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The most godawful game ever
February 24, 2011 6:05 AM   Subscribe

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is generally regarded as the worst video game of all time. So bad that Atari eventually had to bury over 5 million copies in a landfill.* One of the reasons may have been that Atari rushed to have it available in time for Christmas. But how bad was it really? Let's Play E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial!

* The landfill ("Now accepting manifested asbestos!") in Alamogordo, NM ("The Friendliest Place On Earth") ran over the videos with a steamroller and then covered with cement, so there's no point in going to the location of the landfill and trying to dig them up.
posted by Deathalicious (175 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I owned it. I even beat it once. There were crappier Atari games...but not many.
posted by AugieAugustus at 6:10 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


E.T. game previously.


And I still maintain the game's awfulness is highly exaggerated. It's become one of those things where people who have never touched a 2600 before will go on and on on how bad it is. Granted, it's not great, but it's not nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be.
posted by Dr-Baa at 6:11 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Mooninites, characters from the Adult Swim TV show Aqua Teen Hunger Force, were originally intended to be the ghosts of the old Atari games haunting a house built over the landfill. While this has never been referenced in the actual series, it was confirmed in the Season 1 DVD commentary that this was the inspiration for the Mooninites.

I have learned important new information today.
posted by mediareport at 6:12 AM on February 24, 2011 [30 favorites]


It flopped because they made E.T. look like a green monster.
posted by parmanparman at 6:12 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


my kid self thought that game rocked
mostly cause sometimes you'd find weird, nonphone things in the pits
but yeah its a lot about falling into pits
posted by angrycat at 6:17 AM on February 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Clearly they never played Raiders of the Lost Ark on the 2600.

What? Yeah, I played it several times. There was no fucking internet back then, I had to do something.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:18 AM on February 24, 2011 [13 favorites]


Funny you mention Raider of the Lost Ark, because the same guy designed it. He also designed Yar's Revenge, which I guess gives him a free pass for anything in my book. Or maybe I have no taste in video games, because I liked the Raiders game as well.
posted by Dr-Baa at 6:21 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


1. What the, man Raiders was a great game.

2. It's possible (just really hard) to have the alien spaceship rescue a dead ET at the end of ET. You have to time it just right.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:22 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had this. It was the only 2600 game I had that I didn't master. I mean, I played River Raid and Chopper Command and Megamania and Pitfall and Journey Escape and Mountain King and Wizard of Wor and Demon Attack until I was one with the game, but E.T. was just incomprehensible. I'd pull it out and play it from time to time but it was completely opaque to me. And anyway, about that time my brother bought a ColecoVision, and I got into Zaxxon in a big way.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:25 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


There was also the Space Shuttle game, man that blew. Docking with that damn satellite was almost impossible.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:26 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you played them now, all Atari 2600 would be revealed as terrible. The "you died, try again from the beginning" mechanic in particular--how did anyone survive that era?
posted by DU at 6:27 AM on February 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


There was also the Space Shuttle game, man that blew. Docking with that damn satellite was almost impossible.

This is probably the first time in history that anyone has ever complained that an Atari 2600 game was, essentially, too realistic.
posted by FishBike at 6:27 AM on February 24, 2011 [20 favorites]


The worst game for the 2600 was the free one that came with it: Combat.
posted by jquinby at 6:30 AM on February 24, 2011


As the proud young owner of both the E.T. and Journey: Escape Atari game, I can say with some certitude that E.T. was the second worst ever.

And don't get me started on the Smurfs game, which has ruined Appalachian Spring for me forever
posted by Mchelly at 6:32 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I burned so many afternoon hours on Raiders of the Lost Ark, even mapping it out on paper. Let's see, if I go off of this screen to the right, I'll somehow fall off a cliff and maybe this parachute will catch on that single branch on the way down and I'll end up in a tomb(?) full of snakes?

Looking back, I should've just played more Dragonfire. Or Cosmic Ark. All of those iMagic games looked so great, even if the playability was iffy.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:35 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


until I was one with the game

I could play Activision Tennis for an hour without losing a single point.

My cross-court backhand was the stuff of legend.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:35 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Clearly they never played Raiders of the Lost Ark on the 2600.

I came in here to say that. I owned a lot of Atari 2600 games, and that was the worst one I had.

> The worst game for the 2600 was the free one that came with it: Combat.

You, sir, are a knave and a fool. I challenge you to biplanes at dawn!

No, seriously, I loved Combat.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:36 AM on February 24, 2011 [17 favorites]


Keystone Kapers. Frogger. And Pitfall. Oh the glory of youth.

And I still maintain the game's awfulness is highly exaggerated. It's become one of those things where people who have never touched a 2600 before will go on and on on how bad it is. Granted, it's not great, but it's not nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be.

Is this like the hipster way to hate on E.T.? (I keed, I keed)

I hated E.T. before it was cool to hate on E.T.
posted by IvoShandor at 6:36 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The day I played Pac-Man on the 2600 is the day my childhood died.
posted by Optamystic at 6:38 AM on February 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I agree with the sentiment that this has become a game that you're just "supposed" to say is the worst ever. I owned it. I played it. It's bad, but no more or less bad than a lot of games by Atari 2600 standards.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:40 AM on February 24, 2011


I played the hell out of that game when I was a kid -- when I was 6 or 7, it didn't appear to be noticeably worse than any of the many other terrible atari 2600 games.
posted by empath at 6:40 AM on February 24, 2011


>>> The worst game for the 2600 was the free one that came with it: Combat.

No. It was wonderful. Other and better quality games came after, but Combat had so many variations and encouraged 2-player gaming. It didn't matter than your tanks and planes didn't look like tanks or planes. Combat was the game you plugged in and turned on when company came over, an almost perfect demonstration of how much fun you could have with a plastic box wired to your (until that moment) non-interactive television.

Am I saying that Combat was the Wii Sports of its time? Yes, I most certainly am.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:42 AM on February 24, 2011 [22 favorites]


> The worst game for the 2600 was the free one that came with it: Combat.

Combat was awesome. Especially when you played tanks with ricochet shots.
posted by azpenguin at 6:43 AM on February 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


The Mooninites, characters from the Adult Swim TV show Aqua Teen Hunger Force, were originally intended to be the ghosts of the old Atari games haunting a house built over the landfill.

Never forget.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:43 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Back when people didn't realize their Ataris were worth anything, I made good money buying them for $5 at rummage sales and turning them on eBay -- and ET was my 'tester' cartridge that I kept solely to check out machines. I always fell into pits, and couldn't get anywhere.

I still have that cartridge, but no 2600 to play it on. It was actually the *second* E.T. cartridge I owned -- and with as many people here who've played it, it makes me wonder just how many cartridges Atari made. There were enough for everybody to have encountered it, plus a zillion were destroyed.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:43 AM on February 24, 2011


I also played a lot of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

As far as I know, Raiders is really the earliest example I can think of for the Kings Quest-style graphic adventure. (collect a bunch of items, walk around, use them on other items to advance)
posted by empath at 6:43 AM on February 24, 2011


Yeah, I agree with the sentiment that this has become a game that you're just "supposed" to say is the worst ever. I owned it. I played it. It's bad, but no more or less bad than a lot of games by Atari 2600 standards.

I suppose it depends on how you define bad. The Wikipedia entry is pretty well referenced and cites a $536 million loss for Atari in 1983, to which the game contributed significantly. Probably from Atari's standpoint it is the worst game ever. You're right though, a lot of 2600 games sucked the life right out of the room.
posted by IvoShandor at 6:44 AM on February 24, 2011


If I remember correctly, the E.T. cartridge landfill played a part in the plot of the book Lucky Wander Boy, a fantastic book that isn't nearly as widely known as it deserves to be.
posted by Dr. Eigenvariable at 6:44 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I played E.T. once as a child at the house of an acquaintance, and regarded it at the time as the worst game I had ever played. It wasn't until college that I heard about it again and learned that it was infamous for being just as terrible as I remembered it.
posted by dgaicun at 6:45 AM on February 24, 2011


Combat was awesome out of the box, I agree. Of course, it was eventually improved.
posted by activitystory at 6:45 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was just disappointing. Not nearly as frustrating as space shuttle was. I still have the ET board game
posted by Ad hominem at 6:46 AM on February 24, 2011


A little while ago some blogger showed his 8 year old son the classic games he grew up with. After about an hour playing these games the kid said they were just too hard. Back in the 80s games were tough. They were modeled after the "get as many quarters as possible" model and involved lots of dying, perfect timing, and starting over. Games didn't hand out BFG's and constantly praise your K/D ratio against intentionally dumbed down AI. Games today are all about winning and not making the player feel bad about sucking.

Nowadays I can pick up any game and a tutorial will hold my hand and show me the ropes. Autosave will keep me from starting over and the experience will generally be much less frustrating than the arcade-style games of the 80s. They're more like interactive stories than games. Put me in front of a Donkey Kong box and I'm never getting to level 4 and swearing the whole time.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:47 AM on February 24, 2011 [20 favorites]


You can also play the game yourself in this online emulator. Then I guess... drag the window into the Recycle Bin?
posted by Rhaomi at 6:50 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


E.T. really sucked, as did Raiders of the Lost Ark. Worst ever? No. For that, I'd suggest shooting some hoops (remembering, as it was coded by an insane person, to select Game mode 1 for 2 player, and Game mode 2 for 1 player).
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:51 AM on February 24, 2011


Put me in front of a Donkey Kong box and I'm never getting to level 4 and swearing the whole time.
posted by damn dirty ape


That was beautiful.
posted by Optamystic at 6:51 AM on February 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


As the proud young owner of both the E.T. and Journey: Escape Atari game, I can say with some certitude that E.T. was the second worst ever.

No way. Journey: Escape was limited, but at least sort of fun. There was nothing even remotely fun about E.T.

Coincidentally, Journey: Escape was the first game I ever beat. Not that you could 'beat' it really. But I played it until it stopped getting harder and then I left it plugged in and turned on (you had to hit jump for an individual level to start, thankfully) and played nothing else for, well, WEEKS. I was hoping something exciting would happen when the points reached 7 (8?) digits. I played and played and played and played, and that 'orrible chiptune version of half of the piano hook from Don't Stop Believing drilled itself deeper into my brain and finally one night after watching Silver Spoons I was playing, and I was close, and eventually a bunch of 9s all lined up and I it turned back to zero without a hiccup or a beep or anything. Shit man. Never played it again.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:54 AM on February 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


Nowadays I can pick up any game and a tutorial will hold my hand and show me the ropes. Autosave will keep me from starting over and the experience will generally be much less frustrating than the arcade-style games of the 80s. They're more like interactive stories than games.

This is the only thing stopping me from spending all of my Adult Money on all of the shiny gaming things a childhood soma lkzx would have wanted.
posted by soma lkzx at 6:55 AM on February 24, 2011


After about an hour playing these games the kid said they were just too hard. Back in the 80s games were tough.

They were also really bleak in the way that you couldn't really "win" any of them, they just repeated, until you gave up or died. I don't have a link handy, but in an interview with the creator of Space Invaders, he mentions that, in that you can't really "win" against an invasion.

Anyone know if the story that they made 5 million ET carts and there were only a fraction of that in consoles is true? Always heard that and it made me wonder what they were thinking.
posted by usagizero at 6:55 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Put me in front of a Donkey Kong box and I'm never getting to level 4 and swearing the whole time.

This has to be the primary reason that Nintendo designed the NES controllers to be INDESTRUCTIBLE. NES controller vs. brick wall, no match, brick wall cannot defeat the NES controller. Nothing can.

This probably had more to do with Atari's downfall than any one game. Those joysticks couldn't withstand being swatted with a feather. NES controllers could withstand nuclear frickin' war. 80s Cold War mentality maybe.
posted by IvoShandor at 6:55 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


At the junior high fund raising carnival we brought in two 2600s and charged kids a quarter to play Pac-Man. The line exceeded 30 minutes all day. Our fund raising record may still stand.
posted by COD at 6:56 AM on February 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Man, I knew I should have put a question mark at the end of the title. I meant to, but then forgot.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:57 AM on February 24, 2011


I played it. Never beat it. That music brought it all flooding back. Yes it was that bad, penis-breath.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:57 AM on February 24, 2011


Back in the 80s games were tough.
Off-topic, but I remember stepping up to Dragon's Lair back in the day, dropping 50 cents (which was twice what other games cost!) and getting killed within seconds. What was worse was the lineup of people waiting to play just staring at me as I walked away, humiliated.
posted by monkeymike at 6:58 AM on February 24, 2011 [20 favorites]


I dunno, man -- I'm thinking our 2600 controllers would have lasted forever, if it weren't for Activision Decathlon...
posted by LordSludge at 6:59 AM on February 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Back in the 80s games were tough. They were modeled after the "get as many quarters as possible" model and involved lots of dying, perfect timing, and starting over. Games didn't hand out BFG's and constantly praise your K/D ratio against intentionally dumbed down AI.

It's really only the early 80s, when they were still only making arcade ports. Even by 1986, you had new stuff like Legend of Zelda which was not that same kind of toughness. You could play that game for an hour without dying! Extreme difficulty of early games was mainly to cover up for lack of depth, which was caused by extremely limited hardware.
posted by smackfu at 6:59 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does a game have to be distributed to qualify for the title of worst game ever? Because I wrote some pretty terrible games on my VIC-20. They were based on parodies of the names of other games.

In "Death Chargex", a parody of Depth Charge, a little stick figure drifted past an ASCII-art credit card, and when he got too close, a line appeared and zapped him. That was the whole game.

I also made a parody of Vicman, called "Sickman", where a stick figure threw up when you pressed a key.

In my defense, I was 11 when I wrote these, and such things are pretty funny when you're 11. I'm certain these games were much, much worse than ET.
posted by FishBike at 6:59 AM on February 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


> Combat was awesome. Especially when you played tanks with ricochet shots.

Pow! BOOP Boop boodlyboodlyboop. KRSCHHHGSH!
posted by davelog at 6:59 AM on February 24, 2011 [18 favorites]


Now the game Adventure? I can't remember how many times I played that, hating that bat every minute.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:00 AM on February 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you played them now, all Atari 2600 would be revealed as terrible. The "you died, try again from the beginning" mechanic in particular--how did anyone survive that era?

It was actually worse in the early NES/SMS era, as 2600 games rarely had any kind of "winning" or "finishing" to them, just higher scores and higher levels. The NES and SMS brought in the idea of winning a video game, but early games still had no kind of save feature. If you lost your last life on Bowser on World 8-4, it was back to 1-1 for you!
posted by Rock Steady at 7:01 AM on February 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


> Those joysticks couldn't withstand being swatted with a feather.

And yet they were remarkable good at destroying your hands and wrists. I remember having to step away from the console because I was developing a serious case of Your Child's First Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

> What was worse was the lineup of people waiting to play just staring at me as I walked away, humiliated.

I'm not sure I have a more '80s story than when I tell my younger relatives about how I used to have to line up (!) to play Pac-Man (!!) at the local roller skating rink (!!!)'s arcade (!!!!).
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:02 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Loved Combat. And Adventure. Pacman, Pitfall...

*goes hunting for Ubuntu Atari 2600 emulator*
posted by zarq at 7:03 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I owned Dragon's Lair on tape for the Coleco Adam. To say it was wildly different from the arcade version is an understatement. There was also something terribly wrong with the Adam's tape drive so it chewed up tapes. I think I only got to play the game a few dozen times.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:05 AM on February 24, 2011


Off-topic, but I remember stepping up to Dragon's Lair back in the day, dropping 50 cents (which was twice what other games cost!) and getting killed within seconds.

What I remember about Dragon's Lair is that it was hyped for weeks on the news before it ever showed up in the arcades. So when you stepped up to it for the first time you assumed it was some magical game where you had full freedom to control a beautiful cartoon character around laser disc land. So you try to move Dirk to the right, the screen goes briefly black, and then you're treated to a scene of him dying horribly. After a couple tries you gave up because it wasn't worth the fifty cents every time.

Then there was the one guy who could get to the end because he knew what you actually needed to do to win it. "ok, on this screen you tap left twice, then forward once. Next screen I have to tap the stick forward once, then to the left, then back twice." It was basically like playing Simon.

Back on topic, I loved the crap out of Combat. Mostly because it was the only game we had for weeks after we got our Atari. My mom didn't quite get the fact that the whole point of the system was to buy new games so she wouldn't let us "waste our money" buying new cartridges when it already came with one. Eventually we got Space Invaders and that was it until the next Christmas.

I remember playing E.T. at my friends house and not quite realizing that it was bad. At that time anything new was worth playing.

I acquired a 2600 (or the Sears version of it) a few years ago and E.T. was one of the games I bought on eBay for a nickle or so. I still haven't played it.
posted by bondcliff at 7:07 AM on February 24, 2011


The best Atari game ever was Blackjack, just for the shuffling sound effect.

Prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrup, Ruuoop!

My grandma played that shit all damn day. Was there any better story as a kid that your grandma played more Atari than you? No, there was not.
posted by fusinski at 7:07 AM on February 24, 2011 [16 favorites]


I don't care what anyone says, Raiders of the Lost Ark was my favorite of all the 2600 games my parents owned. I'm pretty sure I could still beat it without the use of a guide. In fact, when I got a Flashcart for my DSi, that was the game I used to test the Atari 2600 emulator (of course, I then remembered that it required two controllers and didn't get very far).

Haunted House, Combat, and Berzerk were up there as well, but like someone said upstream, Raiders was a sort of precursor to the type of games Sierra made popular, and I loved me some King's Quest/Space Quest/Leisure Suit Larry/etc...
posted by mysterpigg at 7:10 AM on February 24, 2011


The NES and SMS brought in the idea of winning a video game, but early games still had no kind of save feature. If you lost your last life on Bowser on World 8-4, it was back to 1-1 for you!

If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game.

If you never knew this I'm so, so sorry. For everything.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:13 AM on February 24, 2011 [53 favorites]


> The "you died, try again from the beginning" mechanic in particular--how did anyone survive that era?

The Atari 2600 taught an entire generation about futility and death. I spent hours and hours playing Robot Tank and got pretty damn good at it. My reward for all that practice? An endless* series of killing machines, each one faster and more intelligent than the one before. They could not be bargained with. They could not be reasoned with. They didn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely would not stop, ever, until I was dead. How did every single game end? With my death.

* IIRC, it was theoretically possible to beat this game by destroying ten levels of ten tanks, but no-one anywhere ever did. I don't care what you say.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:15 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I never had ET, but it doesn't seem so bad. Better than the crushing disappointment of the first Pac-Man for the 2600.

And the worst game ever: Strawberry Shortcake Musical Matchups. My sister, five or so at the time, had a copy of this. The music haunts me still.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:17 AM on February 24, 2011


In 1982, Atari was trying to compete with much more sophisticated game machines (some of my friends had Colecovisions or Commodore 64s) by squeezing these complex, free-form action-adventure games into their ancient platform.

E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Swordquest games all had the same set of issues: The game instructions didn't give away too much information (to preserve the adventure), but the display and UI were so crude that it was nearly impossible to discern what was happening during the game and why. "What is that thing? Am I carrying it now? What's it for? How do I use it? Oh, I've fallen into a pit."

There's probably no reason those games couldn't have been fun with a few more pixels, a few more colors, and a few more controller buttons to work with. But I remember them as just pointless, random noodling, sort of like reading a horoscope. Maybe something interesting would happen, but not because of anything I did or did not do.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:20 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Atari 2600 taught an entire generation about futility and death.

Harlan Ellison wrote a review of Empire Strikes Back for the 2600 on that theme a long time ago, but as usual for his stuff, it's nowhere to be found online.
posted by empath at 7:20 AM on February 24, 2011


XQUZYPHYR: If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game.
Wait, what?

Please tell me you're joking.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 7:20 AM on February 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nope, he's not joking.
posted by Dr-Baa at 7:24 AM on February 24, 2011


I'm still surprised when people hate E.T. so much. I had no idea that Raiders or E.T. were supposed to be that terrible. My best friend and I would go off an play by ourselves for hours and share notes and maps and we eventually figured them all out. We liked the movies, we liked playing Atari, what's the problem? I bought a loss leader game every Friday with lawn mowing money, like $1-5 at Stereo Super Store at the mall I could walk to, and there were far worse games.

When I load up one of the Swordquest games into Stella, adult-me doesn't even know where to start - I COVETED those games and the kid across the street wouldn't loan them to me. (Just those, though. Because he know I wanted them so badly.) If I tried E.T. now, I'd probably be the same way. Nothing was TL/DR; for kid-me when it came to gaming.

I still don't know how the kid across the street found the secret invisible dot thing in Adventure, but I can still find that almost blindfolded.
posted by mullicious at 7:25 AM on February 24, 2011


If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game.

You have got to be kidding. How was this not generally known by my peers?
posted by Falconetti at 7:32 AM on February 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


XQUZYPHYR: If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game.

If you never knew this I'm so, so sorry. For everything.


Oh. My. Fucking. God. I can't. I don't even. I think I need someone to hold me. This is seriously damaging my mental health right now. HOW DID I NOT KNOW THAT? WHAT. THE. FUCK. MIYAMOTO!!!!
posted by Rock Steady at 7:41 AM on February 24, 2011 [26 favorites]


Greatest 2600 game? Hands down, it was Video Olympics. I mean, where else could you play 144 versions of Pong?
posted by KingEdRa at 7:44 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's probably no reason those games couldn't have been fun with a few more pixels, a few more colors, and a few more controller buttons to work with. But I remember them as just pointless, random noodling, sort of like reading a horoscope. Maybe something interesting would happen, but not because of anything I did or did not do.

Yeah, exactly. Especially as a 9- or 10-year-old boy, I just couldn't even penetrate games like Raiders and E.T. I can't really say I remember it as a bad game, because it wasn't even really a game at all to me at the time.

Fuck, I'm still shaken by this "Hold A and start on the same World" thing.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:45 AM on February 24, 2011


XQUZYPHYR: If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game.

Your lesson has been been enlightening today, sensei. Thank you.

Was being filled with hate, regret and despair part of the lesson?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:46 AM on February 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


To make a slightly off-topic comment, what about Jaws for the NES? That was a seriously lame game, although I spent a strangely large amount of time playing it. But it was one of only three NES games I ever owned. Here's someone beating the whole game in 3:58.

Also, mysterpigg, Telltale games is making new King's Quest games!
posted by threeturtles at 7:48 AM on February 24, 2011


Combat was awesome. Especially when you played tanks with ricochet shots.

Especially when you played invisible tanks with ricochet shots!

I think the thing about E.T. really is the falling into the pits. No worse than Adventure ... maybe a little.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:48 AM on February 24, 2011


If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game.

The f - it -flam - flames. Flames, on the side of my face, breathing-breathl- heaving breaths. Heaving breaths...
posted by jedicus at 7:48 AM on February 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


I thought Superman was supposed to be the worst Atari game evar.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:52 AM on February 24, 2011


Mattel Electronics presents... SPACE SPARTANS!

Hello, commander. Computer reporting.

No? OK.
posted by emelenjr at 7:55 AM on February 24, 2011


You're thinking of Superman the N64 game.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:56 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter threads: really bleak in the way that you couldn't really "win" any of them, they just repeated, until you gave up or died.
posted by rifflesby at 7:57 AM on February 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


(For worst game on its console, obviously, not worst Atari game. Whew, good save.)
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:59 AM on February 24, 2011


I thought Superman was supposed to be the worst Atari game evar.

I thought Custer's Revenge was supposed to be the worst Atari game evar.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 7:59 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


The reason 2600 games were endless is that there was no room for an ending!

Look at some of the binary images ... half of the cartridge is graphics, and even a "GAME OVER" message would take up space that could be used for a couple new enemies (there were no built-in fonts).

But game authors could make lemonade. My favorite example is River Raid, where a simple random number generator creates a procedurally-generated endless world.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:00 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


XQUZYPHYR: " If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game."

I... what... i can't even....

ARE YOU SHITTING ME?!?
posted by zarq at 8:02 AM on February 24, 2011


Nope, he's not joking.

I played the SMBs at friends houses, but never had a Nintendo and never really loved it like some people apparently LOVE SMB3 (for some reason).

The fact that people didn't know about that "cheat" will make me chuckle all day. (I didn't know about it either.)

Just think. You're experiencing a feeling that will never happen to kids today with their fancy Internet. Consider yourselves fortunate for the personal gain. :D

I thought Custer's Revenge was supposed to be the worst Atari game evar.

Oh, I'd forgotten about those Swedish knockoffs. Beat 'Em and Eat 'Em is an interesting variation on Kaboom:

"In this game, the player controls a pair of nude women who scuttle back and forth underneath a building where a man with a notably large penis is constantly masturbating from the roof top. The player's objective is to maneuver these women so that they consume the man's semen (which is colored yellow in the game) before it hits the ground. When all the semen is caught, the two women turn to the screen and lick their lips"

Oh, Atari.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:06 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Extreme difficulty of early games was mainly to cover up for lack of depth, which was caused by extremely limited hardware.

Limited hardware didn't really have much to do with depth. Computer Space was produced before even Pong, and it was a lot more sophisticated than a lot of similar space games that were released a decade later on much more advanced hardware. Games like Zork or M.U.L.E. had a lot more depth than contemporary arcade games like Pac Man even though arcade games had better hardware.

If a game is designed to be used for a few minutes by a person who isn't familiar with it, it can't have a very high learning curve, and if more quarters need to be pumped into the machine to make it profitable there has to be a way to make the player lose. Eventually that led to the rise of arcade games that were designed to require the player to enter more quarters over time to continue regardless of their skill level, such as the whole beat-em-up genre.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:12 AM on February 24, 2011


Also, Pepsi Invaders.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:14 AM on February 24, 2011


Or Gauntlet, where no matter how good you played your life still ticked away on you.
posted by Dr-Baa at 8:14 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Things we bury in New Mexico: posted by NoraReed at 8:20 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gauntlet needs quarters. Badly.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:30 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The "you died, try again from the beginning" mechanic in particular--how did anyone survive that era?

Presumably by starting over from the beginning?
posted by brundlefly at 8:33 AM on February 24, 2011


The "you died, try again from the beginning" mechanic in particular...

I think I've just realised why I'm not a Buddhist.
posted by Segundus at 8:36 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nowadays I can pick up any game and a tutorial will hold my hand and show me the ropes. Autosave will keep me from starting over and the experience will generally be much less frustrating than the arcade-style games of the 80s.

Truth. Though, to be fair to modern games, this is an unassailable good that does not come at an actual cost to the hardcore and the bloody-minded. What modern game design has done is broaden the range of available play difficulties, not lowered the top end of that range. Yes, you are shown the ropes; yes, you get an actual manual now (though manuals are becoming increasingly superfluous as in-game tutorials mature); yes, you get save points and autosaves and the games are designed to be beatable by dedicated but not spectacular players. Mere mortals can have a reasonably satisfying sense of progress.

For all that, though, games have if anything gotten harder on the hard end, in part because designers now have the freedom to make a game that's accessible at the easier difficulties and so can be just dizzingly, stupidly, fuck-you-inducingly difficult on the really hard settings.

And some games are still just plain hard. The reboot of Ninja Gaiden kicked a lot of folks asses on normal difficulty. Ikaruga isn't a game that understands what "easy" is. VVVVVV is basically a testament to you going and fucking yourself.

And there's all kinds of available approaches to doing Hard Things above and beyond difficulty settings. Speedruns. Knife-only jaunts through surivival horror titles. No-kill runs through ostensibly violent games. Hardcore runs: no saving, no restarting, death is death. And in some cases, the designers of a game are enamored enough of this ridiculous hardness-of-the-core metric that they'll support some of these stunts in the code itself and acknowledge the terrible thing you have just done to yourself.

But, so, yes: there's a certain validity to nostalgia for the days when men were men and games were Hard, as far as fondness for a simpler and far more constrained period of game design theory and practice. But do not fool yourself: it is a very, very good time to be alive if you're a hardcore type. It's just that it's a much better time to be alive if you're not, as well.
posted by cortex at 8:36 AM on February 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


It was actually worse in the early NES/SMS era, as 2600 games rarely had any kind of "winning" or "finishing" to them, just higher scores and higher levels.

Ugh, I remember finally beating "Burger Time", getting past all --what, 5-6?-- levels, and it didn't even say game over. It just restarted me on Level 1 with absolutely no comment whatsoever. I wanted to hunt down the programmers and destroy their lives.

And I never played ET, but it was even NEARLY as bad as NES's "Back to the Future - Marty is attacked by Bees and Bowling Balls" then it must have sucked. Cause --you know-- there was a lot of cinema-defining bees and bowling alleys in Back to the Future.

On the other hand I actally beat Dragon's Lair in the arcade and got to walk past that line of people waiting - people who had never seen the dragon die before or the ridiculously cartoon-hot Princess Daphne that Dirk rescued and winkingly implied he was about to ...well... too bad there wasn't a screen for that, said my kid self.
posted by umberto at 8:37 AM on February 24, 2011


My favorite example is River Raid, where a simple random number generator creates a procedurally-generated endless world.

???

They must have used a set seed, b/c I remember River Raid being the same every time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:41 AM on February 24, 2011


I wish they did the great E.T burial in Roswell instead of Alamogordo. That would have been so sweet.
posted by MXJ1983 at 8:45 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I came in here to add to the "Journey Escape was worse" chorus, but the 1-2 punch of learning about the A-button trick on SMB and learning about the existence of Custer's Revenge has basically killed me as a functioning human being.
posted by COBRA! at 8:46 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]




Clearly they never played Raiders of the Lost Ark on the 2600.


Many hours, many hours.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:49 AM on February 24, 2011


Re: activitystory's improved Combat link -- it appears that my disassembly of the game was his starting point for the hack.
posted by localroger at 8:54 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Owned it. Beat it. Then beat it twice in a row just to make sure the ending was really that bad. It wasn't all that hard to beat.

The indiana jones one was hard, never beat that. :-/
posted by nutate at 9:02 AM on February 24, 2011


But underneath the ground there lies
three million souls whose mournful cries

Chill New Mexico at night
Aliens kept out of sight

Not a chance they will phone home
Buried ‘neath the desert loam

By Spielberg’s hand they came to be
But doomed by mediocrity

They met instead a sandy fate
Where they wait. And wait. And wait.
posted by mikepop at 9:04 AM on February 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'd say Pac-Man 2600 is in every way worse than E.T. It was just as hyped and just as big of a flop. But E.T. was ambitious and failed because it tried to do too many interesting new things that didn't work. Pac-Man, by contrast, should have been a cakewalk. One screen. Five sprites. Some simple AI and sound. How hard can it fucking be? A simple game ruined by too ambitious of a release schedule.

The computer game medium has come so far since the 1970s. I'm looking forward to, oh, another 20 years of perspective where we can really lay out the history of the development. It's hard to judge games like E.T. right now because we're both overwhelmed by the love of nostalgia and full of scorn that it doesn't have all the contemporary innovations
posted by Nelson at 9:11 AM on February 24, 2011


I think I've just realised why I'm not a Buddhist.

You know, reincarnation would make a great game mechanic.

Rather than advancing to a new level/world by "beating" the previous one, you'd do it by dying. Each time you were killed, you'd start over in a different level. Dying with different accomplishments would send you to different levels to start over — so there'd be an incentive to stay alive as long as possible, and accomplish stuff within the game, in order to get to a cooler level whenever you do die.

(The fact that this sounds like a good idea to me may explain why I'm not a Buddhist.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:21 AM on February 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Combat was awesome because of the easy warp cheat (that one where you drove into a corner and turned to the left, which would warp you to the next counter-clockwise corner). Appearing behind people all of a sudden always freaked 'em out because the tanks turned so slowly.
I guess I'll have to look at ET just to say that I have actually "played" it.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:23 AM on February 24, 2011


people who had never seen the dragon die before or the ridiculously cartoon-hot Princess Daphne

Dragon's Lair/Xanadu crossover time!

Nine-year-old me got the ET game for that fateful Christmas of '82... I was so snaked up about it that my (awesome) parents surprised me with it when we got home from ye olde traditional Italian-family-from-NJ 2,000 course Christmas Eve dinner at my grandparents' house. I clearly remember unwrapping it (thanks mom!), closely reading the instruction book (thanks dad!) and falling into pits for half an hour or so before my exhausted, confused, overwhelmed little self went to bed. I continued to fall into pits (and sometimes even get out of them) for most of January and February. Then the world premiere of the "Mr. Roboto" video happened on MTV and my attention turned pretty completely to the Kilroy Was Here record. Himitsu wo shiritai, mystery pits.
posted by mintcake! at 9:24 AM on February 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nelson: One screen. Five sprites. Some simple AI and sound. How hard can it fucking be? A simple game ruined by too ambitious of a release schedule.

In fairness to Tod Frye, there is no way porting Pac-Man to the Atari 2600 was ever going to be a cakewalk. It might have been possible to do a better job if he had had more time but it's unlikely it could have been much better; the hardware simply was not designed to display that many objects of that resolution at once.

(For reference, the Atari 2600 had 128 bytes -- not kilobytes, bytes of RAM, and no dedicated video RAM at all. The hardware supported two sprites, which had to be individually set for each display line by the CPU, and two pixel resolution but unbitmapped "ball" objects which also had to be set by the CPU for each display line. For background it had a 40 pixel "playfield" which had to be set up, you guessed it, each time the bitmap changed as the display was drawn.

There is no way anybody could have made that game play on that hardware without a lot of flickering. Most A2600 games were designed around the hardware limitations. Pac-Man might as well have been designed not to be implementable on the hardware.
posted by localroger at 9:25 AM on February 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


This book was invaluable to me a couple of years ago in helping pre-teen me forgive Atari for 2600 Pac-Man.
posted by mintcake! at 9:29 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Each time you were killed, you'd start over in a different level.

Considering most games involve wholesale slaughter, the karma of the player will probably lead to a reincarnation as a fruit fly or a maggot. Actually, that might be interesting. You start off as a Rambo-like guy, die, and spend many lifetimes doing good deeds until finally being reborn again as a human.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:30 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


It might have been possible to do a better job if he had had more time

No might about it. Ms.Pac-Man for the 2600 was a grazillion times better.

Also: I escaped from the Mindmaster. Booyah.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:35 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


localroger, I know the 2600 hardware is limited, but there's plenty of interesting games that worked around the limitations better than the Pac-Man port. Activision really led the way here. From what I've read the biggest problem was time: less than six months to produce a shipping game.

I know I've seen somewhere a fan-made Pac-Man running on the 2600 that was a really solid game and showed what could have been possible. But I can't find it. For official games both Ms Pac-Man 2600 and Jr. Pac-Man look like better games, although there's still the sprite flicker. The scrolling map on Jr. is hotness.
posted by Nelson at 9:36 AM on February 24, 2011


I'd recommend reading Racing the Beam for a new perspective on the VCS Pac-Man port.

Given the constraints of the platform, it's a surprise the game turned out as well as it did.

It sold 7 million copies and holds the title for best-selling 2600 cartridge. The problem was that they manufactured 12 million of them.

I'd also recommend the documentary series, Once Upon Atari, produced by none other than Howard Scott Warshaw, the man responsible for E.T. the Game.
posted by BoatMeme at 9:37 AM on February 24, 2011


Errr...what localroger and mintcake! said...
posted by BoatMeme at 9:39 AM on February 24, 2011


I lived in Alamogordo when I was a kid, right around the time Atari buried the game. We'd heard rumors, but it was pretty well under wraps...years later when I heard about it again, I insisted that it was just a local myth. Like the black arrow-shaped aircraft that people kept seeing (that turned out to be the F-117).
posted by blixco at 9:42 AM on February 24, 2011


You start off as a Rambo-like guy, die, and spend many lifetimes doing good deeds until finally being reborn again as a human.

A really explicitly karma-driven reincarnation game could be great, yeah. Hell of a design challenge there, too, to make a game that works as a cohesive whole across a whole bunch of dynamic strata of existence.

Far less ambitious on that front but still at least acknowledging the meta-issue of game-as-excuse-to-kill-lotsa-folks front, Metal Gear Solid 3 confronts you at one point in the game with the ghosts of the enemies you've killed earlier in the game, which in a game where not killing people at all is an option (if at times a difficult one to exercise) is a nice dynamic touch.
posted by cortex at 9:49 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


We had Atari 2600 and so did our neighbors. I was like 4 and the neighbors were pre-teens/teens and their mom babysat us.

Because of the age difference, obvs, they had much better games than us (we had PacMan and Donkey Kong pretty much.)

One of those was E.T.

I always got trapped in the hole.

I thought it was because I was 4.

Apparently the game sucked and it wasn't me.
posted by k8t at 9:50 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


You... just... the—the A button? That's it? Just hold down...

Oh. Oh, god.

posted by Zozo at 9:52 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Crushing and burying the cartridges? I played the game and hated it too..but someone needs to go back to 1982 and tell Atari about this new marketing hype called recycling
posted by fatbaq at 9:54 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


The thing that turned my opinion of E.T. around was learning how much time Warshaw had to write it, once all the licensing had been negotiated and the schedule to manufacture it in time for Christmas had been worked out:

One week.

Given how absolutely little support the VCS provides for you, this makes the man a miracle-worker for having anything at all in that timeframe.

It is still not a good game, but it is a hell of an achievement.
posted by egypturnash at 9:54 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Combat was awesome. Especially when you played tanks with ricochet shots.

Especially when you played invisible yt tanks with ricochet shots!


Company would come over and ask to play Atari, so we'd fire up Combat. I'd set the tanks to invisible, as well as the maze. And the bullets. And the background, and the score. And the controllers. If the guests decided to complain, saying something like 'You don't even HAVE an Atari!' I would tell them to shut up, because I was winning.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:55 AM on February 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game.

Was that considered a "cheat" or an actual well known feature?

I remember the first time I was finally facing the last King Koopa and the game froze. I walked away and didn't play again for 2 weeks.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:01 AM on February 24, 2011


Crushing and burying the cartridges? I played the game and hated it too..but someone needs to go back to 1982 and tell Atari about this new marketing hype called recycling

Does anyone know how much precious metals are contained within a single Atari cartridge? If it's significant, I know where there might be a gold mine in Alamogordo, NM...
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:03 AM on February 24, 2011


When E.T. came out, the things I noticed were that there were too many cartridges produced, and that Best Buy (not a national chain then) was immediately putting them on sale at near-clearance prices.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:05 AM on February 24, 2011


There are a few things I remember vividly about playing videogames in my youth:

1. Playing Pitfall 2 on my brothers' Colecovision and trying to show them the second world... only to find it missing. I had it on the ATARI 5200 and according to the Wikipedia page, they left in the second world as an easter egg... but I don't remember having to find it. It was much better than the first world.

2. Sneaking downstairs to find my parents playing Pac Man (which was actually great on the 5200) endlessly at night... but they now view my gaming habit as childish. Sometimes I remind them of those nights, but it doesn't seem to register.

3. My much older brother bringing home a 2600 cart that had no cover on it, and a handful of chips... pirated games! You had to seat the chip on the cart and then put it in the console.

4. Most vivid memory: the (losing) ending of Counterstrike on Atari 5200:

Nuclear Holocaust!

I don't remember at all what happened when you won. I think I lost on purpose and then found a sort of evil zen in the music and glowing skull.

I had ET on the 2600, and even as a young lad thought it was terrible. Combat, on the other hand, was brilliant.
posted by Huck500 at 10:15 AM on February 24, 2011


The worst game for the 2600 was the free one that came with it: Combat.

Dude! No!

Combat! is the best game ever created by anyone, anywhere, ever. All other games are just Combat! in disguise. There are invisible tanks! You heard me right! Invisible tanks! And one game where you get to be three little fast planes and your buddy has to be one giant slow plane and you can knock him all over the sky, behind those green non-translucent clouds with a please "PUH!" noise again and again and again.

I assert that you do not understand the quiet majesty of Combat!, sir.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:17 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man did I play me some combat. I had(have still really...) ET, but couldnt really understand it so it was rarely played.

The others that I loved were:
- Missile Command
- Vanguard
- Ice Hockey
- Phoenix
posted by mincus at 10:21 AM on February 24, 2011


Was that considered a "cheat" or an actual well known feature?

It seemed to be mostly considered an undocumented feature, in my NES circles in the late 80s. Though describing it as "lore" feels more appropriately romantic. Since there was no other simple way to get a second look at the later worlds after you got there the first time and died, it was hard to look at it as anything other than a sane-making feature. Warp pipes helped too, of course, but then you had to go through the tedium of making it to the pipes in the first place.

See also naming your character "ZELDA" in The Legend of Zelda if you want to kick right into the Second Quest without beating the first. The Second Quest was a shitpile harder than the first, so skipping to it was a lot more likely to be a fast-forwarding move by an experienced player than any kind of rational "exploit" by a neophyte.

Now, the Konami code? That was a cheat. A well-loved cheat, a cheat that made Contra beatable, a cheat that was lore itself and you got bonus points for knowing about even if you got points off for using in the pursuit of a REAL victory. "Oh yeah, I totally beat Life Force." "Without...the code?" "Oh, uh, uh, yeah, totally." "Liar."
posted by cortex at 10:25 AM on February 24, 2011


I can beat Life Force without the code. Honest. Or at least, I could, with NES Advantage in hand. Space shooters were my forté.

Contra, I fail miserably at.
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:33 AM on February 24, 2011


And just to reminisce about my other favorite games:

Air-Sea Battle has a certain je ne sais quioi, with an unreasonable amount of games where you and a buddy shoot a variety of things that whizz by above your little anti-aircraft weapons. For some reason, some of the targets are clown heads.

Indy 500 is still awesome fun, especially ice racing, where you have to let off the accelerator (the only button on the racing paddle, work with me here) to time your slide around the corner. And then--you are almost winning but you get stuck on the wall. Your futile cries of I AM STUCK ON THE WALL go unheard as your opponent zooms by you, and your wheels go DANG DANG DANG on the wall as you spin the paddle desperately.

Atari Football is a zen experience that is nothing like football and not really very much like fun, but more like astronauts who can't move their legs and a square ball that you can't really control all that well. And accidentally punting. You can't put a price on that.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:33 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you played them now, all Atari 2600 would be revealed as terrible

I disagree. Jungle Hunt and Crackpots were awesome, and so were Asteroids and Space Invaders. There was a whole lot of shit, though. Speaking of which, there was one ad in all the comic books I used to read back then for a game called "Montezuma's Revenge." I wanted it so bad even though I never got the joke.
posted by Hoopo at 10:43 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Heh, I remember Montezuma's Revenge, though I played it on the PC in glorious 3-color CGA. I didn't realize it was also available on the Atari!

And yeah, I don't think I got the joke at the time, either...
posted by mysterpigg at 10:51 AM on February 24, 2011


Montezuma's Revenge on the C64 was the first game I ever fell in love with. God, I loved that game.
posted by COBRA! at 10:53 AM on February 24, 2011


E.T.? That game was the pits.

Still, I agree that Pac-Man was way worse. Raiders was decent, though Riddle of the Sphinx was better. And I second the love for Adventure, Haunted House, River Raid, Megamania, Yar's Revenge, Combat...sigh.
posted by Gelatin at 10:56 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hello, commander. Computer reporting.

No? OK.


THE BATTLE IS OVER
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:59 AM on February 24, 2011


Montezuma's Revenge
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:03 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, that might be interesting. You start off as a Rambo-like guy, die, and spend many lifetimes doing good deeds until finally being reborn again as a human.

A whole lot of modern video games actually use a similar mechanic. You start off with a whole bunch of superpowers, but then you "die"* and lose them, and have to work hard in order to redeem yourself and regain them. Unfortunately, it doesn't generally involve doing good deeds - just murdering stuff. But you do it in the name of a greater good and that should count for something, right?

* your death can be either "literal" (for instance, in God of War II, the main character, demigod Kratos, is stripped of his godly powers and killed by Zeus and thrown into Tartarus, and has to make his way back up) or symbolic (as in Assassin's Creed, where the main character is stripped of his assassin's tools after failing a mission).

posted by daniel_charms at 11:04 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


i played this. remember stampede?
posted by funkydollarbill at 11:17 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Montezuma's Revenge was the first game that I ever beat on my C64. Of course, then the game just started over even harder...

Still love the sound effects from it - like when you get an item (la cucaracha!)
posted by mincus at 11:18 AM on February 24, 2011


If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game.

If you never knew this I'm so, so sorry. For everything.


My 11 year old self hates you so much right now.
posted by jopreacher at 11:30 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I played Montezuma's Revenge and Burger Time all day yesterday at work on a C64 emulator, which apparently makes me a giant dorkface. WHATEVS, it was rad.
posted by elizardbits at 11:31 AM on February 24, 2011


Did you have to bring up "Burgertime" 30 minutes before I go on lunch?
posted by Hoopo at 11:34 AM on February 24, 2011


My 11 year old self hates you so much right now.

The fact that there are so many of us that did not know about this is about the only thing keeping me sane right now.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:39 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I had a time machine, I'd teleport to each and every one of your childhood, right as you were cursing with dismay at the loss of your last guy after finally, finally scraping your way to world 8, and tell you this terrible secret when it mattered most.

Basically I would be Dr. Who.
posted by cortex at 11:51 AM on February 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


I played the first and second Swordquest games and my love affair with my 2600 came to an inglorious end.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:52 AM on February 24, 2011


Brandon Blatcher: "There was also the Space Shuttle game, man that blew. Docking with that damn satellite was almost impossible."

Space Shuttle Project for the NES was an epic success.
posted by Plutor at 12:10 PM on February 24, 2011


ET was shockingly, staggeringly, terribly bad not because the game was poor, but because the game destroyed Atari. The game was not only poor, but Atari spent over $20M just to license the IP.

That number just makes no sense.

In a context of average budgets today, that's like spending $200M for the rights to use the word "Avatar" in a papyrus font, and then spending an additional 0.1% of that amount on actually making the game, and making a budget discount-bin game. Hell, maybe it's more like spending $2000M to license "Avatar".

Or in another context, fast forward from 1982 up until the time of the 486 PC. Sophisticated graphics, CD-Rom, etc. Light years ahead of the Atari 2600. In 1984 a game came out (WC3) with a budget of a mere $10M - a paltry half of what Atari spent on licensing before it even started making it's game.
That $10 was a record-breaking shock to the industry. The market was much bigger by now - far more people played games, yet people in the industry openly wondered if it was even possible to make that money back even if the game was a hit. How could you possibly sell enough copies to pay for all that?!?

Yet back in '82, when the market was far smaller, sales figures far smaller, Atari was $20M in the hole before they even started making a game.

The numbers are just insane.

My guesses are that:
1) Atari thought ET would massively drive sales of Atari 2600 consoles, not just sales of the game.
2) Their negotiators were pwned at the table, and signed something they probably only hours later, realized they shouldn't have.
3) Someone, or a group of people, were out of touch with reality. Giddy with prior success, who knows, but I don't see any way those numbers could ever add up, so someone was asleep at the wheel.

Anyway, the point is that ET is considered the worst game of all time because it single-handedly sunk the world's leading game company, Atari.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:16 PM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


[nerdtangent]

Basically I would be Dr. Who.

Ahem ... you mean Doctor Who, of course. I don't think anyone aspires to be the Peter Cushing character.

[/nerdtangent]
posted by jbickers at 12:26 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


start off as a Rambo-like guy

What if We Leveled Backwards?!
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:31 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The game was not only poor, but Atari spent over $20M just to license the IP. That number just makes no sense..

Well, they made about $140 million off the horrible Pac-Man adaptation, so from a financial POV you can make some sort of sensible argument.

What made no sense is giving almost no time to develop the game. If E.T. destroyed Atari, it was because Atari execs were blind to the increasing number and quality of gaming options out there and assumed that they could cash in on the (extensive!) E.T.-mania by slapping "E.T." on just about anything and sell millions of carts. Instead they only sold about 1.5 million and severely damaged their reputation in the process.

If they had worked out the licensing earlier and made a great game in time to ship for Christmas they would have easily made their 20M back tenfold.
posted by mikepop at 12:43 PM on February 24, 2011


I spent hours and hours playing Robot Tank and got pretty damn good at it. My reward for all that practice? An endless* series of killing machines, each one faster and more intelligent than the one before.

And a patch. Actually, one of three based on your level of accomplishment.

You picked one of the few Atari 2600 game developers that DID provide tangible feedback for talented players.
posted by delfin at 1:07 PM on February 24, 2011


My grandma played that shit all damn day. Was there any better story as a kid that your grandma played more Atari than you? No, there was not.

Man. No one ever believes me when I tell them my grandma spent more time on the Atari than I did. She could beat my ass at Pong, I tell you what.
posted by palomar at 1:12 PM on February 24, 2011


Or in another context, fast forward from 1982 up until the time of the 486 PC. Sophisticated graphics, CD-Rom, etc. Light years ahead of the Atari 2600. In [1994] a game came out (WC3) with a budget of a mere $10M - a paltry half of what Atari spent on licensing before it even started making it's game.

Not really a fair comparison, the install bases were a lot different. Even being such a massive disaster, ET still sold 1.5 million units. Doom was one of the most popular PC games of the 90s and it only sold 1.1 million. And Atari had a lot more control over the market than any gaming company did on the 486.

Also it helps to remember that game companies acted a lot more like toy companies back then. It makes a lot of sense to pay massive amounts of money to license Star Wars and put out pieces of plastic in the shape of Vader in time before Christmas. Atari and other console makers tried to use the same sorts of tactics in the video game world, and shovelware nearly sunk the entire industry.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:12 PM on February 24, 2011


And a patch. Actually, one of three based on your level of accomplishment.

You picked one of the few Atari 2600 game developers that DID provide tangible feedback for talented players.


Ah, the Activision patches. I remember taking pictures of the screen and sending them in. The Decathlon Gold patch was my crowning achievement ... until I realized how easy it was to crush the game with a tracball.

The only other ones I ever got were Pitfall and Enduro, I think. Oh, Enduro.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:17 PM on February 24, 2011


If I remember correctly, the E.T. cartridge landfill played a part in the plot of the book Lucky Wander Boy, a fantastic book that isn't nearly as widely known as it deserves to be.

It really is a fantastic book and people who love old games should pick it up for the psuedo-philosphical critical analysis' the main character does on the games. Good fun.

I mean, where else could you play 144 versions of Pong?

If you really wanted to be pedantic, you could say all games are pong with better graphics. But I remember playing a mid-80's versions of Olympics with some friends and we had a lot of fun. Which I think a lot of people are not realizing what the intention of the early game systems were supposed to be just like the tv, a family gathering and entertainment station. Almost all the early games had a two player option and some were meant to be played that way. Combat is a good example of that, and obviously Wii Sports capitalized on that old idea.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:58 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I remember someone making a comment around here once about how they grinded out hours upon hours figuring out E.T. and then finally beating it. Can't find it though.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:06 PM on February 24, 2011


> And a patch. Actually, one of three based on your level of accomplishment.

Oh, man...I had a bunch of those Activision patches. My mom sewed them onto a blanket which was carted off to a thrift store years ago. If it didn't wind up in a landfill I'd like to think it's hanging on some hipster's wall.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:01 PM on February 24, 2011


[recursive nerdtangent]
[nerdtangent]

Basically I would be Dr. Who.

Ahem ... you mean Doctor Who, of course. I don't think anyone aspires to be the Peter Cushing character.

Ahem ... Ahem ... You mean the Doctor, of course. I don't think anyone aspires to be a television program's name.

Though you gotta admit, if someone had taught Davros the Hold A trick, space and time might be very, very different

[/nerdtangent]
[/recursive nerdtangent]
posted by Sparx at 3:20 PM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


The fact that there are so many of us that did not know about this is about the only thing keeping me sane right now.

Is it any consolation that it wouldn't work if you'd turned off the system since playing?
No? Okay.. thought it was.. worth a.. shot.

I knew about it. I was just pissed that the hopping-on-the-turtle-shell thing at the end of 3-1 for 99 lives never worked for me. I didn't beat SMB 'til I was like 25.
posted by herbplarfegan at 4:37 PM on February 24, 2011


The fact that there are so many of us that did not know about this is about the only thing keeping me sane right now.

It was all about getting your parents to subscribe you to Nintendo Power magazine, which came once a month and consisted mostly of "articles" extolling the virtues of new Nintendo releases, but which also revealed secrets like the A button trick. I also recall some Zelda maps they published that felt like a godsend in the days before online walkthroughs.

But I know this only by proxy; it was my friend across the street who had the NES and the mag subscription. We had nothing hooked up to the TV in our house but basic cable, because my dad saw what an Atari 2600 did to the TV of a friend of his whose kids had left Pac Man (sadly, not E.T.) on overnight and burned the maze into the screen. "Them video games ruin TVs!" said Dad, and that was that. I passed through the era of 8-bit home gaming in the dens of other houses.

(Which ultimately meant that far, far too much time in college was devoted to backfilling my childhood memories through the wonders of emulation...)
posted by /\/\/\/ at 5:37 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


A button, eh? How about that. Also, I am not particularly good at video games, but I once beat Contra without losing a life and could do it regularly without using a continue. It's all about the spread gun. I'm surprised that it has something of a lore of difficulty-to me, there were many other games that were harder.
posted by Kwine at 6:34 PM on February 24, 2011


I loved Yar's Revenge!
posted by Catblack at 6:45 PM on February 24, 2011


I'm surprised that it has something of a lore of difficulty-to me, there were many other games that were harder.

I think there's a couple things going on there. One is that different folks have a knack for different sorts of games, so one kid kicks ass at SMB, another can knock Contra over, another can blow through FF1 with efficiency and aplomb, etc. Didn't hurt that you got good at what you owned because that's what you could play to death, and most kids couldn't go out and get every interesting title as soon as it hit the stores.

I loved and cherished and knocked the hell out of Blaster Master, personally. I loved every stupid detail of that game, even the really stupid ones. And I shamelessly exploited the boss pause trick, because, seriously, no saves and no passwords and one fucking bad run with one of those assholes and you just start the game over completely. Insofar as leaving the NES on all night was an ongoing point of tension with my parents growing up, this game was responsible for more than a fair proportion of same.

But there's also I think the A-list factor: Contra was a game you new about if you had any interest in the NES, so you were going to talk about it before you'd played it if you didn't own it day one, you were gonna suck at it in multiplayer over at a friend's house the first few times, etc. Whereas some random whatever title you were probably going to stomp into paste first and brag about later because no large crowd of kids is going to be all wittering on the playground spontaneously about OMG NOBUNAGA'S AMBITION IS SO DOPE HAVE YOU BEAT IT YET, PEOPLE SAY ODA IS THE BEST DAIMYO BUT I THINK UESUGI IS WAY BETTER, I HEAR IF YOU GET YOUR RICE TO BE EXACTLY 99 IN ALL YOUR FIEFS THERE'S A SECRET ENDING
posted by cortex at 6:51 PM on February 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


It was all about getting your parents to subscribe you to Nintendo Power magazine

Oh hell yes. Nintendo Power was totally the company brochure in a lot of ways but it was also awesome in a way that I don't think kids growing up on games today will ever have a chance to appreciate, because they've got the internet and that kicks the shit out of a magazine.

But at the time it was a glorious thing, if only for the maps strung together from screenshots and the associated walkthrough content. The occasional strategy guide special issues were a wonder as well; I remember living out of the Final Fantasy issue for a while.

The first time I came across Nintendo Power I'm not sure I even had a NES yet; what felt like an eternity passed between when I became aware of the things and when I finally got one though in reality it was probably something like a year or two max. But I was at some day camp in Oakland I think one summer, me and my sister visiting my biodad for a week, and this bigger kid pulled out a copy of the debut issue of Nintendo Power and was showing it off a little. And shy guy that I was at that age, I still managed to get up the gumption to ask to look at it, and he said yes, and I was just nose deep in the Super Mario Bros. 2 preview instantly. I read it like scripture.

I remember the kid giving me a hard time about it. I remember not really caring so long as I got one of those tear-out subscription things. I remember asking anxiously about whether I could get the money to subscribe. I remember buying a gift subscription for a friend, later on, not because I cared that much whether he had an NP subscription (though he was the guy who had the first NES I came across, the NES I would spend as much time as possible with whenever I was over at his house for a family occasion) but because at that point a sub came with a free copy of Dragon Warrior, and the idea of A FREE FUCKING NINTENDO GAME was so stunning to me that I couldn't resist navigating that weird tightrope.

I remember once leaving an issue of NP sitting on a table at the skeezy smoke-filled local minimart I would sometimes dally at after school to play on or, short of quarters usually, watch other people play on the arcade cabinets of. One day, maybe nine years old, I lost track of time for so long in my observation there that, as some then-impossibly-grown-up-seeming scruffy dude with a cigarette always in his mouth went about deconstructing Sky Soldiers a quarter at a time, my frantic mom finally found me somehow and tore me out of there and scolded the shit out of me for randomly disappearing after school and jesus the smoke in there and don't you ever do that again and so on.

And while I remember being really chastened and embarrassed about that at the time, what stuck with me far longer than the parental grief was the fact that I never saw my copy of the Simon's Quest issue again. When I was busy being upbraided for my disappearing act, some fuckstain walked off with NP #2. I mourned for months.
posted by cortex at 7:25 PM on February 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I remember when it was called Nintendo Fun Club.
posted by contraption at 7:33 PM on February 24, 2011


Nintendo Power

See, that's the thing, my friends and I were into the whole Nintendo Power scene, we knew the Konami Code, the ZELDA thing, the password to get Bikini Samus (JUSTIN something-or-other, wasn't it?), the 99 1-UPs on World 3-1, etc, etc. But we did NOT know this "Hold A to continue" thing. Maybe it's just that by the time we were really into finding codes and cheats we had moved beyond SMB? Once you knew and could reliably get to the Warp Zones, I guess grinding through Super Mario Brothers wasn't really that much of a chore, but I just can't believe I didn't know that.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:48 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game.


HOLY CRAP
posted by flotson at 8:06 PM on February 24, 2011


I remember that every time I got one of those Nintendo Power cards with the "subscribe now and get Strategy Guide X for FREE" deals, I would hold onto it until it was time to resubscribe. I kept my subscription going for years like that, and acquired a few nice strategy guides for free along the way. Because as nice as the magazine itself was, nothing beat a guide full of maps to every level of most of your favorite games.
posted by mysterpigg at 8:33 PM on February 24, 2011


(JUSTIN something-or-other, wasn't it?)

JUSTIN BAILEY, and then if I recall any of a variety of codes for the second pair of hextets which would provide slightly different upgrade/energy loadouts.

The story I told other kids, and I can't remember if I heard this from someone else or just invented it from whole cloth because it was a narrative that I very much wanted to believe, is that that was the name of the kid who in fact invented Metroid. Like, he had this great idea for a video game, and he wrote to Nintendo with this game idea and they were like, shit, this is a great fucking game idea, let's making this fucking game, and Justin? You're name is gonna be THE ULTIMATE PASSWORD.

When I was ten this seemed like an awesome idea. Twenty years later it sounds like Nintendo completely fucking over some poor fucking kid named Justin Bailey, but that's only one problem with that notional origin story.
posted by cortex at 9:23 PM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I was ten this seemed like an awesome idea. Twenty years later it sounds like Nintendo completely fucking over some poor fucking kid named Justin Bailey, but that's only one problem with that notional origin story.
posted by cortex at 1:23 PM on February 25 [1 favorite +] [!]

The story going around in my group of friends was that, in Japan, Baileys were the brand of underwear, and Justin was really Just In, so Just In Bailey[s] was what the code really spelled, because Samus was just in her underwear.
posted by gc at 2:30 AM on February 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


XQUZYPHYR: "If you held A when you pressed start, you restarted on the World you died on in the previous game.

If you never knew this I'm so, so sorry. For everything.
"

Just in case there was any fleeting doubt, I just tested this using an emulator of the original game.

MYTH CONFIRMED
posted by Rhaomi at 7:28 AM on February 25, 2011


My understanding is that the Justin Bailey thing was just a fluke and not an easter egg. All kinds of random words will move you to random spots in the game.
posted by empath at 7:31 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


That reminds me; I've always been curious about the encoding scheme they used for metroid passwords. Has anybody deconstructed it? Was there a standard approach among passworded games, or was it more of a one-off thing for each game (or at least for each dev team)?
posted by cortex at 8:25 AM on February 25, 2011


Metroid Password Generator
posted by empath at 8:41 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sometimes I type something into the comment box on metafilter and realize as I hit post that I should be typing it into Google.

Here's the sort of document I was specifically hoping for: Metroid Password Format Guide.
posted by cortex at 8:43 AM on February 25, 2011


Yeah, i was pretty close to using a lmgtfy url.
posted by empath at 8:50 AM on February 25, 2011


The Atari 2600 was the only video game system I ever owned.

I remember playing E.T. at my neighbors' house. Kept falling into pits and couldn't get out. Dull.

Space Shuttle was all the more frustrating. Could launch, maybe, not much else.

Then there was Pitfall II which was fun until I got to that damnable rat. I never figured out how to get past that thing.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 9:54 PM on February 27, 2011


Gelatin: "E.T.? That game was the pits. "

I see what you did there.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:57 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


cortex: " Here's the sort of document I was specifically hoping for: Metroid Password Format Guide."
To calculate the checksum for a password, add the first 136 bits (17 bytes) together. Take the result bit-wise ANDed with 255 and you have your checksum.
Wait, what? Count the bits? Or add the bytes and discard the overflow? And isn't any 8-bit number bitwise ANDed with 255 = 255?

I don't have high hopes for this guide.
posted by Plutor at 11:59 AM on March 2, 2011


No wait, that's a bitwise OR. The bitwise AND acts as discarding the overflow.
posted by Plutor at 12:03 PM on March 2, 2011


"Add the first 136 bits together" still doesn't make much sense. Either you're adding all the bytes together (which makes the most sense) or you're adding all the bits together (in which case you can have a max of 136, and there will never be anything to discard) or.. something else?
posted by Plutor at 12:05 PM on March 2, 2011


Was there a standard approach among passworded games, or was it more of a one-off thing for each game (or at least for each dev team)?

Back then consoles didn't even have standard name entry screens or anything like that so I think they were almost all one-off. But they all used the same basic scheme (bytes -> obfuscated alphabet representation).

Maybe it's just me, but reverse engineering game save or rom data is really a lot of fun. When you start out it's just a bunch of random hex values but as you start flipping values and figuring out how they coded it everything starts falling into place.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:34 PM on March 2, 2011


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