a YouTube video on how to actually play E.T. and finally understood how to play the game.  I got another used copy followed with a brand new copy.  I wanted those instructions!  I wanted to study them to see if I was missing anything.  Low and behold I got that same poster @HDN posted.  I read that thing at least three times.  I still read it every now and then.  

My final thoughts on E.T. on the 2600 are that it is a well thought out game.  What was done in 5 - 6 weeks time is impressive to say the least.  Could it have used a bit more time to clean up certain spots?  Most definitely...but would it have really mattered?  E.T. on the 2600 was a unique adventure game that is fun to play.  It can be very harsh on the number 1 or 2 skill level settings but it's still a unique challenge.  

2 hours ago, RickR said:

Pac-Man, Defender, ET, Raiders.

E.T. was far better than Pac-Man on the 2600 IMO.  My first impressions would have agreed with you but I find E.T. delightfully fun.  Defender?  That game is marked as being poorly done?  I thought it was a fun game on the 2600.  Not as good as my 5200 version but still fun to play.  I have Raiders and I've not figured it out yet.  I still have fun with it.  I'm not too good at it and I do find areas overly difficult but still fun.  

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3 minutes ago, Atari 5200 Guy said:

Defender?  That game is marked as being poorly done?  I thought it was a fun game on the 2600. 

Yeah, I agree. That's supposed to be a bad game? I think it's a B+ game for the system. Maybe A-. I don't like it when people use turbo and exploit the flicker, though.

7 minutes ago, Atari 5200 Guy said:

I have Raiders and I've not figured it out yet.  I still have fun with it. 

It's a bit confusing and outdated, but I rather like it. Fun to mess around with. It doesn't hold your hand at all. I like it.

2 hours ago, RickR said:

Pac-Man, Defender, ET, Raiders.  That's a murderer's row of stinkers IMO. 

Hush, hush now. Don't bring my precious 2600 Pac-Man into this. Let him eat his video wafers in peace.

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Just now, Atari 5200 Guy said:

I used it but not for that reason.  I thought the flicker was a cool effect.

Totally a cool looking effect. Might sound silly but 2600 Pac-Man and Defender are my favorite versions of the games actually. I love the character in Pac-Man and the physics in Defender work better for me. I 100% understand why others might not like them, but I will always "defend" them.

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2 minutes ago, HDN said:

Totally a cool looking effect. Might sound silly but 2600 Pac-Man and Defender are my favorite versions of the games actually. I love the character in Pac-Man and the physics in Defender work better for me. I 100% understand why others might not like them, but I will always "defend" them.

I can't say too much.  I like 2600s Pac-Man but I feel Todd should have at least played the arcade game before attempting to create the 2600 version.  From what I understand he never played the game.  Not accurate to say the least but it is fun and I have family members that swear by that Pac-Man.  So while you defend it I will continue to defend my 5200.  We have the starts of an Atari Army...who else is jumping on board? 😄

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Listen guys, I get it.  I understand those games are fun.  But I think I should explain the timing of those games.  The Colecovision was coming.  It had graphics that LOOKED great.  The 5200 was coming.  It could play a much better version of Defender or Pac Man. The Atari 8-bit computer had much better versions of those games already.

Defender was egregious for the fact that your ship disappeared every time you fire.  You guys are saying now it's a cool effect.  But I'm telling you....in the school yard back then...it was EMBARRASSING.  You could have fun with those games, but you didn't tell anyone because they'd laugh.  It was like riding a moped to Sturgis.  Yes, it gets the job done.  But you are out of your league, son.

Raiders is an interesting and unique game.  But NO ONE could finish that game without a guide.  I was there.  I bought it.  I had the extra guide from Atari.  It took me hours to solve it and it was so frustrating.  Not fun. 

ET was fine.  It came out at Christmas time.  It was fun to learn how to beat it.  But almost immediately it had a reputation.  Those pits were the pits.  Blockbuster movie, but a mediocre game.  Disappointing.

Pac-Man, Defender, ET, Raiders.  These were the games that told you it was time to move on from your beloved 2600 to something new and better.  And most kids did. 

 

Edited by RickR
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2 minutes ago, RickR said:

Defender was egregious for the fact that your ship disappeared every time you fire.  You guys are saying now it's a cool effect.  But I'm telling you....in the school yard back then...it was EMBARRASSING.  You could have fun with those games, but you didn't tell anyone because they'd laugh.  It was like riding a moped to Sturgis.  Yes, it gets the job done.  But you are out of your league, son.

It doesn't matter what other people think. These games are good. Graphics never matter. If graphics mattered I would have never gotten into retro gaming, I'd just go play PS4 or Xbox One like most others my age. The gameplay is there for both Defender and Pac-Man, and anyone who says different is wrong. Sure, they vary from the source material, but they still play well. You could get more faithful versions elsewhere, but really they aren't too different from the other versions deep down. But whatever, I respect your opinion, @RickR, but I just don't think what you're saying is really correct. 

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I understand, I really do.  And I agree to a point. 

Compare 2600 Defender to Chopper Command which had been out for a while.  It looked terrible in comparison.  Yes, it was fun.  But Chopper Command was smoother, faster, and more colorful.  Also at the time, something better was coming (5200 and CV).  I was 12 years old in 1981.  Atari was my favorite thing.  But these games, for what they cost at the time, were just not getting it done.  I do like and appreciate all those games now.  But at the time, as a kid, I was disappointed.  And I think many other kids at the time were too. 

As an aside, and to help prove your point....I like Defender a lot more than Chopper Command now because the gameplay is more complex.  BUT....I never play defender because Defender 2/Stargate is so much better.  THAT'S what Atari should have aimed for. 

Ms. Pac Man vs. Pac Man is the same deal.  If Atari had released a Pac Man that was closer to the arcade version it would have knocked our socks off.  Pac Man is still fun.  At the time...disappointing. 

If you ever get the time, look up "Electronic Games Magazine".  There is an archive of all the issues on the internet.  That was the original and most popular gaming magazine at the time.  Read the reviews of those games there.  It's interesting!  I think you'd really enjoy it.  Here it is:  http://www.digitpress.com/library/magazines/electronic_games/electronic_games.htm

 

Edited by RickR
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And yes, I do value your and everyone's take on these games.  They are so beloved.  We've talked about them all for so long now!  Respect to all.  Don't get me wrong please.  I do love almost every Atari 2600 game.  But I do recall and love to share my recollections of the games from back then. 

KEEP ON GAMING!

 

 

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@RickR I completely understand your side here. I wasn't around then so I can't say what times were like back then. We look at these games now a lot differently than a kid in the early 1980s would have. We understand what went into these, what they had to work with to make these games. We know that graphics and sound and things don't matter. But a kid in the 1980s, before internet, would've thought much differently. He would've seen CV or 5200 and been a little jealous. We all were when we were younger. I remember being jealous of my friend's Wii U of all things when I was 10.

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I always liked E.T.  but I was one of those kids who read the ENTIRE manual before playing any game, even ports of arcades.  So, I guess I didn't have a hard time figuring out how to play the game.  It is far from the worst game for the system.  It just needed a bit more polish, which would have been possible had there been more time. 

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As a fellow 12 year old from 1981, my experiences mirror what @RickR said. While we appreciate them much more today, there were a lot of 2600 games that we perceived at the time as disappointing. Activision showed what was possible on the 2600 -- games with great mechanics and attractive colorful flicker-free graphics -- and games like Pitfall! raised my expectations. Atari had a lot of great licenses but released many clunky ports on the 2600. Colecovision Donkey Kong was mind-blowing -- graphics at home that looked just like the arcade -- and that thing was heavily advertised on TV. It really showed that time was up on the 2600, and I moved on to the 800.

Thanks for the link to Electronic Games! That magazine was awesome. I subscribed for years.

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47 minutes ago, TrekMD said:

I always liked E.T.  but I was one of those kids who read the ENTIRE manual before playing any game, even ports of arcades.  So, I guess I didn't have a hard time figuring out how to play the game.  It is far from the worst game for the system.  It just needed a bit more polish, which would have been possible had there been more time. 

Me too!  I loved reading the manuals!  As I mentioned, I got the game on clearance, so I had pretty low expectations.  But honestly, I enjoyed the game.  It reminded me a lot of "Superman".  It wasn't quite as fun but it did look better.

 

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22 minutes ago, socrates63 said:

As a fellow 12 year old from 1981, my experiences mirror what @RickR said. While we appreciate them much more today, there were a lot of 2600 games that we perceived at the time as disappointing. Activision showed what was possible on the 2600 -- games with great mechanics and attractive colorful flicker-free graphics -- and games like Pitfall! raised my expectations. Atari had a lot of great licenses but released many clunky ports on the 2600. Colecovision Donkey Kong was mind-blowing -- graphics at home that looked just like the arcade -- and that thing was heavily advertised on TV. It really showed that time was up on the 2600, and I moved on to the 800.

Thanks for the link to Electronic Games! That magazine was awesome. I subscribed for years.

I agree with you, and I had a subscription too!  And I still love re-reading those magazines. Like you, I moved on to the Commodore VIC-20 (which had an amazing port of Defender and a mediocre Pac Man) and then got an Atari 800XL in 1984.  Many of my high school and college papers/essays were done with "Atariwriter"!  I think I finally got a PC (it was a 286) around 88.  I still have my original boxed 2600, VIC-20, and 800XL and they are probably my most prized part of my collections. 

Edited by RickR
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23 minutes ago, socrates63 said:

there were a lot of 2600 games that we perceived at the time as disappointing. Activision showed what was possible on the 2600 -- games with great mechanics and attractive colorful flicker-free graphics -- and games like Pitfall! raised my expectations. Atari had a lot of great licenses but released many clunky ports on the 2600.

Really makes you think what Atari was doing in 1982 / 1983. For all the romanced history we hear about co-ed hot tub meetings and joint sessions up on the roof, Activision were the most talented guys in the room who walked out the door to do their own thing, and they did top quality work. Atari let this happen. What was left of the 2600 games group gave us SwordQuest etc. Meanwhile some genius MIT students at GCC were delivering the most quality 2600 / 5200 games in 1983, and Atari engineers talk like they were surprised when the 7800 showed up on their doorstep one day. Totally off the rails.

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That being said, E.T. was not the worst game ever, and E.T. did not cause the video game market to crash. It attempted to do too much with too little and set expectations high with the E.T. name. HSW attempted to do something on the 2600 that was very close to The Legend of Zelda on the NES in concept. HSW tried to tell a story and allow the player to live out the E.T. adventure on screen. You can't do that without two fire buttons, start and select, and text on screen. Text went into the manual which nobody read.

 

blog_7800_avenue_et_its_dangerous_to_go_alone.png

 

By the start of 1983 a world class company like Atari should have had a new system ready to release that was on par or greater than the Famicom / NES. They did not. So this great little adventure game got stuffed into the 2600, because that's how Atari looked at their customers.

 

2 hours ago, RickR said:

Listen guys, I get it.  I understand those games are fun.  But I think I should explain the timing of those games.  The Colecovision was coming.  It had graphics that LOOKED great.  The 5200 was coming.  It could play a much better version of Defender or Pac Man. The Atari 8-bit computer had much better versions of those games already.

 

2 hours ago, RickR said:

Pac-Man, Defender, ET, Raiders.  These were the games that told you it was time to move on from your beloved 2600 to something new and better.  And most kids did. 

 

55 minutes ago, socrates63 said:

It really showed that time was up on the 2600, and I moved on to the 800.

 

35 minutes ago, RickR said:

Like you, I moved on to the Commodore VIC-20 (which had an amazing port of Defender and a mediocre Pac Man) and then got an Atari 800XL in 1984.

 

All these first hand accounts of our Atari I/O friends moving on from the Atari 2600 by 1982 to the ColecoVision, Commodore and Atari computers, and others. This buoys my argument that there should've been plenty of other platforms for the industry to move onto by 1983, and having a couple bad games on the 2600 in its waning years weren't single handedly responsible for the collapse of the industry as a whole.

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24 minutes ago, Justin said:

Really makes you think what Atari was doing in 1982 / 1983. For all the romanced history we hear about co-ed hot tub meetings and joint sessions up on the roof, Activision were the most talented guys in the room who walked out the door to do their own thing, and they did top quality work. Atari let this happen. What was left of the 2600 games group gave us SwordQuest etc. Meanwhile some genius MIT students at GCC were delivering the most quality 2600 / 5200 games in 1983, and Atari engineers talk like they were surprised when the 7800 showed up on their doorstep one day. Totally off the rails.

What was going on was Atari was losing their best game developers.  That's it.  HSW was a hell of a programmer but he probably had more seniority at Atari than other developers by that time.  Truth be told he was probably the ONLY true 2600 developer left.

Some of my favorite 5200 games are from the 1983 era of releases.  They are solid titles and capture the arcade originals faithfully.  The 2600 versions, too.  Those guys went very far to see that the 7800 had what it needed to be an outstanding console.  I love my 5200 but I stand behind that 7800.  That MARIA chip is impressive as hell from a developer's point of view.  Easily an ancestor to the nVidia and ATi style GPUs we have today.  And that was the first chip GCC ever designed?  That's far out!  

 

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6 minutes ago, Justin said:

All these first hand accounts of our Atari I/O friends moving on from the Atari 2600 by 1982 to the ColecoVision, Commodore and Atari computers, and others. This buoys my argument that there should've been plenty of other platforms for the industry to move onto by 1983, and having a couple bad games on the 2600 in its waning years weren't single handedly responsible for the collapse of the industry as a whole.

My original 5200 lasted from 1982 until 1987.  After that it got replaced with an NES Deluxe Set.

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