Most people would recognize E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 by its reputation as one of the worst video games of all time. We’ll have more to say about that in a moment, but E.T. was nevertheless chosen as the inspiration behind [Martin Fitzpatrick]’s re-imagining of the game in ten lines of BASIC code for a contest that encourages and celebrates games written in ten lines of BASIC, or less.
Ten lines of BASIC is a big limitation, even when getting clever by stacking multiple statements into a single line, so [Martin]’s game has a much narrower scope than the original Atari 2600 version. Still, the core elements are present: E.T. must find and gather all the parts of the phone in order to contact his ship, after which he must meet the ship in time to escape. All the while, FBI agents attempt to interfere. The game was written in SAM BASIC, used by the SAM Coupé, a British Z80-based home computer from the late 80s with an emulator available for download.
Now, for lovers of “um, actually” topics, do we have a treat for you! Let’s take this opportunity to review a few things about E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. That it was a commercial flop is no doubt, but the game itself is often badly misunderstood. Way back in 2013 we covered an extraordinary effort to patch improvements into the binary for the 2600 game, and in the process there’s a compelling case made that the game was in many ways far ahead of its time, and actually quite significant in terms of game design. You can jump right in on an analysis of the hate the game receives, and while reading that it’s helpful to keep in mind that In 1982, many of its peers were games like Space Invaders, with self-evident gameplay that simply looped endlessly.
1983 was the year of the great video game crash, and after the chiefs of Atari realized they had produced more copies of Pac-Man than consoles sold, these games, along with other ‘treasures’ were loaded into trucks, shipped out to the desert, and buried in a New Mexico landfill. Last year, these consoles were rescued. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Tularosa Basin Historical Society, these cartridges are for sale again.
Want to grab your own copy of E.T., Asteroids, Star Raiders, or Centipede rescued from a landfill in a desert? Here’s a link to the seller on eBay, with the highest auction being E.T., in box, going for $400 with nine days left. The auction comes with a certificate of authenticity from the city of Alamogordo.
This is only the first batch of cartridges and boxes rescued from the dump, with the Tularosa Basin Historical Society putting at least another 700 items up for sale if this batch goes well.
With the rousing success of this bit of dumpster diving, we must point out another techno-archeological myth/legend: there are several thousand Apple Lisas in a Utah landfill, just waiting for someone to come in and pick through the remnants of an Apple tax writeoff.
This hack has got to be every gamer’s dream. Someone actually took the time to dig through the binary file of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and fix the errors that made it an abomination of a title for the Atari 2600.
This is quite a feat in many ways. First off, you need to know the game well enough to understand where they problems lie. The Internet is a huge help in that regard as there’s no shortage of sources complaining about the game’s shortcomings. This turns out to be one of the articles strongest points as the author takes time to address the most common myths about bugs in the game. From there he goes on to discuss the problems that were actually fixed. Some are just general tweaks like the color fix listed above. But most of them are genuine improvements in the game play, like the falling fix which prevents E.T. from falling in this pit when his feet are obviously not anywhere near the edge.
So you couldn’t get your hard earned bucks back for a bummer of a game back in the day. But at least a few decades later you can fix the things that made it suck and play it through the way it should have been.